Op-Ed | Heartbleed: National Insecurity Agency

Excerpt from my new op-ed in The Globalist:

The media is abuzz now with the discovery of a major cybersecurity vulnerability known as “Heartbleed.” The breach may have been exposing passwords and credit card data to thieves for several years.

To add insult to all the mega-monitoring injury, the NSA now finds itself alleged to have known about this flaw for more than two years, without alerting anyone.

In the past, the NSA and its defenders have claimed that – beyond its controversial surveillance role – it provides a major service to the modern U.S. economy.

The argument goes that the NSA has the best of the country’s best cybersecurity experts on staff – and thus helps shore up U.S. corporations and the nation’s citizenry at large from cyber threats, by identifying and closing flaws. That would indeed be a valuable service in pursuit of protecting the public good.

Now, it turns out that the NSA knew about what may prove to have been the biggest flaw in the history of internet security, yet said nothing.

Read the rest of “Heartbleed: National Insecurity Agency”.

Adapted by The Globalist from Deymos Photo on Shutterstock.com

Adapted by The Globalist from Deymos Photo on Shutterstock.com

Self-defense paranoia & politics

One of the things that keeps cropping up in the Ukraine crisis is this theme of “self-defense forces” being established by the people who least need to defend themselves, usually because they make up 60-90% of the local population.

Of course, that’s a pattern that has been repeated over many decades all over many parts of the world. The empowered majority forms paranoid self-defense paramilitary groups and leagues for the unstated (or sometimes explicitly stated) purpose of defending themselves against imagined or wildly exaggerated threats coming from the nearby minority population.

That repetition of history includes the United States, even to present day. From the Klan of old to modern “neighborhood watch” groups in idyllic suburbs, the ruling racial or economic class in the U.S. has often formed organizations to offensively protect themselves from non-real threats from the minorities near their communities.

Past AFD guest contributor Chris Chinn actually wrote an interesting essay on that topic recently on his new practical martial arts blog, Fist of the South End. Here’s an excerpt:

The unfortunate part of the whole self defense scene in the US is that most of the people deeply into it are usually privileged folks who end up obsessing and projecting about when they’ll finally get to “show their skills”, which mostly ends up sounding like the usual militia/Ron Paul fears of a scary brown people attack or an 80s Charles Bronson film plot. The people least likely to be attacked spend a whole lot of time fantasizing about how awesome they’ll be when they are.

He notes that there are plenty of legitimate reasons to get into martial arts and self-defense, but his point still stands: a lot of people are in it for the wrong reasons. Some more unconsciously than others, of course.
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Mozilla ouster a win for counter-speech

The reaction to Brendan Eich’s firing at Mozilla shows U.S. conservatives learned little from the “Duck Dynasty” controversy.

If you missed it, the prominent computer programmer Brendan Eich recently became (very briefly) the CEO of the Mozilla Corporation (which makes the Firefox web browser among other things). After much protest — including, notably, within the company at both employee and upper management levels — he was fired due to his contributions to the extremely hateful 2008 California Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the state, in line with a viewpoint he still holds today.

This immediately prompted outcry by many white, (mostly) male, cisgender, heterosexual Christian conservatives who are convinced that — after centuries of de facto rule over the United States — any time one of them faces consequences for expressing an objectionable opinion, the world is ending in a torrent of unendurable oppression against them (even though they still remain very powerful in a majority of states right now).

In this outcry defending Mr. Eich they were joined by a number of liberal apologists who seem to confuse market forces, both inside and outside the company, with “censorship.”

Of course, no one said he couldn’t express or hold the bigoted views that he holds. They just said there would be consequences to holding them as the CEO of that particular company.

Considering that, in many U.S. states right now, people can still be fired for being gay without legal recourse, it hardly seems unreasonable to apply pressure on a prominent executive who holds objectionable and damaging views.

But more importantly, as I said before with the Duck Dynasty blow-up — wherein the cable network (temporarily) suspended (before restoring) the show helmed by a raging racist and homophobe and his hateful legion fans cried foul — according to the American understanding of free-speech, this cycle is exactly how the system is supposed to work. Just as their beloved Founding Fathers and Constitutional Framers intended.

Let’s circle back to this excerpt from my popular December post “First Amendment refresher (Duck Dynasty edition)“:

In contrast [with Europe], the United States has developed a much more libertarian approach to freedom of speech, based on the 18th century ethos of the Framers. They believed in concepts like the marketplace of ideas, where viewpoints could be traded on a free exchange. Early concepts from Adam Smith’s late 18th century work on the study of economics and trade came to be seen as apt metaphors for how ideas circulate.

So just like competition allows some providers of goods & services to rise to the top in real markets, the libertarian view on speech says that the best solution to problems like hate speech is to let it compete freely with counter-speech — rather than government intervening as regulators — and the rationality and supremacy of less horrid counter-speech will prevail.

Thus, if the public responds angrily to some idiot’s hateful comments, this is not an infringement of free speech. It is the system “working” according to the American principles of how the intellectual free market is supposed to work.

So as you can see, Brendan Eich made a publicly reported political donation (free speech, according to the U.S. Supreme Court), and then his employees, board of directors, and customers expressed their “counter-speech.”

Their counter-speech prevailed in this instance, but it often doesn’t, which is actually why many communication theorists have suggested the American system of handling objectionable speech is pretty flawed in practice (especially compared to systems that intervene more aggressively against hate speech by members of the majority against those in the minority). Usually, the ruling group drowns out the objections of everyone else.

Funny how many conservative Republicans get up in arms when liberals use market pressure successfully to stop the expression of certain views…but it’s ok when they do it, for example, against the so-called “liberal media” when they don’t like a sit-com’s “agenda.”

As Markos Moulitsas put it, “Brandon Eich was a victim of market forces, conservatives should applaud”:

Of course this is intolerance. Would Sullivan rush to this guy’s defense if it turned out he was a Grand Wizard in the KKK? Of course not. We are allowed to be intolerant of people who operate outside the bounds of civil decency. This wasn’t governmental action infringing on any Constitutional rights. This was Mozilla developers saying they refused to do work with a bigot, private websites blocking access to the Firefox browser because they refused to do business with a bigot, and employees of the firm speaking up because they refused to work for a bigot.

In short, it was the free market expressing itself. Eich was perfectly within his rights to stay at Mozilla, but he would then face a hostile market and eventually faced the reality that he couldn’t do his job in that environment. The free market spoke, and a free market enterprise was forced to react.

Even these days, you don’t have to go far to find a Christian conservative telling you that it is their “right” to be “intolerant of immoral behavior” (an actual statement I’ve heard). So, apparently, it’s 100% acceptable for them to be avowedly “intolerant” of LGBT folks, but it’s in no way acceptable for other people to be intolerant of them in return?

It’s almost as if the “free market” and “free speech” were only awesome when they were able to keep the ethnic minorities, gays, and women from participating. The moment it actually starts to become genuinely freer and slightly more balanced, then they’re suddenly being oppressed.

How to respond to Russia (safely)

Arsenal Essay: This isn’t Neville Chamberlain in 1938. It’s the world NOT taking the bait of Serbian gunmen in 1914.
nato-logo-200The Crimea annexation has raised a crucial question: What is the world to do when a country with a large military and nuclear weapons decides to end a (voluntary, it turns out) period of non-aggression toward its neighbors?

For a while, the Soviet Union and Russia was so bogged down by the 1980s Afghanistan debacle and economic problems of the 1990s that it wasn’t in a strong position to intervene militarily in its European neighbors’ political affairs as it had once regularly done.

But by the mid-2000s, Russia’s military was back up and ready. The United States and the wider Western world appears to have mistakenly convinced itself that Russian non-intervention in Eastern Europe was due to universalizing of norms against such interference and some sort of implicit global check against it.

Putin doesn’t appear to feel bound by any of those norms, after all (though the United States has had an extremely iffy track record on that as well since 1999). For some time now I’ve been firmly in the camp that this has more to do with restoring the pre-1914 Russian Empire and little to do with restoring the USSR. I think Putin’s vision of Russia is a lot like the Russia that was a European power with an inferiority complex and a Peter the Great-inspired desperation for Europe’s respect but not its approval.

It also calls to mind the arrogant Russia that saw itself as the older brother (and divinely chosen leader) of all Slavs everywhere, whether they liked it or not — and the White Man’s Burden Leader of the near abroad (especially Central Asia, as we’ve seen flashes of again recently). We’ve seen the revived patronizing attitude of Russians who simply can’t comprehend why Ukraine wouldn’t want to be part of Russia again.

Of course — as I’ll return to later in this essay — that was the same “Older Brother Russia” with the largest land army in the world that invaded the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in response to an Austrian police action in Serbia following the Serbian assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 (and Serbia’s alleged refusal to hand over the terrorists).

Rather than the Slavic World-Tsar liberating the Yugo-Slavs (the Slavs of the South), it brought the world into a devastating war that collapsed four empires, including Russia’s.

But let us return to Putin’s neo-imperial Russia of today. The lack of Russian invasions in Eastern Europe in the past nine years — apart from the disputed circumstances of Georgia in 2008 — seems now to have been more out of the “goodness” of Putin’s heart than out of any real commitment to respecting the independence of the Federation’s neighbors.

Putin’s revelation is that the 1956 rules still apply no less than they did in 1956, when the Soviet Union violently invaded Hungary (an anti-NATO Warsaw Pact member) to preserve communist rule there, and NATO was forced to watch passively because it could not risk a nuclear war over the matter.

Does the current Russian leadership, like the Soviet leadership of 1956, have enough sense to realize that it can only get away with interventions in its “sphere of influence” or will he press his luck? At the end of the day, it’s at least partly a matter of voluntary forbearance, as to how far Russia pushes. But partly as the hawks are telling us, it’s also about whether NATO and the United States are a credible umbrella for NATO members in Eastern Europe. As in: Is NATO really prepared to honor its defense obligations to the Baltic Republics if Russia intervenes there too?

I don’t know for sure if we’d actually launch a war if Russia invaded Estonia, say, but I do know that the United States isn’t twiddling its thumbs either — and is working to make sure that doesn’t happen in the first place, so that we never have to find out. Contrary to Republican belief, President Obama has been taking strong measures to shore up NATO allies in Eastern Europe against Russian aggression. Here’s the New York Times on the moves:

Since President Vladimir V. Putin ordered troops to seize Crimea, Mr. Obama has become increasingly engaged, blitzing foreign leaders with telephone calls, imposing sanctions and speaking out more frequently.

To reassure nervous allies, he sent six extra F-15C Eagles to Lithuania and 12 F-16 fighter jets to Poland. Mr. Obama, who met here with Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary general, will further bolster defenses in Eastern Europe by rotating more ground and naval forces for exercises and training in Poland and the Baltic countries; update contingency planning; and increase the capacity of a NATO quick-response force.

“Putin just declared war on the European order and it’s demanding that the United States focus on Europe again as a security issue,” said Damon Wilson, a former national security aide to Mr. Bush and now executive vice president of the Atlantic Council. While some Republicans have pushed the president to be tougher, Mr. Wilson praised Mr. Obama’s response. “I don’t think I’ve seen the president more personally engaged on any foreign policy crisis in a concerted way as he has been on Ukraine.”

This might not do much to help or re-assure non-NATO members such as Ukraine, Moldova, or Sweden, but we haven’t ever legally bound ourselves to defend them in the event of a foreign attack. The administration is striking a balance by re-affirming our existing commitments and alliances without drawing us into fresh entanglements that risk a World War I-style avoidable meltdown into war between major powers.

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National Geographic, Crimea, and the politics of geography

Above: Wikipedia’s map showing Crimea as part of Ukraine.

National Geographic, the venerable and often deeply controversial flagship organization of the American field of geography, has generated a new firestorm over its decision to start mapping Crimea as part of the Russian Federation following its illegal and fraudulent annexation of the peninsula. Other options would include marking it as “disputed” or still part of Ukraine. Nat Geo’s justification was that they “map the world as it is, not as people would like it to be.”

Whether or not the de facto status of Crimea is now that it is part of Russia, that’s a cop-out. And as someone who studied the history of geography at the University of Delaware’s nationally prominent Geography Department, I’d like to point out that this cop-out also conveniently absolves National Geographic of its role in the community and the world, one which has historically been both very important and very damaging (in many cases).
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Cairo University assault illustrates Egypt’s violence against women

As I’ve discussed previously, Egypt has a pretty big violence against women problem, backed by both the society and the power of the state, which has worsened dramatically under military rule (both in 2011 and in 2013-present).

Here’s a noteworthy stat from Egypt News Daily:

According to a UN report issued last year an overwhelming majority of Egyptian women (99.3%) have experienced some sort of sexual harassment, and 96.5% of women had been sexually assaulted in some way.

In the latest high-profile incident — as opposed to the daily struggle for basic safety many of Egypt’s women face quietly — a female Cairo University Law student was sexually assaulted in plain sight by a dozen men on campus, who brazenly filmed their attack. She only escaped worse because some individual members of the campus security had the decency to intervene (something that can’t be said of much of Egypt’s local and national security forces).

The appropriate response would be: “Wait, we have a horrific problem where some of our male students feel secure in sexually assaulting our female students right out in the open on campus in front of security cameras and their own! What are we doing wrong? What can be done to change the culture and behavior of our male students?”

Instead, Cairo University’s president helpfully called her attire a “mistake” that was “out of the ordinary” for the dress code. He added that campus security should have removed her from campus or told her to change her clothes, before she was assaulted, rather than after. Sure he also said they would look into it, or whatever, and maybe think about some prosecutions because they shouldn’t have done it, but really he seemed to feel it was fundamentally attire-related.

Media treatment

Egyptian news media, closely aligned with the military government, extensively blamed the victim and gave her what might here be dubbed the full Rush Limbaugh treatment (with eerie parallels to his Sandra Fluke rant), calling her a “hooker” who should be in the “red light district” instead of at law school. At least one channel also obtained video footage — probably from one of the attackers — showing her walking around campus so the audience could see how she had been dressed. (Perfectly normal or even conservative campus attire, of course, by U.S. standards… not that it in any way matters.)

Egyptian pundits also wrote off the Cairo University assault using the tried-and-true method of rape apologism that dehumanizes everyone involved including fellow men, by suggesting that no man could possibly not try to rape a woman who crossed his field of vision. Below is newscaster Tamer Amin, mid-rant, on that line of attack:
Statements like that always raise more questions than they answer.

Questions like “Tamer Amin, since you clearly believe every man lacks all self-control and is a rapist at heart, is that belief from personal experience?”

Or, “Tamer Amin, how many women have you yourself raped and assaulted? Too many to remember?”
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“We are all Ukrainians” apparently now

McCain, John-012309-18421- 0004I’m sure glad we elected John McCain to be our president in 2008 or else it would be really uncomfortable every time he publicly made a comment like “We are all Ukrainians” or “I know I speak for every American when I say to him today, we are all Georgians.”
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