NSA Spying Revelations To Continue Well Into 2014

Edward Snowden became a household name to consumers of news media in June 2013. It also helped make The Guardian a well recognized name in elite news journalism, and they now have a Pulizer for their effors.

The reports of how the NSA has spied on virtually all electronic communications over the last 15 years (and probably longer) will continue to be released. According to SNowden, some of the biggest revelations are yet to come. We can expect more details about how the NSA partnered with corporations to collect mass data on citzens. They collect data on what you buy, where you go, and what you are into. And almost none of it related to keeping the "homeland" safe.

While we wait for more deatils on NSA programs, both past and existing, we have a blockbuster piece by two of the best investigative "Global War on Terror" journalists around, Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill. In it, they explain how drone strkes target mobile phones, using an NSA owned database of mobile phone numbers. It had long been suspected that the drones go after phones, not people identified visually. That helps explains all the "collateral damage" when these phones are detected in the open in crowded areas. Furthermore, we know US often follows an initial hellfire missle strike with a second strike in the same location to kill friends, family, and even medics (if that isn't state terrorism...). What drives the drone strikes? Data

UPDATE, June 26, 2014: Here is a fantastic summary of what we know as of May 2014, by Nadia Kayyali and Katitza Rodriguez of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

I didn't think my first post would be this way.

I feel it must.

Why do Americans feel the needs to call anyone with an English, Scottish, Welsh, or Irish accent British?

No, it's not all Americans, but the majority I've encountered feel the need to classify me as British.

"Oh, you're British!?"

NO! NO! NO! You fucking twit, I'm ENGLISH! E N G L I S H, NOT British!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Georgraphically, yes, I am considered British.

However, the fact that I hail from Northern England, makes me ENGLISH!

My family Hails from North England. If we want to be exact, Corbridge is a village in Northumberland, England,

situated 16 miles (26 km) west of Newcastle and 4 miles (6 km) east of Hexham.

Again, I'm fucking ENGLISH!

Where does this hatred come from? It's not hatred at all.

Believe me, I'm not the only one. Scots, Welsh and those of Northern Ireland rather be called by where they're from, instead of British. 

We share in the UK great, long and historic rivalries. As nations, as people and especially when it comes to both football (HOWAY THE LADS!) and rugby.

With that said, our pride gets the best of us, IT SURE DOES OF ME, when I'm called British.

ASUS X200CA (Pentium) Review

A great little vehicle to try out a Linux distribution.

The 11.6" ASUS X200CA (late 2013) with the Pentium "Ivy Bridge" processor is a great little performer. Costs were cut to be sure. It's black plastic. The battery is not replaceable. It's a budget notebook rather than an entry level ultrabook. However, for those who want pretty good computing power on the cheap, it's a fine choice. It's actually a great choice for anyone who ants to give Linux a spin without breaking the bank, which is why I got it.

So, it is plastic, but it's also light - just three pounds. The keyboard took only 15 minutes to master coming from the much larger MacBook 13". This is, essentially, a disposable laptop. It's something you use for 2-4 years and then resell or recycle. Battery life is a consistent 3-3.5 hours when fully charged, and with the brightness turned down a bit, and the device is not streaming video. The display is an LED lit 1366x768. Not nearly the best of what's available today, but it does support full 1080p resolution. The speakers are front firing, which is impressive at this price point. But like any laptop, headphones will provide the best possible audio quality.

The screen is also plastic, but seems scratch resistant. The touchscreen is very good - sensitive and responsive. Even if you install a Linux distribution, the touchscreen will still provide some functionality. I love the built in SD card reader. No more tethering my camera to my laptop to process and file photos.

The last thing I need to get used to is the fan and heat vent on the left edge of the keyboard. It is easy to clean, says ASUS (with one of those Staples spray can dusters). The fan is no louder than the Apple MacBook fan. But it's right behind the vent, and it gets warm as soon as you turn on the device.So I'm figuring out how to keep an upright typing position and keep my left fingers away from the vent opening.

On the plus side, the ports are almost kept to a minimum. Aside from a legacy VGA port I will never use, there are two USB 2.0 ports, a USB 3.0 port (colored blue for easy identification), an RJ-45 network cable port, a very useful HDMI video out, and an equally useful SD card slot for easy uploading of pictures from most digital cameras. Users of Google Plus' photo editor and YouTube will especially appreciate that.

This laptop makes the case that like tablets and phones, laptops are gadgets you use for two years and then move on to the next one. A lot of people use their MacBooks for two years, but I've had mine for nearly 5 years and it is built to last. The ASUS has a 64 bit Ivy Bridge processor. That's the latest and one of the best. It could go four years, but you'd have to take extra special care of it. Separate bag. No spills. No food. Go easy. This thing has what you need on the inside, but you need to be gentle with it.

I have oily hands. The keyboard's keys, thankfully, are oil and fingerprint proof. Unfortunately, the rest of the device isn't.. You might want to consider the metal finish version if you don't like fingerprints (the ever so slightly heavier Q200). Fortunately, the laptop looks like new with a few circular wipes of a dry cloth or moist sponge. I do like the textured plastic and the wedge shape of the device. Just have to limit how much I touch that plastic. Stick to the keys and and a mouse (the cool ASUS blue ray optical mouse is a fine accessory for this), and you will minimize the blemeshes on this laptop.

For my Linux distribution, I chose Linix Mint (Cinnamon). I have seen Red Hat Linux on servers. And I have seen early incarnations of Linux on desktops, back when you had to write a developer a check and receive a stack of 3.5" floppy disks in the mail. But this was my first installation of Linix on any personal computer, and I love it. I can move on from Apple and iTunes, and go my own way. That has its pros and cons. Using an open office suite (LibreOffice), browsing the Internet on Google Chrome, and playing games on Steam is fantastic (Chrome has not run well lately in OSX). Editing photos and burning music playlists onto CDs take a little more work (yes, I still make mix CDs). But I am learning as I go, and Linux Mint is one slick operating system that proivides an opimal desktop on which to get things done, and uses minimal resources. I wish I had switched to Linux years ago.

I trust ASUS. They make great monitors, components, and tablets. But clearly going from a MacBook to this is a step down in luxury. Sort of like going from a BMW to a Mazda. But Mazdas are still a lot of fun. If you want to get into Linux computing, this might be your perfect first vehicle to give it a spin.

A Rational Criminal Act: 1971 FBI Burglars Reveal Themselves

This past January, members of the famed Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI stepped forward and revealed themselves in a conference call with the US news media.  

In 1971, the group broke into a small FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, while the nation was followng the Ali-Frasier fight (the 15 round "Fight of the Century," in which Frazier knocked out Ali). They stole thousands of documents. Nearly half of the documents detailed a domestic spying program which had begun under FBI director, J. Edgar Hoover, who had a year more to live, and was going to serve as bureau director until the day he died, in May 1972.

The statute of limitations ran out on the bugulary in March, 1976, but members of the group decided that now was a perfect time to reveal themselves, less than a year after Edward Snowden's daring theft of Pentagon and NSA materials, and just in time to helop promote a new book on the break-in.

The 1971 FBI bulgulary is one of the most significant acts of whistleblowing in US history. The stolen documents  were xeroxed and distributed to the media, much like the Pentagon Papers were. The proof that the FBI was committing more time and resources to spying on non-violent activists than investigating organized and interstate crime was too much for that era's Congress to ignore, and led to major -albeit temporary- reforms. 

Hoover was a relentless bureaucrat, who cowed presidents and the Congress for decades, because, it was feared, he had dirt on EVERYBODY. No one wanted to hold him to account. And so it took eight private citizens, breaking the law, to reveal the far worse law breaking of the FBI. Does this sound familiar? Edward Snowden come to mind?

When members of Citizens' Commission stepped forward, NBC featured two of them, the married Raines couple, on the Today show. As the mainstream media usually does, they brought out a figure to provide some sort of counterpoint. They found retired agent Patrick Kelly, who charaterized the Raines' as "rationalizing a criminal act." I would argue that their act is very easy to explain: it was a rational crime. It had to be done. The unconstituinal actions of the FBI had to be revealed by a comparitively tiny crime. It was, frankly, a precursor to electronic acts of thivery, such as those by Anonymous and Wikileaks. 

Needless to say, the responses from the right wing to this news story were both predictable and sad.

One of the Most Extraordinary Developments in the Christie Scandals Happened Sunday

By now, it is so well established that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is a corrupt bully, that futher reporting on his scandals ought to be suspended until the seopenas for the investigations are in. MSNBC was covering Christie so much last month, I thought it was embarassing. This nation is still at war in Afghnistan, we have a catestrophic, global envionmental crisis, the US job market is still dismal, the US has an ongoing gun violence problem, reproductive and women's rights are under fierce attack, Guantanemo is still open, the wealth gap is the biggest it has been in nearly a century, and the US Congress is intent on destroying what's left of the nation - and I mean both sides of the aisle.

The Chistie marathon, thankfully, has subsided a bit. 

Now I'm not denying that Christie's quests for political vengence, which have cost his state quite a lot in terms of money and image, is not significant. It is. He's the most prominant politician to engage in this sort of behavior since President Richard Nixon. Not that Christie is similar to the late Richard Nixon himself. Nixon was a vicious, paranoid, seeing enemies and conspiracies everywhere. Christie is a vicious bully, a classic coward who attacks and demeans those weaker than he is. I leave it to the pundits and historians like myself to argue which is worse.

Here's what I think will be the big story until all the supenas are carried out. The editorial board of the Star-Ledger, led by Tom Moran, has issued what is essentially a retraction of their endorsement for Chris Christie in his 2013 reelection bid. He won, of course. It is too late, of course. 

There is a fitting cliche: sin in haste, and repent at leisure. At least Moran is admitting the mistake, unlike, for example, the New York Times which allowed the Bush gang to push their invasion of Iraq on their pages, backed the criminal war and published a quiet, partial retraction over a year later.

This is not a perfect story of journalistic excellence, however. Iif one goes to the link and reads Moran's retraction, he basically says that the Star-Ledger knew all about Christie's scandals and his bad character, and endorsed him anyway. So what else do they know? We'll find out as the investigation proceeds this spring.