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Communications Companies Have Been Spying on You Since the 19th Century

March 26, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

A 1944 photo of the device used by Western Union which translates a telegram into holes on a tape, and then passes it along to the box-like apparatus. (Credit: AP Photo)

The revelation that a shady political consulting firm called Cambridge Analytica accessed data from 50 million Facebook users without their consent has rekindled debates about privacy and surveillance. Shortly after this news broke in March 2018, Americans also learned that Facebook had pulled years of call and text data from users who accessed the site on Google’s Android phones.

America has gone through this before. In 2001, the Patriot Act broadened the government’s ability to monitor Americans’ phone, email, and online records, sparking fears that the government would use this data to spy on its citizens. And in 2013, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden confirmed those fears by revealing that the U.S. collected data on Americans from Verizon, Facebook, Google, and other companies, even if the subjects weren’t directly under investigation.

But what some Americans may not realize is that the government was using private communications companies to monitor citizens long before the Patriot Act—over a century before, in fact.

In the late 19th century, the Western Union Telegraph Company held a monopoly over the country’s telecommunications. At the time, electric telegraphs were a new, innovative technology that allowed people to send messages over great distances much faster than the mail system could, kind of like an early version of email.

During the Civil War, generals used telegraphs to communicate with each other. But they also intercepted morse code messages sent by rivals, or sent out morse code signals with disinformation meant to deceive the enemy. Some private individuals figured out how to do this, too. In 1864, a stockbroker named D.C. Williams became the first person convicted of wiretapping after he intercepted corporate messages and sold them to stock traders.

A 1944 photo of the device used by Western Union which translates a telegram into holes on a tape, and then passes it along to the box-like apparatus. (Credit: AP Photo)

Yet there was an even simpler way to monitor these messages. Western Union always made at least two copies of the telegraphs it transcribed: one for the recipient, and another to keep on file. To see the copy on file, all you had to do to was have a contact inside the …read more


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Corporate Media Coverage Is More Generous to White Killers Than Black Victims

March 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Mehreen Kasana, AlterNet

The Austin bomber has been described as “smart,” “nerdy” and from a “godly family.”

If security concerns for the residents of Austin, Texas, weren't enough, now some are wondering about the lopsided, ineffectual and hypocritical media coverage of the white Austin bomber who killed himself Wednesday.

According to law enforcement authorities, Mark Anthony Conditt was the serial bomber who claimed the lives of at least two people and injured four more by constructing, packaging and disseminating several “highly sophisticated” touch-sensitive bombs in March. His bombing spree killed two African Americans, while one of the injured victims is Latina. Yet a survey of the headlines would lead one to think Conditt was merely a “polite” and “introverted” neighbor who expressed harmless interest in improvised explosive devices.

The Associated Press sought the opinion of Conditt's uncle, who said the serial bomber was “smart” and “introverted.” The Washington Post explained that Conditt was apparently “frustrated by life.” The local police department said Conditt’s 25-minute taped confession, in which he admits to creating the bombs, was “the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about the challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.” The New York Times ran a headline quoting an acquaintance of the bomber who said Conditt was a “nerdy” fellow hailing from a “tight-knit, godly family.” ABC News' Austin network said Conditt was a health-conscious “introvert.”

Media descriptions of Conditt echo those of white supremacist mass murderer Dylann Roof, who shot nine people to death inside a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Yet according to the Wall Street Journal, Roof was a “quiet” and “bright boy.” James Holmes, who opened fire in a theater in Colorado, killing 24 people in 2012, was also a “quiet” man, according to ABC News. Similarly gentle and forgiving descriptors were applied to 17-year-old Austin Rollins, who killed a teenage girl and injured two other students in Maryland recently. According to the Associated Press, Rollins was a “lovesick teen.”

Situating a story is critical. Explaining the possibly troubled backgrounds of criminals in order …read more


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Is the Radical Right Finally Turning on Trump?

March 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthew Sheffield, Salon

Ann Coulter has seen enough, and she's not alone.

President Donald Trump's most ardent far-right fans are in a rage against him, alleging the he's betrayed them in two major ways: first by appointing former Iraq war booster John Bolton to head the National Security Council and second by signing a federal budget deal that increases spending while also not providing any funding for his long-promised border wall with Mexico.

Perhaps anticipating the anger of right-wing elites, in a public signing ceremony for the bill on Friday, Trump repeatedly claimed that he was “forced” into signing it and said he would not sign similar legislation in the future.

“There are a lot of things that I’m unhappy about in this bill. There are a lot of things we shouldn’t have had in this bill but we were, in a sense, forced if we want to build our military, we were forced to have,” he said. “There are some things we should have in the bill. But I say to Congress, I will never sign another bill like this again. I’m not going to do it again. Nobody read it. It’s only hours old.”

“This budget is a slap in the face,” radio host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners Friday afternoon. “This budget is designed to separate Trump voters from Trump. This budget is designed to make Trump voters think Trump's presidency is irrelevant. … It's so obvious what this is. This is the Washington establishment doing everything they can to destroy Donald Trump and to block his agenda.”

Actor James Woods got profane in expressing his hatred for Republicans:

Several other far-right figures claimed that Trump's willingness to sign the bill without getting border funding or spending cuts would doom Republicans' chances in …read more


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Is Trump About to Make a Fatal Mistake in the Mueller Probe?

March 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Brad Reed, Raw Story

A wave of departures have left the president more vulnerable than ever before.

A former federal prosecutor on Monday took stock of President Donald Trump’s current legal team and concluded that the president is in big trouble if he decides to conduct an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Reacting to New York Times report that attorney Jay Sekulow is the only lawyer working as Trump’s personal attorney on the special counsel’s investigation, ex-federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti wrote on Monday that the president is treading on increasingly dangerous ground without properly experienced legal counsel to help him prepare for an interview with Mueller and his team.

“Sekulow has no experience handling federal criminal investigations,” he writes. “Asking him to quarterback the defense to this important investigation would be like asking a neurologist to be your heart surgeon.”

Sekulow also explained that attorney Ty Cobb, who is working on behalf of the White House on the Mueller probe, can’t help Trump prepare for a Mueller interview because “conversations between Trump and Ty Cobb (and other lawyers employed by the White House) can be obtained by Mueller in discovery under existing case law.”

Taken all together, Mariotti said that these latest developments make it more likely that Trump will make a critical mistake in handling the Russia probe.

“This increases the possibility that Trump will mismanage how he responds to the investigation,” he said. “Perhaps he will sit for an interview that most experienced criminal defense attorneys would work hard to avoid.”

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The Right Has Launched a Vile New Smear Campaign Against Parkland Survivor Emma Gonzalez

March 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Emily C. Bell, AlterNet

If you thought a teenage victim was off limits, you'd be wrong.

Stoneman Douglas high school student Emma Gonzalez's words, “We call BS,” have already become iconic, adorning thousands of placards at this weekend's March for Our Lives rally across the country. Now the right is attempting to weaponize the Parkland survivor's newfound fame in the form of a photoshopped image of her tearing up a copy of the U.S. Constitution.

The fake image, which first appeared on the website 4chan on a “politically incorrect’ board,” according to CNN, received a “signal boost” from actor Adam Baldwin on Saturday and has been making the rounds on social media ever since. Gab, the preferred network of the alt-right, tweeted out the gif with the caption, “Not gonna happen.” The account later sent out a followup tweet:

This is hardly the first attack on the Parkland shooting survivors, or even Gonzalez herself. Over the weekend, right-wing commenters disparaged the teen activist for sporting a Cuban flag patch on her jacket during her rally speech. Prior to that, pundits and even a handful of politicians accused Parkland student David Hogg of being a so-called crisis actor.

“The attacks being lobbied against Emma follow the all-too-familiar patterns: she’s an opinionated woman, she’s Latinx, she is queer,” notes Teen Vogue's Phillip Picardi. “Some say those are strikes already against her when confronting the establishment.” 

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Breitbart Implicated in Disgusting Plot to Discredit Roy Moore's Accusers

March 26, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthew Rozsa, Salon

An attorney for one of Moore's accusers claims he was offered money to drop the case.

An attorney who represented one of the women who accused former Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct says that some of Moore's supporters offered him money to drop her as a client.

Attorney Eddie Sexton was approached by two Moore supporters a few days after his client, Leigh Corfman, came forward to accuse Moore of sexual misconduct when she was a minor, according to the Washington Post. They are reported to have asked Sexton to drop Corfman as a client and publicly denounce her accusations through a statement that would be given to Breitbart News, a media outlet notoriously friendly to President Donald Trump and run at the time by his former chief strategist Steve Bannon. In return, Sexton would be paid $10,000 and introduced to Bannon.

One of the men who allegedly participated in the call, Gary Lantrip, told Sexton that “all they want to do is cloud something” and that “if they cloud, like, two of them, then that’s all they need.”

The term “cloud” was presumed to be a reference to casting doubt on the credibility of the multiple accusations against Moore.

Lantrip was also recorded using coded language to discuss paying Sexton $10,000, promising him that after they “make some quick little-bitty for you … and then, on down the line, we can go to D.C.”

Both of the men implicated in the report, Lantrip and Bert Davi, have denied any wrongdoing.

Moore himself worked strenuously to discredit the accusations of the women who came forward against him during the 2017 campaign, including threatening to sue the Washington Post for publishing its initial story. After he accused Corfman of being “politically motivated,” “malicious” and “completely false,” she sued him for defamation of character.

Corfman claims that when she was 14 and Moore was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney, he fondled her and attempted to get her to fondle him.

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David Frum: The Wrong Man

March 26, 2018 in Economics

By Gene Healy

Gene Healy

Nobody asked me to sign a manifesto or anything, but if
“Never Trump” means believing that our 45th president
is dangerously unfit for the office he holds, then count me in. I
feared from the first that a man who couldn’t laugh off a
“small hands” jibe from Marco Rubio might not be
adequately endowed with the maturity and self-restraint we’d
hope to see in someone entrusted with the nuclear launch codes.
Since the primaries, on a near-daily basis, Trump’s behavior
has validated that fear. This is “not normal,” and
it’s not good.

So right about now we could use a book that cuts through the
social media outrage of the moment and takes a sober look at the
dangers of the Trump presidency. Alas, David Frum’s
Trumpocracy is not that book. “In the rush of
immediate controversies,” the author cautions in the opening
pages, “we can overemphasize things of no lasting consequence
and overlook things that will prove supremely important.” In
this case, the result is an indiscriminate, occasionally
overwrought critique that’s nearly as exhausting as the Trump
presidency itself.

Reading too much of Trumpocracy in one sitting felt
something like being strapped to the chair for the “Ludovico Technique,” eyes pried open with
specula, while a year’s worth of Trump’s Twitter feed
races across the screen. Unlike Clockwork’s Alex, I
didn’t end up in the fetal position, but the experience left
my skull buzzing, temporarily unable to distinguish casual threats
of thermonuclear annihilation from “covfefe.”

Imagine a book-length
broadside against Barack Obama that whipsaws from the illegal war
in Libya to the fashion crime of the infamous tan suit.

Make no mistake, Frum tells us: “We are living through the
most dangerous challenge to the free government of the United
States that anyone alive has encountered.” What’s at
stake is “democracy’s undoing,” and “the
crisis is on Americans, here and now.”

But if the threat Trump represents is so grave, why sweat the
small stuff? In Trumpocracy, the petty grifts and
indecencies threaten to crowd out the genuine enormities: Trump is
“on track to spend more on travel in one year of his
presidency than Obama in eight”; his inaugural committee
raked in record-breaking donations without accounting for how they
were spent; the president was mean to “Spicey” by not
bringing him along to meet the pope. Imagine a book-length
broadside against Barack Obama that whipsaws from the illegal war
in Libya to the fashion crime of the infamous tan suit.

Frum, who can make marking the ballot for Hillary Clinton sound
like an act of uncommon valor, has …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Truth, Power, and the Academy: A Response to Hal Brands

March 26, 2018 in Economics

By John Glaser

John Glaser

Academic expertise should guide U.S. foreign policy.
Unfortunately, it does not really work that way. On a host of
issues, there is an enormous gap between scholarship on
international relations and the policy consensus in Washington. The
United States persistently pursues foreign strategies that run
contrary to the policy implications of the academic consensus. And
on questions that are hotly debated in academia, Washington
displays inviolable bipartisan unity.

Hal Brands addressed the gap in an article in the American Interest last
fall that was recently the subject of renewed interest on social
media. There is “systematic evidence,” he writes,
“that the scholarship-policy gap is real and widening.”
And he accurately identifies the many disparities.

“For decades, there has been a bipartisan policy
consensus” that U.S. non-proliferation policies are vital for
global security. “Scholars, however, are generally more
sanguine.” Policymakers in the post-Cold War era arrived at a
consensus to expand NATO eastward, while international relations
scholars “overwhelmingly opposed” it. Washington thinks
credibility is so important that it is worth fighting elective wars
to preserve it, while “most scholars argue that credibility
is a chimera.” On Iraq, “most foreign policy elites,
and significant bipartisan majorities in the Congress”
supported the case for war, which was “vociferously rejected
by most international relations scholars.” And in Washington,
“there has long been an unassailable consensus” around
a grand strategy of primacy, Brands notes; “within the
academy, however…the dominant school of thought favors American

Why this gap? According to Brands, scholars are “first and
foremost citizens of the world,” and therefore less
interested in pursuing the “national interest” than
policymakers. Academics “see patriotic fervor as the enemy of
objectivity,” and are therefore skeptical of “American
power.” Third, scholars emphasize the costs of action while
neglecting the costs of inaction. Fourth, they get swept up by
“beautiful concepts” and elegant theories, naively
blinding themselves to “the messiness of reality.”
Prudent practitioners, he insists, incorporate unlikely worst-case
scenarios into their policy decisions, while academics are free to
privilege abstract risk assessment. Finally, policymakers face
penalties for being wrong, whereas scholars get to spout off ideas
while escaping the consequences.

Brands is likely correct that scholars are more inclined to
think systematically about issues than policymakers. Indeed,
scholars are privileged in having positions that
encourage them to think rigorously. And it might be true
that academics care more about objectivity than patriotic zeal
— thankfully so, given the deleterious effects exuberant
patriotism can have on foreign policy. Brands doesn’t
argue for unhinged nationalism, but he does seem to look favorably
on the fact that much Washington-based analysis is tinged with love
of country and patriotic puffery, emphasizing America’s
enlightened intentions and special …read more

Source: OP-EDS