Saturday, March 29, 2008

ratfucking et al

While I recognize that the current debate and consternation between the two Democratic candidates is good and healthy (what with being a democracy and all), the tone that some members of each camp seem to be taking with one another has always seemed a little over the top.

There is a term which emerged out of the Watergate investigations which might be useful here: ratfucker. This is a political operative who has the interesting position of thinking up rotten things to do to the opposition party.

Let us for a moment step into the way back machine and embrace the greatest ratfucker of them all - Karl Rove. He began the public segment of his career with - this will shock you - Richard Nixon. Before then he did whateverthefuck one does in preparing for a career steeped in Doing Evil. Pulling the wings off of flys and the heads of off dollies, worshiping cathulu, squeezing that little bit of humanity out of his soul so that it would not accidentally pull a Grinch on him. Bastards. Who the fuck knows?
Segretti recruited Karl Rove, the executive director of the College Republicans, to work in this dirty tricks campaign. In the fall of 1970, Rove had used a false identity to enter the campaign office of Democrat Alan J. Dixon, who was running for Treasurer of Illinois. He stole 1000 sheets of paper with campaign letterhead, printed fake campaign rally fliers promising “free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing”, and distributed them at rock concerts and homeless shelters, with the effect of disrupting Dixon’s rally.
Segretti went to jail for that one, Rove just moved up the food chain. As a protégé of Segretti, Rove helped to paint Nixon opponent George McGovern as a “left-wing peacenik”, in spite of McGovern’s heroism during World War II piloting a B-24.

I am stealing much of this from a deliriously hysterical post which really is a must read. In a classic move he took the position of the Director of the College Republicans from Robert Edgeworth by using a different version of the C.R. constitution. The election was a tie, so the decision was made by George Herbert Walker Bush. Ok, tell me with a straight face that the republican party is not composed entirely of creepy incestuous back scratchers.

Oh, my point? Well is was supposed to be simple. When you get some troll showing up and being all psycho and reactionary - serving no purpose at all except to sow disagreement, maybe you are just being visited by a ratfucking stooge. Reading the comments on the above mentioned post and you will come to realize that this message just bounced right the hell off the pointy heads of the commenter's. Things have gotten to heated up and crazy, that I don't think that they need to have stooges any more.

Imagine how proud this makes Karl.

Two quick comments: (1) I do not labor under the impression that the Democrats are somehow not creepy and incestuous. They just lack the high gloss approach that the repos have. (2) I have waited a long time to use the phrase 'ratfucking stooge' in my writing. Thank you for humoring me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Click on the link, knock knock.

In looking for the graphic on this posting, I ran across a number of fringe organizations and people whose sights I might not normally find myself at. This is not all that unusual when you enter a series of words - like "thought crime" in to the google images search.

Keep this in mind, and also think about how many times you have found yourself in a site that might be considered illegal or immoral by the standards found in the local community.

Enter the DOJ. From a article:

The FBI has recently adopted a novel investigative technique: posting hyperlinks that purport to be illegal videos of minors having sex, and then raiding the homes of anyone willing to click on them.

Undercover FBI agents used this hyperlink-enticement technique, which directed Internet users to a clandestine government server, to stage armed raids of homes in Pennsylvania, New York, and Nevada last year. The supposed video files actually were gibberish and contained no illegal images.

Two things quick. First, players in the kid porn world deserve the wood chipper. Second, that 'gibberish' was probably a nice attack vector with call back code in it.

Regardless, think about what is going on here. Someone connected to a linking using the IP address registered to your account with the ISP - maybe it is you, maybe not - and accesses a link watched by the FBI. On the strength of this information alone, your door gets kicked in and you are accused of a crime to which you really have no chance of defending yourself against.

When anyone visited the site, the FBI recorded the Internet Protocol address of the remote computer. There's no evidence the referring site was recorded as well, meaning the FBI couldn't tell if the visitor found the links through Ranchi or another source such as an e-mail message.

With the logs revealing those allegedly incriminating IP addresses in hand, the FBI sent administrative subpoenas to the relevant Internet service provider to learn the identity of the person whose name was on the account--and then obtained search warrants for dawn raids.

What troubles me about this (besides the nature of the accusation) is fairly complicated. First the person did not actually access illegal material. In a more traditional (say drug related) situation, you must exchange money for drugs before a crime takes place. Here a link is accessed from some IP address. There is no strong causality - either in terms of who did the access (remember, we only have records for the internet address, not the person) and more importantly the fact that the transaction never actually took place. Nothing illegal was accessed - only 'gibberish'. In addition, how the address accessed the link was not recorded (as per the quote above), so there is no indication of what means the illicit link was accessed by - say in an email or web site or even as an image referral in a particularly broken email client.

In addition, it is not unusual to have legal precedent created for a crime like drug use or porn where there are few people who look at this as a potential civil rights infringement. Hell, they are happy to see that sort of asshole locked up no matter what the means. The problem is, such legislation tends to suffer from feature creep.
When asked what would stop the FBI from expanding its hyperlink sting operation, Harvey Silverglate, a longtime criminal defense lawyer in Cambridge, Mass. and author of a forthcoming book on the Justice Department, replied: "Because the courts have been so narrow in their definition of 'entrapment,' and so expansive in their definition of 'probable cause,' there is nothing to stop the Feds from acting as you posit."
It is not the individual described case that concerns me as much as the big picture. There is a layer of abstraction happening here which seems a bit slippery. It is not the notion that intent is irrelevant - think about conspiracy charges. It is the lack of causality between the act of someone accessing an internet site, and the FBI kicking in your door and dragging you away in front of your neighbors. You are not just accused of a crime that is poison in our society, but also having the FBI dig through your personal items and papers:
The search warrants authorized FBI agents to seize and remove any "computer-related" equipment, utility bills, telephone bills, any "addressed correspondence" sent through the U.S. mail, video gear, camera equipment, checkbooks, bank statements, and credit card statements.
You tend to get this stuff back when they are quite ready to give it to you.

It is the feature creep that is causing me the most grief.

Happy Zombie Day!

Neither Mrs. set.element, nor myself are religious people, PAB is allergic to eggs, and we are a little horrified at the thought of our little love child chomping the heads off of chocolate bunnies or peeps. Out of respect for all the goofy organized religions that are doing whatever wine drinking and cracker munching that makes them happy, we recognize their odd predilection and declare today "Zombie Day." So happy Zombie Day people!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Once again I am at a loss to adequately describe what a chickenshit world we live in. All these rugged individualist free market types with there condescending little fuck you attitudes and their 'the market will sort things out' bullshit children's stories.

These assholes fucked us all over and are now expecting to be bailed out again without even a hint of the regulation that you or I might receive for the privilege of food stamps. Please stop what you are doing and read a most excellent rant - I am humbled by the power and grace of this mighty smackdown.

Back? After years of taking the economy out for a drive, and parking it next to his corporate buddies to feed out of the trough, Allen 'Bubbles' Greenspan is playing the the Ronald Regan card and suggesting:
Those of us who look to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder equity have to be in a state of shocked disbelief.
Who might possibly have thought that something might have gone wrong? He says a few other things that are loathsome in the extreme. Actually the whole tone of the article is so swarmy and obsequious that you really have to go read it to experience the whole malevolent effect. In case you are not up for such an unclean adventure, I will select a few choice words. We start at the beginning.
Home price stabilisation will restore much-needed clarity to the marketplace because losses will be realised rather than prospective. The major source of contagion will be removed.
Who in this case will be footing the bill? The companies who created the investment vehicles which are responsible for this current state of illness? No, just you and I - ie the current mortgage holders and more importantly the US taxpayer. Just think about the use of the word contagion. Assholes.

After running on and on about this and that, we get two interesting quotes. The first is a clear declaration that the current system represents the best and greatest hope to get us out of this mess.
I hope that one of the casualties will not be reliance on counterparty surveillance, and more generally financial self-regulation, as the fundamental balance mechanism for global finance.
After all, interfering with financial 'self regulation' might interfere with the steady flow of capitol from your pocket into theirs... At the same time, we get this interesting little tidbit after he goes on and on like some weird Laplacean Ayn Rand fiend - because if only we had the right model, then perhaps we might maximize the flow of capitol from the taxpayer to the nice rich people. The final straw is the following:
But these models do not fully capture what I believe has been, to date, only a peripheral addendum to business-cycle and financial modelling – the innate human responses that result in swings between euphoria and fear that repeat themselves generation after generation with little evidence of a learning curve.
So the real problem is out stupid little monkey brains. Not avarice, filthy greed or the need to assign blame to every other person except ourselves.

Greenspan is falling into the pattern of every other tool in the box of this administration. The same fucking "gee, who would ever think that this would be a problem??" that the entire remainder of the educated world seems to be able to see through. More word games.

And what tossed me over the edge? Just some dumbfuck comment on another article describing the problems with mortgage baked securities. To snip out the quote:
"If anyone deserves a bailout, it's the small homeowners who heard financial authority figures telling them for years that buying a house was a wise decision on any terms"

Yes, those poor soles. The same ones in California that lied about their income in order to qualify for absurdly low teaser rates and option ARMs because they had to have their dream house NOW. The same ones that watched long term interest rates fall to historically low levels, and instead of locking them in, decided to "liberate equity" to buy kitchen upgrades, new cars, vacations, and jet skis. yes, the poor home buyer.
Fucking jet skies. As if the entire system was spun up to move equity from the middle class back to the rich via mortgages and investment vehicles? Remember the stock market and how the middle class was bilked out of trillions in investment pyramid schemes. Same shit, different tool.

This asshole has obviously never tried to save 50 or 75 thousand dollars for a house out in California. You just do not get to put down 10 - 15% without a little help from your parents. If you happen to be supporting your parents, you might just be a little fucked. So we knowingly enter into the fight with the fore-knowledge that the entire system is gamed to make you roadkill.

Too bad I can't just claim that I had no idea that this would happen and can this all just go away.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I am normally loath to just leave a quote out there as a stand alone expression. This one though is too perfect in and of itself to require any comment.
It's hard to avoid the suspicion that a significant number of America's worst social problems would be alleviated by summoning the insurance industry's top managers to an economic summit, and then setting packs of wild dogs on them. - PNH, 6 January 2003

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Walls?!? We don't need no stinking walls...

Three decades ago, Congress imposed limits on the collection and sharing of domestic information between classic intelligence gathering agencies and civilian law enforcement. Seems like, if you can imagine, large quantities of information were being gathered on law abiding citizens for strictly political reasons.

From a facinating Washington Post article:
"A guy that's got a flat tire outside a nuclear facility in one location means nothing," said Thomas E. Bush III, the FBI's assistant director of the criminal justice information services division. "Run the guy and he's had a flat tire outside of five nuclear facilities and you have a clue."
I will get to the article shortly, but this little quip is quite interesting for several reasons. Initially I wonder what the rational for gathering the volume of low grade information suggested in this. The inference here is that if you get enough stuff piled together that it is possible to infer patterns which provide some sort of high grade end product. This is, I believe, total bullshit.

And what is this all about?
Several thousand law enforcement agencies are creating the foundation of a domestic intelligence system through computer networks that analyze vast amounts of police information to fight crime and root out terror plots.
What a marvelous slippery slope of information gathering possibilities. Rules were put into place for misconduct that happened when it was difficult to gather information on people. Real paper folders and whatnot changing hands. Imagine what can be done now. With this system in place, non-governmental companies are taking care of the integration, performing an end run around laws and rules which are supposed to limit the flow of information gathering and criminal prosecution. Not being bound by by these niceties, corporations can create bridges over the walls. Even more so, they can 'value add' things like credit information and the like to the mix. Ask yourself what an internet advertising company, or google knows about you.

Now attach this great volume of information to law enforcement. Not just DOJ law enforcement, but anybody hooked up to Coplink. Think about the leverage that this volume of information might be able to assert if used as a stick in, say, local politics...

In my line of work, we do a great deal of work with little bits and pieces of information. It gets fed into systems which tend to do a great deal of collating and fumbling about, and we smelly apes look at the results and make decisions about what happened. For every system there are false positives and false negatives, each of which represents a failure mode in the analysis. If a similar volume of information - some correct and some not - is available, I do not think that the entire set of people using this new resource will be ready to digest the information with the sort of skeptical eye that it needs to be.

In case there might be uncertainty regarding my skeptical bias toward law enforcement - and federal law enforcement via DOJ in general - I provide the following talking points. Back in November, I had a little discussion about cell phones and privacy. From there:
"Law enforcement has absolutely no interest in tracking the locations of law-abiding citizens. None whatsoever," Boyd said. "What we're doing is going through the courts to lawfully obtain data that will help us locate criminal targets, sometimes in cases where lives are literally hanging in the balance, such as a child abduction or serial murderer on the loose."
With this in mind, we now look at a little bit of information regarding the accidental disclosure of a significant privacy issue.
A U.S. government office in Quantico, Virginia, has direct, high-speed access to a major wireless carrier's systems, exposing customers' voice calls, data packets and physical movements to uncontrolled surveillance, according to a computer security consultant who says he worked for the carrier in late 2003.
This is the same thing as described in a 2006 lawsuit against Verizon.

I guess my point is that the continuing creep toward transparent access by the Corporate - Government complex, legal or otherwise, marches on.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

(In)Security Primacy

Life has been alarmingly busy as of late - school, life, work and PAB have left me with little time for complaining. Bummer, as there has been quite a bit going on in the world worthy of note.

I have taken the basic idea from Digby's mega-blog and will not pretend to be doing little more than borrowing text for a while. It resonates with me in that it is a reminder to us regarding just how far things have changed in the past seven years. Short version:
In an American contest, "liberty and the pursuit of happiness" should matter just as much as life (remember Patrick Henry?). Justice, the general welfare and liberty should matter just as much as the common defense and domestic tranquility. We have really lost our way on this front, to the point that even saying your first priority as President or in Congress is anything but security is considered blasphemy. That is an incredibly frustrating, teeth-grinding loss of our national purpose, to such an extent that it has become an untouchable symptom in our national decline.
When you stop and think about it, this is illuminating. The rise of the military industrial complex to an unquestioned and dominating influence on both political parties, and the effect this has on our own vision of America belittles it's effect as a lens that we see our entire national image. Some time ago there was this guy who said (amongst other things):

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Naturally, this is Dwight Eisenhower. It really is a refreshing thing to read after seven years of this cheeze-wiz president.

Now that we have an appetizer to work on, we get to the real meat. Or tofu or whatever. Again, a short quote to begin (from the LA Times):
The recent decisions of Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey to block any prosecution of Bush administration officials for contempt and to block any criminal investigation of torture led to a chorus of criticism. Many view the decisions as raw examples of political manipulation of the legal process and overt cronyism. I must confess that I was one of those crying foul until I suddenly realized that there was something profound, even beautiful, in Mukasey's action.

In his twisting of legal principles, the attorney general has succeeded in creating a perfect paradox. Under Mukasey's Paradox, lawyers cannot commit crimes when they act under the orders of a president -- and a president cannot commit a crime when he acts under advice of lawyers.
Interesting. An entire branch of government immune from the same laws that bind the remainder of the citizenry. I have spent endless time discussing the lawyer fetishism which seems to be endlessly overpowering for the executive branch. This rational is the logical conclusion of that ideology. Immunity from rule of law by changing the language and interpretation of law. Like kids covering their eyes insisting that you have disappeared. That war crimes and the systematic elimination of civil liberties are negotiable.

I was going to map this whole mess into the FISA telco immunity circus playing itself out over the past week or so. This is a broken dirty mess which encompasses both parties being culpable to this assault on our rights. The end result being immunity for the executive branch law breaking.

At this point I am so dulled to the daily routine that anger. There is much more, but it is late and there is a large quantity of code to be written.