Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Champing at the Cyberbit [Shouldn’t that be: Chomping on Cyberbit?]

Wednesday, December 6th, 2017

Champing at the Cyberbit: Ethiopian Dissidents Targeted with New Commercial Spyware by Bill Marczak, Geoffrey Alexander, Sarah McKune, John Scott-Railton, and Ron Deibert.

From the post:

Key Findings

  • This report describes how Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins. Targets include a US-based Ethiopian diaspora media outlet, the Oromia Media Network (OMN), a PhD student, and a lawyer. During the course of our investigation, one of the authors of this report was also targeted.
  • We found a public logfile on the spyware’s command and control server and monitored this logfile over the course of more than a year. We saw the spyware’s operators connecting from Ethiopia, and infected computers connecting from IP addresses in 20 countries, including IP addresses we traced to Eritrean companies and government agencies.
  • Our analysis of the spyware indicates it is a product known as PC Surveillance System (PSS), a commercial spyware product with a novel exploit-free architecture. PSS is offered by Cyberbit — an Israel-based cyber security company that is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems — and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
  • We conducted Internet scanning to find other servers associated with PSS and found several servers that appear to be operated by Cyberbit themselves. The public logfiles on these servers seem to have tracked Cyberbit employees as they carried infected laptops around the world, apparently providing demonstrations of PSS to the Royal Thai Army, Uzbekistan’s National Security Service, Zambia’s Financial Intelligence Centre, the Philippine President’s Malacañang Palace, ISS World Europe 2017 in Prague, and Milipol 2017 in Paris. Cyberbit also appears to have provided other demos of PSS in France, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Rwanda, Serbia, and Nigeria.

Detailed research and reporting, the like of which is absent in reporting about election year “hacks” in the United States.

Despite the excellence of reporting in this post, I find it disappointing that Citizen Lab sees this as an occasion for raising legal and regulatory issues. Especially in light of the last substantive paragraph noting:

As we explore in a separate analysis, while lawful access and intercept tools have legitimate uses, the significant insecurities and illegitimate targeting we have documented that arise from their abuse cannot be ignored. In the absence of stronger norms and incentives to induce state restraint, as well as more robust regulation of spyware companies, we expect that authoritarian and other politically corrupt leaders will continue to obtain and use spyware to covertly surveil and invisibly sabotage the individuals and institutions that hold them to account.

Exposing the abuse of peaceful citizens by their governments is a powerful tool but for me, it falls far short of holding them to account. I have always thought of being “held to account” meant there were negative consequences associated with undesirable behavior.

Do you know of any examples of governments holding Cyberbit or similar entities accountable?

I am aware that the U.S. Congress has from time to time passed legislation “regulating the CIA” and other agencies, all of which was ignored by the regulated agencies. That doesn’t sound like accountability to me.

You?

PS: Despite my disagreement on the call for action, this is a great example of how to provide credible details about malicious cyberactivity. Would that members of the IC would read it and take it to heart.

Why “Russian Troll” is NOT a Useful Category/Class

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Caitlin Johnstone makes a great case in Accusing someone of being a ‘Russian troll’ is admitting you have no argument.

From the post:


Bottom line: when a stranger on the internet accuses you of being a Kremlin agent, of being a “useful idiot”, of “regurgitating Kremlin talking points”, this is simply their way of informing you that they have no argument for the actual thing that you are saying. If you’re using hard facts to point out the gaping plot holes in the Russiagate narrative, for example, and all they can do is call your argument Russian propaganda, this means that they have no counter-argument for the hard facts that you are presenting. They are deliberately shutting down the possibility of any dialogue with you because the cognitive dissonance you are causing them is making them uncomfortable.

Yes, paid shills for governments all over the world do indeed exist. But the odds are much greater that the stranger you are interacting with online is simply a normal person who isn’t convinced by the arguments that have been presented by the position you espouse. If your position is defensible you should be able to argue for it normally, regardless of whom you are speaking to.
… (emphasis in original)

Johnstone’s: Russian Troll accusation = No meaningful argument, postulate is a compelling one.

However, as the examples in Johnstone’s post also demonstrate, there is no common set of attributes that trigger its use.

“Russian Troll” is a brimful container of arbitrary whims, caprices and prejudices, which vary from user to user.

Arbitrary usage means it is unsuitable for use as a category or class, since any use is one off and unique.

I would not treat “Russian Troll” as a topic subject to merging but only as a string. Hopefully the 434K instances of it as a string (today, with quotes) will put users on notice of its lack of meaningful usage.

DHS Algorithms – Putting Discrimination Beyond Discussion

Friday, November 17th, 2017

Coalition of 100+ tech groups and leaders warn the DHS that “extreme vetting” software will be a worse-than-useless, discriminatory nightmare by Cory Doctorow.

From the post:

In a pair of open letters to Letter to The Honorable Elaine C. Duke, Acting Secretary of Homeland, a coalition of more than 100 tech liberties groups and leading technology experts urged the DHS to abandon its plan to develop a black-box algorithmic system for predicting whether foreigners coming to the USA to visit or live are likely to be positive contributors or risks to the nation.

The letters warn that algorithmic assessment tools will be prone to religious and racial bias, in which programmers get to decide, without evidence, debate or transparency, what kind of person should be an American — which jobs, attitudes, skills and family types are “American” and which ones are “undesirable.”

Further, the system for predicting terrorist proclivities will draw from an infinitesimal data-set of known terrorists, whose common characteristics will be impossible to divide between correlative and coincidental.

If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) needed confirmation it’s on the right track, then Doctorow and “the 100 tech liberties groups and leading technology experts” have provided that confirmation.


The letters warn that algorithmic assessment tools will be prone to religious and racial bias, in which programmers get to decide, without evidence, debate or transparency, what kind of person should be an American — which jobs, attitudes, skills and family types are “American” and which ones are “undesirable.”

To discriminate “…without evidence, debate or transparency…” is an obvious, if unstated, goal of the DHS “black-box algorithmic system.”

The claim by Doctorow and others the system will be ineffectual:

…the system for predicting terrorist proclivities will draw from an infinitesimal data-set of known terrorists, whose common characteristics will be impossible to divide between correlative and coincidental

imposes a requirement of effectiveness that has never been applied to the DHS.

Examples aren’t hard to find but consider that since late 2001, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has not caught a single terrorist. Let me repeat that: Since late 2001, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) has not caught a single terrorist. But visit any airport and the non-terrorist catching TSA is in full force.

Since the Naturalization Act of 1790 forward, granting naturalization to “…free white person[s]…,” US immigration policy has been, is and likely will always be, a seething cauldron of discrimination.

That the DNS wants to formalize whim, caprice and discrimination into algorithms “…without evidence, debate or transparency…” comes as no surprise.

That Doctorow and others think pointing out discrimination to those with a history, habit and intent to discriminate is meaningful is surprising.

I’m doubtful that educating present members of Congress about the ineffective and discriminatory impact of the DHS plan will be useful as well. Congress is the source of the current discriminatory laws governing travel and immigration so I don’t sense a favorable reception there either.

Perhaps new members of Congress or glitches in DHS algorithms/operations that lead to unforeseen consequences?

Why You Should Follow Caitlin Johnstone

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Why Everyone Should Do What WikiLeaks Did

From the post:


WikiLeaks did exactly what I would do, and so should you. We should all be shamelessly attacking the unelected power structure which keeps our planet locked in endless war while promoting ecocidal corporate interests which threaten the very ecosystemic context in which our species evolved. And we should be willing to use any tools at our disposal to do that.

I’ve been quite shameless about the fact that I’m happy to have my ideas advanced by people all across the political spectrum, from far left to far right. I will never have the ear of the US President’s eldest son, but if I did I wouldn’t hesitate to try and use that advantage if I thought I could get him to put our stuff out there. This wouldn’t mean that I support the US president, it would mean that I saw an opening to throw an anti-establishment idea over the censorship fence into mainstream consciousness, and I exploited the partisan self-interest of a mainstream figure to do that.

We should all be willing to do this. We should all get very clear that America’s unelected power establishment is the enemy, and we should shamelessly attack it with any weapons we’ve got. I took a lot of heat for expressing my willingness to have my ideas shared by high profile individuals on the far right, and I see the same outrage converging upon Assange. Assange isn’t going to stop attacking the establishment death machine with every tool at his disposal because of this outrage, though, and neither am I. The more people we have attacking the elites free from any burden of partisan or ideological nonsense, the better.

What she said.

Tools you suggest I should cover?

Caitlin Johnstone at:

Facebook

Medium

Twitter

How-Keep A Secret, Well, Secret (Brill)

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Top Secret History of America’s Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Warfare Programs and Their Deployment Overseas, edited by Matthew M. Aid, is described as:

At its peak in 1967, the U.S. nuclear arsenal consisted of 31,255 nuclear weapons with an aggregate destructive power of 12,786 megatons – more than sufficient to wipe out all of humanity several hundred times over. Much less known is that hidden away in earth-covered bunkers spread throughout the U.S., Europe and Japan, over 40,000 tons of American chemical weapons were stored, as well as thousands of specially designed bombs that could be filled with even deadlier biological warfare agents.

The American WMD programs remain cloaked in secrecy, yet a substantial number of revealing documents have been quietly declassified since the late 1970s. Put together, they tell the story of how America secretly built up the world’s largest stockpile of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. The documents explain the role these weapons played in a series of world crises, how they shaped U.S. and NATO defense and foreign policy during the Cold War, and what incidents and nearly averted disasters happened. Moreover, they shed a light on the dreadful human and ecological legacy left by decades of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons manufacturing and testing in the U.S. and overseas.

This collection contains more than 2,300 formerly classified U.S. government documents, most of them classified Top Secret or higher. Covering the period from the end of World War II to the present day, it provides unique access to previously unpublished reports, memoranda, cables, intelligence briefs, classified articles, PowerPoint presentations, military manuals and directives, and other declassified documents. Following years of archival research and careful selection, they were brought together from the U.S. National Archives, ten U.S. presidential libraries, the NATO Archives in Brussels, the National Archives of the UK, the National Archives of Canada, and the National Archives of the Netherlands. In addition, a sizeable number of documents in this collection were obtained from the U.S. government and the Pentagon using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests.

This collection comes with several auxiliary aids, including a chronology and a historiographical essay with links to the documents themselves, providing context and allowing for easy navigation for both students and scholars.

It’s an online resource of about 21,212 pages.

Although the editor, Aid and/or Brill did a considerable amount of work assembling these document, the outright purchase price: €4.066,00, $4,886.00 or the daily access price: $39.95/day, effectively keeps these once secret documents secret.

Of particular interest to historians and arms control experts, I expect those identifying recurrent patterns of criminal misconduct in governments will find the data of interest as well.

It does occur to me that when you look at the Contents tab, http://primarysources.brillonline.com/browse/weapons-of-mass-destruction#content-tab, each year lists the documents in the archive. Lists that could be parsed for recovery of the documents from other sources on the Internet.

You would still have to index (did I hear someone say topic map?) the documents, etc., but as a long term asset for the research community, it would be quite nice.

If you doubt the need for such a project, toss “USAF, Cable, CINCUSAFE to CSAF, May 6, 1954, Top Secret, NARA” into your nearest search engine.

How do you feel about Brill being the arbiter of 20th century history, for a price?

Me too.

Scope and Bracketing Public Officials – Schedules for Heads of Agencies

Monday, November 6th, 2017

Detailed Calendars/Schedules for Heads of Agencies by Russ Kirk

From the post:

One of the most important things we can know about high-level officials is their detailed scheduled. Who is the head of the EPA meeting with? Who’s been calling the chair of the Federal Reserve? Where has the Secretary of Education been traveling? What groups has the Attorney General been making speeches to?

Problem is, these crucial documents are almost never readily available. They’re released only due to FOIA requests, and sometimes not even then. I’ve filed requests with dozens of agencies for the daily schedules of their leaders covering the first half of 2017. I’ll be posting all the results here, as well as collecting the few calendars (usually from previous administrations) that are posted in the FOIA sections of some agencies’ websites. Keep checking back.

For an example of the important things that these calendars tell us, check out “E.P.A. Chief’s Calendar: A Stream of Industry Meetings and Trips Home” from the NYTimes.

Agency time servers will waive the “scope and bracketing” language in the title as justification for their secrecy but that’s not why they meet in secret.

Their secrets and alliances are too trivial for anyone to care about, save for the fact they are non-democratic and corrupt. No sane person spends $millions for a public office that has a starting salary less than a New York law firm.

Not without expecting non-salary compensation in the form of influencing federal agencies.

The information that Russ Kirk is gathering here is one clue in a larger puzzle of influence.

Enjoy!

US Senate Vermin List

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

The US Senate recently voted to approve a budget granting large tax cuts, paid for by cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

On the Concurrent Resolution: H. Con. Res. 71 As Amended; A concurrent resolution establishing the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2018 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2019 through 2027.

The “US Senate” is an identity concealing and accountability avoiding fiction.

H. Con. Res. 71 As Amended was approved by fifty-one (51) members of the Senate, all of who have names and websites.

You may find the following list helpful:

  1. Alexander (R-TN)
  2. Barrasso (R-WY)
  3. Blunt (R-MO)
  4. Boozman (R-AR)
  5. Burr (R-NC)
  6. Capito (R-WV)
  7. Cassidy (R-LA)
  8. Cochran (R-MS)
  9. Collins (R-ME)
  10. Corker (R-TN)
  11. Cornyn (R-TX)
  12. Cotton (R-AR)
  13. Crapo (R-ID)
  14. Cruz (R-TX)
  15. Daines (R-MT)
  16. Enzi (R-WY)
  17. Ernst (R-IA)
  18. Fischer (R-NE)
  19. Flake (R-AZ)
  20. Gardner (R-CO)
  21. Graham (R-SC)
  22. Grassley (R-IA)
  23. Hatch (R-UT)
  24. Heller (R-NV)
  25. Hoeven (R-ND)
  26. Inhofe (R-OK)
  27. Isakson (R-GA)
  28. Johnson (R-WI)
  29. Kennedy (R-LA)
  30. Lankford (R-OK)
  31. Lee (R-UT)
  32. McCain (R-AZ)
  33. McConnell (R-KY)
  34. Moran (R-KS)
  35. Murkowski (R-AK)
  36. Perdue (R-GA)
  37. Portman (R-OH)
  38. Risch (R-ID)
  39. Roberts (R-KS)
  40. Rounds (R-SD)
  41. Rubio (R-FL)
  42. Sasse (R-NE)
  43. Scott (R-SC)
  44. Shelby (R-AL)
  45. Strange (R-AL)
  46. Sullivan (R-AK)
  47. Thune (R-SD)
  48. Tillis (R-NC)
  49. Toomey (R-PA)
  50. Wicker (R-MS)
  51. Young (R-IN)

Where would you take this list from here?

Comparative Presidential Corruption

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017

Reporters wanting to add a historical flavor to their accounts of corruption and investigations of corruption in the Trump regime, will be glad to see: Papers of Ulysses S. Grant Now Online.

From the post:

The Library of Congress has put the papers of Ulysses S. Grant online for the first time in their original format at https://www.loc.gov/collections/ulysses-s-grant-papers/about-this-collection/.

The Library holds a treasure trove of documents from the Civil War commander and 18th president of the United States, including personal correspondence, “headquarters records” created during the Civil War and the original handwritten manuscript of Grant’s memoir— regarded as one of the best in history—among other items. The collection totals approximately 50,000 items dating from 1819-1974, with the bulk falling in the period 1843-1885.

The collection includes general and family correspondence, speeches, reports, messages, military records, financial and legal records, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, memorabilia and other papers. The collection relates to Grant’s service in the Mexican War and Civil War, his pre-Civil War career, and his postwar service as U.S. secretary of war ad interim under President Andrew Johnson, his 1868 presidential campaign and two-term presidency, his unsuccessful 1880 presidential bid, his extensive international travels and the financial difficulties late in life that spurred the writing of his memoir, which he completed just days before his death from tongue cancer in July 1885.

If you think the IRS has an unsavory reputation now, one tax collector (liquor taxes) was hired with a 50% commission on his collections. The Sanborn incident.

There have been a number of deeply corrupt American presidencies but this collection crossed my desk recently.

Enjoy!

Lauren Duca Declares War!

Friday, October 6th, 2017

The latest assault on women’s health, which impacts women, men and children, is covered by Jessie Hellmann in: Trump officials roll back birth-control mandate.

Lauren is right, this is war. It is a war on behalf of women, men and children. Women are more physically impacted by reproduction issues but there are direct impacts on men and children as well. When the reproductive health of women suffers, the women, men in their lives and children suffer as well. The reproductive health of women is everyone’s concern.

For OpSec reasons, don’t post your answer, but have you picked a specific target for this war?

I ask because diffuse targets, Congress for example, leads to diffuse results.

Specific targets, now former representative Tim Murphy for example, can have specific results.

PS: Follow and support Lauren Duca, @laurenduca!

Printer Exploitation Toolkit: PRET [398 Days to Congressional MidTerm Elections]

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

Printer Exploitation Toolkit: PRET

From the post:

PRET is a new tool for printer security testing developed in the scope of a Master’s Thesis at Ruhr University Bochum. PRET connects to a device via network or USB and exploits the features of a given printer language. Currently PostScript, PJL and PCL are supported which are spoken by most laser printers today. This allows PRET to do cool stuff like capturing or manipulating print jobs, accessing the printer’s file system and memory or even causing physical damage to the device. All attacks are documented in detail in the Hacking Printers Wiki.

The main idea of PRET is to facilitate the communication between the end-user and a printer. Thus, after entering a UNIX-like command, PRET translates it to PostScript, PJL or PCL, sends it to the printer, evaluates the result and translates it back to a user-friendly format. PRET offers a whole bunch of commands useful for printer attacks and fuzzing.

Billed in the post as:

The tool that made dumpster diving obsolete (emphasis in original)

I would not go that far, after all, there are primitives without networked printers, or so I have heard. For those cases, dumpster diving remains a needed skill.

Reading Exploiting Network Printers – A Survey of Security Flaws in Laser Printers and Multi-Function Devices (the master’s thesis) isn’t required, but it may help extend this work.

Abstract:

Over the last decades printers have evolved from mechanic devices with microchips to full blown computer systems. From a security point of view these machines remained unstudied for a long time. This work is a survey of weaknesses in the standards and various proprietary extensions of two popular printing languages: PostScript and PJL. Based on tests with twenty laser printer models from various vendors practical attacks were systematically performed and evaluated including denial of service, resetting the device to factory defaults, bypassing accounting systems, obtaining and manipulating print jobs, accessing the printers’ file system and memory as well as code execution through malicious firmware updates and software packages. A generic way to capture PostScript print jobs was discovered. Even weak attacker models like a web attacker are capable of performing the attacks using advanced cross-site printing techniques.

As of July of 2016, Appendix A.1 offers a complete list of printer CVEs. (CVE = Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures.)

The author encountered a mapping issue when attempting to use vFeed to map between CVEs to CWE (CWE = Common Weakness Enumeration).


Too many CWE identifier however match a single CVE identifier. To keep things clear, we instead grouped vulnerabilities into nine categories of attack vectors as shown in Table 3.2. It is remarkable that half of the identified security flaws are web-related while only one twelfth are caused by actual printing languages like PostScript or PJL.
… (page 11 of master’s thesis)

I haven’t examined the mapping problem but welcome suggestions from those of you who do. Printer exploitation is a real growth area in cybersecurity.

I mentioned the 398 Days to Congressional MidTerm Elections in anticipation that some bright lasses and lads will arrange for printers to print not only at a local location but remote one as well.

Think of printers as truthful but not loyal campaign staffers.

Enjoy!

DACA: 180 Days to Save 800,000 : Whose Begging Bowl to Choose? (Alternative)

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Trump administration ending DACA program, which protected 800,000 children of immigrants by Jacob Pramuk | @jacobpramuk.

From the post:

  • President Trump is ending DACA, the Obama-era program that protects hundreds of thousands of “dreamers.”
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions says there will be a six-month delay in terminating it to give Congress time to act.
  • Sessions says the immigration program was an unlawful overreach by Obama that cannot be defended.

Check out Pramuk’s post if you are interested in Attorney General Sessions’ “reasoning” on this issue. I refuse to repeat it from fear of making anyone who reads it dumber.

Numerous groups have whipped out their begging bowls and more are on the way. All promising opposition, not success, but opposition to ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Every group has its own expenses, lobbyists, etc., before any of your money goes to persuading Congress to save all 800,000 children of immigrants protected by the DACA.

Why not create:

  • low-over head fund
  • separate funds for house and senate
  • divided and contributed to the campaigns* of all representatives and senators who vote for replacement to DACA within 180 days
  • where replacement for DACA protects everyone now protected
  • and where replacement DACA becomes law (may have to override veto)

*The contribution to a campaign, as opposed to the senator or representative themselves, is important as it avoids the contributions being a “gratuity” for passage of the legislation, which is illegal. 2041. Bribery Of Public Officials.

Such funds would avoid the overhead of ongoing organizations and enable donors to see the results of their donations more directly.

I’m not qualified to setup such funds but would contribute to both.

You?

PS: You do the math. If some wealthy donor contributed 6 $million to the Senate fund, then sixty (60) senatorial campaigns would each get $600,000 in cash. Nothing to sneeze at.

DOJ Wanted To Hunt Down DisruptJ20.org Visitors

Friday, August 25th, 2017

National Public Radio (NPR) details the Department of Justice (DOJ) request for web records from DisruptJ20.org, which organized protests against the coronation of the current U.S. president, in Government Can Search Inauguration Protest Website Records, With Safeguards and Justice Department Narrows Request For Visitor Logs To Inauguration Protest Website. (The second story has the specifics on the demand.)

The narrowed DOJ request excludes:

f. DreamHost shall not disclose records that constitute HTTP requests and error logs.

A win for casual visitors this time, but no guarantees for next time.

The NPR stories detail this latest governmental over-reaching but the better question is:

How to avoid being scooped up if such a request were granted?

One word answer: Tor!

What is Tor?

Tor is free software and an open network that helps you defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal freedom and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security.

Why Anonymity Matters

Tor protects you by bouncing your communications around a distributed network of relays run by volunteers all around the world: it prevents somebody watching your Internet connection from learning what sites you visit, and it prevents the sites you visit from learning your physical location.

What’s your default browser?

If your answer is anything but Tor, you are putting yourself and others at risk.

If You Believe in Parliaments

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

If you believe in parliaments, other than as examples of how governments don’t “get it,” then the The Law Library of Congress, Global Legal Research Center has a treat for you!

Fifty (50) countries and seventy websites surveyed in: Features of (70)Parliamentary Websites in Selected Jurisdictions.

From the summary:

In recent years, parliaments around the world have enhanced their websites in order to improve access to legislative information and other parliamentary resources. Innovative features allow constituents and researchers to locate and utilize detailed information on laws and lawmaking in various ways. These include tracking tools and alerts, apps, the use of open data technology, and different search functions. In order to demonstrate some of the developments in this area, staff from the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress surveyed the official parliamentary websites of fifty countries from all regions of the world, plus the website of the European Parliament. In some cases, information on more than one website is provided where separate sites have been established for different chambers of the national parliament, bringing the total number of individual websites surveyed to seventy.

While the information on the parliamentary websites is primarily in the national language of the particular country, around forty of the individual websites surveyed were found to provide at least limited information in one or more other languages. The European Parliament website can be translated into any of the twenty-four official languages of the members of the European Union.

All of the parliamentary websites included in the survey have at least basic browse tools that allow users to view legislation in a list format, and that may allow for viewing in, for example, date or title order. All of the substantive websites also enable searching, often providing a general search box for the whole site at the top of each page as well as more advanced search options for different types of documents. Some sites provide various facets that can be used to further narrow searches.

Around thirty-nine of the individual websites surveyed provide users with some form of tracking or alert function to receive updates on certain documents (including proposed legislation), parliamentary news, committee activities, or other aspects of the website. This includes the ability to subscribe to different RSS feeds and/or email alerts.

The ability to watch live or recorded proceedings of different parliaments, including debates within the relevant chamber as well as committee hearings, is a common feature of the parliamentary websites surveyed. Fifty-eight of the websites surveyed featured some form of video, including links to dedicated YouTube channels, specific pages where users can browse and search for embedded videos, and separate video services or portals that are linked to or viewable from the main site. Some countries also make videos available on dedicated mobile-friendly sites or apps, including Denmark, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.

In total, apps containing parliamentary information are provided in just fourteen of the countries surveyed. In comparison, the parliamentary websites of thirty countries are available in mobile-friendly formats, enabling easy access to information and different functionalities using smartphones and tablets.

The table also provides information on some of the additional special features available on the surveyed websites. Examples include dedicated sites or pages that provide educational information about the parliament for children (Argentina, El Salvador, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Spain, Taiwan, Turkey); calendar functions, including those that allow users to save information to their personal calendars or otherwise view information about different types of proceedings or events (available on at least twenty websites); and open data portals or other features that allow information to be downloaded in bulk for reuse or analysis, including through the use of APIs (application programming interfaces) (at least six countries).

With differing legal vocabularies and local personification of multi-nationals, this is a starting point for transparency based upon topic maps.

I first saw this in a tweet by the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN).

Locate Your Representative/Senator In Hell

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

Mapping Dante’s Inferno, One Circle of Hell at a Time by Anika Burgess.

From the post:

I found myself, in truth, on the brink of the valley of the sad abyss that gathers the thunder of an infinite howling. It was so dark, and deep, and clouded, that I could see nothing by staring into its depths.”

This is the vision that greets the author and narrator upon entry the first circle of Hell—Limbo, home to honorable pagans—in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, the first part of his 14th-century epic poem, Divine Comedy. Before Dante and his guide, the classical poet Virgil, encounter Purgatorio and Paradiso, they must first journey through a multilayered hellscape of sinners—from the lustful and gluttonous of the early circles to the heretics and traitors that dwell below. This first leg of their journey culminates, at Earth’s very core, with Satan, encased in ice up to his waist, eternally gnawing on Judas, Brutus, and Cassius (traitors to God) in his three mouths. In addition to being among the greatest Italian literary works, Divine Comedy also heralded a craze for “infernal cartography,” or mapping the Hell that Dante had created.
… (emphasis in original)

Burgess has collected seven (7) traditional maps of the Inferno. I take them to be early essays in the art of visualization. They are by no means, individually or collectively, the definitive visualizations of the Inferno.

The chief deficit of all seven, to me, is the narrowness of the circles/ledges. As I read the Inferno, Dante and Virgil are not pressed for space. Expanding and populating the circles more realistically is one starting point.

The Inferno has no shortage of characters in each circle, Dante predicting the fate of Pope Boniface VIII, to place him in the eight circle of Hell (simoniacs A subclass of fraud.). (Use the online Britannica with caution. It’s entry for Boniface VIII doesn’t even mention the Inferno. (As of July 13, 2017.)

I would like to think being condemned to Hell by no less than Dante would rate at least a mention in my biography!

Sadly, Dante is no longer around to add to the populace of the Inferno but new visualizations could take the opportunity to update the resident list for Hell!

It’s an exercise in visualization, mapping, 14th century literature, and, an excuse to learn the name of your representative and senators.

Enjoy!

New York Times, Fact Checking and Dacosta’s First OpEd

Friday, July 7th, 2017

Cutbacks on editors/fact-checking at the New York Times came at an unfortunate time for Marc Dacosta‘s first OpEd, The President Wants to Keep Us in the Dark (New York Times, 28 June 2017).

DaCosta decries the lack of TV cameras at several recent White House press briefings. Any proof the lack of TV cameras altered the information available to reporters covering the briefings? Here’s DaCosta on that point:


But the truth is that the decision to prevent the press secretary’s comments on the day’s most pressing matters from being televised is an affront to the spirit of an open and participatory government. It’s especially chilling in a country governed by a Constitution whose very First Amendment protects the freedom of the press.

Unfortunately, the slow death of the daily press briefing is only part of a larger assault by the Trump administration on a precious public resource: information.

DaCosta’s implied answer is no, a lack of TV cameras resulted in no diminishing of information from the press conference. But, his hyperbole gland kicks in, then he cites disjointed events claimed to diminish public access to information.

For example, Trump’s non-publication of visitor records:


Immediately after Mr. Trump took office, the administration stopped publishing daily White House visitor records, reversing a practice established by President Obama detailing the six million appointments he and administration officials took at the White House during his eight years in office. Who is Mr. Trump meeting with today? What about Mr. Bannon? Good luck finding out.

Really? Mark J. Rozell summarizes the “detailing the six million appointments he and administration officials took…” this way:


Obama’s action clearly violated his own pledge of transparency and an outpouring of criticism of his action somewhat made a difference. He later reversed his position when he announced that indeed the White House visitor logs would be made public after all.

Unfortunately, the president decided only to release lengthy lists of names, with no mention of the purpose of White House visits or even differentiation between tourists and people consulted on policy development.

This action enabled the Obama White House to appear to be promoting openness while providing no substantively useful information. If the visitor log listed “Michael Jordan,” there was no way to tell if the basketball great or a same-named industry lobbyist was the person at the White House that day and the layers of inquiry required to get that information were onerous. But largely because the president had appeared to have reversed himself in reaction to criticism for lack of transparency, the controversy died down, though it should not have.

Much of the current reaction to President Trump’s decision has contrasted that with the action of his predecessor, and claimed that Obama had set the proper standard by opening the books. The reality is different though, as Obama’s action set no standard at all for transparency.
…(Trump should open White House visitor logs, but don’t flatter Obama, The Hill, 18 April 2017)

That last line on White House visitor records under Obama is worth repeating:

The reality is different though, as Obama’s action set no standard at all for transparency.

Obama-style opaqueness would not answer the questions:

Who is Mr. Trump meeting with today? What about Mr. Bannon? [Questions by DaCosta.]

A fact-checker and/or editor at the New York Times knew that answer (hint to NYT management).

Even more disappointing is the failure of DaCosta, as the co-founder of Engima, to bring any data to a claim that White House press briefings are of value.

One way to test the value of White House press briefings is to extract the “facts” announced during the briefing and compare those to media reports in the prior twenty-four hours.

If DaCosta thought of such a test, the reason it went unperformed isn’t hard to guess:


The Senate had just released details of a health care plan that would deprive 22 million Americans of health insurance, and President Trump announced that he did not, as he had previously hinted, surreptitiously record his conversations with James Comey, the former F.B.I. director.
… (DaCosta)

First, a presidential press briefing isn’t an organ for the US Senate and second, Trump had already tweeted the news about not recording his conversations with James Comey. None of those “facts” broke at the presidential press briefing.

DaCosta is 0 for 2 for new facts at that press conference.

I offer no defense for the current administration’s lack of transparency, but fact-free and factually wrong claims against it don’t advance DaCosta’s cause:


Differences of belief and opinion are inseparable from the democratic process, but when the facts are in dispute or, worse, erased altogether, public debate risks breaking down. To have a free and democratic society we all need a common and shared context of facts to draw from. Facts or data will themselves never solve any problem. But without them, finding solutions to our common problems is impossible.

We should all expect better of President Trump, the New York Times and Marc DaCosta (@marc_dacosta).

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Fiscal Year 2018 Budget.

In the best pay-to-play tradition, the Government Printing Office (GPO) has these volumes for sale:

America First: A Budget Blueprint To Make America Great Again By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. GPO Stock # 041-001-00719-9 ISBN: 9780160937620. Price: $10.00.

Budget of the United States Government, FY 2018 (Paperback Book) By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. GPO Stock # 041-001-00723-7 ISBN: 9780160939228. Price: $38.00.

Appendix, Budget of the United States Government, FY 2018 By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget GPO Stock # 041-001-00720-2 ISBN: 9780160939334. Price: $79.00.

Budget of the United States Government, FY 2018 (CD-ROM) By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget GPO Stock # 041-001-00722-9 ISBN: 9780160939358. Price: $29.00.

Analytical Perspectives, Budget of the United States Government, FY 2018 By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. GPO Stock # 041-001-00721-1 ISBN: 9780160939341. Price: $56.00.

Major Savings and Reforms: Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2018 By: Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget. GPO Stock # 041-001-00724-5 ISBN: 9780160939457. Price: $35.00.

If someone doesn’t beat me to it (very likely), I will be either uploading the CD-ROM and/or pointing you to a location with the contents of the CD-ROM.

As citizens, whether you voted or not, you should have the opportunity to verify news accounts, charges and counter-charges with regard to the budget.

Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics by Knight Center.

From the webpage:

Data journalists are the newest rock stars of the newsroom. Using computer programming and data journalism techniques, they have the power to cull through big data to find original and important stories.

Learn these techniques and some savvy computer programming to produce your own bombshell investigations in the latest massive open online course (MOOC) from the Knight Center, “Python for Data Journalists: Analyzing Money in Politics.”

Instructor Ben Welsh, editor of the Los Angeles Times Data Desk and co-founder of the California Civic Data Coalition, will show students how to turn big data into great journalism with speed and veracity. The course takes place from June 12 to July 9, 2017, so register now.

A high priority for your summer because:

  1. You will learn techniques for data analysis
  2. Learning #1 enables you to perform data analysis
  3. Learning #1 enables you to better question data analysis

I skimmed the post and did not see any coverage of obtaining concealed information.

Perhaps that will be the subject of a wholly anonymous MOOC. 😉

Do register! This looks like useful and fun!

PS: Developing a relationship with a credit bureau or bank staffer should be an early career goal. No one is capable of obtaining “extra” money and just sitting on it forever.

March 25th – Anniversary Of Triangle Fire – The Names Map

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

The Names Map

From the website:

The Names Map displays the name, home address, likely age, country of origin, and final resting place of all known Triangle Fire victims.

(map and list of 146 victims)

The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition connects individuals and organizations with the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire — one of the pivotal events in US history and a turning point in labor’s struggle to achieve fair wages, dignity at work and safe working conditions. Outrage at the deaths of 146 mostly young, female immigrants inspired the union movement and helped to institute worker protections and fire safety laws. Today, basic rights and benefits in the workplace are not a guarantee in the United States or across the world. We believe it is more vital than ever that these issues are defended.

The “not guilty” verdict on all counts of manslaughter for Triangle Factory owners Max Blanck and Issac Harris:

is often overlooked in anniversary celebrations. (Image from Cornell University, ILR School, Kheel Center’s Remembering The 1911 Triangle Factory Fire, Transcript of Criminal Trial)

That verdict is a forerunner to the present day decisions to not prosecute police shootings/abuse of unarmed civilians.

Celebrate the progress made since the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire while mindful exploitation and abuse continue to this very day.

The Remember the Triangle Fire Coalition has assembled a large number of resources, many of which are collections of other resources, including primary materials.

Politics For Your Twitter Feed

Sunday, March 26th, 2017

Hungry for more political tweets?

GovTrack created the Members of Congress Twitter list.

Barometer of congressional mood?

Enjoy!

Congress API Update

Saturday, March 18th, 2017

Congress API Update by Derek Willis.

From the post:

When we took over projects from the Sunlight Foundation last year, we inherited an Application Programming Interface, or API, that overlapped with one of our own.

Sunlight’s Congress API and ProPublica’s Congress API are similar enough that we decided to try to merge them together rather than run them separately, and to do so in a way that makes as few users change their code as possible.

Today we’ve got an update on our progress.

Users of the ProPublica Congress API can now access additional fields in responses for Members, Bills, Votes and Nominations. We’ve updated our documentation to provide examples of those responses. These aren’t new responses but existing ones that now include some new attributes brought over from the Sunlight API. Details on those fields are here.

We plan to fold in Sunlight fields and responses for Committees, Hearings, Floor Updates and Amendments, though that work isn’t finished yet.

The daily waves of bad information on congressional legislation will not be stopped by good information.

However, good information can be used to pick meaningful fights, rather than debating 140 character or less brain farts.

Your choice.

Creating A Social Media ‘Botnet’ To Skew A Debate

Friday, March 10th, 2017

New Research Shows How Common Core Critics Built Social Media ‘Botnets’ to Skew the Education Debate by Kevin Mahnken.

From the post:

Anyone following education news on Twitter between 2013 and 2016 would have been hard-pressed to ignore the gradual curdling of Americans’ attitudes toward the Common Core State Standards. Once seen as an innocuous effort to lift performance in classrooms, they slowly came to be denounced as “Dirty Commie agenda trash” and a “Liberal/Islam indoctrination curriculum.”

After years of social media attacks, the damage is impressive to behold: In 2013, 83 percent of respondents in Education Next’s annual poll of Americans’ education attitudes felt favorably about the Common Core, including 82 percent of Republicans. But by the summer of 2016, support had eroded, with those numbers measuring only 50 percent and 39 percent, respectively. The uproar reached such heights, and so quickly, that it seemed to reflect a spontaneous populist rebellion against the most visible education reform in a decade.

Not so, say researchers with the University of Pennsylvania’s Consortium for Policy Research in Education. Last week, they released the #commoncore project, a study that suggests that public animosity toward Common Core was manipulated — and exaggerated — by organized online communities using cutting-edge social media strategies.

As the project’s authors write, the effect of these strategies was “the illusion of a vociferous Twitter conversation waged by a spontaneous mass of disconnected peers, whereas in actuality the peers are the unified proxy voice of a single viewpoint.”

Translation: A small circle of Common Core critics were able to create and then conduct their own echo chambers, skewing the Twitter debate in the process.

The most successful of these coordinated campaigns originated with the Patriot Journalist Network, a for-profit group that can be tied to almost one-quarter of all Twitter activity around the issue; on certain days, its PJNET hashtag has appeared in 69 percent of Common Core–related tweets.

The team of authors tracked nearly a million tweets sent during four half-year spans between September 2013 and April 2016, studying both how the online conversation about the standards grew (more than 50 percent between the first phase, September 2013 through February 2014, and the third, May 2015 through October 2015) and how its interlocutors changed over time.

Mahnken talks as though creating a ‘botnet’ to defeat adoption of the Common Core State Standards is a bad thing.

I never cared for #commoncore because testing makes money for large and small testing vendors. It has no other demonstrated impact on the educational process.

Let’s assume you want to build a championship high school baseball team. To do that, various officious intermeddlers, who have no experience with baseball, fund creation of the Common Core Baseball Standards.

Every three years, every child is tested against the Common Core Baseball Standards and their performance recorded. No funds are allocated for additional training for gifted performers, equipment, baseball fields, etc.

By the time these students reach high school, will you have the basis for a championship team? Perhaps, but if you do, it due to random chance and not the Common Core Baseball Standards.

If you want a championship high school baseball team, you fund training, equipment, baseball fields and equipment, in addition to spending money on the best facilities for your hoped for championship high school team. Consistently and over time you spend money.

The key to better education results isn’t testing, but funding based on the education results you hope to achieve.

I do commend the #commoncore project website for being an impressive presentation of Twitter data, even though it is clearly a propaganda machine for pro Common Core advocates.

The challenge here is to work backwards from what was observed by the project to both principles and tactics that made #stopcommoncore so successful. That is we know it has succeeded, at least to some degree, but how do we replicate that success on other issues?

Replication is how science demonstrates the reliability of a technique.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts, suggestions, etc.

Enjoy!

Trump Tweets Strategically – You Respond (fill in the blank)

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

George Lakoff tweeted:

Here’s an example of a “strategic” tweet by Trump.

Donald J. Trump tweets:

Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

For testing purposes, how would you characterize this sample of tweets that are a small part of the 35K replies to Trump’s tweet.


pourmecoffee‏Verified account @pourmecoffee
@realDonaldTrump Correct. Making allegations without evidence is the literal definition of McCarthyism.

FFT-Obama for Prison‏ @FemalesForTrump
.@pourmecoffee
when will the liars learn. Trump ALWAYS does his homework! The truth will support his tweet in 3, 2, 1 …
#saturdaymorning

Ignatz‏ @ignatzz
@FemalesForTrump @pourmecoffee Yes, I remember that proof that Obama was born in Kenya. And the Bowling Green Massacre.

FFT-Obama for Prison‏ @FemalesForTrump
@ignatzz @pourmecoffee he WAS born in Kenya. Hawaii b/c is a fake. #fact
He didn’t make the bowling green statement. Now go away

Lisa Armstrong‏Verified account @LisaArmstrong
@FemalesForTrump You people are still stuck on the lie that Obama was born in Kenya? Why? Where is the proof? #alternativefacts

Jet Black‏ @jetd69
@LisaArmstrong @FemalesForTrump There’s little point in arguing with her. She’s as off her chops as he is. Females for Trump indeed!

Lisa Armstrong‏Verified account @LisaArmstrong
@jetd69 @FemalesForTrump I know you’re right. It’s just that the willingness of #Trump supporters to believe flat out lies astounds me.

AngieStrader‏ @AngieStrader
@LisaArmstrong @jetd69 @FemalesForTrump this goes both ways. Dems want Trump on treason. Based on what facts? What verifiable sources?

Lisa Armstrong‏Verified account @LisaArmstrong
@AngieStrader The difference is there’s a long list of shady things Trump has actually done. These are facts. Obama being Kenyan is a lie.

Do you see any strategic tweets in that list or in the other 37K responses (as of Saturday afternoon, 4 March 2017)?

If the point of Trump’s tweet was diversion, I would have to say it succeeded beautifully.

You?

The strategic response to a Trump tweet is ignoring them in favor of propagating your theme.

#ProtectTheTruth [Reframing Opposition to Energy Transfer Partners]

Monday, February 27th, 2017

#ProtectTheTruth by George Lakoff.

From the post:

Journalists are bravely standing up to Trump’s attacks on the free press, as they should. Yet one way in which they’re expressing their solidarity and resistance shows how little most journalists know about political framing and messaging.

Case in point: Trump has labeled journalists as “enemies.” So, journalists have responded by labeling themselves “#NotTheEnemy.” This hashtag is currently trending on Twitter, which is unfortunate. Adopting this slogan is a big mistake that helps Trump.

Anyone who has read my books or taken my classes at Berkeley will immediately understand why. For those new to political framing and messaging, I’ll explain briefly here.

Quick: Don’t think of an elephant!

Now, what do you see? The bulkiness, the grayness, the trunkiness of an elephant. You can’t block the picture – the frame – from being accessed by your unconscious mind. As a professor in the cognitive and brain sciences, this is the first lesson in framing I have given my students for decades. It’s also the title of my book on the science of framing political debates.

The key lesson: when we negate a frame, we evoke the frame.

I don’t know current characters known to both children and parents, but what if instead of:

#NoDAPL

we said:

#SaveSmokeyTheBear

would that be a better framing?

Or even better:

#SaveBambi

What are some more current memes to swell support to stop the ecocide promised by Energy Transfer Partners?

Congressmen Counsel Potential Leakers!

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Federal Employees Guide to Sharing Key Information with the Public.

From the webpage:

On February 16, 2017, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D | Los Angeles County) and Congressman Don Beyer (D | Virginia) released the following resource guide for federal employees who wish to break the Administration’s communications blackout on federal agencies. The guide explains how to safely and responsibly share information, and encourages employees to “Know Your Rights” and “Know Your Options.” In the “Know Your Rights” section, federal employees can learn about which federal laws apply to them. In the “Know Your Options” section, employees can learn about how to safely disseminate information to agency inspectors general and the press. The resource guide also includes links to an in-depth list of federal whistleblower statutes and information about agency inspectors general. The full press release can be found here.

Links to whistleblower resources, etc. follow.

Here’s a screen shot of the top of their guide:

The links for whistleblowers are great but rely upon the you take all the risk, media reaps all the glory model.

Better than no leaks at all but having news organization step up with cyberexpertise to safely extract data sounds like a better model.

Investigating A Cyberwar

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

Investigating A Cyberwar by Juliana Ruhfus.

From the post:

Editor’s Note: As the Syrian civil war has played out on the battlefields with gunshots and mortars, a parallel conflict has been fought online. The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a pro-Assad government group of hackers, has wielded bytes and malware to obtain crucial information from opponents of the Assad regime. The extracted information has led to arrests and torture of dissidents. In this interview, GIJN’s Eunice Au talks to Al Jazeera’s Juliana Ruhfus about the methodology and challenges of her investigation into the SEA and the process of transforming the story into an online game.

How did the idea for a documentary on the SEA come about? Who was part of your investigative team and how long did it take?

I had the idea for the film when I came across a report called “Behind Syria’s Digital Frontline,” published by a company called FireEye, cybersecurity analysts who had come across a cache of 30,000 Skype conversations that pro-Assad hackers had stolen from anti-Assad fighters. The hack provided a unique insight into the strategic intelligence that had been obtained from the Skype conversations, including Google images plans that outlined the battle at Khirbet Ghazaleh and images of missiles which the rebels were trying to purchase.

The fascinating thing was, it also shed light on how the hack was carried out. Pro-Assad hackers had created female avatars who befriended fighters on the front line by telling them how much they admired them and eventually asked to exchange photos. These images were infected with malware which proved devastating once downloaded. Computers in the field are shared by many fighters, allowing the hackers to spy on a large number of targets at once.

When I read the report I had the Eureka moment that I wait for when I am looking for a new idea: I could visualize the “invisible” cyberwar story and, for the first time ever, I really understood the crucial role that social engineering plays in hacking, that is the hacker’s psychological skill to get someone to click on an infected link.

I then shot the film together with director Darius Bazargan. Ozgur Kizilatis and Alexander Niakaris both did camera work and Simon Thorne was the editor. We filmed in London, Turkey, and France, and all together the production took just under three months.
… (emphasis in original)

C-suite level material but quite good, if a bit heavy-handed in its support for rebel forces in Syria. I favor the foxes over the hounds as well but prefer a more balanced approach to the potential of cyberwarfare.

Cyberweapons have the potential to be great equalizers with conventional forces. Punishing the use or supplying of cyberweapons, as Juliana reports here, is more than a little short-sighted. True, the Assad regime may have the cyber advantage today, but what about tomorrow? Or other governments?

The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017

The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine by Berit Anderson and Brett Horvath.

From the post:

“This is a propaganda machine. It’s targeting people individually to recruit them to an idea. It’s a level of social engineering that I’ve never seen before. They’re capturing people and then keeping them on an emotional leash and never letting them go,” said professor Jonathan Albright.

Albright, an assistant professor and data scientist at Elon University, started digging into fake news sites after Donald Trump was elected president. Through extensive research and interviews with Albright and other key experts in the field, including Samuel Woolley, Head of Research at Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project, and Martin Moore, Director of the Centre for the Study of Media, Communication and Power at Kings College, it became clear to Scout that this phenomenon was about much more than just a few fake news stories. It was a piece of a much bigger and darker puzzle — a Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine being used to manipulate our opinions and behavior to advance specific political agendas.

By leveraging automated emotional manipulation alongside swarms of bots, Facebook dark posts, A/B testing, and fake news networks, a company called Cambridge Analytica has activated an invisible machine that preys on the personalities of individual voters to create large shifts in public opinion. Many of these technologies have been used individually to some effect before, but together they make up a nearly impenetrable voter manipulation machine that is quickly becoming the new deciding factor in elections around the world.

Before you get too panicked, remember the techniques attributed to Cambridge Analytica were in use in the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign. And have been in use since then by marketeers for every known variety of product, including politicians.

It’s hard to know if Anderson and Horvath are trying to drum up more business for Cambridge Analytica or if they are genuinely concerned for the political process.

Granting that Cambridge Analytica has more data than was available in the 1960’s but many people, not just Cambridge Analytica have labored on manipulation of public opinion since then.

If people were as easy to sway, politically speaking, as Anderson and Horvath posit, then why is there any political diversity at all? Shouldn’t we all be marching in lock step by now?

Oh, it’s a fun read so long as you don’t take it too seriously.

Besides, if a “weaponized AI propaganda machine” is that dangerous, isn’t the best defense a good offense?

I’m all for cranking up a “demonized AI propaganda machine” if you have the funding.

Yes?

Open Science: Too Much Talk, Too Little Action [Lessons For Political Opposition]

Monday, February 6th, 2017

Open Science: Too Much Talk, Too Little Action by Björn Brembs.

From the post:

Starting this year, I will stop traveling to any speaking engagements on open science (or, more generally, infrastructure reform), as long as these events do not entail a clear goal for action. I have several reasons for this decision, most of them boil down to a cost/benefit estimate. The time spent traveling does not seem worth the hardly noticeable benefits any more.

I got involved in Open Science more than 10 years ago. Trying to document the point when it all started for me, I found posts about funding all over my blog, but the first blog posts on publishing were from 2005/2006, the announcement of me joining the editorial board of newly founded PLoS ONE late 2006 and my first post on the impact factor in 2007. That year also saw my first post on how our funding and publishing system may contribute to scientific misconduct.

In an interview on the occasion of PLoS ONE’s ten-year anniversary, PLoS mentioned that they thought the publishing landscape had changed a lot in these ten years. I replied that, looking back ten years, not a whole lot had actually changed:

  • Publishing is still dominated by the main publishers which keep increasing their profit margins, sucking the public teat dry
  • Most of our work is still behind paywalls
  • You won’t get a job unless you publish in high-ranking journals.
  • Higher ranking journals still publish less reliable science, contributing to potential replication issues
  • The increase in number of journals is still exponential
  • Libraries are still told by their faculty that subscriptions are important
  • The digital functionality of our literature is still laughable
  • There are no institutional solutions to sustainably archive and make accessible our narratives other than text, or our code or our data

The only difference in the last few years really lies in the fraction of available articles, but that remains a small minority, less than 30% total.

So the work that still needs to be done is exactly the same as it was at the time Stevan Harnad published his “Subversive Proposal” , 23 years ago: getting rid of paywalls. This goal won’t be reached until all institutions have stopped renewing their subscriptions. As I don’t know of a single institution without any subscriptions, that task remains just as big now as it was 23 years ago. Noticeable progress has only been on the margins and potentially in people’s heads. Indeed, now only few scholars haven’t heard of “Open Access”, yet, but apparently without grasping the issues, as my librarian colleagues keep reminding me that their faculty believe open access has already been achieved because they can access everything from the computer in their institute.

What needs to be said about our infrastructure has been said, both in person, and online, and in print, and on audio, and on video. Those competent individuals at our institutions who make infrastructure decisions hence know enough to be able to make their rational choices. Obviously, if after 23 years of talking about infrastructure reform, this is the state we’re in, our approach wasn’t very effective and my contribution is clearly completely negligible, if at all existent. There is absolutely no loss if I stop trying to tell people what they already should know. After all, the main content of my talks has barely changed in the last eight or so years. Only more recent evidence has been added and my conclusions have become more radical, i.e., trying to tackle the radix (Latin: root) of the problem, rather than palliatively care for some tangential symptoms.

The line:

What needs to be said about our infrastructure has been said, both in person, and online, and in print, and on audio, and on video.

is especially relevant in light of the 2016 presidential election and the fund raising efforts of organizations that form the “political opposition.”

You have seen the ads in email, on Facebook, Twitter, etc., all pleading for funding to oppose the current US President.

I agree the current US President should be opposed.

But the organizations seeking funding failed to stop his rise to power.

Whether their failure was due to organizational defects or poor strategies is really beside the point. They failed.

Why should I enable them to fail again?

One data point, the Women’s March on Washington was NOT organized by organizations with permanents staff and offices in Washington or elsewhere.

Is your contribution supporting staffs and offices of the self-righteous (the primary function of old line organizations) or investigation, research, reporting and support of boots on the ground?

Government excesses are not stopped by bewailing our losses but by making government agents bewail theirs.

The Power of Big Data and Psychographics [Fact Checking]

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

From the description:

In a 10 minute presentation at the 2016 Concordia Summit, Mr. Alexander Nix discusses the power of big data in global elections. Cambridge Analytica’s revolutionary approach to audience targeting, data modeling, and psychographic profiling has made them a leader in behavioral microtargeting for election processes around the world.

A highly entertaining but deceptive presentation on the state of the art for marketing political candidates.

Nix claims that most marketing companies base their advertising on demographics and geographics, sending the same message to all women, all African-Americans, etc.

Worse than a “straw man,” that’s simply false. If you know the work Selling Blue Elephants by Howard Moskowitz and Alex Gofman, then you know that marketers tweak their pitches to very small market slices.

But you don’t need to find a copy of Selling Blue Elephants or take my word for that. On your next visit to the grocery store see for yourself how many variations of a popular shampoo or spaghetti sauce are offered. Each one is calculated to attract a particular niche of the overall market.

Nix goes on to describe advertising in the 1960’s as “top down,” “hope messages resonant,” etc.

Not only is that another false claim, but the application described by Nix was pioneered for the 1960 presidential campaign.


Ithiel de Sola Pool, with others, developed the Simulmatics program for the computation of a great variety of factors thought to influence voting, for specific use in the 1960 presidential election. A multitude of influences can be introduced into the program, together with modifications of a strategic nature, and the results bear on both prediction and choice of strategy, much in the manner that elaborate market research influences business decision on manufacture and sale of a new product. The Simulmatics project assembled a basic matrix of voter types and “issue clusters” (480 of the former and 52 of the latter, making a total of 24,960 cells), consolidating as values the accumulated archives of polling on all kinds of questions. The records of the Roper Public Opinion Research Center at Williamstwon were used as source material. With no data later than 1958, the simulation achieved a correlation by states of .82 with the actual Kennedy vote.

(“The Mathematical Approach to Political Science” by Oliver Benson, in Contemporary Political Analysis, edited by James C. Charlesworth, The Free Press, 1967, at pp. 129-130)

I’ll grant that Nix has more data at his disposal and techniques have changed in the last fifty-seven (57) years, but there’s no legitimate reason to not credit prior researchers in the field.

PS: If you find a hard (or scanned) copy of The Simulmatics Project by Ithiel de Sola Pool, let me know.

Executive Orders (Bulk Data From Federal Register)

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

Executive Orders

From the webpage:

The President of the United States manages the operations of the Executive branch of Government through Executive orders. After the President signs an Executive order, the White House sends it to the Office of the Federal Register (OFR). The OFR numbers each order consecutively as part of a series, and publishes it in the daily Federal Register shortly after receipt.

Executive orders issued since 1994 are available as a single bulk download and as a bulk download by President, or you can browse by President and year from the list below. More details about our APIs and other developer tools can be found on our developer pages.

Don’t ignore the developer pages.

Whether friend or foe of the current regime in Washington, the FederalRegister.gov API enables access to all the regulatory material published in the Federal Register. Use it.

It should be especially useful in light of Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs, which provides in part:


Sec. 2. Regulatory Cap for Fiscal Year 2017. (a) Unless prohibited by law, whenever an executive department or agency (agency) publicly proposes for notice and comment or otherwise promulgates a new regulation, it shall identify at least two existing regulations to be repealed.

Disclaimer: Any resemblance to an executive order is purely coincidental:

Tracking DAPL Enablers – Barclays Bank PLC

Monday, January 30th, 2017

Continuing my list of co-conspirators financing in part the DAPL pipeline project. Number 3: Barclays Bank PLC.

Emily Fuller gives these contacts for Barclays:

Barclays

Chairman John McFarlane
john.mcfarlane@barclays.com
CEO Jes Staley

Corporate Office:
Barclays Bank PLC
1 Churchill Place
London E14 5HP, United Kingdom
44-20-7116-1000

U.S. Office:
Barclays
745 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10019
212-526-7000

Press Office:
212-526-7000
CorporateCommunicationsAmericas@barclays.com

Starting with Bloomberg’s Company Overview of Barclays Bank PLC, I think we can generate a few more contact points:

Mr. James E. Staley, Chief Executive Officer, Director, Chief Executive Officer of Barclays Plc and Director of Barclays Plc

Mr. Tushar Morzaria, Group Finance Director and Executive Director

Mr. Jonathan Moulds, Group Chief Operating Officer

Ms. Maria D. C. D. N. C. Ramos C.A.I.B, B.Com (Hons), M.Sc., Chief Executive of Barclays Africa

Mr. Ashok V. Vaswani, Chief Executive Officer of Personal and Corporate Banking

I don’t have enough time left today to extract the people and photos from the Our People section of the Barclays site.

I will fix that tomorrow and that will bump the Barclays list into the dozens.

Just an observation for now, but this is the third entity financing Energy Transfer Equity that has no mention of it on its website.

Is it the case that Energy Transfer Equity is too small to register on their corporate dashboards?

If that is the case, then pestering banks directly maybe fun but pestering their customers, who are even more unaware of their banks commercial lending activities, maybe more effective.

Thoughts?