Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Snowden, the Movie

Friday, September 16th, 2016

I went to one of the first Boston matinees of the movie Snowden today.

It was all very familiar territory: it could have been boring or–as with any subject I know a lot about–it could have been excruciating in its errors. It was neither. It held my attention, it did not disappoint.

But was it a good movie? I usually have tons of opinions, I fret over whether a movie hits the ten-minute mark right, whether the script is “economical”, whether characters are compelling, whether the plot is interesting. In this case I can’t say, I am not unbiased: I am an American. And this is really important material–important to any American.

I do know it was at least a competent movie, because it had me wanting to cry. I knew Edward Snowden was a hero, but Oliver Stone tugs for tears. At least from me.

Is it a great movie? Probably not, just because great movies are rare. But I don’t know. Ask me in a few years, I’ll know better. But right now I am kinda choked up over a man whose illusions were shattered, followed by his world being shattered as he followed his conscience with selfless acts.

Another bit of praise: Usually it is painful to see a movie on a topic that I know something about, worse if the movie is technical, and far worse if it is about a technical topic I know something about. This movie did well by that measure.

-kb, the Kent who thinks the three branches of government should not be secret legislative measures, implemented by secret executive orders and agencies, overseen by secret courts.

©2016 Kent Borg

Why We Got Ourselves a Trump: 4 Crazy Tricks

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016

Four things came together to give us Donald J. Trump as the all-but-official GOP nominee.

First, the so-called cable news channels in the US are, indeed, for-profit businesses, looking for ratings, looking for an edge. Thump was ratings gold for them. He got enormous free publicity in exchange for supplying viewers. He did a very good clown-act. Maybe professional “wrestling” is a closer approximation, but either way they have airtime to fill and he provided them with riveting free content.

Second, the GOP has been pandering to, and fanning the flames of, a very dissatisfied base. They have been promoting a “reality” that is remote from actual facts. And, they have not delivered on their promises. This left the GOP a hollow party, dependent on a narrowing base, that no one could reason with. They created a monster. A monster that apparently watches cable TV.

Third, due to something the GOP has accomplished, the 1% have done great in this otherwise tepid recovery, but vast areas of this country (it goes zip code, by zip code) have been left behind and are still where George II’s Great Recession left them. They have not seen the recovery at all. They are rightfully afraid, and unfortunately very angry. And they watch TV.

Fourth, The Donald turned out to be a political genius. The man is nothing if not arrogant, but I don’t think even he had a clue how good he would be at this. He took his entertainment TV experience and turned it into an entertaining campaign, driven by free TV.

I thought the Trump phenomenon would burn out. I think he guessed it would, too, that he would come away with a bigger “brand”. Well, the second part sure came true.

-kb

©2016 Kent Borg

Will Donald Trump Split the Republican Party?

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Splitting the GOP: Refused

A few years ago, when the GOP first lurched right and so seemed to be dismissing any reasonable chance of winning the presidency, I figured they needed to split in two, they needed to kick out the crazies.

But they didn’t, instead they all adopted this crazy attitude, and I forgot about my constructive idea. The GOP wasn’t following my suggestion.

Now it Might Happen

Not saying it will, but I can see a way it might: Donald Trump.

Observers have puzzled to figure out what Trump’s ideology is, and other than being a brash showman, it has been hard. I think it is because he didn’t much have any political ideology. But now, as he shifts right–shifts far right–he might be finding his ideology. For the last week The Donald is having a good time with fascism; he might decide he really likes it.

So if a GOP split happens it won’t be because crazies were pushed out but it might be that they leave to follow Trump.

His chance of winning the GOP nomination is not zero, but it is low. If he looses he might go third-party. He said he won’t, but he could change his mind. If he walks, and is the pied piper who leads the brownshirts and tea baggers to form a white-wing party, er, right-wing party, what is left behind?

A quieter and rather shaken GOP, free to be sensible and reality-based again.

Not saying it will happen, but it could. And it would be good for the country, good for the world. The GOP will win the presidency again–if for no other reason than the Democrat might trip and fall. I want a reasonable GOP to return before that happens.

-kb

©2015 Kent Borg

Benefits of The Donald

Monday, October 19th, 2015

I missed the first Democratic debate of the 2016 election. I wanted to see it and being stuck on an airplane, with CNN, while it was on, seemed a fine coincidence. Except my Virgin America flight from LA to Boston was missing a quarter of the channels it was supposed to have, including CNN. And they didn’t want to reset too much of their entertainment equipment because the Dodger’s playoff game was coming in loud-and-clear and for some reason my fellow passengers seemed more interested in that.

From what I gather, the dog didn’t bark: Hillary is alive and Sanders is real. But that’s news. Likely it keeps Biden undecided until it is too late to get in.

Oh, and the guy from Maryland maybe has some bite.

The other two?

I’ve always liked Chafee, but he is disqualified for being funny looking, he can’t be elected president in 2016 without being more attractive on TV. A shame. I also saw a spin-room photo where he was being interviewed, surrounded by…one lone reporter. In the same room where Bernie was mobbed. Sad.

I used to like Webb, but I forget what earlier silliness from him was my letdown. But I am over him.

On to The Donald

As I have often repeated, I don’t dare root for a crazy-but-weak GOP candidate because in a two horse race the most embarrassing and lagging nag can win–if the other horse trips and falls. But that reticence doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate some aspects of GOP infighting and stunts.

In this case The Donald is taking on W’s reputation. It has been almost as if George II wasn’t even president on September 11th, 2001. Until Jeb! said “At least he kept us safe.”. A few liberals jumped on that and no one notices them.

But now The Donald is hitting Jeb! with the fact of what his brother’s job was at the time: President of the United States of America. And in true Donald-style, he isn’t being gentle about it. Legions of Ignorant Americans (who think the movie The Martian is based on a true story) are learning that George W. Bush maybe was a bad president. (“Really!?”)

Now if The Donald would only take on W’s torture, kidnapping, and arbitrary imprisonment.

Okay if he wants to leave alone W’s hollowing out of the federal government by driving scads of competent talent into retirement. (A dozen or so years from now, ask Barack about the consequences of that–he might not give a straight answer, but watch him take a deep breath and try not to roll is eyes.) Also okay if The Donald doesn’t want to touch W’s horrible deficits, before he very nearly plunged us into another Great Depression.

At some point it becomes implausible that George II was that bad, so best keep it believable…

But I would like the torture, kidnapping, and arbitrary imprisonment trotted out by a showman of The Donald’s calibre. Please?

-kb
©2015 Kent Borg

How Political “Red Meat” Works (and Isn’t Necessarily Bad)

Saturday, October 17th, 2015

[Sorry I wrote this back at the end of July but didn't post it then. Silly me. Maybe I never finished it. Does it look complete to you?]

I am sure political scientists have fancy names for this and organize conferences about it, but it is new to me, I just figured it out: how “red meat” works, and how it is made.

A freaky part of living in these times is that someone like Donald Trump can toss ridiculous “red meat” to the Republican base, and millions fall for it! How does that work? Today I spotted a rare attempt at left-wing “red meat” (What do we call left-wing “red meat”?) and it got me thinking in a little more depth.

It seems to be a three-part recipe:

1. Select a complicated problem, a problem that we must solve.

This needs to be something controversial–we can’t have a bipartisan solution or the result won’t be ideological red meat. And if you want traction with your public, it should be a familiar and topical problem.

2. Select a tenet of ideological dogma.

Something that is obviously true to anyone who looks at it, yet something that your political opponents inexplicably won’t see. How can anyone be so blind!? Some things are obvious!

3. Apply the dogma to the problem for a simple solution.

Simple solutions are naturally better than complicated and red meat needs to be simple. And if you want to really juicy, dripping red meat, it is better if it outrages your opponents, that helps solidify the distinction between good and evil. The solution doesn’t have to be practical nor make sense, it doesn’t have to actually address the original problem, but it does have to fit with the dogma chosen above.

If anyone argues against it, the true believer can easily dismiss any logic or facts, and see the complaint as a rejection of the dogma. It doesn’t matter if the objection is from the opposition or from the same side, the very fact that there is an objection is all one needs to know, only a non-believer could think such a thing. A valuable litmus test can be built this way.

A little marketing savvy helps in selecting and packaging the solution, but if done right the result is emotionally satisfying to the core of your ideological group and they won’t be able to resist it.

Right Wing Examples

Taxes. To the political right taxes are bad by definition. This dogma has been used to cut taxes. The slight detail that Republican presidents like Reagan or George W. Bush who put in big tax cuts had enormous deficits is a bit of reality that doesn’t need to be worried about, at least not on the Federal level where we have good credit and can run deficits. States don’t have this flexibility. Consider Kansas, the enormous GOP tax cuts have been a big problem, but as it is a red state, the Democrats can’t take over and take the heat, instead the GOP needs to fix it, so they make a point of not saying what they are doing is taxing. It is okay to defy reality, but never defy dogma.

Regulations. Regulations are almost the same as taxes, bad by definition to the political right. It doesn’t matter if the world is coming to an end, dogma can prompt one to deny it. In fact the more extreme the situation, the greater importance to preserve the dogma, for the dogma will save you.

Military might, we can’ be weak. More is better, we need to support our military. Even if this means starting wars that kill and maim our own and leaves us weaker, any argument against belligerence must be an argument for weakness.

Left Wing Examples

These are harder to come up with in 2015. Ronald Reagan did such a good job of changing the very agenda questions from not whether to cut socail programs or taxes, but how much to cut. He crushed the left and the Democrats have been marching to the right ever since. It it hard to throw read meat to the left when the crowd is constantly ambling to the right.

What’s left of the right today?

There’s Bernie Sanders! But he’s blast from a distant past. He has been a refugee who years ago found asylum in a distant and mythical place called “Vermont”. Pinko world he grew up in doesn’t exist anymore. He is one of the last isolated individuals of a species that looks as good as extinct. Maybe he can “breed” more political socialists, but it would be a dodo-back-from-the-dead miracle.

Isn’t there something newer available? Something with a glint of new?

There is (was?) the occupy movement. It had a lot of buzz and support and momentum…but I don’t remember those crowds getting any good red meat thrown to them. Why not?

What would it have taken?

Step 1: choose a complicated problem. That’s easy, we hate the big banks and WTO, get rid of them!

Good start! Almost there, now hit that over the head with an appropriate tenet of your dogma, see what pops our, and you’ll be done. There’s no right answer, pick any core article of your dogma and it can probably be applied. I can wait while you think it over. If you don’t like the word “dogma” think “philosophy” or “principles”; just pick one…

Silence.

The occupy movement had no overarching principles to guide it. No pocket-sized crib sheet to remind the followers what they were there for. People have said that the occupy movement didn’t have any leaders, but had they had some coherent doctrine, leaders would have naturally arisen as the ones who could select some nice red meat and organize around it.

Left Wing Attempt I Saw

Today there was news of Obama visiting Kenya, and it seems he was railing against corruption as a way to address Africa’s chronic poverty. Someone I follow on Twitter said that African poverty has “more to do with global trade structure than misbehavior”. And in in another tweet said: “If you’d sunk 1/5 of what went towards bailing out U.S. Banks to infrastructure in Africa it would change the continent, corruption or not.”

Sounds like the complaints from occupy, but then what? Where’s the meat?

I compare this to red meat because this person is not objecting to fighting corruption but, if I may put words into his mouth, he seems to be longing for something bigger and better–though international development is tricky, it is never clear whether any specific bigger and better project by outsiders helps more than it might unintentionally hurt. And this person knows more about foolish development projects in Africa than I do.

But I think a good piece of red meat is longed for by much of the left: some satisfying, simple solution, to a real problem, a solution that grows from guiding principles.

When Making Political Movements: Red Meat, Not All Bad

You can’t have a political movement without someone articulating some direction, something to organize how the movement should move. Present a problem, apply a dogma/principle/philosophy, and let your follows see the inexorable logic in your solution. Let them go forth and repeat the argument to others, throw your followers some red meat.

When Red Meat Goes Bad

Why does “red meat” have such bad connotations? Because in recent years it has been a cynical way rally the right wing base with extremism that (1) isn’t practical or even based in reality, and (2) leaves the party estranged with some important voting blocks.

The Republicans have so alienated blacks and Hispanics that they can’t win the White House any time soon. Not unless the Democrats throw a presidential election: say, nominate someone clunky, lacking in charisma, with her own accumulated negatives (plausible?), who then has a big stumble and fall, letting even the lamest Republican nominee to win.

Political Predictions, Red Meat or Not

The GOP is in trouble and will stay that way until the last of the gone-rabid Greatest Generation dies off, and the GOP drops the race-bating, and quits with the culture wars which they have lost. Then they can maybe drift back to something my grandfathers would have recognized.

What of the other side? The left is maybe terribly disorganized, but it might find focus by simply drawing on Democratic principles. Bernie Sanders might look like a longshot for being elected president, but he is drawing crowds with his consistent old message. And, though not running for president, Elizabeth Warren is making pretty good hay doing a “Democratic-wing of the Democratic party”-thing, and doing something pretty occupy-compatible in the process.

-kb
©2015 Kent Borg

Net Neutrality: An Objective Definition (with Technical Gotchas)

Friday, February 27th, 2015

I saw someone on Twitter looking for a definition of net neutrality that was objective, and doubting it was possible.

Here is my attempt, and I am going to maybe cheat a little by trying to give two perspectives. Disclaimer: I am for net neutrality.

The Case For

Everything seems to run over the internet these days. Let me focus on one that captures most of it: Television. Hip young folks are “cord cutters” by not having cable TV, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t addicted to TV, they watch it over the internet instead. They aren’t stuck with what their local cable company offers, they can go to Net Flix or Hulu or Amazon or some new outfits I haven’t heard of. Cool, competition. Except we have a near monopoly in how we get internet access. We can get it from the local cable company or maybe the local telephone company, and both of them are also selling TV channels and don’t want to be their own competition, or at least they want to make more money for that; so Net Flix might have a great connection to the internet and you might have a great connection to the internet, but when the packets are nearly at your door, and they hit Comcast’s wires, Comcast might intentionally slow down Net Flix’ data packets unless Net Flix pays Comcast a little something extra. Maybe a future Timewarnercomcast is powerful enough they simply refuse any TV streaming over internet connections they sell, and you would have to buy their TV offerings.

Net neutrality wants to prevent that and say that if Comcast wants to charge you for your internet connection, fine, but they can’t then charge others for your connection and slow them down (or block them) if they don’t pay. In the past cable companies have been caught blocking and slowing various kinds of data, even though they had denied doing so. By making internet service providers “common carriers” (a bit like phone companies back when the telephone was new and important), the FCC can regulate this behavior.

The Case Against

Cable companies and telephone companies have spent a lot of money building their networks and they want a free hand in how they make money off that investment. They want the freedom to partner with this company or that for offer new products with this or that cool feature. This regulation means they can’t make those deals if they discriminate against other companies that aren’t part of the deal. This regulation puts them in a boring business of offering a commodity service. Also, this regulation is regulation. They have an ideological objection to regulation.

Technical Gotchas

Net neutrality is hard to precisely define. Really hard. The internet is a whole series of protocols that define how different computers talk to each other. How is an e-mail sent vs. how is an HD movie streamed vs. how is a video chat handled. Very different services and the documents that just define the technical details of how they work are plenty long and complicated. It is hard enough to craft these protocols so they will work in the first place, do they also have to be net neutral? And what does that mean, down in the nittygritty details of some protocol only a few people really understand?

The internet is quite open and if you want to define a new protocol for your new wizbang product, go ahead! It is possible it can be defined in terms of lower-level protocols and run on the internet as-is, or you might need to convince others to cooperate with your new protocol. Does the rest of the internet have to add support for your new protocol? What is neutral?

Here is a concrete example: e-mail. Spam is a big problem, and one of the ways to fight it is to limit which computers are allowed to send e-mail messages to other computers. The logic being that Joe Average isn’t sending e-mail directly from his computer to my computer, but rather he is sending the e-mail to, say, gmail and Google will send the message on to, say, Yahoo, and I will have my computer collect the message from Yahoo. A problem arises when some piece of malware infects Joe Average’s computer it is starts sending vast amounts of spam directly to thousands of accounts at gmail and Yahoo and Company XYZ and everyone gets annoyed and says that Something Must be Done. Okay, a common thing is to have Joe’s internet provider block that direct e-mail traffic. It will still let Joe talk to gmail, so legitimate e-mail will go through, just not the bulk spam. Except I run my own e-mail server. When I send an e-mail it doesn’t go first to Yahoo, instead it first goes to my basement and from there goes to the final destination at gmail or Yahoo or Company XYZ. If my internet provider blocks that I’ll be pissed! Should internet providers block this kind of traffic or not? It is a legitimate question with more than one answer. And it is not obvious what the “neutral” answer is. Probably it is to block those messages from Joe’s computer (he doesn’t mind) but not from mine (I do mind). That is how it mostly is at the moment. How complicated! And should it be allowed? Is it net neutral? Will the FCC continue to let me run my own e-mail server?

Another example: video streaming vs. video conferencing. These are different kinds of traffic and they should be handled differently–for important technical reasons. In the case of video streaming I am probably watching something recorded anyway, so it doesn’t really matter if I see a given frame of the movie at one moment or another–a three-second delay isn’t important, what is important is I want it to flow smoothly without breakup or stopping, and if three-seconds of buffering makes it work better, please buffer. If I am in a video conference, however, the circumstance is quite different: I want what I say to get to the other end quickly and I want whatever is said on the other end to get back to me quickly, I don’t want a three-second delay! If this means sometimes the picture deteriorates or the audio cuts out for a fraction of a second, then that’s the price I pay for wanting a live conversation. Should the routing protocols on the internet be allowed to differentiate between these different kinds of traffic? Can they try to schedule when different kinds of packets are sent down their wires to try to keep everyone happy?

No commercial considerations here, but solid technical issues complicating what “neutral” means.

So maybe net neutrality just kicks in when someone wants to pay for special treatment?

Okay, what about teleconferencing companies, they want their products to be better than the competition. Currently they send representatives to the standards committees that define the protocols, and they try to push the standard definition in a direction so their products will be better. Annoying, but it does get us some kind of standard that might work, and if the standard is too broken with company-specific garbage others won’t adopt it. Under net neutrality are they not allowed to participate in those standard committees? Are people free to not adopt a badly written standard? Does the FCC write all the standards? (Oh, that will put a stop to innovation.)

Another case might be CNN doing a remote feed, but wanting to do it over the internet–everything goes over the internet these days right? In this case they want it both ways: they want a good quality signal and they want a conversation without delays. Should they be able to pay for that priority treatment? Or are they forever cursed to use satellites and all the delays involved there? In oldendays television networks were allowed to buy from regulated phone companies special services that could handle their video, seems that something like that should still be allowed. But it is complicated.

Or what about Net Flix? When the new season of House of Cards comes out, millions of people might all be watching the same program at about the same time. Net Flix’ network needs to have capacity for all of that to flow at once, and the next network they connect to also has to have all the capacity. Were I designing such a distribution system I would think about caching popular content near the edges of the network. Send Season 3 once to a bunch of file servers scattered all around the country, and them let those file servers send it on to all those binge watchers. The total load on Net Flix’ hardware and the internet as a whole would be reduced. Should net neutrality permit that? Who is allowed to pay whom what to rent what space to place those file servers connected to what network?

Airplanes don’t allow people to make phone calls over their wifi services. At first it might have been to protect their expensive telephone service. Is that neutral? And now that airlines have mostly lost interest in these phone services because no one uses them, they still block voice calls over their wifi service because other passengers don’t want to have to listen to all that gabbing for hours at a time. (Thank goodness! It would drive me crazy.) Is that neutral? Airlines also don’t allow streaming video over their wifi because they don’t have enough bandwidth for more than a couple streams and they have a plane full of passengers who might want to stream and if more than a couple tried no one would get good airborne wifi for anything. Is that neutral? Airlines also sell movies, is that still neutral? And the airlines aren’t streaming those for-sale movies directly from the studios who made then, no they have cached them on file servers on the planes when they are on the ground and can just plug in a new disk. Is it neutral for the airlines to do that? (Was it neutral for Net Flix?)

I present a lot of questions here, and there are at least partial answers to many of these questions, and my point is that net neutrality is a technical mess and the technical details are not obvious to anyone. Still I am in favor of trying to sort it out anyway, because as bad as that result will be, letting the timewarnercomcastverizon monopoly decide will be worse.

-kb

©2015 Kent Borg

Battling ISIL: For the Hearts and Minds of our own Citizens

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

Last night President Obama said we will attack ISIL (or ISIS or IS…). Yes, they are extremely nasty, it makes sense to attack people who massacre religious minorities and behead US reporters. Even the Pope agrees that in this case violence must be met with violence. That is the easy part.

But the scariest aspect of ISIL is that they are attractive to citizens from western Europe and the United States. Sure, this is scary because they have our passports, but what should really unnerve us is what it says about our society. We have citizens who are so disaffected that they want to join in on beheadings!?

How is it that we offer these citizens so little that ISIL’s fanaticism is more attractive than what they have at home? Home for them must be pretty horrible.

What we doing about this side of the problem? We need to struggle for the hearts and minds of our own citizens. Instead I fear we will treat them as criminals and further drive them into the welcoming arms of this hateful movement.

-kb

©2015 Kent Borg

JFK: Conspiracy? Jackie is a Clue

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

I don’t know who did it.  But it wasn’t Lee Harvey Oswald. Previously I was doubtful, based on holes in the “single bullet theory”.  But today I realize it is much simpler.

As a kid I paid attention to hearings the US House held on the assassination, but since then haven’t been bothered to look deeper. Too many cranks.

With the 50th anniversary, I can’t help but look a bit more.  I remember the killing. I was only a very little kid at the time, but I knew who the President was: neither of us could say our Rs.

New York Times Lends Credibility, But Only a Teaser

The New York Times has a video on their web site with Josiah “Tink” Thompson, who points out that most murders are simple, and the simplest part is “what happened”.  In this case, there are basic disputes about what happened in Dealy Plaza that day.  This is odd.  He also points out that it was a very well documented event.  In addition to the infamous Zapruder film, there was another 8mm movie taken from the other direction, and numerous still photos.  Even an audio recording!  He said that the more he looks at it, the clearer it is what happened.

Frustratingly, the short film doesn’t include his saying what he thinks happened.  But he sounded reasonable, the New York Times was putting him up, so they think he is not a crank.  I looked around to see what his basic opinion is on the topic.

Not a Teaser

I watched another video of him giving a talk, on some assassination web site.  (Dangerous territory, lots of cranks, but I could see it was the same guy.)

He makes two points:

First, there was a red herring that has been confusing the whole thing for decades, making for confusion over the basic “what happened”, and it was his mistake. He worked for Life Magazine at the time and had access to the Zapruder film.  He analyzed the position of Kennedy’s head and concluded that it leapt forward over an inch from the frame before Kennedy is hit to the frame he has been catastrophically hit: An inch movement in one frame is a lot, the movement is to the front, therefore, the bullet came from behind.

But this was wrong, the error is that there was a jerk in the camera when Kennedy was hid (I would startle at seeing that), smearing the image, including the distance he was measuring to judge the position of the head.  It took decades for someone to notice this and get others to pay attention.

Second, people and motorcycles that were behind the car and to the left of it were splattered with blood and brains from Kennedy’s head: so the fatal shot must have come from the front and right.  It came from the “grassy knoll”.  Oswald was behind the car.  So there had to have been a second shooter.

Primary Sources

But there is still a problem here: I believed his assertion that blood and brains splattered behind and to the left, but I didn’t verify that, I haven’t read the primary sources. I wasn’t there.

But Jackie was.

We have all seen her leaping onto the trunk lid of the car, trying to retrieve a big hunk of her husband’s head that flew back and to the left.  And if you have watched the worst part of the film, you have seen the president’s head snap that direction, too.

The fatal shot was from the right front.  From the gun of a second shooter.

Conspiracies

Either Dallas was so enraged with JFK that two murderers independently decided to try to kill him at the same place and at the same time, or there was some sort of conspiracy.  I don’t know what the conspiracy was.

Why does the official version conclude differently? I don’t know that either. I doubt they were part of the conspiracy–that is the fatal flaw in most conspiracy theories: too complicated. No, I think they decided early on that it would be better for the nation, and the world, if it was the work of a single madman, and they steered the investigation that direction as best they could.

But they were wrong. There was a second gunman.

-kb, the Kent who who was young, but who remembers it.

© 2013 by Kent Borg

Merkel’s Telephone: How Secure Does She WANT it to be?

Monday, October 28th, 2013

The news that the NSA has been listening in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone had me wondering, as a techie who has paid some attention to computer security, how would I recommend the Germans secure her phone?  It is an interesting puzzle to think through.  And part of my approach would involve other European countries, pick an open source cellphone encryption program, and work it over, audit all its security aspects, make improvements, and put a EU stamp of approval on it. Make sure it really is secure.

Then yesterday I read something about what is known about how her calls are secured and was disappointed that they apparently use proprietary encryption products. This is a mistake. You don’t know what is in a commercial product, with secret source code, mostly no one does, not even the commercial folks producing it.  Remember the Swiss company Crypto AG?  They had an NSA backdoor in their encryption products.  A lot of people worked on that product and a lot of people used it, and most of them didn’t know what they were using, they didn’t know that the NSA had a backdoor because it is easy to hide something in a commercial product.  With open source programs it is harder to hide something, because it has to be in plain sight. If Merkel wants security she should use open source. And if she isn’t sure an open source program is secure she should put some talent on going over it with a fine-tooth-comb to find and fix any holes.

And, there is the question of what the NSA heard: did they crack the encrypted calls or just the regular calls between her phone and regular phones?  If Merkel wants to make secure calls the other person on the call needs to be on a secure call.  If the NSA can listen to everyone then there is no one for Merkel to talk to.

How much does she care?  The German government has its own security services, do they listen in on phone calls, too?

Ah, there is the rub: If she wants her population to be easy to listen in on, she is easy to listen in on, at least if she wants to talk to anyone outside a small circle.

How much privacy does Merkel want for herself? How much privacy does Merkel want for others?

-kb, the Kent who feels like less of a crank in recent months.

© 2013 by Kent Borg

Syria and Sarin: What are the consequences of saying sarin gas carries no punishment?

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013

To Congressman Capuano, Senator Warren, and Senator Markey

Sirs, Madam:

I write this open letter as a constituent and supporter, to encourage you to help President Obama on the matter of Syria.

Certainly there are good reasons to not get involved in their civil war, and I share those concerns. I have been sickened to watch as 100,000 have been killed, but there are practical limits to what we can do. We still live in a world where killing ones own people is common, merely a domestic and sovereign concern. There is often little we can do beyond weep.

However, as depressing as that is, there is good news: I am proud we live in a world where the use of chemical weapons is not routine. And this could change. Chemical weapons are cheap and indiscriminate, perfect for rulers like Assad. He has them, and his weapons have been used. The heartbreaking evidence is before our eyes.

We cannot let this stand.

Precedents matter. Assad must be punished. He must be hit hard. It must hurt. It must be seen to hurt. He will pretend it is but a scratch, and that must be an obvious lie. If this weakens Assad’s grip on power, good, but that is not the purpose nor the measure of our action here. Harsh and coldblooded punishment is our purpose.

Will there be unintended consequences in this? Yes. But consider the alternative. What will the consequences be of telling every despot that using sarin carries no punishment?

Prohibitions on chemical weapons have been challenged. It would be shameful and cowardly for us to find excuses to look the other way.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

Kent Borg

kentborg@borg.org

www.borg.org

© 2013 by Kent Borg