Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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.


Kent Borg

© 2013 by Kent Borg

Syria and Sarin: Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

Friday, April 26th, 2013

I am watching MSNBC, and Chris Hayes suggested that after the break he would tell us what we should do next about Syria.  Okay, that might be interesting, but let me see if I can answer the question first.

It seems quite possible–though by no means certain–that Syria’s leader Assad has used Sarin gas. President Obama has warned of fearsome things we will do if Assad were to commit this crime…so now what?

I say: Let the punishment fit the crime. Or, maybe I should say: punish the crime.

The problem over these many months is that intervening in Syria is not a simple thing, or else we would have done it already. Libya wasn’t simple, but it sure was simple in comparison. Syria is a hard problem.

To re-ask one of Chris’ questions to his panel: Is there something we could do to make things better?

No. Not with any certainty. Most ideas would make matters worse.

Assad is doing nasty stuff, and, though there is plenty we could do, it isn’t clear that any of these things will make matters better.

So what in hell do we do about this red-line we talked up? If Assad has gone from being extremely nasty in nearly every way he can imagine, to being extremely nasty, plus using some Sarin, what do we do?

Arrgh. Just just because some red-line might have been crossed doesn’t change that Syria isn’t something we can’t obviously fix.

So what do we do?

Allow me to interrupt for a moment: Chris Hayes’ program just ended and it seems that they didn’t hit on an answer, so it is up to me. Oh, the responsibility! Good thing no one reads these things I write.

Let the punishment fit the crime. Punish the crime.

What has changed is that Assad (possibly) has committed a new crime. So the answer is to punish Assad–or whomever might have done it if we can figure it out (this is complicated!).

We should not try to fix this war, because we can’t. Even with Sarin on the ground, we still can’t. Sarin doesn’t make anything easier. So we should punish Assad–or whomever might have recently used Sarin, if anyone did.

Okay, maybe we start flying deadly drones over Damascus, or Tartus, and if we get a shot at someone responsible, then yes, we take it. We are causing lots of people to hate us for using drones around the world, I think we might improve our reputation with a drone or two over Tartus.

The crime was (possibly) using Sarin, in which case we should punish those who (possibly) did it.

The news out of Syria for the last two years makes me sick. It is horrible. Tens of thousands have been killed, raped, tortured, imprisoned. If you like “culture” more than humans: centuries old cultural heritage sites have been destroyed. It is horrible no matter how you look at it.

I would like that there would be something that we could do to make Syria better. And…if our punishment for this crime were to kill senior figures in Assad’s government and army…maybe it would make things better. I can’t see how it would make things much worse.

Let the punishment fit the crime. Take out those who (might have) done this.

-kb, the Kent who in fact does like The Mikado, and who wonders “Why do you ask?”

© 2013 by Kent Borg

P.S. “The struggle continues. Love, Daddy.”

Race in America 2013

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

I am a privileged white man, so I am supposed to tread carefully here, but I am willing to blunder over many topics, so here goes.

When I was a kid, during the era of civil rights protests, people were beaten, humiliated, terrorized, tortured, and killed for working for equality for blacks, or just being black. The foes were both vigilante and official. Racism was both the law in much of the country, and socially acceptable in even more of the country.

Things have changed.

This morning on NPR there was a story on The Race Card Project, capturing this complex subject in 6-word snippets. (I guess a haiku is too long.) The part of the story I really liked was the highlighted example:

Ask who I am, not what.

Genius. So simple, but oh, so subtle. On my way to work I tried to repeat it back to myself and I couldn’t figure out how to squeeze what I heard back into 6-words. Man, what wonderful use of language.

The woman who wrote those words was also eloquent when interviewed. She is of Korean descent and becomes weary of people she meets wanting to pin down that detail and then wanting to talk about kimchi, etc. (I hope I summarized that fairly.) I can see how that could become tiresome.

May I look at the fact that this is a well publicized story on Morning Edition to draw a conclusion about race in the USA? Friendly people being tiresome? My father was a dentist, he heard a lot of dentist jokes every day, it was tiresome. I am a nerd, it is perfectly acceptable to make disparaging remarks about nerds. My last name is Borg and for quite a few years I have had to be patient with tiresome comments about The Borg. My first name is Kent, and when Superman had a larger mindshare in the country, I had to be patient with references to Clark Kent. I am of Swedish descent, so I hear repeatedly about the Swedish Chef from the Muppets. And so on. Trivia.

I am a privileged white guy. If the key point in a big story on race blends easily in my petty list of woes, I draw a conclusion: We have come a long way to the good if it is race news that we have a “first world problem” like having to be patient with others being tiresome. How precious and touchy we are. And what good news it is if precious and touchy is where the action is on race. (Is it??)

Don’t get me wrong: I know there is still some really nasty racism in this country, there are still race crimes committed that are far worse than anything I have ever experienced. But it has gotten better. Much better. So much better that NPR is spending time illustrating that friendly, nice people can be tiresome.



© 2013 by Kent Borg

Guns are Like Racism, or Porn

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Outlawing guns is going to be difficult, we are awash with them. And a lot of fellow countrymen are clinging to them and will not be interested in having them taken away.

We need to change our attitudes.

We haven’t outlawed racism, but we did make it no longer respectable in polite company. It is still out there but it is mostly in the closet where it doesn’t cause quite as much damage, where it is harder to pass on to the next generation.  Similarly, teenage boys will certainly find dirty pictures, but we insist on some discretion in this case, too.

Somethings belong in the closet. Fetishes belong in the closet, including gun fetishes, where they will be a little less involving, where any side effects can cause a little less damage, and where it is harder to proudly pass on to the next generation.

Bumper stickers advertising one’s affection for guns should no longer be considered respectable.

Similarly, the computer games where one shoots and kills others (there is even a technical term for the genre: “first person shooters”) should no longer be considered a respectable activity. Yes, they exist and will continue to exist, but they belong in the closet. How many foes can one kill in an hour of fantasy mayhem with an X-Box? Many. How is that possible?? These targets must be must be astoundingly easy to kill; they must be as easy as shooting first graders.

A little old-fashioned public reproach and shame is called for.

Communities should no more revolve around a love of guns that are specifically designed to kill fellow humans than they should revolve around a love of racism or pornography.

This is not a respectable hobby.


© 2012 by Kent Borg

Susan Rice is Bad Choice for Secretary of State–at the Moment

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

When I heard what Ambassador Rice had to say about Benghazi, what she said repeatedly on all those Sunday shows that day, I was startled but I withheld judgement, I figured she knew something I didn’t.  Well, it seems she knew less than did an informed member of the general public.

We need a Secretary of State who doesn’t say stupid things in public, over and over again, just because someone tells her to.  The Benghazi talking points didn’t smell right at the time, and she should have known better.

I have liked Susan Rice, but this is embarrassing, I hope the President picks someone else to succeed Secretary Clinton.

That said, if the President does choose Rice, the Senate should let him have his choice.  Their job in confirming appointees is to veto really bad choices.  Susan Rice is not a really bad choice, just a bad choice.  (John McCain is making a fool of himself here.)

Rice should get on with her life, and once she is best known for something other than this episode, then she can again look for ways to move up.

After the 2008 primary campaign, Hillary Clinton was not smelling like a rose either.  Known for being a wife, short-term senator from an adopted state, and a nasty campaigner, she was not a formidable politician, she might have even lost to John McCain had she been in that race.  But she has paid her dues and is now known as a fine stateswoman: disciplined, seasoned, and hard working.  And what does it get her?  The 2016 nomination–if she wants it (and if nothing goes wrong).  I don’t know what is next for Susan Rice, but now is not the time to find out, better to cool it.

-kb, the Kent who knows no one reads this stuff, but who still likes getting his ideas down, so he can later look back and see what a fool he was (or was not).

P.S.  Why was it reasonable for a tarnished Hillary Clinton to get the Secretary of State job but isn’t for a tarnished Susan Rice?  Because even losing the 2008 primary race, Clinton was still a big deal; being Secretary of State and taking orders from her recent opponent, was not a big promotion for her.  For a 48-year-old UN Ambassador, however, running the State Department is big stuff and a different world.  Just ask John Kerry, who, after being his party’s presidential candidate and serving nearly 30-years in the Senate, is probably stuck in Massachusetts, because the Democrats want to keep Scott Brown out of Washington.

© 2012 by Kent Borg

The Southern Strategy and How the Democrats will Rescue the GOP

Friday, November 16th, 2012

I read a story about how it was the gay vote that pushed Obama over the top. No, other stories say it was single white women. No, it was blacks. No, it was Latinos. No, it was east Asians. No, it as unions.

No, it was all of the above. Had Romney shaved off just one hunk of the Obama coalition, he would be working on his transition right now.

But the GOP is in a pickle and can’t grab any of the Democratic coalition. Because at the very core of the current Republican Party is Nixon’s “southern strategy” of appealing to southern racists. This became a theme with them and the GOP is now defined by what they are against. They oppose: anyone who isn’t white, anyone who isn’t straight, Democrats, abortion, atheism, damn foreigners, uppity women, poor people, cities, science, green-anything, etc. And, they are against government.

They are *for* a left over Norman Rockwell image, particularly if we choose a Rockwell that includes business, guns, and a Bible. That demographic has now shrunk below 50%, and is slowly fading.

The problem with defining a party by being against things is that they can’t open the tent for any of these hated threats without chasing out those already in the tent.

This pickle will vex them for years and years. I don’t see how they can fix it.

Instead, the GOP will regain power when the Democrats mess up enough that people vote for the other party without worrying what that party is. Maybe some third party will get the benefit, but probably it will still be the GOP. Let’s hope the GOP reforms itself into something mostly reasonable by then. For the sake of the USA, don’t pray for the GOP to suffer, pray for their quick recovery.

-kb, the Kent who is still trying to wrap his head around the meaning of the 2012 election.

© 2012 by Kent Borg

Intentionally “Pulling a Biden”, Mark II, “True Crime”-Edition

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Today the Des Moines Register lamented that they had a great phone interview with Obama (seeking their endorsement), that he was lucid and frank and enlightening (I forget the details, I am vamping, but you get the general idea), but that it was off-the-record.  They wrote a blog posting about it, moping over the great stuff they couldn’t publish.  Probably mentioned it in this morning’s printed paper, too.

Then, oh, okay…the White House relented and agreed to let them publish it.

Now everybody in Iowa will read it, with a critical eye, to see why it had been off-the-record.


-kb, the Kent who admires cleverness.

© 2012 by Kent Borg

Romney’s Not Stupid

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Chattering classes are saying that Romney criticizing of our embassy–criticism released while the embassy in Cairo was under attack–these folks are saying that this was stupid.  Oh, how limited the critic’s vision.

It was wrong for Romney to make such criticism, but was is not stupid.  Not stupid, that is, if his only goal is to get elected.

In this case, it did not work.  Okay.

The downside is that people who already don’t like Romney have further reason to not like Romney.  Big whoop.  Others won’t notice nor care.

The upside: Romney might have landed a good blow in one of Obama’s strong areas: foreign policy.  Things are not going swimmingly in foreign lands, there are some messes out there, to probe at that topic is reasonable.  Sure, this was a wild punch, but if the game keeps going as it is going, Romney is going to lose.  He needs some external event to change the game, and when an external event comes along, he needs to swing at it.  Otherwise, he has nothing left but crossing his fingers and hoping that his minions will manage to steal a key state or five.  Heck, he isn’t even campaigning very hard right now, some days just flying back and forth across the country.  Traditional campaigning isn’t going to do it alone.

-kb, the Kent who tries to figure it out.

© 2012 by Kent Borg

FOX4 Mobile: Man misfires gun in Walmart checkout line

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Reaching for his wallet, wounds four.

More guns. For safety.