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Not Aiding the Enemy, But Still Found Guilty

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 31st, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

Image Source: (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Unsurprisingly, I’m writing about Bradley Manning this week. In case you missed it, Bradley Manning has finally been given a verdict: guilty of more than a handful of crimes, but not guilty of one very important charge– aiding the enemy. I’ll get more into the specifics of that charge later, but the remaining 20 charges carry a combined maximum of 136 years in prison, so PFC Manning is anything but in the clear. The sentencing has already begun, and could last into the last days of August.

I’ve written on Manning before, so I won’t go into the back-story again, but I think it’s worth mentioning that he has already spent three years in prison before his trial, so it has been agreed upon that his sentence should be reduced by 1,274 days. Anyway, time to move onto the big charge: aiding the enemy and why even though he has been found guilty of other crimes, this one is a win for whistleblowers. Most of the logic behind going after Manning as harshly as the military did was something along the lines of “if it’s available for everyone in the world to see, then that includes our enemies, so therefore public disclosures are equal to giving the information directly to the enemy.” As I’ve argued before, this is not the case here, even though that line of reasoning may seem valid, one must take intent into account: if one’s intention is to truly “aid the enemy,” then it follows that one would not inform one’s own side of such aid, as making information public would. Instead, by releasing information publicly, it allows both sides to see it, giving a “heads-up” to both parties: the “enemy” side gets information X and the “non-enemy” side gains the information that the “enemy” side has information X, which could be useful to the “non-enemy” side.

Further to that point, Manning’s information was not immediately disclosed; it was given to Wikileaks, providing a window of time in which the military could have changed tactics, had any even been compromised in the first place. Given those two points, I believe Manning when he says that he was merely a whistleblower rather than a traitor.

As for the other charges: any wrongdoing Manning may have done is far outweighed by the benefit to the public’s right to know. This should be true of all whistleblowers: exposing something that needs to be exposed should not come with a life imprisonment threat.

More on the PFC Manning case this Friday during the show [1pm EST].

Amash Amendment Fails: Close But No Wired-for-Sound Cigar

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 25th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

(Image Credit: Florida Today)

 

Well, I was kind of hoping to be writing about a win for the Amash Amendment, but I suppose a loss will have to do. In case you missed it, the U.S. House of Representatives voted and ultimately defeated (205-217 with 12 abstaining) an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill that would have taken away funding for the NSA’s blanket telephone spying. The day before the vote, the White House and NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander held “emergency meetings” to urge Congress to vote against it.

 

Me being… me, I have to admit that I’m more than a little disappointed that this amendment didn’t pass. It would have been a quick and clean way to put a full stop to blanket phone surveillance while still allowing for targeted surveillance of suspects under investigation. That said, when the White House is scared enough to hold “emergency meetings” ahead of domestic spying prevention votes, I get hopeful. As the advocacy organization Demand Progress put it: “even though we lost, the other side is flipping out right now.” Not bad for an amendment that was voted on only two days after it left committee.

 

So where does this leave us? It seems to me that more or less, the vast majority of people are against the NSA’s surveillance programs (multiple ones have been revealed now: PRISM, ECHELON, BLARNEY, etc.) but it appears as though the tide is only starting to turn on the issue. Obama has welcomed “discussion” on the issue, but it seems almost impossible to have a well-formed discussion about it since the programs are already in place and running: it’s like a kid asking a parent’s permission to eat a cookie after he’s already started eating the cookie. As for curbing the surveillance programs, we might have to wait for the 2014 election cycle: all House seats and 33 Senate ones are up for grabs and at the rate the “spying discussion” is going, it could hopefully become a major issue.

 

In the meantime however, I would remain hopeful: the Amash Amendment might have failed, but that was only looking at phone surveillance, which has historically been less antagonizing than Internet surveillance. It might be just a tick away from justifiable to retain phone metadata, but I have a feeling that Internet surveillance won’t go over so well when the time comes.

 

 

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By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 12th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT
http://media.cagle.com/81/2013/06/27/133834_600.jpg

Image Source: http://www.cagle.com/2013/06/monsters-university/

While I am sure it will come up on the show at some point, I want to give a quick stance on the recent doubling of student loan interest rates. Congress recently failed to block a doubling of interest rates on federal student loans from the then-current 3.4% to the new 6.8%. Currently, both houses are trying to put something together to bring the rate back down, but there has been no official movement at the time of writing.

 

Students go to college more so now than ever before; it is almost expected that an applicant for most jobs have a college degree. Unfortunately, and I think many people can relate, college isn’t exactly cheap, so the government was nice enough to help out. Of course, like all loans, the government charges interest, which used to be a bearable 3.4%, but which is currently 6.8%. As it is, the stereotype is that after graduation, the students start working at the lowest rung and earn just enough to eek out a living after paying their rents/mortgages/bills and loans back.

 

This shouldn’t be a partisan issue: you can’t take money from people who don’t have any. As I said above, the stereotype is that college students don’t have much money, since they are most likely going to school to be able to get a job in the first place. But on the other hand, the government has no obligation to give these loans, nor does it have an obligation to keep them at 3.4%, but since it has offered, and considering the other offers, like banks getting loans with near-0% interest, interest should at least be allocated appropriately.

 

Ultimately, it is still up to the student to accept the loan, and it isn’t wrong for the government to ask for the double rate, but it simply doesn’t make sense to. Either private lenders will beat the government, like any free market has the capacity to do, or the percentage of students going to school may drop for fear of being unable to repay. We certainly don’t want to end up with a generation deeply indebted from their college educations, but at the same time, there is no obligation for the government to make it cheap. The government guarantees 12 years of schooling; a high school diploma, and everything else is optional, even if it is preferred.

 

I think I can sum up my stance here with an simple analogy: if you want orange juice, you’ll likely get more from the fat, juicy, plump orange than you will from the one that’s yet to ripen and still green.

Snowden Episode II

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 4th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

2013 Mike Kanoff

I’ve been away from the Edward Snowden story for a while, so this week, I thought I’d touch on it again and see what’s changed. After a somewhat-tense departure from Hong Kong, Snowden has been in international limbo for a week, stranded at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport since the U.S. government revoked his passport, which left him with no valid travel documents, and now he cannot enter any other country or leave the waiting area of the airport. During his time cooped up, he has been busy applying for political asylum from 21 countries. Additionally, Wikileaks, the online leaking platform famous for the cases of Bradley Manning and its founder, Julian Assange, has announced its support of Snowden and has joined in helping him with his asylum requests.

 

While the man himself continues to be immobilized, the NSA leaks have shown no signs of stopping: it has recently been reported that the controversial NSA programs have not been confined to the U.S., with some European Union member countries finding bugs in embassies and network intrusions believed to be linked to the NSA after a document Snowden released named foreign embassies and missions as possible “targets.”

 

I guess I’ll start with the big question: where will Snowden go? Russia has offered to let him stay, but with the catch that he “stop doing work that is aimed at harming our American partners.” Putin’s offer seems more than a little suspicious, but could be a subtle concession to America while remaining in a strong position at the negotiating table, since Russia doesn’t really do extraditions, or he could be hedging his bets. Regardless, for the moment, Snowden will not be turned over the the U.S. Also, a handful of nations have replied to Snowden’s requests for asylum with the message that he must be on their soil to make such a request, but Bolivia has said that it would favorably consider his application, without explicitly demanding he be on their soil, which led many to believe that Bolivia could be the country to grant Snowden asylum. Wednesday (local time), the Bolivian president’s plane from Russia heading home was disallowed clearance over French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese airspace because of a rumor that Snowden may have been on board, as speculated by the announcement of possible asylum. That story is still developing at time of writing, but it was released that Snowden was indeed not on the plane when it circled back and landed in Vienna.

 

Personally, I’m hoping that we find out in a couple days that he was in a secret compartment or something and actually made it to Bolivia; with the assertions of U.S. spying in the EU (which I will get to shortly) and the global nature of the Internet and the NSA’s spying thereof, and not to mention Biden’s request for Ecuador to deny Snowden’s application, it seems to me that the U.S. is starting to play dirty. Therefore, if the U.S. is violating the human rights to privacy and to seek asylum, I say it’s fair game if Snowden gets sneaked into a country willing to protect him. Snowden himself alleges that the U.S. is “wheeling and dealing” with his case, and I’m inclined to agree, though there is very little evidence at this time other than Biden’s talk with Correa.

 

So while Snowden himself is trying to find a safe haven, his leaks are doing anything but hiding. It was revealed that the U.S. has been spying on not just ourselves, but our European allies. Allegedly, the NSA has bugged EU buildings in New York, D.C., and most shockingly, Brussels. Additionally, it was revealed that the NSA was allegedly tapping the calls, texts, and emails of most EU allies, with the only exception being Britain. Unfortunately, this story is still developing at time of writing, but should these allegations prove to be true, EU member states Germany and France have already warned of severe repercussions, and it would be logical to expect others to join them.

 

I think we can safely say this isn’t just about terrorism any more. Last time I checked, the EU was very distinctly not a hotbed of terrorism or related activities. What’s more, the EU and its member states are our allies. I’m pretty mad (putting it lightly) that my own government is spying on me. I can only imagine the outrage to be felt by Europeans should it be confirmed that not only is another government spying on them, but an allied government. The president has released a statement along the lines of “everybody who runs intelligence services does this, not just us,” and I’ll concede that he’s right, but we’re talking about our allies, our friends on the international stage. I could see this with China, Saudi Arabia, Russia: our “friends” friends, but this is the EU– we have almost identical goals, we’ve covered each other’s backs for decades– friends don’t spy on friends.

 

I’m left asking “why?” We don’t need to spy on the EU: they’ll tell us what we want to know within reason. Even if they were hiding something, so what? We’re so deeply intertwined that if anything bad happens to one, it affects the other. If it’s anything that’s only good for the EU without being good for the U.S., well… we deal with other countries too; we’re not in an exclusive relationship. Bottom line– I see absolutely no reason to spy on the EU: the European Union is thoroughly uninteresting in terms of threats to the U.S.’s security.

 

A quick parting remark on the home front: people like myself, who have gotten pretty angry with the NSA’s revealed activities, are staging nation-wide and Internet-wide rallies to try to “Restore the Fourth,” on… you guessed it, the 4th of July, and apparently there are a lot of us. I’m not quite sure we’ll have the massive turnout or presence that Egypt just experienced, but here’s hoping for the best. For more information visit http://www.restorethefourth.net/, or if you prefer to save your anti-spying sentiment for a non-holiday, that’s cool too. Either way, enjoy your 4th!

The XYZs of 3D-Printing

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | June 27th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

<<Featured Image Credit: Michael Thad Carter for Forbes

Briefly during past editions of Counterpoint, we’ve brought up the topic of 3D-printing. I figured that since this week’s show will likely be all about the Supreme Court cases, I’d take up a less well-known topic.

 

3D-printing: it’s like regular printing– same idea, different material– but the extra dimension opens up so many possibilities. Where 2D-printers use ink jets or lasers to produce an image on a sheet of paper, 3D-printers use plastic (usually ABS, the stuff LEGOs are made of) to produce objects in 3-dimensional space. I’ll leave the tech component there; more information can be found by starting here. So how does this technology have a political impact? I find most of the political conversation boils down to a question along the lines of “who should be able to print what?” and then is usually divided between the copyright/patent sphere and the firearms-related sphere, recently catapulted into the spotlight by the Liberator pistol.

 

There was a time when copyright was good… a couple hundred years ago. Today, it’s all about DRM (Digital Rights Management) and preventing “piracy.” If you’ve ever changed cell phone brands and wanted to take your music with you from one to the other, you’ve likely encountered DRM; the thing stopping you from playing your imported music on your new device. And the best part, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t even work: the “piracy” it’s supposed to stop has yet to be stopped from circumventing any and all forms of DRM, and it all winds up being just a pain to the average, non-pirate consumer.

 

I could go on about how DRM is the demon-spawn of consumer unfriendly business strategy and asinine understanding of technology, but for the sake of time, I’ll assume my point has been made by now. The reason I’m bringing this up is that there have recently been murmurs of trying to create a platform/standard/expectation for soon-to-be commercially available 3D-printers to have built-in DRM. This would mean that when someone would buy a 3D-printer, they would be restricted from printing objects on a “blacklist” of sorts; likely copyrighted/patented objects or soon-to-be copyrighted/patented objects, but possibly other things, and possibly for completely non-legal reasons, like maybe the parts for building a new 3D-printer.

 

This is dangerous: if we censor one object, why not another? And for that matter, who gets to decide what everyone else can and cannot print? Those EULAs (End-User License Agreements) everyone blindly accepts could easily hide a clause barring a user from doing something economically hindering to the manufacturer, like using the purchased 3D-printer to print most of the parts for another 3D-printer for a friend (see RepRap). We’re talking about a complete overhaul of the entire manufacturing process; you think the toy makers, the Frisbee-makers, the anything-plastic makers are going to take this lying down? When the automobile was just getting off the ground, the Red Flag Traffic Laws were lobbied for by the stagecoach and railroad industries, which, as you will humorously discover by reading the article, severely crippled the automobile’s usefulness in favor of the incumbent industries. I have no doubt that a similar effort will be made against 3D-printing in the near future.

 

But staving off the impending “printing war” for a while, I’ll get to a possible weapon for such a war, the Liberator pistol. This is a pistol, created entirely from a 3D-printer, with the sole exceptions being a nail for the firing pin, and a chunk of metal to make the pistol identifiable to metal detectors. Yes it can actually fire a bullet; one at a time, with a reload required after every shot. The files for making the pistol were made unavailable after the Department of Defense Trade Controls (no, that’s not a made-up department) claimed control over the information and made Defense Distributed, the organization which created and made the files available to the public, remove them.

If you’ve been a long-time listener for Counterpoint, you might have picked up that I’m consistently neither pro- nor anti-guns, but I’m for this little plastic pistol. Yes it can fire a bullet, but only one at a time; it’s clear that this is a proof-of-concept rather than a mass-murder assisting device. Besides that, using it for malicious purposes has obvious dissuasion: It’s not very accurate, not nearly as sturdy as a metal counterpart would be, and again, can only fire one shot at a time. But it’s barely-veritable lethality is not why I support it; I support it because this is a showcase for what 3D-printing technology can do.

 

That… and the fact that trying to go against it is pointless. Within the first two days of its release, the files for the Liberator were downloaded 100,000 times, and at the time of writing, there are 15 separate torrents on The Pirate Bay believed to be containing the same files. The former means that many people already have it, and the latter means that even though the DDTC wants the files to disappear from the face of the Internet, the torrent to get them is available from “the galaxy’s most resilient bittorrent [sic] site.” The information is out there, and it’s not going anywhere, so it seems to me like going against it is pointless. As stated above, I really doubt this will be used maliciously, or even properly at all. It’s the bare minimum required to pass proof-of-concept, made for the sake of making it.

 

Oh, and if printing this thing sounds like a good idea, I wouldn’t: the DDTC is still working through this literally first-of-its-kind situation, so the legality may be in question, even with the metal block in the gun. Also, the pistol was printed on a high-end printer, not a regular consumer-grade one, so if something goes wrong printing it out and you fire it, you could lose your hand. Stay safe.

The NSA Leaks A Week Later: What Next?

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | June 13th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

Over the weekend it was revealed that the whistleblower behind the NSA leaks was a man named Edward Snowden. Snowden is presumably in Hong Kong, although there hasn’t been any confirmation yet, other than the fact that he checked out of a hotel there recently. There has also been chatter about Snowden having a bid for political asylum, though there has been no official confirmation or denial of such asylum at the time of writing, be it from China, Iceland, or Russia, the three nations allegedly weighing the possibility, with only Russia officially “considering” asylum.

 

That’s all well and good, but what about his homeland, the U.S.? Already, some members of congress are calling for his head, Obama is trying to do damage control, and as stated above, Snowden isn’t even in the country. On the other side, there is already a whitehouse.gov petition to pardon him, even without any charge of wrongdoing so far, and privacy advocates are taking a break from performing the “I Told You So Dance” to show support of the person behind the information.

 

I don’t want this to be another article entirely about whistleblowers, so I’ll shift to the leaks themselves–I wrote last week about the notion that some things shouldn’t be classified to begin with, but this leak goes beyond that. The PRISM program and the Verizon (and I would assume other major telecoms companies) data mining efforts shouldn’t have even been started, and for revealing them, I thank Snowden very much.

 

I believe the best part of these leaks is the re-ignition of the discussion of privacy vs. safety: at what point does “anti-terrorism” become too invasive? At some point during the show last week, I asked “what terrorism?” and by that I was questioning how many terrorism plots were, or even could be, foiled by this type of surveillance. I realize that the CIA/FBI/DHS/etc. have to keep some things secret, but I believe that if they want to even propose this type of surveillance, there had better be concrete, publicly available evidence that it works, and even then, there is no reason that the government needs the metadata on every call. Heck, I call in to Counterpoint from over 1500 miles away for an hour once a week, and I’m sure that could be construed as “odd,” even though I can say with 100% certainty that I am not a terrorist.

 

But what about the one in a million who is a terrorist? Surely we can’t just let him/her continue uninhibited. Do we trust that the government and police can catch most of them? Do we trust each other to be on the lookout for bomb/etc. factories across the country? In all honesty, I don’t know what we can do to stop terrorist attacks from ever happening again, but just because there isn’t an alternative idea at this point in time does not make the surveillance state is a good idea. I can live with the current airport security; it’s a pain, but it’s only a little overzealous. I can get behind the occasional wiretap, but I think a warrant should be required beforehand. I draw the line at the public camera system/Trapwire and Internet monitoring in any form; the first is far too invasive, and the second is too easy for the actual intended targets to circumvent and only harms the bystanders.

 

We have to accept that there are people out there that want to hurt us, be it from some bastardized form of an otherwise peaceful religion, or from run-of-the-mill psychopathy, and I’ll admit that I don’t know how to stop them 100% of the time, but what I do know is that turning America into an Orwellian state out of fear of terrorism would be “letting the terrorists win,” and I’m sure I’m blowing these programs a little out of proportion, but one of the hallmarks of such a state is total surveillance, which, thanks to Snowden, we know is closer than we thought it was last week.

Sometimes Leaks Shouldn’t Be Fixed

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | June 6th, 2013 | LEAVE A COMMENT

On June 3rd, the trial of Bradley Manning finally began, just a touch over three years since his arrest. He is charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, and in turn to enemies of the U.S., via the nature of the Internet’s global availability. Among the leaked information, was the “Collateral Murder” footage of a U.S. helicopter gunning down four journalists and two kids, and reports confirming the Granai Airstrike, which killed anywhere between 86 and 147 civilians, most of which were apparently women and children, and a good number of diplomatic cables containing information that embarrassed the U.S. government.

I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the recent crackdown on whistle-blowers in general, not just Manning. While I have said before that I am a staunch defender of personal privacy, I’ll admit to having lopsided standards when comparing personal privacy to governmental privacy. I believe that Manning should be applauded for showing something that, quite frankly, needed to be exposed: I believe that the American people have a right to know who we have killed half way across the world while fighting a war against an abstract concept (terrorism), and furthermore, I believe that even if these incidents were accidental, that they shouldn’t just be swept under the rug and classified because they might embarrass a few officials. We’re not all babies, I don’t think anyone who knows we’re at war expects us to not have at least some civilian casualties, and I think that the American people can certainly “handle the truth,” even if it is unpleasant.

But moving away from Manning specifically, there seems to be a recent shift towards this head-in-the-sand idea: that dissenting or even leaking is not okay. From the Obama administration’s six uses of the Espionage Act– more than all other presidents combined– to the Patriot Act, to even the recent DOJ scandal(s). What I am gathering from these, among others, is that it’s no longer completely okay to speak out, or else a whistle-blower, or even just a dutiful reporter, risks getting caught up in the vortex, as we’ve seen with the AP scandal recently. Add in just the chilling effects alone from the Patriot Act and it looks to me like we’re nibbling away at the first amendment. To the argument that this is just all in the name of counter-terrorism and that we should have more faith in the government, I counter with “once you give it up, you aren’t getting it back”; the Espionage Act has been around since 1917, almost 100 years ago, and the Patriot Act just got extended in 2011 to last four more years, but I will concede that this government-press scandal will probably blow over, though I’m not so sure leakers will bother coming to the press for quite some time.