WTF?! NSA Actually Intercepted Packages to Put Backdoors in Electronics

read more


The NSA Actually Intercepted Packages to Put Backdoors in Electronics

The NSA revelations keep on coming, and if you’re feeling desensitized to the whole thing it’s time to refocus and get your game face on for 2014. Because shit continues to get real.

SPIEGEL published two pieces this morning about the NSA’s Tailored Access Operations (TAO) division, aka premier hacking ninja squad. According to Snowden documents, TAO has a catalog of all the commercial equipment that carries NSA backdoors. And it’s a who’s who of a list. Storage products from Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and Samsung have backdoors in their firmware, firewalls from Juniper Networks have been compromised, plus networking equipment from Cisco and Huawei, and even unspecified products from Dell. TAO actually intercepts online orders of these and other electronics to bug them.

SPIEGEL notes that the documents do not provide any evidence that the manufacturers mentioned had any idea about this NSA activity. Every company spokesperson contacted by Spiegel reporters denied having any knowledge of the situation, though Dell officials said instead that the company "respects and complies with the laws of all countries in which it operates."

TAO uses software hacking in things like Windows bug reports to get the information and device control they need, of course. But if that’s not enough, they even have a special group of hardware hackers who create modified equipment for TAO specialists to try and plant. A monitor cable that allows "TAO personnel to see what is displayed on the targeted monitor," costs $30. An "active GSM base station" for monitoring cellphone calls costs $40,000, and converted flashdrives that plant bugs and can also transmit and receive data with hidden radio signals come in 50-packs for more than $1 million. The NSA octopus spreads its tentacles even further. [SPIEGEL, SPIEGEL]"



No Qaeda Link Seen in Benghazi Attack; Contrary to claims by some members of Congress, Militia and Insults to Islam Fueled Assault


"the September 2012 attack on the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans was led by fighters who had benefited directly from NATO’s extensive air power and logistics support during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. And contrary to claims by some members of Congress, it was accelerated in part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam.
Months of investigation by The New York Times, centered on extensive interviews with Libyans in Benghazi who had direct knowledge of the attack there and its context, turned up no evidence that Al Qaeda or other international terrorist groups had any role in the assault.
A fuller accounting of the attacks suggests lessons for the United States that go well beyond Libya. It shows the risks of expecting American aid in a time of desperation to buy durable loyalty, and the difficulty of discerning friends from allies of convenience in a culture shaped by decades of anti-Western sentiment. Both challenges now hang over the American involvement in Syria’s civil conflict.
The attack also suggests that, as the threats from local militants around the region have multiplied, an intensive focus on combating Al Qaeda may distract from safeguarding American interests."

Brain function ‘boosted for days after reading a novel’


"Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said.

The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory.

The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain.

Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition – for example, just thinking about running, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study.

“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

21 students took part in the study, with all participants reading the same book – Pompeii, a 2003 thriller by Robert Harris, which was chosen for its page turning plot.

“The story follows a protagonist, who is outside the city of Pompeii and notices steam and strange things happening around the volcano,” said Prof Berns. “It depicts true events in a fictional and dramatic way. It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative line.”

Over 19 days the students read a portion of the book in the evening then had fMRI scans the following morning. Once the book was finished, their brains were scanned for five days after.

The neurological changes were found to have continued for all the five days after finishing, proving that the impact was not just an immediate reaction but has a lasting influence."


Further proof the Justice Department is protecting JP Morgan from criminal prosecution

read more

"In what may be the least surprising article of 2013, we find out from Newsweek that the Department of Justice is going out of its way to protect the poor little babies at JP Morgan from criminal prosecution in the Bernie Madoff case. While we know all too well about the institutionalized practice of “Too Big to Jail” that dominates the current fraud system of so called “justice” in America, it is still of the utmost importance that we spread these stories far and wide. Amazingly, in this instance the DOJ is actively blocking the Treasury Inspector General from doing his job in order to protect the mega-bank.

From Newsweek:

Bernard Madoff’s principal bank, JPMorgan Chase, has for years obstructed federal bank examiners trying to ascertain what it knew about his gigantic Ponzi scheme, an official document obtained by Newsweek shows.

The Justice Department refused in September to back up Treasury inspector general staff who wanted a court order to enforce a subpoena, in effect shielding JPMorgan from law enforcement, the October 8 document shows.

The Justice Department told the Treasury Inspector General “that they were denying the request for enforcement of the subpoena,” which means officials “could not undertake further actions regarding this matter,” wrote Jason J. Metrick, the inspector general special-agent-in-charge.

The memo revealing that Justice protected JPMorgan from an obstruction complaint raises anew questions about how much the Obama administration has done to protect the big banks, whose lies about mortgage securities and other investments they sold sank the economy in 2008."


“Workers in Nevada, California, Illinois, Georgia, and New Jersey will get hit hardest when jobless benefits expire today.”

read more

On Dec. 28, roughly 1.3 million out-of-work Americans will lose their unemployment insurance. That’s because Congress declined to renew an emergency aid program for the jobless that’s set to expire that day.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

This could still change: Senate Democrats have said they’ll come back in early January and try to renew the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program for another year, which would cost roughly $25.2 billion. But if that effort fails, the nation’s safety net for the unemployed will shrink significantly in 2014.

So, here’s our primer on what this emergency unemployment program is and why it’s shrinking, as well as the arguments for and against renewing it.

What is the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program? The unemployment insurance program, which dates to 1935, provides laid-off workers with a fraction of their old salary for a fixed period of time while they search for a new job. In 2008, Congress expanded this program to deal with the recession. That expansion is what’s at issue.

To get more specific: In normal times, the states and federal government work together to fund up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. (The precise number varies from state to state — North Carolina only provides up to 19 weeks, Michigan 20 weeks.) When unemployment is particularly high, states can usually get some federal funding to provide an extra 13 or 20 weeks of "extended benefits."

But starting in 2008, Congress expanded this program significantly. First, the federal government promised to pick up the entire tab for those "extended benefits" and made it easier for states to receive this money. Second, Congress created the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to provide additional aid to workers when their state benefits ran out.

This additional financing has shrunk somewhat from its peak — currently only about one-third of the 4.1 million long-term unemployed receive benefits, and budget cuts have pared back benefit levels. Even so, at the moment, many states still offer up to 63 or even 73 weeks of unemployment aid, and benefits average around $300 a week.

What will change when this program expires on Dec. 28? This is best shown in map form. Again, most states currently offer jobless benefits for up to 63 or 73 weeks:

But come Dec. 28, the maximum length of time that states can offer jobless benefits will suddenly drop to 26 weeks or less:

That means anyone who was on, say, his 36th week of benefits will suddenly get cut off.

How many people will be affected by this change? Starting at the end of the year, some 1.3 million people who have been out of work and receiving benefits for longer than 26 weeks (or less, in some states) will lose those benefits immediately.

Then, over the course of the year, other unemployed workers will fall out of the program once they hit 26 weeks (or less). All told, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 4.9 million people will get less unemployment aid than they would under an extension:

Or: The Wall Street Journal has a nice interactive map showing where the workers likely to be affected all live. Nevada, California, Illinois, Georgia, and New Jersey are among those states that get hit hardest:

extended benefits map

Can’t workers who lose their unemployment benefits find jobs? In theory, sure. But this isn’t as easy as it sounds. The economy is still pretty weak, and there aren’t always enough jobs to go around — the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are now about 2.9 unemployed workers for every job opening. That’s worse than the ratio at any point during the 2001 recession.

What’s more, the long-term unemployed — those who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more — face additional challenges. Studies have found that most companies will barely even consider their résumés. Employers seem to assume that if these workers have been unemployed for so long, there must be something wrong with them. Most of the 1.3 million workers who are seeing their benefits cut off are in this category.

If they can’t find work, what will happen to people who lose their benefits? That’s not entirely clear, since there are few studies that track these workers.

One possibility is that they’ll try to get on disability insurance. But a recent NBER working paper by Andreas Mueller, Jesse Rothstein and Till M. von Wachter found that in the past, by and large, American workers have not been going on disability after their unemployment benefits have lapsed. After all, it’s not easy to qualify for disability.

Another possibility is that they’ll simply drop out of the labor force entirely. That was the conclusion of a recent research note from JP Morgan chief economist Michael Feroli, who argued that many of those 1.3 million workers may simply give up looking for jobs once their benefits lapse. Many of those workers were only continuing their search in order to qualify for benefits. Once the aid is gone, they’ll stop looking.

(It’s worth noting that North Carolina recently slashed its state unemployment benefits, so that’s one place to look for a possible answer here. So far, the evidence is a bit ambiguous — Evan Soltas and Kevin Erdmann bother offer good analysis.)

Will the expiration have a broader economic impact? Yes, possibly. First, if workers who get cut off stop looking for jobs, they won’t count in the "official" unemployment rate. JP Morgan’s Feroli estimates that this rate could drop from 0.25 to 0.5 percentage points. But that lower rate won’t be a sign that the economy is getting any better.

The lapse in benefits could also exert some drag on the U.S. economy, since those jobless workers will have less money to spend. Feroli estimates that the expiration of benefits will shave about 0.4 percentage points from first-quarter economic growth next year. The Economic Policy Institute recently estimated that the lapse will cut GDP by about 0.2 percent and cost 310,000 jobs.

This is an emergency program. Isn’t the emergency over? That’s one argument for letting the extended benefits lapse. The program was never supposed to last forever. So why not end it now?

One counterargument comes from economist Chad Stone of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, notes that that, technically, we’re still facing a jobs "emergency." That’s particularly true for workers who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more — the people most likely to be affected by the cut-off in benefits:

In each of the previous three recessions, Stone notes, federal aid for the unemployed didn’t end until the long-term unemployment rate had dropped to around 1.3 percent. Right now, the nation’s long-term unemployment rate is falling, but it’s still at 2.6 percent, roughly as high as it’s been at any point since World War II.

Is Congress going to do anything to offer more aid? Possibly, though that’s not certain. Lawmakers could have folded a one-year extension of the emergency program into their end-of-the-year budget deal, which would have cost $25.2 billion. But that didn’t happen.

Senate Democrats are planning to push for a one-year extension when they get back to work in January. That extension would apply retroactively to the 1.3 million people who see their benefits end on Dec. 28.

"It’s a good bill, and it deserves a vote, and I hope my Republican colleagues will work with us to schedule a vote in a very timely fashion," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this week. And at least some Senate Republicans have signaled that they’d be open to an extension.

Are there opponents of an extension? Other Republicans object to the idea, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). "I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers," Paul said this month. "When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy."

Still other conservatives don’t want to spend $25.2 billion to extend the program unless it’s offset by cuts elsewhere. "What is it coupled with? How is it paid for? Are there reforms in how it’s being administered?," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told National Journal.

Is this the only way to help the long-term unemployed? No. Far from it. Michael R. Strain is a conservative economist at the American Enterprise Institute who has done a lot of work on the long-term unemployed. He thinks the emergency aid program should be extended. But he also thinks that it’s insufficient, and that Congress should be doing far, far more to help 4.1 million long-term unemployed get back to work.

Some ideas: Strain has proposed that policymakers try everything from job-relocation assistance to reducing the minimum wage for some of the long-term unemployed (and adding wage subsidies). His AEI colleague Kevin Hassett has proposed that the government directly hire workers who can’t find work elsewhere. On the liberal side, Dean Baker of the Center on Economic and Policy Research has proposed a variety of ideas, such as incentives for employers to hire or "worksharing" programs.

"The role of government is to help the most vulnerable in society, and helping the long-term unemployed should be at the top of that agenda," Strain told me. "And anything we can do to help within reason should at least be discussed."

Further reading:

A strain of the swine flu is rapidly spreading throughout the Chicago area,” CBS Chicago reports.

read more

"(CBS) — A strain of the swine flu is rapidly spreading throughout the Chicago area.

More than 20 of the H1N1 cases have been detected at Loyola University Medical Center in recent days, including five on Christmas Eve.

Now, CBS 2 has learned, another 41 cases have turned up at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Doctors say there have been eight cases in just the week before Christmas.

Meanwhile, at hospitals in the Advocate Health network, 90 percent of the confirmed flu cases have turned out to be H1N1.

The Centers for Disease Control says it could be as dangerous as the 2009 swine flu outbreak.

Doctors say this year’s flu vaccine protects against the H1N1 strain of the flu and they have plenty of vaccines on hand."

Toby Keith Fans ENRAGED by Gun Ban at Country Star’s Restaurant

read more

"Country music star Toby Keith seems to have lost his “good ol’ boy” standing with throngs of Second Amendment worshipers all across America over the sacrilegious (to them) “no guns permitted” sign posted on the door of his newest restaurant in gun-friendly Virginia.

Fresh off the uproar over the Phil Robertson suspension from every redneck’s favorite show, Duck Dynasty, the gun ban at Keith’s newest restaurant promises to push those folk’s collective blood pressure into downright dangerous territory. And if some of the messages being seen on Facebook and other social media is any indication, these people are every bit as angry as they were over the Duck Dynasty quackery.

And of course, all of these pissed off people completely miss this little detail: Toby Keith himself did not make the decision to ban guns from this particular restaurant in Woodbridge, Virginia. The restaurant is a privately-owned franchise, and those owners made that decision. Other Toby Keith restaurants allow open carry at those locations.

But no matter. These gun-toting folks need a target. Even if it’s not the right one. Hopefully this isn’t a metaphor for how skilled they are at identifying and shooting their targets with their beloved guns.

One other small detail… In the state of Virginia, you may open carry into any restaurant or bar that allows it, and while the law is vague on drinking while open carrying, if you drink and have a concealed weapon on you, then you’re breaking the law.

Here is just a sampling of some of the posts on the Facebook page of the Toby Keith restaurant with the offending message, as well as the Toby Keith Facebook page.

And of course, in addition to the above mentioned-ignorance, you’ll see the obligatory “that vermin is violatin’ the consitushion!” theme in some of these messages…

FB Keith 1

Keith is fake and hates guns so much that he titled one of his albums “Bullets in the Gun”. And besides, it wasn’t Keith who decided to not permit guns in this particular restaurant."