• No shooting at protest? Police may block mobile devices via Apple

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-05 21:52:31
    'Apple has patented a piece of technology which would allow government and police to block transmission of information, including video and photographs, from any public gathering or venue they deem “sensitive”, and “protected from externalities.”

    ­In other words, these powers will have control over what can and cannot be documented on wireless devices during any public event.

    And while the company says the affected sites are to be mostly cinemas, theaters, concert grounds and similar locations, Apple Inc. also says “covert police or government operations may require complete ‘blackout’ conditions.”

    “Additionally,” Apple says,” the wireless transmission of sensitive information to a remote source is one example of a threat to security. This sensitive information could be anything from classified government information to questions or answers to an examination administered in an academic setting.”

    The statement led many to believe that authorities and police could now use the patented feature during protests or rallies to block the transmission of video footage and photographs from the scene, including those of police brutality, which at times of major events immediately flood news networks and video websites.

    Apple patented the means to transmit an encoded signal to all wireless devices, commanding them to disable recording functions.

    Those policies would be activated by GPS, and WiFi or mobile base-stations, which would ring-fence ("geofence") around a building or a “sensitive area” to prevent phone cameras from taking pictures or recording video.

    Apple may implement the technology, but it would not be Apple's decision to activate the “feature” – it would be down governments, businesses and network owners to set such policies, analyzes ZDNet technology website.

    Having invented one of the most sophisticated mobile devices, Apple now appears to be looking for ways to restrict its use.

    “As wireless devices such as cellular telephones, pagers, personal media devices and smartphones become ubiquitous, more and more people are carrying these devices in various social and professional settings,” it explains in the patent. “The result is that these wireless devices can often annoy, frustrate, and even threaten people in sensitive venues.”

    The company’s listed “sensitive” venues so far include mostly meetings, the presentation of movies, religious ceremonies, weddings, funerals, academic lectures, and test-taking environments.'
  • U.S Department of State and several Swedish government websites targeted in DDoS attack

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-04 21:10:26
    'The U.S Department of State and a number of Swedish government websites were among those forced offline in an apparent mass DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack.

    The websites for the Swedish Armed Forces, Courts Administration, and the Swedish Institute (an initiative to promote the country around the world) were among those affected.

    The person behind the Twitter account @TheWikiBoatBR (who does not appear to have an explicit association with Anonymous) posted a string of tweets suggesting responsibility for several attacks. Among those targeted were the Department of State, U.S. Department of Education, Sony, and Harvard University. The State Department site was still offline at the time of publication.

    A DDoS attack is one in which a website’s servers are overloaded by a vast number of systems trying to access them, which often forces the site offline.

    Swedish Armed Forces Communications and Public Affairs representative Therese Fagerstedt told The Local that it was not clear who was responsible, but it appears the DDoS may have been carried out to protest the charges laid against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

    Prosecutors in Sweden want to charge Assange over alleged sex crimes. He has taken refuge at Ecuador’s London embassy since June, and has been granted asylum by Ecuador.

    The #OpFreeAssange hashtag, the same one used by Anonymous to discuss actions against the websites of Interpol and U.K. government websites in recent weeks, was used to talk about the Sweden attacks on Twitter.'
  • Chess master Garry Kasparov: "When Putin's Thugs Came for Me"

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-18 13:24:18
    I was dragged away Friday by a group of police—in fact carried away with one on each arm and leg.

    The only surprise to come out of Friday's guilty verdict in the trial here of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot was how many people acted surprised. Three young women were sentenced to two years in prison for the prank of singing an anti-Putin "prayer" in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Their jailing was the next logical step for Vladimir Putin's steady crackdown on "acts against the social order," the Kremlin's expansive term for any public display of resistance.

    In the 100 days since Mr. Putin's re-election as president, severe new laws against public protest have been passed and the homes of opposition leaders have been raided. These are not the actions of a regime prepared to grant leniency to anyone who offends Mr. Putin's latest ally, the Orthodox Church and its patriarch.

    Unfortunately, I was not there to hear the judge's decision, which she took several hours to read. The crowds outside the court building made entry nearly impossible, so I stood in a doorway and took questions from journalists. Suddenly, I was dragged away by a group of police—in fact carried away with one policeman on each arm and leg.

    The men refused to tell me why I was being arrested and shoved me into a police van. When I got up to again ask why I had been detained, things turned violent. I was restrained, choked and struck several times by a group of officers before being driven to the police station with dozens of other protesters. After several hours I was released, but not before they told me I was being criminally investigated for assaulting a police officer who claimed I had bitten him.

    It would be easy to laugh at such a bizarre charge when there are already so many videos and photos of the police assaulting me. But in a country where you can be imprisoned for two years for singing a song, laughter does not come easily. My bruises will heal long before the members of Pussy Riot are free to see their young children again. In the past, Mr. Putin's critics and enemies have been jailed on a wide variety of spurious criminal charges, from fraud to terrorism.

    But now the masks are off. Unlikely as it may be, the three members of Pussy Riot have become our first true political prisoners.

    Such a brazen step should raise alarms, but the leaders of the Free World are clearly capable of sleeping through any wake-up call. If this was all business as usual for the Putin justice system, the same was true for the international reaction. A spokesman for the Obama administration called the sentence "disproportionate," as if the length of the prison term were the only problem with open repression of political speech. The Russian Constitution is freely available online, but this was a medieval show trial with no connection to the criminal code.

    Mr. Putin is not worried about what the Western press says, or about celebrities tweeting their support for Pussy Riot. These are not the constituencies that concern him. Friday, the Russian paper Vedomosti reported that former Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann could be put in charge of managing the hundreds of billions of dollars in the Russian sovereign wealth fund. As long as bankers and other Western elites eagerly line up to do Mr. Putin's bidding, the situation in Russia will only get worse.

    If officials at the U.S. State Department are as "seriously concerned" about free speech in Russia as they say, I suggest they drop their opposition to the Magnitsky Act pending in the Senate. That legislation would bring financial and travel sanctions against the functionaries who enact the Kremlin's agenda of repression. Mouthing concern only reinforces the fact that no action will be taken.

    Mr. Putin could not care less about winning public-relations battles in the Western press, or about fighting them at all. He and his cronies care only about money and power. Today's events make it clear that they will fight for those things until Russia's jails are full.

    Mr. Kasparov, a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal, is the leader of the Russian pro-democracy group United Civil Front and chairman of the U.S.-based Human Rights Foundation. He resides in Moscow.'
  • Russia's Pussy Riot protesters sentenced to two years

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-17 18:45:24
    'Three women from Russian punk band Pussy Riot were sentenced to two years in jail on Friday for their protest against President Vladimir Putin in a church, an outcome supporters described as the Kremlin leader's "personal revenge".

    The band's supporters burst into chants of "Shame" outside the Moscow courthouse and said the case showed Putin's refusal to tolerate dissent. The U.S. embassy in Moscow said the sentence appeared disproportionate to what the defendants did.

    The women have support abroad, where their case has been taken up by a long list of celebrities including Madonna, Paul McCartney and Sting, but opinion polls show few Russians sympathize with them.

    "The girls' actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church's rules," Judge Marina Syrova told the court as she spent three hours reading the verdict while the women stood watching in handcuffs inside a glass courtroom cage.

    She declared all three guilty of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred, saying they had deliberately offended Russian Orthodox believers by storming the altar of Moscow's main cathedral in February to belt out a song deriding Putin.

    Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Marina Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, giggled as the judge read out the sentences one by one. They have already been in jail for about five months, meaning they will serve another 19.

    They say they were protesting against Putin's close ties with the church when they burst into Moscow's golden-domed Christ the Saviour Cathedral wearing bright ski masks, tights and short skirts.

    State prosecutors had requested a three-year jail term.

    Putin's opponents portray the trial as part of a wider crackdown by the former KGB spy to crush their protest movement.

    "They are in jail because it is Putin's personal revenge," Alexei Navalny, one of the organizers of big protests against Putin during the winter, told reporters outside the court. "This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin."

    Putin's spokesman did not immediately answer calls following the verdict, but the president's allies said before the trial that the Kremlin would not have any influence on the outcome. The Russian Orthodox Church also did not comment.


    Foreign singers have campaigned for the trio's release, and Washington says the case is politically motivated. Madonna performed in Moscow with "PUSSY RIOT" painted on her back.

    "As in most politically motivated cases, this court is not in line with the law, common sense or mercy," veteran human rights campaigner Lyudmila Alexeyeva said.

    But Valentina Ivanova, 60, a retired doctor, said outside the courtroom: "What they did showed disrespect towards everything, and towards believers first of all."

    The judge said they had "committed an act of hooliganism, a gross violation of public order showing obvious disrespect for society." She rejected their argument that they had no intention of offending Russian Orthodox believers.

    The trio's defense lawyers said they would appeal.

    Many in Russia's mainly Orthodox Christian society backed the authorities' demands for severe punishment, though some have said the women deserved clemency.

    Putin, who returned to the presidency for a third term in May after a four-year spell as prime minister, has said the women did "nothing good" but should not be judged too harshly.

    Witnesses say at least 24 people were detained by police in scuffles or for unfurling banners or donning ski masks in support of Pussy Riot outside the courtroom. Among those detained were Sergei Udaltsov, a leftist opposition leader, and Garry Kasparov, the chess great and vehement Putin critic.

    "Shame on (Russian Orthodox Patriarch) Kirill, shame on Putin," Udaltsov said before he was detained.

    "A disgraceful political reprisal is under way on the part of the authorities ... If we swallow this injustice, they can come for any one of us tomorrow."

    The crowd of about 2,000 people outside the court was dominated by Pussy Riot supporters but also included some nationalists and religious believers demanding a tough sentence.

    "Evil must be punished," said Maria Butilno, 60, who held an icon and said Pussy Riot had insulted the faithful.

    An opinion poll of Russians released by the independent Levada research group on Friday showed only 6 percent had sympathy with the women, 51 percent said they found nothing good about them or felt irritation or hostility, and the rest were unable to say or were indifferent.


    Tolokonnikova, Alyokhina and Samutsevich are educated, middle-class Russians who say their protest was not intended to offend believers.

    The charges against Pussy Riot raised concern abroad about freedom of speech in Russia two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    "Today's sentence in the Pussy Riot case looks disproportionate to the actions," the U.S. Embassy in Moscow wrote on its Twitter microblog in Russian.

    Protests in support of the group were planned in cities from Sydney to Paris, and New York to London. A crowd of several hundred gathered in a New York hotel late on Thursday to hear actress Chloe Sevigny and others read from letters, lyrics and court statements by the detained women.

    In the centre of Kiev, a bare-chested feminist activist took a chainsaw to a wooden cross bearing a figure of Christ, while in Bulgaria, sympathizers put Pussy Riot-style masks on statues at a Soviet Army monument.

    "Huge damage has been done to the country's image and attractiveness for investors," former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin wrote in a message posted on his website.

    Protest leaders say Putin will not relax pressure on opponents in his new six-year term. Parliament has already rushed through laws increasing fines for protesters, tightening controls on the Internet, and imposing stricter rules on defamation.

    (Additional reporting by Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Alissa de Carbonnel, Maria Tsvetkova, Thomas Grove and Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Olzhas Auyezov in Kiev; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Will Waterman)'
  • The Runaway Banking System

    posted by Keito
    2012-08-14 16:38:04
    'There's Only One Solution That Might Fix Our Corrupt Financial System

    The simple truth is our giant banking system is metastasizing throughout our economy. It’s sucking away our wealth. And it’s out of control.

    Americans want their pound of flesh, and rightfully so. We’ve seen our bankers commit every kind of financial crime imaginable. They trade on insider information. They manipulate markets. They rig bets. They fix prices. They sell securities that are designed to fail so that they can bet against them. They launder money for rogue nations. They create too-big-to-fail banks that gamble with impunity knowing that we will bail them out again and again. And they collectively crashed the economy causing 8 million workers to lose their jobs.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely to see these financial felons doing the perp walk?

    Sure, that might satisfy our desire for justice or even revenge, but it wouldn’t solve our banking problem. Neither would a return of Glass-Steagall, which would separate investment banking (the gambling part) from commercial banking (where our deposits are federally insured). And neither would a properly enforced Dodd-Frank legislation that was supposedly designed to prevent the next financial crash.

    None of this will work because even if vigorously enforced, our too-big-to-fail banking system will still be there, ripping us off each and every day. Worse still, even if you locked up all the CEOs and replaced them with saints selected by Ralph Nader, these giant banks would still be a clear and present danger to our economic system and to each of our jobs, if we’re lucky enough to have one.

    The simple truth is our giant banking system is metastasizing throughout our economy. It’s sucking away our wealth, and it’s out of control. No bank CEO can effectively manage the empires they now preside over. No regulator can keep up with the financial games that are played right under their noses. It’s just not possible. Too-big-to-fail also means too-big-to-control.

    The real dangers run even deeper. Banking is supposed serve a relatively simple, yet critical function – turning our savings into investments. It’s such a simple function that most introductory economic textbooks hardly mention it at all. But this function becomes immensely complicated and dangerous when banks become casinos. Financial apologists tell us those casinos make our system run more efficiently and provide ways to disperse and reduce risk…except not on this planet.

    Back in the real world, banking casinos are like any other casino. They are designed to make money from money any way they can and as fast as they can. If they can rig a bet, they do it. (That in a nutshell is what the LIBOR scandal is all about.) If they can hoodwink a client by selling damaged goods, consider it done. If they can find ways to hide bets off the books, “don’t think twice, it’s alright.” Bending and breaking the rules is what they do. And if caught, they blame it on the guy below or the other bank across the street or the regulator who wasn’t doing his job, or maybe even the poor schlep homeowner who didn’t read the fine print.

    Every time a bank is caught in one of these scandals (and every big bank has been caught), they point to their immaculate ethical policies that put the consumer first. They also brag about their sophisticated and rigorous risk management systems that are designed to prevent and contain the damage. Whatever happened, they claim, was a minor breach, an accident, a rogue trader, a bumbling manager or a misunderstanding. And those at the top are always insulated by plausible deniability.

    But all of this dissembling is a cover for the obvious: too-big-to-fail banks are the predators and we are the prey.

    And we’re talking about very big and powerful predators – predators who are so large that they can set prices at will. (See the August 9 New York Times article, " With Low Rates Banks Increase Mortgage Profits " about how the large banks are overcharging all of us on mortgages.)

    We shouldn’t be surprised.The biggest banks are simply getting bigger and bigger. In 1994 the assets of the top six U.S. banks were the equivalent of 17 percent of our economy. By 2009, after the crash and bailouts , the top six assets jumped to a whopping 63 percent of the economy. By March 2010, the top six banks (Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, CitiGroup, Well Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) held $9.2 trillion in assets. (How much is that? It's as much as the net worth of 119 million average Americans combined.)

    Given their size, there is no way we can allow these banks to fail – ever. Given their size, there is no way the political establishment can resist their lobbying and campaign donations. Given their size, there is no way our judicial system can control the racketeering.

    Shouldn’t we just break them up into smaller pieces?

    At first blush this seems like a grand idea. Let’s smash them to smithereens so that no bank can ever again grow so large. I’m for giving it a try. But we may end up with hundreds if not thousands of banks that will still find ways to gamble our money away. Many of these banks can fail at the same time – as happened during the Great Depression, and during the savings and loan fiasco in the 1980s. Also, it would be very difficult to control the ways in which these banks might link up with each other or connect with large non-banking corporations. We’d need a boatload of regulations and regulators to police so many private banking entities. And I’ll wager we’d still face the same underlying problem: wherever there are vast sums to be made from financial casinos large or small, we’re at risk.

    Turn the banks into public utilities?

    When I was writing The Looting of America in 2009, I still had hope for basic reforms: prosecutions, new laws, Glass-Steagall, you name it. But even then, I worried that these reforms were doomed:

    Perhaps the biggest problem with our government's timid approach to the financial crisis is that it just won’t work. We are gambling that somehow, through a hodgepodge of bailouts, regulations and controls, we can eliminate financial instability. But history provides little reassurance. Never before has so much human energy been devoted to investigating, analyzing and managing our economy. And yet, the most advanced and sophisticated economic system ever created, crashed all over our textbooks, our research papers, and our free-market theories. And if we don't change the way we do things, it will crash again.

    Let's hope we won't throw away much our children’s inheritance because we did not have the courage to do the obvious: take over the failing banks, drastically trim their astronomical salaries, control their hazardous financial engineering, and run the damn things for the good of us all.

    Since then we’ve learned the hard way that in a modern complex global economy, large-scale private banking doesn’t work. Rather than bust them up into smaller privately owned pieces, I think it’s time to take them over and run them as public utilities, paying decent civil service salaries and no more. Rather than one big national bank, we should consider chartering many state banks (the number depending on the size of the state). North Dakota still has one and it runs just fine. Then our public-employee bankers could concentrate on moving savings into good investments rather than moving the chips around their rigged roulette wheels.

    But won’t we be subject to bungling bureaucrats?

    Do you think public employees possibly could do worse than the mortgage brokers who lied and stole their way into the financial crisis? Would you really miss the shysters who sold dangerous adjustable mortgages to senior citizens who already had secure fixed mortgages? Will you pine for the days when bankers sold toxic assets to school districts and various municipalities all over the world? Are you worried that you’ll grow nostalgic for bankers who made billions on the upside and then stuck the taxpayers with the losses when things headed south?

    And please don’t use Fannie and Freddie as counter-examples. Until they were nationalized after utter failure, those mortgage giants were run as private entities – complete with stockholders and highly paid executives – all backed with implicit government guarantees. They were the worst kind of public-private partnerships. We can do better.

    Won’t we lose our banking talent by so drastically lowering the salaries?

    Yes we would, and thank goodness. There are thousands of very bright people who are drawn into banking because of the enormous financial rewards. Collectively, they are harming our economy. We would be much better off if that enormous talent pool flowed into medicine, science and education.

    Just think about what the current system is doing: We lure our best and brightest into finance because they can literally make millions of dollars per HOUR. And in order to do so, they create enormous hazards for our economy. If someone from another planet looked our way, they would surely ask: “Why do you deploy some of the best talent on Earth to destroy yourselves?”

    But isn’t this outright socialism?

    This is about as socialist as your local police and fire departments. Over the course of history, we have learned that some services best serve the commonwealth when run as public trusts.

    Overall, the free-market works reasonably well in the non-financial economy. (Yes it needs very tough regulations to protect the environment, public health and the workforce. And having a larger labor movement would serve as a badly need check and balance to concentrated corporate power.) But our private banking sector defies the most fundamental laws of capitalism: Both banking profits and losses should go to the entrepreneurs and their investors, not the public. Furthermore, if you really care about preserving capitalism in the real economy, we can’t allow finance capital to run hog wild, creating instability and crashes in its wake. Sooner or later, we’ll be forced to nationalize the banking sector. In fact, we already did. We bailed them out. We guaranteed hundreds of billions of toxic assets. We provided trillions in virtually free loans. Under the rules of capitalism, we should own them already given that level of support. (You can be sure, Warren Buffet would own them all, if he provided that kind of financing.) We just didn’t have the guts to take them on.

    Look around and you’ll see the wreckage of big private banking wherever you look. The unemployed, the empty houses, the struggling families who are underwater, the collapsing state and local budgets -- all of that was caused by our banking system run amok.

    How the hell could this possibly happen in America with a banking lobby that owns Congress? Doesn’t that make this scheme a bit fantastic and unrealistic?

    It sure does. But doesn’t that admonition apply also to any and all banking reforms? Right now, with the banksters in control, even the most minor reforms are challenged every inch of the way. So what’s realistic right now? Just about nothing.

    But that wasn’t the case at the height of the 2008 crash when every bank was on its knees begging for help. That was the time to act. But we didn’t. Why? One reason is because progressives didn’t have a vision of what banking should look like. We defaulted to the idea that private banking was a given, and therefore our “reforms” failed to offer an alternative. The progressive goal seemed to be to put teeth into Dodd-Frank. How realistic was that?

    I think it’s very realistic to begin thinking real hard about what we’ll demand the next time the system crashes…and it will. Are we going to accept, yet again, that the big banks get bailed out and then remain in private hands? Or will we have a rational plan for turning them into public utilities?

    Of course just having a plan doesn’t make it so. But if we don’t know what we really want, we’ll get nothing, or even worse we’ll get more attacks on public services, public employees and environmental regulations.

    There’s also hard, cold politics to consider: By demanding the end of large-scale private banking we might help to shift the debate. If the idea spreads and gains credence, then reforms like Glass-Steagall or busting up the big banks will start looking mild in comparison to the abolition of private banking as a whole.

    You know it’s true. We need to end too-big-to-fail, instead of proposing reforms that are too little, too late.'