Blogs

Who Will Hack US Elections?

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 7:11 PM PDT

At an e-crime summit at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh last week security experts predicted voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns. And that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks, reports New Scientist.

Dirty tricks are not new. On US election day in 2002, the lines of a "get-out-the-voters" phone campaign sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party were clogged by prank calls. In the 2006 election, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received letters telling them it was illegal for immigrants to vote. But in those cases the Republican Party members and supporters were traced and either charged or named in the press. Online dirty tricks will be much less easy to detect, security researchers say.

Spam email could be used against voters, experts say, by giving the wrong location for a polling station, or, as in the Orange County fraud, incorrect details about who has the right to vote. . . Telephone attacks like the New Hampshire prank calls would be harder to trace if made using internet telephony instead of landlines . . . Calls could even be made using a botnet. This would make tracing the perpetrator even harder, because calls wouldn't come from a central location. What's more, the number of calls that can be made is practically limitless.

Internet calls might also be made to voters to sow misinformation, says Christopher Soghoian at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Anonymous voter suppression is going to become a reality." Manipulation can also happen in more subtle ways. In 2006, supporters of California's Proposition 87, for a tax that would fund alternative energy, registered negative-sounding domains including noon87.com and noonprop87.org and then automatically routed visitors to a site touting the proposition's benefits.

The summit's conclusion: the problem will happen. The only unknowns: when and by whom.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Who Will Hack US Elections?

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 7:07 PM PDT

138907447_a23ad0acb3_m.jpg At an e-crime summit at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh last week security experts predicted voters will increasingly be targeted by internet-based dirty tricks campaigns. And that the perpetrators will find it easier to cover their tracks, reports New Scientist.

Dirty tricks are not new. On US election day in 2002, the lines of a "get-out-the-voters" phone campaign sponsored by the New Hampshire Democratic Party were clogged by prank calls. In the 2006 election, 14,000 Latino voters in Orange County, California, received letters telling them it was illegal for immigrants to vote. But in those cases the Republican Party members and supporters were traced and either charged or named in the press. Online dirty tricks will be much less easy to detect, security researchers say.

Spam email could be used against voters, experts say, by giving the wrong location for a polling station, or, as in the Orange County fraud, incorrect details about who has the right to vote. . . Telephone attacks like the New Hampshire prank calls would be harder to trace if made using internet telephony instead of landlines . . . Calls could even be made using a botnet. This would make tracing the perpetrator even harder, because calls wouldn't come from a central location. What's more, the number of calls that can be made is practically limitless.

Internet calls might also be made to voters to sow misinformation, says Christopher Soghoian at Indiana University in Bloomington. "Anonymous voter suppression is going to become a reality." Manipulation can also happen in more subtle ways. In 2006, supporters of California's Proposition 87, for a tax that would fund alternative energy, registered negative-sounding domains including noon87.com and noonprop87.org and then automatically routed visitors to a site touting the proposition's benefits.

The summit's conclusion: the problem will happen. The only unknowns: when and by whom.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Using Bees To Save Elephants

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 6:37 PM PDT

3779_file_Elephant2_Balfour.jpg Fact #1: Elephants fear bees and run when they hear angry buzzing. Fact #2: African elephants are being squeezed into smaller and smaller wild neighborhoods. Problem: Elephants don't generally buy into our notions of land ownership and cross onto private property (imagine) to eat farmers' crops. Solution: Strategically placed beehives, or even just recordings of bees, to create "fences" elephants understand.

The new study, published in Current Biology, suggests a low-tech elephant deterrent and conservation measure. Way, way better than shooting them.

The researchers who deserve kudus: Lucy E. King of the University of Oxford, and Save the Elephants in Nairobi; Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants in Nairobi; and Fritz Vollrath of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, and Save the Elephants in Nairobi.

Julia Whitty is Mother Jones' environmental correspondent. You can read from her new book, "The Fragile Edge," and other writings, here.

Abuse of Presidential Power and the Ghost of Nixon

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 1:57 PM PDT

The Supreme Court today refused to hear the appeal of German citizen Khaled El-Masri, who was contesting a March decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to dismiss his lawsuit against the CIA. El-Masri alleged that in 2004 he was kidnapped by the CIA and rendered to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he was tortured.

The Court's refusal to hear the case affirms the decision of the Appeals Court, which ruled against El-Masri on the grounds that allowing him to seek judicial redress would expose state secrets. The court's opinion relied heavily on the precedent of United States v. Reynolds—the 1953 case that legally enshrined the State Secrets Privilege. Though not based in the Constitution, the Reynolds precedent allows the government to withhold evidence from a legal case if its disclosure would endanger national security—a privilege most notably invoked by Richard Nixon and George W. Bush.

In Reynolds, the Court held that the widows of three Air Force contractors who died in a 1948 crash could not be compensated, because litigating the case would expose military secrets. But in 2000, the documents related to the crash were declassified, revealing that what the military sought to conceal was not in fact a state secret, but instead evidence of the Air Force's culpability in the men's deaths. The Court ruled without ever seeing these documents, since they were, at the time, classified.

Anyone else see the legal Catch-22 here? The El-Masri decision is less about national security than it is about the President's right to invoke the privilege of state secrets. Without judicial process, we'll never know if that claim is legitimate or lawful. Before dismissing El-Masri's case, the Court might have looked to another old opinion, also cited in the March ruling of the Appeals Court:

Neither the doctrine of separation of powers, nor the need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified Presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances.

That was United States v. Nixon—the famous Watergate decision in which the court ruled unanimously to limit Presidential power.

—Casey Miner

Pakistan Election a Big Sham, No Surprise

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 1:18 PM PDT

This past Saturday, Pakistan held its presidential election. It's no surprise that the good General came out on top. In Pakistan, presidents are chosen by an electoral college, consisting of the Senate, the National Assembly, and the Provincial Assemblies and these governing bodies were elected in 2002 during a rigged election. Musharraf's re-election was a guarantee.

Musharraf now needs approval from the Supreme Court, which will look at the legality of his re—election beginning on October 17. Under the Pakistani constitution, one is prohibited from running for president while still acting as an army chief. Most argue that it's unlikely the Supreme Court will rule against Musharraf.

The White House commented that "Pakistan is an important partner and ally to the United States and we congratulate them for today's election." This response doesn't raise eyebrows: the U.S. stands behind Musharraf quite often and has even helped broker the recent "power—sharing deal" between former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Musharraf. This partnership will allow Musharraf to remain in power for another five years, as her support stands to legitimize Musharraf's rule.

No wonder the British publication, the Independent called the election a "charade masquerading as democracy."

—Neha Inamdar

A Label of One's Own

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 11:48 AM PDT

If he's not careful, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson is going to end up in the racial rogue's gallery right next to me, misunderstood and villified by those too blinded by America's moribund racial discourse to know that they're in violent agreement with us. In fact, Robinson's own words show that he, too, suffered from the same myopia from which he seems now to be in the early stages of recovery.

In a now infamous column written earlier this year, I pointed out the obvious: Barack Obama isn't black. He's an immigrant black, or a la Stephen Colbert either a nouveau black or a 'late to the scene' black...call him what you will, just don't call him black and think you've conveyed any useful information. But neither should you think you've conveyed a put down. Just consider it a community service to have bothered to define your terms.

The point isn't that immigrant blacks aren't 'authentic' or that they haven't suffered through the slavery experience and are therefore unworthy of blackness, concepts which I reject as puerile and unworthy. The point is that the term 'black,' in the American socio-political context, simply doesn't make room for them. It leaches them of all context except an inapplicable one - descent from American slaves and the legacy of Jim Crow. Other than skin color, 'black' doesn't tell you anything you need to know about immigrant blacks - the function of a label, if I'm not mistaken - and in fact misleads you with false information. Be honest: when someone is described to you as black or African American, doesn't it make a difference to learn that their parents came here from Jamaica or that they recently arrived from Ethiopia and speak only Amharic? Trick question, because if it doesn't it should; there's no reason to assume a political or cultural consonance between immigrant blacks and the slave-descended. So why use the same term? Labels ought to illuminate more than they obscure, a test which the label 'black' fails pretty abysmally in 2007. We don't need yet another word for blacks (colored, Negro, Black, African American - a person could get dizzy.) What we need is to interrogate the label wherever we encounter it until 'black' or 'African American' means what Asian, for example, does: not much until you have more information. Are they Viet Namese, Korean or Tibetan? Now those are labels that actually illuminate a few things whereas 'Asian' only gives you over-broad physiognomic hints. If 'Asian' matters in any particular situation - quick! what's the Asian attitude toward affirmative action? - you can't procede until you know which flavor, which region of America. Ironically, if only to me, many of the hundreds of insulting emails I received in the wake of that column began something like "I'm from Ghana. You are a m(*&^..." or "My parents came from Trinidad and your mama is a m(&^..." If black skin is all that counts, all it takes to helpfully occupy the same term, why mention their homelands? How odd, their insistence on minimizing what is surely more important to their identity than the cotton my ancestors picked. How odd, to help keep whites' racist essentializations alive and well. Eugene Robinson, who criticized my take on Obama, is beginning to agree though he isn't fully 'there' yet.

In his latest column, he wrote, "black America" is an increasingly meaningless concept -- nearly as imprecise as just plain "America." ...Let's start by opening our eyes and recognizing that if there ever was a monolithic "black America" -- absolutely and uniformly deprived and aggrieved, with invariant values and attitudes -- there certainly isn't one now."

It isn't new for blacks to point out that their community isn't an affirmative action-supporting, 'hood-living, OJ-supporting one-note wonder. Unfortunately, though, that's usually a Potemkin village erected only to highlight white disinterest in black complexity; any black who stray off the plantation (Clarence Thomas, Sec. Rice), intermarry or offer internal critiques of the party line are swiftly punished and ex-communicated. So much for diversity. What is new is an apparent willingness for a leading thinker to follow that train of thought to its logical conclusion - a redefinition of the term 'black' and a possible wholesale realignment of the politics of blackness. The piece deserves a read.

Unfortunately, Robinson, like most blacks, ignores entirely the existence of immigrant blacks, a glaring omission in a discussion of black diversity and suggests that it might best be those immigrants who lead the charge for a label of their own. Their quiescence is a testament to both the strangle hold that traditional blacks enjoy on the race discourse and, one has to believe, an immigrant buy-in to that discourse such that it needs its consciousness raised as to its own marginalization. What must they think when they read reports like this one (emphasis added):

'Any black student will do'
A disturbing report shows some African Americans are being squeezed out of the US university population. Joanna Walters reports.
When Shirley Wilcher went to a reunion at her prestigious alma mater, Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, she got quite a shock. The number of black graduates whose parents were born outside the US seemed to have grown dramatically compared with those whose families had been in America for generations - back to the times of slavery - like herself. She suspected that, in the process of becoming more diversified, top universities had recruited more black students but, increasingly, they were not those from post-slavery African-American US backgrounds who were supposed to be the main beneficiaries of the civil rights movement and controversial policies such as affirmative action.
Wilcher demanded data from reluctant admissions officials and her suspicions were confirmed: student recruits from what is termed the native, or domestic, US African-American population had been dropping. Not only were blacks overall still under-represented, but within the black student population African-Americans were being squeezed out.
"It's shocking. Awfully short-sighted, at best. I'm disappointed," she says.
Wilcher is the executive director of the American Association for Affirmative Action, which promotes policies that discriminate in favour of black students in an effort to correct the long legacy of racism in the US. And there was wider confirmation of her informal research to come.
A report just released shows African-Americans losing out at selective colleges across the country, particularly at elite universities, and their places being taken by first- or second-generation American immigrants, at least one of whose parents was born in the Caribbean or Africa.
The joint University of Pennsylvania-Princeton report found that although immigrant-origin black students make up only 13% of the black population in the US, they now comprise 27% of black students at the 28 top US universities surveyed.
And in a sample of the elite ivy league universities the figures were even more dramatic. More than 40% of black students in the ivy league now come from immigrant families.
"Immigrant and second-generation blacks are over-represented at these schools, while overall black students are still too few," says Dr Camille Charles, sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and one of the report's co-authors, "which means the problem of access for African-Americans - that group which has the longest history of oppression in the US - is of even greater concern than we thought."

My, oh my. Where to begin with such madness?

Let's just say that the above is what I mean by the way 'black' and 'African American' are used on the socio-political ground, whatever its politcally correct definition. When those terms are not meaningless they're worse; they're tools for silencing immigrant blacks even as blacks fight to keep their 'brothers' in their place.

Come on over to the dark side, Eugene. But don't forget your flak jacket.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Tuesday's Suffused With Music News Day

| Tue Oct. 9, 2007 10:50 AM PDT

mojo-photo-lilwayne2.jpg

  • Lil Wayne was arrested on Friday night after a concert in Boise, Idaho, of all places. Officers were acting on a marijuana-possession charge from 2005, after Wayne failed to show for two court hearings. A spokesperson for the rapper called it all just a "clerical mix-up," which is code for "too stoned to remember our court dates."

  • Elvis Costello will perform at Hillary Clinton's 60th birthday party, to be held at New York's Beacon Theater on October 25th. Bill had the Rolling Stones and Christina Aguilera last year, apparently, so who knows what that signifies. Tickets start at $250.
  • Moby has finished work on his new album, to be called Last Night and released in 2008. He calls it "more electronic and dance-oriented" than his recent work; with only about every third Moby album being listenable at all, maybe we're about due for a good one, right? The diminutive producer will also be launching a club night called "Degenerates" in his hometown of New York starting this Thursday.
  • Andy Summers tells the AP that the reunited Police might record a new album, saying he sees it as a "challenge, to make an absolutely brilliant pop album at this stage of our career." That, and not killing each other in the process.
  • Making a Killing: A Blackwater Timeline

    | Tue Oct. 9, 2007 10:46 AM PDT

    An investigation ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into Blackwater's September 16 shooting in Baghdad, in which 17 civilians were killed and another 24 were wounded, has determined that the company's operators opened fired indiscriminately and without provocation. The official Iraqi report on the incident demands that the U.S. government pay $8 million in compensation to each of the victims' families and sever all Iraq-based contracts with Blackwater within the next 6 months. It also demands that the Blackwater operators involved in the shootings be handed over to Iraqi authorities for possible prosecution in Iraqi courts.

    It's unclear if the U.S. government will comply and perhaps even more unclear if it could meet the Iraqi government's demands even if it wanted to. Civilian employees of the State Department rely on Blackwater for protection. If the company were banished from Iraq, U.S. diplomatic operations would be paralyzed, at least until another private contractor could be hired for the job. Even if this were to happen, it's doubtful that booting Blackwater would make much difference. More than likely, its operators would quickly find work with competitors like Triple Canopy and DynCorp, who would have to fill the Baghdad security void in Blackwater's absence. The private security sector is a small one after all. Even Andrew Moonen, the Blackwater operator who got drunk in the Green Zone last Christmas Eve and murdered one of the Iraqi vice president's security guards, found a new job with Combat Support Services Associates, which put him back to work in Kuwait just two months after the shooting.

    So, will Blackwater survive this latest scandal? It's impossible to know for sure, but there's little reason to believe otherwise. The company, which started as a small-scale provider of firearms training in 1998, has grown into a billion-dollar Goliath, complete with an army of lobbyists and sympathetic politicians to press its agenda on Capitol Hill. Guided by its reclusive founder, Erik Prince, the company, over its short history, has deflected controversy with ease, all the while simultaneously expanding its reach into new markets and generating ever more profitable government contracts. What follows is a timeline that documents Blackwater's rise and its history of misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    1965
    Prince Corporation is founded in Holland, Michigan, by Edgar Prince, father of future Blackwater founder Erik Prince. The company specializes in auto parts.

    June 6, 1969
    Erik Prince is born.

    1973
    Prince Corporation begins marketing the "lighted sun visor" to car companies, a wildly successful innovation that nets the company billions of dollars.

    February 1979
    Erik Prince's older sister Betsy marries Dick Devos, CEO of Amway and a billionaire contributor to the GOP and right-wing political causes. Devos was the Republican candidate for governor in Michigan in 2006.

    1988
    Gary Bauer and James Dobson found the socially conservative Family Research Council, funded primarily by the Prince family. Erik Prince interns there, before moving on to an internship in President George H.W. Bush's White House.

    1992
    Erik Prince earns a commission in the U.S. Navy. He goes on to become a Navy SEAL and serves in Haiti, Bosnia, and the Middle East.

    March 2, 1995
    Edgar Prince dies of a heart attack.

    July 22, 1996

    Prince Corporation is sold for $1.35 billion. Erik Prince retires early from the U.S. military.

    December 26, 1996
    Erik Prince's Blackwater Lodge and Training Center Inc. is incorporated in Delaware.

    No Wontons for Fred Fielding This Week

    | Tue Oct. 9, 2007 10:42 AM PDT

    Every month, the right-wing legal group, the Federalist Society, meets at a D.C. Chinese restaurant, where they hear from an impressive array of conservative luminaries, including the occasional Bush administration official who comes to brief the faithful on various legal developments. This Friday's scheduled guest was Fred Fielding, who we now know is not Deep Throat (as had long been suspected) but who is currently the White House counsel.

    This morning at 10:02 a.m., the Federalists sent out word that Fielding would be a no-show. One hour, 52 minutes later, the Washington Post uploaded a story blaming the Bush administration for blowing the cover off a private intelligence company's Al-Qaeda spy operation. The company had given the administration an advance copy of the latest bin Laden video, with warnings to keep it under wraps. Naturally, the administration leaked it to cable news outlets, allegedly destroying years of undercover work by the company. The first White House official to get the video? Yes, that would be Fred Fielding, who probably didn't need a fortune cookie to see his future this week.

    Disgraced Mexican Politician Cheats on Marathon, Too

    | Tue Oct. 9, 2007 10:09 AM PDT

    Favorite story of the week:

    After a humiliating defeat in Mexico's presidential election last year, Roberto Madrazo appeared to be back on top: He'd won the men's age-55 category in the Sept. 30 Berlin marathon with a surprising time of 2:41:12.
    But Madrazo couldn't leave his reputation for shady dealings in the dust. Race officials said Monday they disqualified him for apparently taking a short cut -- an electronic tracking chip indicates he skipped two checkpoints in the race and would have needed superhuman speed to achieve his win.
    According to the chip, Madrazo took only 21 minutes to cover nine miles -- faster than any human can run. "Not even the world record holder can go that fast," race director Mark Milde said.
    In a photograph taken as he crossed the finish line, Madrazo wears an ear-to-ear grin and pumps his arms in the air. But he also wore a wind breaker, hat and long, skintight running pants -- too much clothing, some said, for a person who had just run 26.2 miles in 60-degree weather.
    Madrazo's outfit caught the attention of the New York-based marathon photographer Victor Sailer, who alerted race organizers that they might have a cheater on their hands.
    "It was so obvious to me, if you look at everyone else that's in the picture, everyone's wearing T-shirts and shorts, and the guy's got a jacket on and a hat or whatever," Sailer said. "I looked at it and was like, wait a second."

    Thank heavens for vigilant cameramen.

    Madrazo's history of corruption and lies while in Mexico meant everyday citizens were unsurprised by the news of his marathon shenanigans. It's all in the AP article.