Political MoJo

Tracing the Digital Trails We Leave -- and Government Follows

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 7:11 PM EDT

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Here's a cool thing from Medill Journalism School -- a Flash presentation showing how your personal data can be used by the federal government or analyzed by intelligence agencies. (Yes, Flash can be annoying, as we've been hearing a lot lately; but there are some things, like this, that it can do very well; so give it a whirl.) It reveals how the government uses data mining and what data, from both public records and private data aggregators, is studied, what the privacy rules are and whether they're followed - and outlines "the digital trails we all leave in our daily lives."

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Princeton: Diebold's Newest Voting Machine...Sucks

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 6:51 PM EDT

Talking of voting hiccups, the Center for Information Technology and Policy got hold of one of Diebold's latest-model voting machine, the AccuVote-TS, and took it for a spin. What they found is not reassuring.

1) Malicious software running on a single voting machine can steal votes with little if any risk of detection. The malicious software can modify all of the records, audit logs, and counters kept by the voting machine, so that even careful forensic examination of these records will find nothing amiss. We have constructed demonstration software that carries out this vote-stealing attack.

2) Anyone who has physical access to a voting machine, or to a memory card that will later be inserted into a machine, can install said malicious software using a simple method that takes as little as one minute. In practice, poll workers and others often have unsupervised access to the machines.

3) AccuVote-TS machines are susceptible to voting-machine viruses — computer viruses that can spread malicious software automatically and invisibly from machine to machine during normal pre- and post-election activity. We have constructed a demonstration virus that spreads in this way, installing our demonstration vote-stealing program on every machine it infects.

4) While some of these problems can be eliminated by improving Diebold's software, others cannot be remedied without replacing the machines' hardware. Changes to election procedures would also be required to ensure security.

In the November 2006 elections, these machines are scheduled to be used in 357 counties representing nearly 10 percent of registered voters.

More on Diebold here and here.

Politicians Cast Opponents as Villains. No, Really.

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 6:16 PM EDT

Yes, that's right, at least according to AP. Republican candidates "are eager to drop names like Pelosi, Clinton and Kerry [Each of these things is not like the others. Discuss.] in an attempt to associate their opponents with liberals and raise fears about what would happen if Democrats took control of Congress." Other boogeymen include Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong-Il, and, yes, Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, described in a recent RNC briefing as "a partisan nutroot who turned his hate-filled blog Daily Kos into a leadership post in the Democrat Party." (The blog can be way grating, true; but he's always struck me as a smart, thoughtful type unafraid to call BS on lame Democrats, which is an odd way of being "partisan.")

Democrats aren't above using boogeymen in their turn, as in a recent ad "showing a montage of GOP Senate candidates and Bush, followed by images of men sneaking across the border sandwiched between shots of bazooka-toting terrorists, bin Laden and the North Korean president." (Huh?) The ad was quickly withdrawn when Hispanic leaders complained. All of which explains, for the umpteenth time, why politicians are held in such widespread contempt--both because this kind of denigration by association can work and because the puerility and lameness of the strategy is so self-evident.

Palestinian Refugees Targeted by Shia Militia

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 5:45 PM EDT

A reminder that the world is complicated and contradictory, and nowhere more so than in the Middle East: Palestinian refugees in Iraq face particularly grave security threats, including targeted killings by mostly Shia militant groups and harassment by the Iraqi government. So says a new Human Rights Watch report.

"Since the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, Palestinian refugees in Iraq have increasingly become targets of violence and persecution," said SarahLeah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "Shia militant groups have murdered dozens of Palestinian refugees, and the Iraqi government has made it difficult for these refugees to stay legally in Iraq by imposing onerous registration requirements."

There are about 34,000 Palestinian refugees in Iraq, and they've been targeted largely because of the benefits they received from Saddam's government and their support (real and perceived) for the Sunni insurgency. Since 2003 successive Iraqi governments have either failed to protect them or shown outright hostility. The report calls for Syria and Jordan to open their borders to the refugees, who otherwise have nowhere else to go. (Earlier this year David Enders wrote for MJ.com about the plight of the Palestinian refugees, one of whom told him, "We all just want to leave.")


Amnesty: Hizbollah Guilty of War Crimes

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 5:30 PM EDT

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A new Amnesty International report finds that "Hizbullah's rocket attacks on northern Israel amounted to deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate attacks, both war crimes under international law. Its attacks also violated other rules of international humanitarian law, including the prohibition on reprisal attacks on the civilian population." Hizbullah fired several thousand rockets into northern Israel, killing 43 civilians, including children.

Read the full report here. And click on the image to see a video that accompanies it.

Camel Jockeys in Dubai's Sinister Paradise

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 4:20 PM EDT

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From the BBC: A class-action lawsuit filed in the US accuses the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (and his brother and 500 other defendants), of enslaving thousands of young children from Bangladesh, Sudan and southern Asia and putting them to work as camel jockeys.

Mike Davis had a great piece a while ago on the "sinister paradise" that is Dubai. The Persian Gulf city state boasts a jelly-fish shaped underwater hotel, the world's largest mall, a 24-square-mile archipelago of coral-colored islands in the shape of an almost finished puzzle of the world, high-rise resorts, thousands of mansions, a dinosaur theme park--you get the idea.

As Davis noted, under the "enlightened despotism" of its Sheikh, Dubai also boasts, if that's the right word, labor laws skewed very much to the advantage of Capital.

South Asian contract laborers, legally bound to a single employer and subject to totalitarian social controls, make up the great mass of the population. Dubai lifestyles are attended by vast numbers of Filipina, Sri Lankan, and Indian maids, while the building boom is carried on the shoulders of an army of poorly paid Pakistanis and Indians working twelve-hour shifts, six and half days a week, in the blast-furnace desert heat.

Dubai, like its neighbors, flouts ILO labor regulations and refuses to adopt the international Migrant Workers Convention. Human Rights Watch in 2003 accused the Emirates of building prosperity on "forced labor."

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House Intel Report on Iran: "Erroneous, Misleading and Unsubstantiated"

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 3:49 PM EDT

The Washington Post reports on complaints to the Bush administration and to a Republican congressman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House intelligence committee, about a recent HIC report on Iran's capabilities, "calling parts of the document 'outrageous and dishonest' and offering evidence to refute its central claims." Those obfuscating, deceiving, complaining Iranians! Except that the complaints, which cite "erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements," are coming from U.N. inspectors investigating Iran's nuclear program.

For example:

Among the committee's assertions is that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at its facility in the town of Natanz. The IAEA called that "incorrect," noting that weapons-grade uranium is enriched to a level of 90 percent or more. Iran has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent under IAEA monitoring.

A technical quibble, you might say; but wars have been launched on the strength of finer distinctions. (And anyway, privately, several US intelligence officials said the report included "at least a dozen claims that were either demonstrably wrong or impossible to substantiate.")

As said David Albright, a former nuclear inspector said, "This is like prewar Iraq all over again. You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that's cherry-picked and a report that trashes the inspectors."

Another reason--as if one more were needed--to pray the House switches in November.

U.S. Can't Stay in Iraq and Can't Leave

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 3:43 PM EDT

Kofi Annan, no doubt trying to be helpful, neatly captures the impossibility of the American posture in Iraq.

"The U.S. has found itself in the position where it cannot stay and it cannot leave. I believe that if it has to leave, the timing has to be optimum, and it has to be arranged in such a way that it does not lead to even greater disruption or violence in the region."

I think "optimum" went out the window a while back.

Voting Glitches on Primary Day

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 3:22 PM EDT

As Sasha Abramsky amply details in his recent Mother Jones article, voting can be a dicey business these days, in spite of--and in many cases because of "improvements" introduced by the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Tuesday's primaries brought fresh evidence that the machinery of American democracy doesn't run smoothly everywhere. In Ohio, Texas, Florida, California, and Chicago, (poorly trained) poll workers had difficulty operating new voting machines, or didn't show up; and in one place, suburban Washington D.C., essential voting equipment was missing.

Voting machine companies blame poll workers, often no doubt with good reason. "If you prick their fingers and there's blood coming out, they serve," R. Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, which represents state and local election officials, told USA Today. But of course the machines themselves have a history of screwing up, often in ways that aren't immediately obvious. (And, of course, they can be hacked.)

Some of the problems can be put down to the pace of (enforced) change--resulting in, for example, some counties receiving their touch-screen machines only two weeks before voting day. And many should be ironed out by November. (Yes?) But some election officials take a gloomy view. "I really believe that we've got a crisis of confidence in our voting systems," says one from Travis County, Texas.

Judge to Saddam: "You Are Not A Dictator"

| Thu Sep. 14, 2006 2:16 PM EDT

There was I, waxing sentimental about Saddam's trial and the sight of a Kurd taunting the big guy. But now we slide from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Questioning a Kurdish witness Thursday, Saddam said, "I wonder why this man wanted to meet with me, if I am a dictator?"

The judge interrupted: "You were not a dictator. People around you made you (look like) a dictator."

"Thank you," Saddam responded, bowing his head in respect.

I'm no lawyer, but that judge strikes me as less than fully objective.

Saddam and six others have been accused of genocide and other offenses committed in the 1980s. The prosecution alleges that about 180,000 Kurds died.

Saddam also vowed to Kurdish witnesses to "crush your heads" after listening to them tell of the horrors allegedly committed by his regime.