This American Life #540: A Front

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

This American Life #540: A Front
Nov 21 2014

Stories about people and places that are fronting in order to hide the truth. We visit a bizarre store in Milwaukee called Fearless Distributing, government checkpoints scattered on highways out west, and a front in a doctor’s office.

Audio: 60:42 min

Detroit’s young gentrifiers face a daunting task in buying $500 homes: evicting poor residents

Detroit’s young gentrifiers face a daunting task in buying $500 homes: evicting poor residents
Over 100,000 Detroiters are at risk of losing their homes as the city sells off its stock of tax foreclosures. Young gentrifiers are buying the properties — but some are queasy about it
By Rose Hackman
Nov 27 2014

“Having to kick people out takes all the fun out of owning a house.”

Oren Goldenberg, a 31-year-old filmmaker based in Detroit, could have bought a $500 house at the Wayne County tax auction this fall– but having to evict a homeowner turned him off. 

Goldenberg had been burned before. He had made a previous purchase in the yearly tax foreclosure auction. His coup turned less appealing as he was confronted with the reality of removing the owner and then-occupant from her home. Goldenberg sold the house it back to its occupant for the bargain price of $7,000 – twice what he had paid for it, but half what she had owed in property taxes.

Now Goldenberg won’t consider an already-occupied house. “It goes into this long-term narrative of Detroit is vacant and empty and there’s no one here. So when you look at it and you think oh my god, we’re going to develop this area, no one thinks that you might be pushing people out.” 

Goldenberg is facing the same dilemma that many young, educated – and mostly white — gentrifiers are facing as well. 

This coming year, 62,000 Detroit properties will be heading to the tax foreclosure auction if their owners fail to come up with money before April 1. The catch? Over half of these properties have someone living them — usually the previous owner, who paid off the mortgage and whose family may have lived in the house for years. 

The result: Young, predominantly white, college educated professionals and creatives may be moving into Detroit lured by tax breaks and incentives, participating in its “renewal” – but tens of thousands of mainly black Detroiters, struggling with bills, are simultaneously – and silently – being shown out the back door.

It’s a dynamic affecting a significant portion of Detroit’s small, poor population. This fall, the Wayne County treasurer is handing out tax foreclosure notices to 62,000 Detroit properties at least three years behind on paying their property taxes. All told, that’s over $709m in overdue taxes and penalties — a heavy burden for a city in which 38% of residents living below the poverty line.

Of those properties, 37,000 are classified as occupied. With an average of 2.74 people per household, this means around 100,000 Detroiters are at risk of losing the current roof over their head. That is 1 in 7 Detroit residents, this coming season alone. 

The end is predictable – and swift. If owners fail to work out payment plans or pay their entire tax burden within five months, their homes end up at auctions. The first one comes in September where properties are sold at a starting bid of the total amount of taxes and liens owed. The houses no one buys end up in the second round at a starting bid of $500.

After over a decade of this system, Detroit has completed 125,000 tax foreclosures, according to the city’s own report.


The new threat: ‘Racism without racists’

The new threat: ‘Racism without racists’
By John Blake, CNN
Nov 27 2014

(CNN) — In a classic study on race, psychologists staged an experiment with two photographs that produced a surprising result.

They showed people a photograph of two white men fighting, one unarmed and another holding a knife. Then they showed another photograph, this one of a white man with a knife fighting an unarmed African-American man.

When they asked people to identify the man who was armed in the first picture, most people picked the right one. Yet when they were asked the same question about the second photo, most people — black and white — incorrectly said the black man had the knife.

Even before the Ferguson grand jury’s decision was announced, leaders were calling once again for a “national conversation on race.” But here’s why such conversations rarely go anywhere: Whites and racial minorities speak a different language when they talk about racism, scholars and psychologists say.

The knife fight experiment hints at the language gap. Some whites confine racism to intentional displays of racial hostility. It’s the Ku Klux Klan, racial slurs in public, something “bad” that people do.

But for many racial minorities, that type of racism doesn’t matter as much anymore, some scholars say. They talk more about the racism uncovered in the knife fight photos — it doesn’t wear a hood, but it causes unsuspecting people to see the world through a racially biased lens.

It’s what one Duke University sociologist calls “racism without racists.” Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, who’s written a book by that title, says it’s a new way of maintaining white domination in places like Ferguson.

“The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods, but the folks dressed in suits,” says Bonilla-Silva.

“The more we assume that the problem of racism is limited to the Klan, the birthers, the tea party or to the Republican Party, the less we understand that racial domination is a collective process and we are all in this game.”

As people talk about what the grand jury’s decision in Ferguson means, Bonilla-Silva and others say it’s time for Americans to update their language on racism to reflect what it has become and not what it used to be.

The conversation can start, they say, by reflecting on three phrases that often crop up when whites and racial minorities talk about race.

‘I don’t see color’

It’s a phrase some white people invoke when a conversation turns to race. Some apply it to Ferguson. They’re not particularly troubled by the grand jury’s decision to not issue an indictment. The racial identities of Darren Wilson, the white police officer, and Michael Brown, the black man he killed, shouldn’t matter, they say. Let the legal system handle the decision without race-baiting. Justice should be colorblind.

Science has bad news, though, for anyone who claims to not see race: They’re deluding themselves, say several bias experts. A body of scientific research over the past 50 years shows that people notice not only race but gender, wealth, even weight.

When babies are as young as 3 months old, research shows they start preferring to be around people of their own race, says Howard J. Ross, author of “Everyday Bias,” which includes the story of the knife fight experiment.

Other studies confirm the power of racial bias, Ross says.


Talking to James Risen About Pay Any Price, the War on Terror and Press Freedoms

[Note:  This item comes from friend David Rosenthal.  DLH]

Talking to James Risen About Pay Any Price, the War on Terror and Press Freedoms
By Glenn Greenwald
Nov 25 2014

James Risen, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2005 for exposing the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program, has long been one of the nation’s most aggressive and adversarial investigative journalists. Over the past several years, he has received at least as much attention for being threatened with prison by the Obama Justice Department (ostensibly) for refusing to reveal the source of one of his stories—a persecution that, in reality, is almost certainlythe vindictive by-product of the U.S. government’s anger over his NSA reporting.

He has published a new book on the War on Terror entitled Pay Any Price: Greed, Power and Endless War. There have been lots of critiques of the War on Terror on its own terms, but Risen’s is one of the first to offer large amounts of original reporting on what is almost certainly the most overlooked aspect of this war: the role corporate profiteering plays in ensuring its endless continuation, and how the beneficiaries use rank fear-mongering to sustain it.

That alone makes the book very worth reading, but what independently interests me about Risen is how he seems to have become entirely radicalized by what he’s discovered in the last decade of reporting, as well as by the years-long battle he has had to wage with the U.S. government to stay out of prison. He now so often eschews the modulated, safe, uncontroversial tones of the standard establishment reporter (such as when he called Obama “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation” and said about the administration’s press freedom attacks: “Nice to see the U.S. government is becoming more like the Iranian government”). He at times even channels radical thinkers, sounding almost Chomsky-esque when he delivered a multiple-tweet denunciation—taken from a speech he delivered at Colby College—of how establishment journalists cling to mandated orthodoxies out of fear:


The Climate Change debate is long over and there is nothing we can do

[Note:  This item comes from friend Steve Schear.  DLH]

The Climate Change debate is long over and there is nothing we can do
‘The Newsroom’ s03e03 ‘The EPA’
Nov 24 2014

Everything is already over, given what’s already on the table. A technology to actually reverse the impact of Co2 is all that can save us now. Or killing off most of the population of humans, and replanting the earth with trees and so on.

Video: 4:12 min

Re: Netflix and YouTube Now Consume 50% Of The Internet As The Argument For Net Neutrality Weakens

[Note:  This comment comes from friend David Reed.  DLH]

Subject: propaganda research needed
Date: November 26, 2014 at 9:05:26 EST

I read the following piece from in Dewayne’s newsletter and all the emergency flashers in my head go off…. the relevant statement appears in the headline and early in the article:

“Last week it was reported that Netflix consumed approximately 35% of all 
broadband traffic in the U.S. and Canada. In fact, both Netflix and
YouTube combined take up half of the Internet’s bandwidth. Half!”

This is so far from truth that it is laughable.  It reminds me of the Gilder-promoted campaign that “13% of the US’s entire power production is consumed by Internet servers.”  In that case, it was widely quoted by nearly every mainstream publication – without fact checking, even by the NYT and New Yorker! – because “everybody” seemed to be saying it without contradiction.  I guess it didn’t seem to matter (except that Gilder was hyping the stock of Emerson Electric, which claimed to produce the gear that managed the “perfect electricity” needed by servers – DC power distribution gear, a fact that seemed to get lost entirely, except in Gilder’s actual stock-hype speeches).  It’s just like the leak by Bush to the NYT confirming what Cheney was about to say on Meet the Press, so Cheney could cite the NYT as his source.

I know you know that Forbes makes shit up, and even rewrites contributors’ columns and reportage to include stuff the editors just made up.  At least I hope you know that. I observed it firsthand, since I actually have spend some time with Dennis Kneale and watched it.

But these numbers – 35% and 50% – are designed to be repeated without questioning the source.  Think about it! Proponents of Internet freedom (except me) will find quoting those numbers very useful to talk about how the incumbent TV distribution is being “disrupted”, and in support of the importance of “net neutrality” so they will stipulate it is true without checking. Opponents of an Open Internet will find quoting those numbers very useful to dismiss network neutrality (as part of the spin being carried out using Cogent against openness, portraying Comcast and others as *completely innocent* of any intent to use traffic management to hurt Netflix).

The problem is that there is no basis for these numbers at all that I can find.  A back of the envelope calculation shows that they don’t even pass the engineering “sniff test” – or even a simpler sniff test – that 50% of my 50 Mb/sec monthly cable Internet service would *exhaust my entire month’s cap* within a few days.  (Comcast cannot have its cap and eat it too!)

But this is hard to debunk for two reasons:

1) by necessity any real data would have to come from interested parties (Comcast, and even Cogent, have legitimate commercial reasons not to reveal their actual traffic load, and will not do so in this case).  Those parties almost certainly do NOT have their fingerprints on the the reported numbers.  Instead, I suspect these numbers come from either a law firm or a PR firm.  I have not discovered the original source.  In some prior data that was also wildly incorrect, the original source turned out to be based on numbers that Ellacoya Networks provided to Mary Merkle (the internet industry analyst with a lot of credibility at the time).  I was able to track it down, because the same bar graph was appearing everywhere, so I could Google that bar graph, and I found several of Mary’s presentations that were the apparent source of the “viral idea” that BitTorrent occupied more than 50% of Internet traffic.  Ellacoya is a vendor of “deep packet inspection” equipment, and a very strong opponent of any kind of network neutrality as to content.  Their market is businesses that block or degrade certain content and read the contents of other Internet traffic, at “wire speed” and sold to the intelligence agency and Internet Access Provider markets (the latter pitch is a way to exploit your users to exact more profit by degrading competing services – like video – and selling marketing info about IAP customers’s behavior, and their pitch has been online for all to see).

2) The credibility of a meme being spread by respectable people because it serves their needs in some unrelated argument they are making.  I stopped Nicholas Negroponte from using this number as a cute statistic to claim that the Internet has changed the media game forever.  His use was innocent, and he was happy to make his point another way. But once he or other people say it, it becomes “truthy” enough to be very hard for anyone like me to discredit without *solid data* contradicting it.  (guilty before proof of innocence, or “there must be something to the claim even if it is a bit hyperbolic”).

So what I think we really need, and I cannot do alone, is to:

a) track the meme back to its source if there was any attempt to make it credible by citing an actual measurement (even a measurement taken by someone who would never actually allow their test to be validated, claiming proprietary or classified knowledge that cannot be disclosed to the public).

b) possibly construct a calculation that debunks the measurement that is better than my back of the envelope wild-ass calculation.  For example, get Netflix’s total network output per year, and divide it by the number of Comcast, RCN, Verizon, and TWC Internet customers times their service.  Or do a statistical sample on end users’ usage somehow – 50% is an easy number to discredit by taking a small random sample – e.g. distribute test software to 1000 households and run it for 24 hours, collecting all packets on the home network and their IP addresses.

Netflix and YouTube Now Consume 50% Of The Internet As The Argument For Net Neutrality Weakens
By Gene Marks
Nov 24 2014

Secret Malware in European Union Attack Linked to U.S. and British Intelligence

Nov 24 2014

Complex malware known as Regin is the suspected technology behind sophisticated cyberattacks conducted by U.S. and British intelligence agencies on the European Union and a Belgian telecommunications company, according to security industry sources and technical analysis conducted by The Intercept.

Regin was found on infected internal computer systems and email servers at Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian phone and internet provider, following reports last year that the company was targeted in a top-secret surveillance operation carried out by British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters, industry sources told The Intercept.

The malware, which steals data from infected systems and disguises itself as legitimate Microsoft software, has also been identified on the same European Union computer systems that were targeted for surveillance by the National Security Agency.

The hacking operations against Belgacom and the European Union were first revealed last year through documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The specific malware used in the attacks has never been disclosed, however.

The Regin malware, whose existence was first reported by the security firm Symantec on Sunday, is among the most sophisticated ever discovered by researchers. Symantec compared Regin to Stuxnet, a state-sponsored malware program developed by the U.S. and Israel to sabotage computers at an Iranian nuclear facility. Sources familiar with internal investigations at Belgacom and the European Union have confirmed to The Intercept that the Regin malware was found on their systems after they were compromised, linking the spy tool to the secret GCHQ and NSA operations.

Ronald Prins, a security expert whose company Fox IT was hired to remove the malware from Belgacom’s networks, told The Intercept that it was “the most sophisticated malware” he had ever studied.

“Having analyzed this malware and looked at the [previously published] Snowden documents,” Prins said, “I’m convinced Regin is used by British and American intelligence services.”

A spokesman for Belgacom declined to comment specifically about the Regin revelations, but said that the company had shared “every element about the attack” with a federal prosecutor in Belgium who is conducting a criminal investigation into the intrusion. “It’s impossible for us to comment on this,” said Jan Margot, a spokesman for Belgacom. “It’s always been clear to us the malware was highly sophisticated, but ever since the clean-up this whole story belongs to the past for us.”

In a hacking mission codenamed Operation Socialist, GCHQ gained access to Belgacom’s internal systems in 2010 by targeting engineers at the company. The agency secretly installed so-called malware “implants” on the employees’ computers by sending their internet connection to a fake LinkedIn page. The malicious LinkedIn page launched a malware attack, infecting the employees’ computers and giving the spies total control of their systems, allowing GCHQ to get deep inside Belgacom’s networks to steal data.

The implants allowed GCHQ to conduct surveillance of internal Belgacom company communications and gave British spies the ability to gather data from the company’s network and customers, which include the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the European Council. The software implants used in this case were part of the suite of malware now known as Regin.

One of the keys to Regin is its stealth: To avoid detection and frustrate analysis, malware used in such operations frequently adhere to a modular design. This involves the deployment of the malware in stages, making it more difficult to analyze and mitigating certain risks of being caught.

Based on an analysis of the malware samples, Regin appears to have been developed over the course of more than a decade; The Intercept has identified traces of its components dating back as far as 2003. Regin was mentioned at a recent Hack.luconference in Luxembourg, and Symantec’s report on Sunday said the firm had identified Regin on infected systems operated by private companies, government entities, and research institutes in countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Ireland, Belgium, and Iran.

The use of hacking techniques and malware in state-sponsored espionage has been publicly documented over the last few years: China has been linked to extensive cyber espionage, and recently the Russian government was also alleged to have been behind a cyber attack on the White House. Regin further demonstrates that Western intelligence agencies are also involved in covert cyberespionage.