Sunday, February 28, 2010

Former NSA chief says we are losing cyber war

Mike McConnell, director of the National Security Agency during the Clinton administration and a director of intelligence during the second term of George W. Bush, warned in a long Outlook article in the Washington Post Sunday (Feb. 28) link. “The United States is fighting a cyber-war today, and we are losing. It's that simple.” The print edition title was “To win the cyber-war, look at the Cold War”. He does refer to the CNN “cyber.shockwave” simulation show on Feb. 21. One problem is that most Internet infrastructure is privately owned and controlled – but so is most financial infrastructure. A good question is why some critical infrastructure items like the power grid should even be accessible from the public Internet at all, an item that came up in some articles in 2002.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chinese now facing shortage of manual assembly line workers in interior areas

Here’s an important story with a moral message: “Chinese plants starting to feel labor shortage: rising pay may mean higher prices in U.S., by Keith Bradsher, The New York Times, Saturday Feb. 27, 2010, link here.

Industrial workers in the interior (such as Gzuangzhou) are getting signing bonuses. But many of the jobs are tedious, face-paced assembly line jobs. It used to be that employers didn’t hire over age 35; now it’s 40. The pay has spiked from 80 cents an hour in 2008 to $1.17 today, several factors less than the US minimum wage.

There are some explanations for the shortage, including China’s one child per family policy. There is a tactical reason, also, having to do with the travel of workers for the Chinese New Year.

This all invokes Ted Koppel's 2008 Discovery documentary, "The People's Republic of Capitalism". It also reminds one of the series "Dirty Jobs" also on Discovery.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Italy convicts executives over YouTube posting, seeming to imply that service providers must review everthing that users post in advance

Three executives at Google have been convicted and given six month suspended sentences by a court in Italy after a video making fun of a boy with Downs syndrome had been posted on YouTube (in 2006 in or near Turin, Italy). The video was removed by YouTube some time after it was brought to its attention (as a “terms of service violation”) but the Italian court seems to believe that Italian law would have required Google to review every video before being uploaded, according to many reports.

The company said that services like Blogger and YouTube could not exist if the service providers were required to vet every item before posting. So the company will appeal the verdict. It’s possible, of course, that the services could be blocked in Italy alone, or any other country enforcing prospective downstream liability in this fashion; however the company says it plans to continue business in Italy as usual. In the United States, Section 230 and the DMCA safe harbor both express the concept that provider downstream liability should be limited.

The BBC news story today is here.

According to Jane Wakefield, BBC Technology reporter, no other western country seems to be trying to prosecute cases such as this. But Italy claims that its privacy law requires a service provider to seek the consent of the parties involved before letting it go online. Italy may be planning other bizarre prosecutions. Italian law has come under worldwide scrutiny since the Amanda Knox case. Observers think that Italian prosecutors apply the law and interpret evidence capriciously (this came out in an interview with the Knox family on Oprah recently) and target people to prosecute for local political motives.

There is another question as to how service providers can be affected worldwide by unusual application of law in one country. ISP’s seem to be dealing with China, possibly by quarantining it in the way they handle the company. They are prepared to deal with radical or underdeveloped legal systems in third world countries, especially in the Islamic world. But when a modern western country like Italy tries to impose “prior restraint” or downstream liability, it is seen as a threat to freedom for everyone. "User-generated" content in a free entry system could not exist if every item had to be reviewed and cleared in advance by a third party.

Reuters in India has a detailed account by Manuela D'Alessandro here. The story claims that the video stayed up for some time after it was brought to the company’s attention, but possibly that attention had consisted mostly of user comments and complaints. Service providers do provide a way to flag objectionable content for quick review.

The story was briefly noted on ABC Good Morning America on Wednesday Feb. 24.

On Feb. 25, ABC reported briefly that the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would look at this problem.

The New York Times also offers important coverage in article by Rachel Donadio, "Larger Threat Is Seen in Google Case", link here. This paragraph from the article is very significant, concerning turf-oriented politics in Italy regarding communications: "In Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi owns most private media and indirectly controls public media, there is a strong push to regulate the Internet more assertively than it is controlled elsewhere in Europe. Several measures are pending in Parliament here that seek to impose various controls on the Internet. Critics of Mr. Berlusconi say the measures go beyond routine copyright questions and are a way to stave off competition from the Web to public television stations and his own private channels — and to keep a tighter grip on public debate."

Google also has its own "Official Blog Post" here.

I cover this "domestic" potential of this problem on the "BillBoushka" blog -- please navigate to it through my Blogger Profile to continue reading about this problem.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Harbin, China ice sculpture festival draws media attention

Some media stations presented the Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China, in the far Northeastern part, where the average January high is less than 10 F (colder than Minneapolis in the US).

One of the best picture slide shows appears at at this link.

Here is “A Day and Night at the Harbin Ice Festival” (ptravel).

The festival makes the St. Paul Winter Carval in Minnesota look rather meager.

Other Youtube videos produced in China mention Japanese atrocities in Harbin and Manchuria during and before WWII.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

James Baker, from Desert Storm days (1991) encourages nuclear deterrence against "ayatollahs"

Today, former Secretary of State James Baker (from the George H. W. Bush administration when it conducted Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991) appeared on Fareed Zakaria’s GPS program on CNN. Baker encouraged Obama to adopt resume a strategic nuclear posture, and warn states like Iran and North Korea that he would be willing to use nuclear weapons if necessary. Our enemies “would not like this” he said. But he did not explain how this would help out with non-state actors lik Al Qaeda or even tribal facilitators like the Taliban.

“Deterrence can be effective. It was effective for 40 years against the Soviet Union. I’m not sure it wouldn’t be effective against these ayatollahs.”

There are recent reports that Iran is about to test a nuclear warhead.

Zakaria also interviewed a foreign minister from Yemen, who indicated that Al Qaeda has gradually shifted many operations there from Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past ten years, especially starting with the USS Cole bombing in 2000.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cheney issues stern warning about Al Qaeda's intentions on ABC "This Week"

Today, Sunday Feb. 14, ABC’s “This Week” interviewed former Vice President Dick Cheney, who made an alarmist warning, that Al Qaeda intends to hit the United States homeland with a nuclear or radiological weapon (perhaps EMP), or a biological weapon (like smallpox), if possible. Cheney criticized current Vice President Biden for asserting that another large 9/11-style attack was unlikely, and that most threats were small actors like that of the Christmas Day attack.

The best story on ABC may come from the AP writer Steven Hurst, (web URL) link here.

There is also a story by Devin Dwyer “EXCLUSIVE: Dick Cheney Critical of Biden, Obama National Security Policies: Former Vice President Says Bush-Era Policies Deserve Credit for Successes” link.

Cheney was asked about repealing “don’t ask don’t tell”, and he said that it should be repealed if military leaders stand by their contention that open gays don’t destroy unit cohesion. He admitted that there has occurred a generational change.

Friday, February 12, 2010

"Cause Commandos": two guys with their own relief effort from the Dominican Republic to Haiti

I got an email about two men, Nate and Luke, who run an operation called “Cause Commandos” to bring supplies from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. The video says that the major relief efforts are not reaching many areas. It is true that the major media report that 69% of money donated through major charities has not yet been spent but will be “spread out” in upcoming months.

Here is their YouTube video. They explain the Creole word "Kombit".

Wikipedia attribution link for Haiti demographic chart.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

NBC reports grim predictions on Iran; FOIA release of new police photos of 9/11 WTC

NBC Nightly News on Wednesday made dire predictions of what might happen in Iran, as the “anniversary” of the 1978 “revolution” deposing the Shah with the Ayatollah approaches. The government plans to cut off access to many more websites, arrest and “silence” dissidents, and compel attendance at pro-government rallies. Protestors plan to attend the rallies wearing green.

Richard Engel reports here also on Iran’s plans to manufacture HEU, highly enriched uranium. There is concern that Iran could make atomic weapons, or pass the material to terrorists.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Also, Pete Williams reports on the FOIA release of photos from a police helicopter that would have tried to rescue victims on 9/11 from the roof of the WTC Tower #1, an attempt that was infeasible.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

CNN reports that 70% of Americans believe that Khalid Sheik Mohammed should be tried with a military tribunal and not be given the rights of American citizens.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Department of State: "new" adoptions form Haiti are difficult

There is a lot of coverage in the media about the Baptist group that got into trouble trying to rescue children and take them to the Dominican Republic. The facts seem to change all the time, and it’s not necessarily productive in these blogs to keep up with individual cases – expect to see an NBC Dateline or ABC 20/20 report on this soon.

The typical hype is that there will be a lot of calls for American parents to be open to adopting Haitian orphans and children. However generous the intentions of prospective parents could be, the evidence on the State Department website is that this very difficult in practice. Here is the link. Follow all the sublinks. Generally, it appears that only adoptions that had been in process before the earthquake can be processed.

The Department of State also writes “Haitian law does not allow for a Haitian child to travel to the United States to be adopted. Therefore, prospective adoptive parents must obtain a full and final adoption under Haitian law before the child can immigrate to the United States. Prospective adoptive parents can expect a lengthy process to adopt a child in Haiti.” And Haiti is not party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture if Haiti deforestation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Washington Times jumps on administration's concern over "certainty" of another homeland attack attempt

The media is full of reports today that the administration “admits” that it is practically certain that the United States homeland will experience another terror attack or at least an attempt in the next six months. Most of the concern seems to be about rogue disaffected people, some of whom could be Americans, descending into nihilism or a certain kind of sociopathic narcissism, and willing to try some previously unimagined bizarre suicide scheme against a large and public target.

The Washington Times today (Wednesday, Feb. 3) really jumped on this in print, with a headline story by Eli Lake, “Terrorist attack ‘certain’ within months; intelligence leaders warn Senate panel” (link). Inside, on the Commentary page, the Washington Times indulges itself with the headline “We knew an underwear bomber was coming; 9/11 Commission told us how to stop it but we didn’t listen.”

We told you so? I think that the emphasis on amateurism and asymmetry may be a little off the mark. The real problems still are rogue or corrupt states, ranging from North Korea to Iran to Yemen. (Note the bluster from Israel today about Iran.) Rogue governments (Iran, particularly) just might be able to put an EMP device in the hands of “amateurs”. And we have a long way to go in collaring unaccounted for radiological waste and bioterror materials. And, besides some spoiled and disaffected young men, there could exist some real mad scientists out there ready to make the next Frankensteins, and there may be some mullahs who want to ponder soft targets. Go to the movies more often (particularly while we still have electricity). I first thought “Edge of Darkness” has a preposterous premise; now I’m not so sure. And maybe consumers ought to have their own Faraday cages.

Picture: Eisenhower's barn in Gettysburg, PA: very low tech!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Russia's demographic collapse threatens future stability

The “new” Washington Times leads off its Monday morning (Feb 1) Commentary Section with “Russia’s Real Threat: Failure: Decline breeds new and perplexing dangers”, Section B in print ($1.00 now and hard to find), link here, by Ilan Berman.

The writer points to Russia’s demographic winter, which Putin had addressed with national conception parties in the fall of 2008 (maybe he wants summer babies). Russia’s population could drop below 100 million by 2050. It could face political instability because its Muslim minority is fecund, and challenges from the more populous China (loosening its one child per family policy, maybe) on the East.

I recall that when I was in the Army (1968-1970), the Soviet Union was considered a much bigger existential threat than Red China, even with respect to the Vietnam war.

Picture: former Secret Service headquarters at Eisenhower farm in Gettysburg, PA