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05 Oct 05:46

Five Best Video Converters

by Alan Henry

Five Best Video Converters

If you're getting your movie and TV show library in order, it helps to have all of your video in one format that you know every device you own can play without issue. However, if your collection spans years of downloads, rips, and saved copies, your files can be all over the place. This week we're going to look at five of the best video conversion tools that can faithfully get your media library organized and ready to watch anytime, anywhere.

Earlier in the week we asked you which video converters are the best. You weighed in with more options than we could possibly highlight, but after tallying them all up, there were five that stood out above the others. Here's what you said, in no particular order:

MPEG Streamclip (Windows/OS X)

Five Best Video Converters

MPEG Streamclip is a powerful video player, editor, and conversion tool for Mac and Windows. It's great at transcoding, but it's also a great organizational tool for all of your video and media. If you opt to use it as a player, you can play all manner of video file through it, but from a video transcoding and conversion perspective, it's fast, flexible, and completely free. Those of you who nominated it pointed out that it may not be the newest video conversion app out there, and it may not be the prettiest, but it gets the job done and can convert just about anything to just about anything else quickly, easily, and without complaining—and that's what's important.

Format Factory (Windows)

Five Best Video Converters

Format Factory is a free, richly featured video conversion tool that can convert a laundry list of video formats to a wealth of popular, supported formats. Its interface leaves a bit to be desired, but it offers you a ton of conversion options and tweaks to make sure all of your videos are the same, or each video is just right. The utility even promises to repair broken audio or video if it can process it. You can use quick presets to convert videos for mobile devices, and even rip DVDs. Those of you who praised Format Factory noted that you've never had a video format that the tool couldn't convert to another format that you actually needed, and hey—it can also convert almost any video format to GIF, which is a pretty nice trick.

Handbrake (Windows/OS X/Linux)

Five Best Video Converters

Video conversion and transcoding it actually Handbrake's bread and butter. Even though it's useful for a ton of other things (not to mention it's your favorite DVD ripping tool, with the caveat that you need VLC installed), at its core it does a fantastic job of converting and transcoding video from one format to another, while giving you all the features, tweaks, and options you need to make sure it plays smoothly on whatever device or screen you plan to send it to. It's one of those tools that has single push-button options if that's what you want, or deeper tweaks if you prefer those. Even with its options, it's not the most detailed and option-rich app in the roundup, as many of you pointed out. Many of you did praise the fact that Handbrake is free, open-source, cross platform, and gets the job done quickly—and doesn't discriminate by codec, either.

Freemake Video Converter (Windows)

Five Best Video Converters

Freemake Video Converter is, as the name implies, completely free, and a great tool if you're looking for more options than you could possibly need in a package that's actually really attractive and fun to use. Freemake supports over 200 video formats and outputs in virtually every popular format you can think of, and can even convert online videos to mp3. There are simple presets for iOS and Android devices, as well as other tablets, handheld game consoles, and other devices. If you don't like the presets in the app, you can really customize your own. You can cut, join, and rearrange videos to create seamless final products, and more. Those of you who nominated it pointed out that first, all this power is completely free, doesn't hesitate to leverage the power of your PC's hardware to power through those conversions, and can handle anything you throw at it—seriously, anything.

SUPER (Windows)

Five Best Video Converters

SUPER, by eRightSoft, is another powerful video conversion utility, but in this case, it's probably one of the most underrated conversion tools we've seen. It's feature list is pages long, but suffice to say that it can convert to and from more video formats and types than you could ever need with more options than you could ever possibly use. If you want absolute and total control over your videos, this might be the tool for you, and it's completely free. However, its depth of options and interface aren't exactly the prettiest and can be dense to the average user looking for quick conversion operations. Plus, in order to use SUPER, you'll also wind up downloading its video player and recording tools. Those of you who praised it noted its learning curve and ridiculous wealth of options and tweaks, but once you're familiar with it, it's hard to use something else.

Now that you've seen the top five, it's time to put them to a vote to determine the Lifehacker favorite:

Honorable mentions this week go out to FFmpeg (Windows/OS X/Linux), the GPL-licensed conversion utility that many other video converters are based on, and even other HTPC apps and video players use for on-the-fly transcoding. You can go right to the source and grab it for free for whatever platform you're using. It makes converting, streaming, and even recording audio and video super-simple and fits in nicely with other applications and operations. Best of all, it's being actively developed, so even if the others in the roundup fall by the wayside, FFmpeg will probably live on.

Have something to say about one of the contenders? Want to make the case for your personal favorite, even if it wasn't included in the list? Remember, the top five are based on your most popular nominations from the call for contenders thread from earlier in the week. Don't just complain about the top five, let us know what your preferred alternative is—and make your case for it—in the discussions below.

The Hive Five is based on reader nominations. As with most Hive Five posts, if your favorite was left out, it's not because we hate it—it's because it didn't get the nominations required in the call for contenders post to make the top five. We understand it's a bit of a popularity contest, but if you have a favorite, we want to hear about it. Have a suggestion for the Hive Five? Send us an email at

Photo by trekkyandy.

24 Sep 20:51

Forget the charging cable and wall wart with the PocketPlug case

by Janet Cloninger

pocketplug-case Just as the title says, you’ll be able to skip carrying around the charging cable and wall wart for your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy SIII when you use the PocketPlug case.  Prong has designed a polycarbonate case with the “most advanced charging technology on the market to ensure a super fast charge in the most portable possible form factor.”  There’s no backup battery inside; instead, the PocketPlug case allows you to top off your charge any time you’re near an outlet.  Power prongs fold away neatly when not needed and pop up when you want to charge your phone.  The case also has a microUSB jack so you can charge your case in the car.  It’s available now in black for the iPhone 5 ($69.95) or iPhone 4/4S ($59.95); white cases will begin shipping this month.  The PowerPlug case for Samsung Galaxy SIII isn’t available yet, but you can sign up to receive notice and a 15% discount coupon when it is available. If this had a backup battery inside, it might be almost perfect.

Tagged as: Charging case, iPhone 4/4S, iPhone 5, Samsung Galaxy S3 Cases

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24 Sep 20:47

Technogel Sleeping Anatomic Pillow review

by Julie Strietelmeier


The average person gets 8hrs of sleep per day, that means most of us end up spending a 1/3rd of our lives in bed. If you spend that much time doing any activity, you should be as comfortable as possible right? Technogel Sleeping products have been designed with the mission of “making your world more comfortable”. I was recently asked to try their Technogel Anatomic Pillow and have been putting it to the test for the past week. I warned them that I’m very picky when it comes to pillows, so let’s see if it will end up in the closet collecting dust or on the bed under my head.

Note: Images can be clicked to view a larger size.

Background on me and my sleeping habits

Like I mentioned above, I’m picky when it comes to pillows. I’ve been using the same medium firm foam pillow for over 10 years because I’ve yet to find one that I like better. Jeanne will buy me a new pillow every now and then, which I’ll try it for about 10 minutes, and then switch back to my old one. She keeps threatening to throw it out because it’s so old, but she’s yet to carry out those plans. I know the whole dust mite thing makes keeping a pillow for years kinda gross, but the thoughts of dust mites don’t bother me as much as not getting a good night’s sleep.

Now for the TMI part… 2yrs ago when I was going through chemo for breast cancer, the very first treatment throw me into instant menopause. I actually consider that a bonus side effect, but it does cause me to have mild hot flashes, which mainly happen at night. Almost every night I’ll wake up with my head and neck feeling hot and kinda of sweaty. It usually only lasts for a few seconds and then I fall back to sleep. I am also noticing that I wake up with a stiff neck most of the time and wonder if it could be the pillow (don’t tell Jeanne!).

I went into this review hoping the Technogel pillow would kill two birds with one stone – heat and neck pain.


Dr. Scholl’s offers 6 different Technogel pillows. Four regular pillows and 2 that are designed for travel. I typically sleep on my side, so I chose the Anatomic Pillow instead of the others, which are designed for people who mainly sleep on their backs and suffer from neck, back or shoulder pain. This pillow is available in standard and king sizes. I was sent the standard size which is 26×16.5×4.5 inches and weights about 5 pounds. The weight is due to the materials used to make the pillow.

The pillow is made of viscoelastic polyurethane foam with a gel pad and a 100% cotton cover. The foam is better known as memory foam and combined with the gel pad, it offers what they call 3D deformation:

Technogel® deforms 3-dimensionally and reacts to forces differently than the foam, deforming in all the three directions. Technogel moulds itself to each individual user’s physical structure. Pressure is evenly distributed over the entire contact surface, and this generates a substantial reduction in pressure peaks leading to an improvement in blood circulation.


The pillow has 2 covers. There is thicker outer cover which can be unzipped and removed for washing.


The inner cover is not removable and unlike the images shown on the Technogel website and even on the box that the pillow shipped in, you can’t see the blue gel layer. Well, you can sorta see it… barely through the cover. I didn’t want to cut the cover to show the gel, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that it’s there.

Sometimes new pillows smell weird, but the Technogel has no odor at all and according to the box, the pillow is hypo-allergenic.

It is recommended that you use a pillow case with this pillow. Standard sized pillow cases fit fine.

The first night I tried the pillow, I immediately noticed the cooling effect that the gel layer provides.

Technogel® is characterized by an high thermal conductivity (with a λ of 0.19 W/m*k°), compared with other good isolator materials, like foam or memory foam. Technogel® is lowering the contact surface’s temperature (up to 3.5° F), as the heat generated by the human body is transported through its mass and partially dispersed.

It’s known in scientific literature, that a decrease in skin temperature reduces the metabolism activity and, therefore, the demand of oxygen from tissues, generating perceivable benefits exactly in the areas already suffering for poor circulation due to pressure.

The back of my head and neck felt pleasantly cool, but the pillow itself was firmer than I liked, so I switched back to my old pillow within 20-30 minutes. The next night I gave it another try and this time I fell asleep on my back, which is unusual, and woke up a couple hours later. Surprisingly, I wasn’t hot like I usually am when I wake up. I’m not sure why, but I ended up swapping back to my old pillow again that night.

The 3rd night I didn’t use it Technogel pillow at all and woke up the next morning with a stiff neck.

The 4th night I slept the entire night on the Technogel pillow and didn’t wake up hot during the night and didn’t wake up in the morning with a stiff neck.

The 5th night was a repeat of the 4th night. I think my old pillow may be ready for the dumpster after all…

I noticed that this pillow never felt flat or lumpy. The memory foam would instantly regain its original shape when I moved my head or turned over on my side.

Although I’ve only slept a couple nights with this pillow, I feel safe in saying that I will be retiring my old pillow in favor of this one. The gel helps keep me cooler during the night, which means I sleep better. The memory foam seems to have cured or at least helped with my stiff neck problem, which means I wake up feeling refreshed instead of in pain.

Comfort does come at a high premium though. At $169.99, these pillows are obviously not going to be an impulse buy. And if you do want to buy one, they aren’t exactly easy to find online. Technogel doesn’t sell them through their own website, but a quick google for “technogel pillows” found at least 2 online retailers where you can order them online. You can also find a list of dealers on the Technogel site that are listed by your city and state.

All this talk about sleeping is making me drowsy. I’m going to go take a nap…

Tagged as: Pillow

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24 Sep 20:42

Veto Pro Pac announces the Tech Pac backpack tool bag

by Julie Strietelmeier


You’ll be able to carry your toolbox on your back with the new Tech Pac backpack from Veto Pro Pac. This is a very rugged bag that has been designed to last with a weatherproof body, base and pockets. Speaking of pockets, the Tech Pac has them… a lot of them. It features 47 interior and exterior tool pockets of various sizes that will allow you to organize your tools for easy retrieval. Hope you have a strong back though because the bag is 9.6 lbs empty… add your tools and you’ll need some serious strength to lug it around. You can buy the Veto Pro Pac Tech Pack backpack tool bag for $229.95 at The bag has been so anticipated that they quickly sold out of the first shipment and are now waiting for the 2nd shipment which should go out at the beginning of October.

Tagged as: Backpack

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24 Sep 20:40

Help your child (or yourself) conquer a fear of medical injections by removing the pain

by Janet Cloninger


When my daughter was much younger, she had to suffer through a lot of allergy testing and allergy injections (sometimes as many as three a week).  Because this testing started when she was barely a year old, you can imagine she quickly developed a fear of needles because of the pain of the procedures.  I wish Buzzy had been around then to help her deal with her years of allergy treatments.  Buzzy is a cute little bee-shaped device that disrupts signals from the nerves that transmit pain sensations and helps reduce the fear of getting injections or other procedures that utilize needles.  It was developed by Dr. Amy Baxter, a mom and pediatric ER physician, who noticed how numb her hands were after driving a car with a vibrating steering wheel.  Realizing that she could use the body’s own “gate control”, in which the messages from the larger cold and vibration nerves crowd out smaller pain nerve sensations when both are felt simultaneously, to help her son overcome his fear of injections.  She tested her theory using bags of frozen peas and a personal massager, then she combined what she had learned into a small, friendly-looking little vibrating bee with a small ice pack.  Simply place Buzzy near an injection spot or even near the spot for inserting an IV needle, and patients report they don’t even feel the pain of the needle stick.  Buzzy is available with stripes or as a more discrete solid black, and you can even get kits with a cooler bag to keep the ice packs cold until they are needed.  There are also kits for healthcare providers. (Note: the home version has little wing-shaped ice packs.  The image shows Buzzy being used with a disposable ice pack that a care provider would use.)   Prices begin at $39.95.

Tagged as: Medical equipment, Pain relief

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24 Sep 18:38

Cops And Second Chances In America

by Ken White

Nearly four years ago Patrick wrote about Karla Rush, a police officer terminated by the Oakland Police Department. You may recall that Officer Rush felt she shouldn't have been fired for false statements in search warrant applications:

Rush said she had never lied. Instead, she said, she had been trained to rely on templates when filing the affidavits, and the templates were based on the assumption that substances submitted to the crime lab would test positive.

Officer Rush's arguments were ultimately rejected:

Karla Rush, an officer based in East Oakland, faced especially severe charges. Of the 40 search warrants she had filed between March of 2007 and August 2008, 39 were fraudulent. Rush claimed that her misconduct was the result of poor training, but an arbitrator rejected her assertion, saying, "telling the truth is not a matter of training," according to court documents.

But isn't this America? Isn't Karla Rush an American? Isn't America a place where people like Carlos Danger get second chances? Yes. Yes it is. So Karla Rush — fired for multiple fraudulent search warrant applications — is employed as a law enforcement officer again.

Maybe this isn't a shock to you. The criminal justice system decides to rely upon (and often conceal the misconduct of) dirty cops all the time. Just look at cops like Armando Saldate, Jr. in Arizona. Karla Rush probably got re-hired by some ultra-conservative small town department in some red state, right?

Although internal affairs recommended firing twelve officers, only four ended up losing their jobs: Rush, Francisco Martinez, John Kelly, and William Burke. Of those four, three have since been rehired by Alameda County police agencies: Burke was reinstated by OPD through arbitration in 2010, and both Rush and Kelly are now UC Berkeley police officers.

Yep. That's right. UC Berkeley — the hobgoblin of conservatives, the famously nutty liberal enclave — re-hired a police officer fired for filing fraudulent search warrants. After all, what's important in hiring a police officer?

UCPD Lieutenant Eric Tejada said the department had no reservations about hiring Rush and Kelly. "They have both been outstanding officers, and they bring a lot of knowledge and experience with them," Tejada said. He added that Rush and Kelly received glowing recommendations from several OPD commanders — although the department itself did not recommend them for the job. "So looking at their work history as a whole, and not just that one incident, we felt they deserved the opportunity to be a part of the team here," Tejada said.

Yeah! 39 fraudulent warrant applications is really "just one incident." Why should that outweigh Officer Rush's excellence in getting the bad guys?

Now, citizen, if you're concerned that misconduct is too easily forgiven and ignored in our society, take heart: the vast majority of people who get in serious trouble experience life-altering consequences that prevents them from ever getting similar jobs again, even after any draconian criminal sentences. Felony convictions, for instance, reliably keep people out of most positions of responsibility, not to mention housing, loans, youth activities, etc. So don't worry: the class of people who can commit grave misconduct with few long-term consequences is usually limited to law enforcement and, you know, banks and stuff.

We want to be safe, right? So why should it bother us that, even in hotbeds of "liberalism," law enforcement misconduct generates little more than a shrug? Why should we be concerned that the "left" — once reliably protective of the rights of the accused — is now often a mouthpiece for "law and order" and contemptuous of the rights of the accused?

After all, how much trouble could a campus police officer cause?


(Hat Tip)

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24 Sep 17:58

Feeling plucky

by David
Jay McDaniel



Feeling plucky © 2007-2013 by the authors of Popehat. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. Using this feed on any other site is a copyright violation. No scraping.

11 Sep 15:57

No ‘Special Subsidy’ for Congress

by Lori Robertson

Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger is misleading his constituents by saying that he will decline the health insurance offered to members of Congress next year because it includes a “special subsidy” from the president that “exempted” Congress from the Affordable Care Act.

Congress isn’t “exempt” from the law. It wasn’t exempt back in 2010, when we first debunked such a claim; nor were lawmakers exempt in May when the bogus bit surfaced again. Three months later, they’re still not exempt. In fact, as we’ve said before, lawmakers and their staffs face additional requirements that other Americans don’t. And the “special subsidy” to which Pittenger refers is simply a premium contribution that his employer, the federal government, has long made to the health insurance policies of its workers.

The Affordable Care Act says that starting in 2014, members of Congress and their staffs can no longer get their health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, as they have in the past. Instead, these federal employees will have to get insurance through the exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act. Other Americans with work-based insurance aren’t subject to such a requirement. They can continue to get health insurance through their employers. Other federal workers, too, can continue to select health insurance plans through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. But not Congress.

Why the unusual requirement for lawmakers and congressional staffers? This provision was added when health care bills were being debated, out of Republican concern that Congress get the same insurance that would be offered to some Americans through this legislation — insurance sold through state-based and federal exchanges. Those exchanges are for individuals who buy their own insurance, including the now uninsured, and small businesses.

Our readers may recall that before this provision was created, there were claims circulating that Congress was “exempt” from the law. This twisted reading of the legislation was based on the fact that originally Congress, like other Americans with work-based insurance or Americans on Medicare and Medicaid, wouldn’t be eligible for the exchanges. In other words, Congress was supposedly “exempt” when members couldn’t participate in the exchanges, and now that they are required to do so, they’re still somehow “exempt” from the law. Neither of these convoluted claims is true.

Pittenger and Huckabee Tell Tales

Pittenger, a freshman representative from North Carolina, explained his stance on Aug. 26 to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in a radio interview in which their disregard for the facts was nothing short of absurd. Both the questions from Huckabee and answers from Pittenger were bursting with political mendacity.

Pittenger said he objected to a “special subsidy that Obama’s offering members of Congress to pay for our insurance,” saying this wasn’t “fair.” Huckabee called the “subsidy” a “little break” for Congress that “really exempted them from some of the pain of Obamacare.”

This “break,” however, is nothing more than a continuation of the premium contribution that the federal government has long made to its employees’ health insurance.

Just like other employers, the federal government pays a portion of premiums of the health plans it offers to its workers. There was concern on Capitol Hill this year, however, that the employer contributions wouldn’t be made to the health exchange plans when members of Congress and their staffs made the switch in January 2014 to their new insurance. The relevant provision in the law didn’t address the federal government’s employer contribution, which is currently 72 percent of premiums on average. So no employer contribution would be quite a blow to many congressional workers — just as it would be to other workers who get health insurance through their jobs. (While employer contributions vary from firm to firm, the overall average employer contribution was 82 percent for single insurance plans and 71 percent for family plans in 2013, according to the latest employer survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust.)

But the Office of Personnel Management, which administers the FEHB Program, issued a proposed rule on Aug. 7 saying that the federal government would be able to continue to make the premium contributions. OPM said the contribution wouldn’t be greater than what is offered under the FEHB Program, and lawmakers and their staffs wouldn’t be eligible for the tax credits that are available to other Americans buying coverage through the exchanges.

In other words, OPM ruled that there would be a continuation of the status quo in terms of the employer premium contribution. But Huckabee and Pittenger offered listeners a distorted view, telling them this was special treatment for Congress and an exemption from the Affordable Care Act. Here’s part of their exchange on “The Mike Huckabee Show”:

Huckabee, Aug. 26: [Pittenger's] not too happy about a little trick that Congress at least swung by the American people, where they’re going to get a subsidy for their health insurance. Give them a little break, you know, for the members of Congress and the staff. … Robert Pittenger doesn’t want it. …

When the Office of Management and Budget was able to without legislation go ahead and create a subsidy for members of Congress and their staff, it really exempted them from some of the pain of Obamacare. And I think it’s interesting that not everybody in Congress thinks that’s a great idea and you happen to be one of them.

Pittenger: Yes sir, I don’t believe it’s fair at all. Congress should not be exempted from the full impact of Obamacare. It’s not fair and I’m not going to be a part of it. So the next enrollment period, I’m going to voluntarily remove myself from the congressional health plan, decline the special subsidy that Obama’s offering members of Congress to pay for our insurance on the Obamacare exchanges.

Pittenger told Huckabee that starting next year “[l]ike millions of Americans, I will purchase my health care insurance without the aid of federal tax dollars.” Of course, Pittenger is a federal employee who will continue to be paid his salary with tax dollars.

In a Q&A in the Washington Post, reporter Sarah Kliff asked Pittenger why he had a problem with accepting a premium contribution from the federal government, when he had already been receiving one. Pittenger said: “Under our current plan, we’ve been under the law. Next year the subsidy is outside the law. I’m not okay with that. … It’s a matter of principle.”

He told the Post that the accommodation to allow the premium contributions to continue was “ruling by decree” by the president. Obama told Democratic senators that he was involved in finding a solution, according to Politico.

As for where Pittenger will get his insurance, the lawmaker told the Washington Post that he didn’t know what his options were, but “I’ll see what’s most affordable and what is the best plan that I can find.” He noted that he had been on his wife’s plan in the past.

We often say that we can’t predict the future at, but if Pittenger joins a plan that his wife has, we imagine claims would quickly surface that he was exempting himself from Obamacare. If Pittenger doesn’t have an employer-provided option, he would have to purchase insurance through the exchanges.

More Twists and Turns

In the radio interview, Huckabee referred to concern on Capitol Hill that if the government wasn’t able to continue to contribute to premiums, Congress would lose valuable staffers, who would leave for jobs that offered health benefits. He asked what Pittenger thought of these claims of potential “brain drain.” Pittenger replied: “The congressional staff, they’re going to be receiving the exact same health benefits as every other federal employee.” That’s false.

The provision in the law that requires Congress to get insurance on the exchanges says: “[T]he only health plans that the Federal Government may make available to Members of Congress and congressional staff with respect to their service as a Member of Congress or congressional staff shall be health plans that are — (I) created under this Act (or an amendment made by this Act); or (II) offered through an Exchange established under this Act.”

The law says congressional “staff” means “all full-time and part-time employees employed by the official office of a Member of Congress, whether in Washington, DC or outside of Washington, DC.” As we reported before, a Congressional Research Service report agreed with the author of this provision, Sen. Tom Coburn, that it wouldn’t apply to committee or leadership staff. There’s still some confusion, however, on which staffers will be required to get insurance on the exchanges and which won’t. The OPM ruling said that “[b]ecause there is no existing statutory or regulatory definition of the term ‘official office,’ ” OPM’s rule “proposes that the employing office of the Member of Congress determine whether an employed individual meets the statutory definition.”

Even under that loose rule, at least some congressional staff would, as the health care law says, have to get insurance on the exchanges.

Pittenger told Huckabee that he was supporting a bill that would say “no member of Congress can benefit from a federal subsidy,” and Huckabee offered encouragement for voters to pressure their representatives to also support such legislation.

Huckabee: I would think members of Congress who don’t support the notion of rejecting this special subsidy are probably going to be busted by a lot of the voters who say, “Wait a minute, you guys passed this and you’re now getting an exemption from it that we’re not getting. What’s up?” And I think a lot of town halls are probably filled with people who are shouting and screaming that this is wrong because it’s a double-standard.

We hope not. If folks are complaining about a “special subsidy,” “exemption” or “double-standard” in town halls, they are misinformed.

– Lori Robertson

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09 Sep 03:13

Arduino Keyboard Shield - Part 1

by Steve Spence
This is the beginning of a multi part series on interfacing a PC keyboard to an Arduino. PS/2 keyboards are ideal, but many USB keyboards provide a PS/2 compatible scan code, so we will address support for those as well.

This first section will address the hardware needed. Subsequent posts will address the software and communications, and eventually a couple of end use projects, including a Ham Radio Teletype.

The approach we are taking is somewhat unique. The sketch needed to decode the keyboard scan codes and convert them into readable characters is somewhat memory intensive, and would not leave a lot of room for a project sketch.  Our solution is embedding a barebones Arduino on the shield, just to do that conversion, and present the host Arduino with character strings over serial.

Parts List:

PS/2 Keyboard
PS/2 Jack
PS/2 Breakout
Headers (to mount breakout to protoshield)
Proto Shield
Barebones Arduino Kit

You will program this shield from your Arduino, so no extra programming cable or headers will be needed at this time, nor will a power supply be needed, as it gets it's power from the host Arduino. Stay tuned for the next part in the series.

07 Sep 05:35

Conspiracy Theories and the NSA

by schneier

I've recently seen two articles speculating on the NSA's capability, and practice, of spying on members of Congress and other elected officials. The evidence is all circumstantial and smacks of conspiracy thinking -- and I have no idea whether any of it is true or not -- but it's a good illustration of what happens when trust in a public institution fails.

The NSA has repeatedly lied about the extent of its spying program. James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has lied about it to Congress. Top-secret documents provided by Edward Snowden, and reported on by the Guardian and other newspapers, repeatedly show that the NSA's surveillance systems are monitoring the communications of American citizens. The DEA has used this information to apprehend drug smugglers, then lied about it in court. The IRS has used this information to find tax cheats, then lied about it. It's even been used to arrest a copyright violator. It seems that every time there is an allegation against the NSA, no matter how outlandish, it turns out to be true.

Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald has been playing this well, dribbling the information out one scandal at a time. It's looking more and more as if the NSA doesn't know what Snowden took. It's hard for someone to lie convincingly if he doesn't know what the opposition actually knows.

All of this denying and lying results in us not trusting anything the NSA says, anything the president says about the NSA, or anything companies say about their involvement with the NSA. We know secrecy corrupts, and we see that corruption. There's simply no credibility, and -- the real problem -- no way for us to verify anything these people might say.

It's a perfect environment for conspiracy theories to take root: no trust, assuming the worst, no way to verify the facts. Think JFK assassination theories. Think 9/11 conspiracies. Think UFOs. For all we know, the NSA might be spying on elected officials. Edward Snowden said that he had the ability to spy on anyone in the U.S., in real time, from his desk. His remarks were belittled, but it turns out he was right.

This is not going to improve anytime soon. Greenwald and other reporters are still poring over Snowden's documents, and will continue to report stories about NSA overreach, lawbreaking, abuses, and privacy violations well into next year. The "independent" review that Obama promised of these surveillance programs will not help, because it will lack both the power to discover everything the NSA is doing and the ability to relay that information to the public.

It's time to start cleaning up this mess. We need a special prosecutor, one not tied to the military, the corporations complicit in these programs, or the current political leadership, whether Democrat or Republican. This prosecutor needs free rein to go through the NSA's files and discover the full extent of what the agency is doing, as well as enough technical staff who have the capability to understand it. He needs the power to subpoena government officials and take their sworn testimony. He needs the ability to bring criminal indictments where appropriate. And, of course, he needs the requisite security clearance to see it all.

We also need something like South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where both government and corporate employees can come forward and tell their stories about NSA eavesdropping without fear of reprisal.

Yes, this will overturn the paradigm of keeping everything the NSA does secret, but Snowden and the reporters he's shared documents with have already done that. The secrets are going to come out, and the journalists doing the outing are not going to be sympathetic to the NSA. If the agency were smart, it'd realize that the best thing it could do would be to get ahead of the leaks.

The result needs to be a public report about the NSA's abuses, detailed enough that public watchdog groups can be convinced that everything is known. Only then can our country go about cleaning up the mess: shutting down programs, reforming the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act system, and reforming surveillance law to make it absolutely clear that even the NSA cannot eavesdrop on Americans without a warrant.

Comparisons are springing up between today's NSA and the FBI of the 1950s and 1960s, and between NSA Director Keith Alexander and J. Edgar Hoover. We never managed to rein in Hoover's FBI -- it took his death for change to occur. I don't think we'll get so lucky with the NSA. While Alexander has enormous personal power, much of his power comes from the institution he leads. When he is replaced, that institution will remain.

Trust is essential for society to function. Without it, conspiracy theories naturally take hold. Even worse, without it we fail as a country and as a culture. It's time to reinstitute the ideals of democracy: The government works for the people, open government is the best way to protect against government abuse, and a government keeping secrets from its people is a rare exception, not the norm.

This essay originally appeared on

06 Sep 20:30

The NSA's Cryptographic Capabilities

by schneier

The latest Snowden document is the US intelligence "black budget." There's a lot of information in the few pages the Washington Post decided to publish, including an introduction by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. In it, he drops a tantalizing hint: "Also, we are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit internet traffic."

Honestly, I'm skeptical. Whatever the NSA has up its top-secret sleeves, the mathematics of cryptography will still be the most secure part of any encryption system. I worry a lot more about poorly designed cryptographic products, software bugs, bad passwords, companies that collaborate with the NSA to leak all or part of the keys, and insecure computers and networks. Those are where the real vulnerabilities are, and where the NSA spends the bulk of its efforts.

This isn't the first time we've heard this rumor. In a WIRED article last year, longtime NSA-watcher James Bamford wrote:

According to another top official also involved with the program, the NSA made an enormous breakthrough several years ago in its ability to cryptanalyze, or break, unfathomably complex encryption systems employed by not only governments around the world but also many average computer users in the US.

We have no further information from Clapper, Snowden, or this other source of Bamford's. But we can speculate.

Perhaps the NSA has some new mathematics that breaks one or more of the popular encryption algorithms: AES, Twofish, Serpent, triple-DES, Serpent. It wouldn't be the first time this happened. Back in the 1970s, the NSA knew of a cryptanalytic technique called "differential cryptanalysis" that was unknown in the academic world. That technique broke a variety of other academic and commercial algorithms that we all thought secure. We learned better in the early 1990s, and now design algorithms to be resistant to that technique.

It's very probable that the NSA has newer techniques that remain undiscovered in academia. Even so, such techniques are unlikely to result in a practical attack that can break actual encrypted plaintext.

The naive way to break an encryption algorithm is to brute-force the key. The complexity of that attack is 2n, where n is the key length. All cryptanalytic attacks can be viewed as shortcuts to that method. And since the efficacy of a brute-force attack is a direct function of key length, these attacks effectively shorten the key. So if, for example, the best attack against DES has a complexity of 239, that effectively shortens DES's 56-bit key by 17 bits.

That's a really good attack, by the way.

Right now the upper practical limit on brute force is somewhere under 80 bits. However, using that as a guide gives us some indication as to how good an attack has to be to break any of the modern algorithms. These days, encryption algorithms have, at a minimum, 128-bit keys. That means any NSA cryptanalytic breakthrough has to reduce the effective key length by at least 48 bits in order to be practical.

There's more, though. That DES attack requires an impractical 70 terabytes of known plaintext encrypted with the key we're trying to break. Other mathematical attacks require similar amounts of data. In order to be effective in decrypting actual operational traffic, the NSA needs an attack that can be executed with the known plaintext in a common MS-Word header: much, much less.

So while the NSA certainly has symmetric cryptanalysis capabilities that we in the academic world do not, converting that into practical attacks on the sorts of data it is likely to encounter seems so impossible as to be fanciful.

More likely is that the NSA has some mathematical breakthrough that affects one or more public-key algorithms. There are a lot of mathematical tricks involved in public-key cryptanalysis, and absolutely no theory that provides any limits on how powerful those tricks can be.

Breakthroughs in factoring have occurred regularly over the past several decades, allowing us to break ever-larger public keys. Much of the public-key cryptography we use today involves elliptic curves, something that is even more ripe for mathematical breakthroughs. It is not unreasonable to assume that the NSA has some techniques in this area that we in the academic world do not. Certainly the fact that the NSA is pushing elliptic-curve cryptography is some indication that it can break them more easily.

If we think that's the case, the fix is easy: increase the key lengths.

Assuming the hypothetical NSA breakthroughs don't totally break public-cryptography -- and that's a very reasonable assumption -- it's pretty easy to stay a few steps ahead of the NSA by using ever-longer keys. We're already trying to phase out 1024-bit RSA keys in favor of 2048-bit keys. Perhaps we need to jump even further ahead and consider 3072-bit keys. And maybe we should be even more paranoid about elliptic curves and use key lengths above 500 bits.

One last blue-sky possibility: a quantum computer. Quantum computers are still toys in the academic world, but have the theoretical ability to quickly break common public-key algorithms -- regardless of key length -- and to effectively halve the key length of any symmetric algorithm. I think it extraordinarily unlikely that the NSA has built a quantum computer capable of performing the magnitude of calculation necessary to do this, but it's possible. The defense is easy, if annoying: stick with symmetric cryptography based on shared secrets, and use 256-bit keys.

There's a saying inside the NSA: "Cryptanalysis always gets better. It never gets worse." It's naive to assume that, in 2013, we have discovered all the mathematical breakthroughs in cryptography that can ever be discovered. There's a lot more out there, and there will be for centuries.

And the NSA is in a privileged position: It can make use of everything discovered and openly published by the academic world, as well as everything discovered by it in secret.

The NSA has a lot of people thinking about this problem full-time. According to the black budget summary, 35,000 people and $11 billion annually are part of the Department of Defense-wide Consolidated Cryptologic Program. Of that, 4 percent -- or $440 million -- goes to "Research and Technology."

That's an enormous amount of money; probably more than everyone else on the planet spends on cryptography research put together. I'm sure that results in a lot of interesting -- and occasionally groundbreaking -- cryptanalytic research results, maybe some of it even practical.

Still, I trust the mathematics.

This essay originally appeared on

EDITED TO ADD: That was written before I could talk about this.

EDITED TO ADD: The Economist expresses a similar sentiment.

06 Sep 19:48

The NSA Is Breaking Most Encryption on the Internet

by schneier

The new Snowden revelations are explosive. Basically, the NSA is able to decrypt most of the Internet. They're doing it primarily by cheating, not by mathematics.

It's joint reporting between the Guardian, the New York Times, and ProPublica.

I have been working with Glenn Greenwald on the Snowden documents, and I have seen a lot of them. These are my two essays on today's revelations.

Remember this: The math is good, but math has no agency. Code has agency, and the code has been subverted.

EDITED TO ADD (9/6): Someone somewhere commented that the NSA's "groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities" could include a practical attack on RC4. I don't know one way or the other, but that's a good speculation.

06 Sep 19:47

The Effect of Money on Trust

by schneier

Money reduces trust in small groups, but increases it in larger groups. Basically, the introduction of money allows society to scale.

The team devised an experiment where subjects in small and large groups had the option to give gifts in exchange for tokens.

They found that there was a social cost to introducing this incentive. When all tokens were "spent", a potential gift-giver was less likely to help than they had been in a setting where tokens had not yet been introduced.

The same effect was found in smaller groups, who were less generous when there was the option of receiving a token.

"Subjects basically latched on to monetary exchange, and stopped helping unless they received immediate compensation in a form of an intrinsically worthless object [a token].

"Using money does help large societies to achieve larger levels of co-operation than smaller societies, but it does so at a cost of displacing normal of voluntary help that is the bread and butter of smaller societies, in which everyone knows each other," said Prof Camera.

But he said that this negative result was not found in larger anonymous groups of 32, instead co-operation increased with the use of tokens.

"This is exciting because we introduced something that adds nothing to the economy, but it helped participants converge on a behaviour that is more trustworthy."

He added that the study reflected monetary exchange in daily life: "Global interaction expands the set of trade opportunities, but it dilutes the level of information about others' past behaviour. In this sense, one can view tokens in our experiment as a parable for global monetary exchange."

06 Sep 19:45

Human-Machine Trust Failures

by schneier

I jacked a visitor's badge from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, last month. The badges are electronic; they're enabled when you check in at building security. You're supposed to wear it on a chain around your neck at all times and drop it through a slot when you leave.

I kept the badge. I used my body as a shield, and the chain made a satisfying noise when it hit bottom. The guard let me through the gate.

The person after me had problems, though. Some part of the system knew something was wrong, and wouldn't let her out. Eventually, the guard had to manually override something.

My point in telling this story is not to demonstrate how I beat the EEOB's security -- I'm sure the badge was quickly deactivated and showed up in some missing-badge log next to my name -- but to illustrate how security vulnerabilities can result from human/machine trust failures. Something went wrong between when I went through the gate and when the person after me did. The system knew it but couldn't adequately explain it to the guards. The guards knew it but didn't know the details. Because the failure occurred when the person after me tried to leave the building, they assumed she was the problem. And when they cleared her of wrongdoing, they blamed the system.

In any hybrid security system, the human portion needs to trust the machine portion. To do so, both must understand the expected behavior for every state -- how the system can fail and what those failures look like. The machine must be able to communicate its state and have the capacity to alert the humans when an expected state transition doesn't happen as expected. Things will go wrong, either by accident or as the result of an attack, and the humans are going to need to troubleshoot the system in real time -- that requires understanding on both parts. Each time things go wrong, and the machine portion doesn't communicate well, the human portion trusts it a little less.

This problem is not specific to security systems, but inducing this sort of confusion is a good way to attack systems. When the attackers understand the system -- especially the machine part -- better than the humans in the system do, they can create a failure to exploit. Many social engineering attacks fall into this category. Failures also happen the other way. We've all experienced trust without understanding, when the human part of the system defers to the machine, even though it makes no sense: "The computer is always right."

Humans and machines have different strengths. Humans are flexible and can do creative thinking in ways that machines cannot. But they're easily fooled. Machines are more rigid and can handle state changes and process flows much better than humans can. But they're bad at dealing with exceptions. If humans are to serve as security sensors, they need to understand what is being sensed. (That's why "if you see something, say something" fails so often.) If a machine automatically processes input, it needs to clearly flag anything unexpected.

The more machine security is automated, and the more the machine is expected to enforce security without human intervention, the greater the impact of a successful attack. If this sounds like an argument for interface simplicity, it is. The machine design will be necessarily more complicated: more resilience, more error handling, and more internal checking. But the human/computer communication needs to be clear and straightforward. That's the best way to give humans the trust and understanding they need in the machine part of any security system.

This essay previously appeared in IEEE Security & Privacy.

05 Sep 17:33

Our Newfound Fear of Risk

by schneier

We're afraid of risk. It's a normal part of life, but we're increasingly unwilling to accept it at any level. So we turn to technology to protect us. The problem is that technological security measures aren't free. They cost money, of course, but they cost other things as well. They often don't provide the security they advertise, and -- paradoxically -- they often increase risk somewhere else. This problem is particularly stark when the risk involves another person: crime, terrorism, and so on. While technology has made us much safer against natural risks like accidents and disease, it works less well against man-made risks.

Three examples:

  1. We have allowed the police to turn themselves into a paramilitary organization. They deploy SWAT teams multiple times a day, almost always in nondangerous situations. They tase people at minimal provocation, often when it's not warranted. Unprovoked shootings are on the rise. One result of these measures is that honest mistakes -- a wrong address on a warrant, a misunderstanding -- result in the terrorizing of innocent people, and more death in what were once nonviolent confrontations with police.

  2. We accept zero-tolerance policies in schools. This results in ridiculous situations, where young children are suspended for pointing gun-shaped fingers at other students or drawing pictures of guns with crayons, and high-school students are disciplined for giving each other over-the-counter pain relievers. The cost of these policies is enormous, both in dollars to implement and its long-lasting effects on students.

  3. We have spent over one trillion dollars and thousands of lives fighting terrorism in the past decade -- including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- money that could have been better used in all sorts of ways. We now know that the NSA has turned into a massive domestic surveillance organization, and that its data is also used by other government organizations, which then lie about it. Our foreign policy has changed for the worse: we spy on everyone, we trample human rights abroad, our drones kill indiscriminately, and our diplomatic outposts have either closed down or become fortresses. In the months after 9/11, so many people chose to drive instead of fly that the resulting deaths dwarfed the deaths from the terrorist attack itself, because cars are much more dangerous than airplanes.

There are lots more examples, but the general point is that we tend to fixate on a particular risk and then do everything we can to mitigate it, including giving up our freedoms and liberties.

There's a subtle psychological explanation. Risk tolerance is both cultural and dependent on the environment around us. As we have advanced technologically as a society, we have reduced many of the risks that have been with us for millennia. Fatal childhood diseases are things of the past, many adult diseases are curable, accidents are rarer and more survivable, buildings collapse less often, death by violence has declined considerably, and so on. All over the world -- among the wealthier of us who live in peaceful Western countries -- our lives have become safer.

Our notions of risk are not absolute; they're based more on how far they are from whatever we think of as "normal." So as our perception of what is normal gets safer, the remaining risks stand out more. When your population is dying of the plague, protecting yourself from the occasional thief or murderer is a luxury. When everyone is healthy, it becomes a necessity.

Some of this fear results from imperfect risk perception. We're bad at accurately assessing risk; we tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange, and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar, and common ones. This leads us to believe that violence against police, school shootings, and terrorist attacks are more common and more deadly than they actually are -- and that the costs, dangers, and risks of a militarized police, a school system without flexibility, and a surveillance state without privacy are less than they really are.

Some of this fear stems from the fact that we put people in charge of just one aspect of the risk equation. No one wants to be the senior officer who didn't approve the SWAT team for the one subpoena delivery that resulted in an officer being shot. No one wants to be the school principal who didn't discipline -- no matter how benign the infraction -- the one student who became a shooter. No one wants to be the president who rolled back counterterrorism measures, just in time to have a plot succeed. Those in charge will be naturally risk averse, since they personally shoulder so much of the burden.

We also expect that science and technology should be able to mitigate these risks, as they mitigate so many others. There's a fundamental problem at the intersection of these security measures with science and technology; it has to do with the types of risk they're arrayed against. Most of the risks we face in life are against nature: disease, accident, weather, random chance. As our science has improved -- medicine is the big one, but other sciences as well -- we become better at mitigating and recovering from those sorts of risks.

Security measures combat a very different sort of risk: a risk stemming from another person. People are intelligent, and they can adapt to new security measures in ways nature cannot. An earthquake isn't able to figure out how to topple structures constructed under some new and safer building code, and an automobile won't invent a new form of accident that undermines medical advances that have made existing accidents more survivable. But a terrorist will change his tactics and targets in response to new security measures. An otherwise innocent person will change his behavior in response to a police force that compels compliance at the threat of a Taser. We will all change, living in a surveillance state.

When you implement measures to mitigate the effects of the random risks of the world, you're safer as a result. When you implement measures to reduce the risks from your fellow human beings, the human beings adapt and you get less risk reduction than you'd expect -- and you also get more side effects, because we all adapt.

We need to relearn how to recognize the trade-offs that come from risk management, especially risk from our fellow human beings. We need to relearn how to accept risk, and even embrace it, as essential to human progress and our free society. The more we expect technology to protect us from people in the same way it protects us from nature, the more we will sacrifice the very values of our society in futile attempts to achieve this security.

This essay previously appeared on

05 Sep 14:10

More on the NSA Commandeering the Internet

by schneier

If there's any confirmation that the U.S. government has commandeered the Internet for worldwide surveillance, it is what happened with Lavabit earlier this month.

Lavabit is -- well, was -- an e-mail service that offered more privacy than the typical large-Internet-corporation services that most of us use. It was a small company, owned and operated by Ladar Levison, and it was popular among the tech-savvy. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden among its half-million users.

Last month, Levison reportedly received an order -- probably a National Security Letter -- to allow the NSA to eavesdrop on everyone's e-mail accounts on Lavabit. Rather than "become complicit in crimes against the American people," he turned the service off. Note that we don't know for sure that he received a NSL -- that's the order authorized by the Patriot Act that doesn't require a judge's signature and prohibits the recipient from talking about it -- or what it covered, but Levison has said that he had complied with requests for individual e-mail access in the past, but this was very different.

So far, we just have an extreme moral act in the face of government pressure. It's what happened next that is the most chilling. The government threatened him with arrest, arguing that shutting down this e-mail service was a violation of the order.

There it is. If you run a business, and the FBI or NSA want to turn it into a mass surveillance tool, they believe they can do so, solely on their own initiative. They can force you to modify your system. They can do it all in secret and then force your business to keep that secret. Once they do that, you no longer control that part of your business. You can't shut it down. You can't terminate part of your service. In a very real sense, it is not your business anymore. It is an arm of the vast U.S. surveillance apparatus, and if your interest conflicts with theirs then they win. Your business has been commandeered.

For most Internet companies, this isn't a problem. They are already engaging in massive surveillance of their customers and users -- collecting and using this data is the primary business model of the Internet -- so it's easy to comply with government demands and give the NSA complete access to everything. This is what we learned from Edward Snowden. Through programs like PRISM, BLARNEY and OAKSTAR, the NSA obtained bulk access to services like Gmail and Facebook, and to Internet backbone connections throughout the US and the rest of the world. But if it were a problem for those companies, presumably the government would not allow them to shut down.

To be fair, we don't know if the government can actually convict someone of closing a business. It might just be part of their coercion tactics. Intimidation, and retaliation, is part of how the NSA does business.

Former Qwest CEO Joseph Nacchio has a story of what happens to a large company that refuses to cooperate. In February 2001 -- before the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- the NSA approached the four major US telecoms and asked for their cooperation in a secret data collection program, the one we now know to be the bulk metadata collection program exposed by Edward Snowden. Qwest was the only telecom to refuse, leaving the NSA with a hole in its spying efforts. The NSA retaliated by canceling a series of big government contracts with Qwest. The company has since been purchased by CenturyLink, which we presume is more cooperative with NSA demands.

That was before the Patriot Act and National Security Letters. Now, presumably, Nacchio would just comply. Protection rackets are easier when you have the law backing you up.

As the Snowden whistleblowing documents continue to be made public, we're getting further glimpses into the surveillance state that has been secretly growing around us. The collusion of corporate and government surveillance interests is a big part of this, but so is the government's resorting to intimidation. Every Lavabit-like service that shuts down -- and there have been several -- gives us consumers less choice, and pushes us into the large services that cooperate with the NSA. It's past time we demanded that Congress repeal National Security Letters, give us privacy rights in this new information age, and force meaningful oversight on this rogue agency.

This essay previously appeared in USA Today.

05 Sep 13:53

Detaining David Miranda

by schneier

Last Sunday, David Miranda was detained while changing planes at London Heathrow Airport by British authorities for nine hours under a controversial British law -- the maximum time allowable without making an arrest. There has been much made of the fact that he's the partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian reporter whom Edward Snowden trusted with many of his NSA documents and the most prolific reporter of the surveillance abuses disclosed in those documents. There's less discussion of what I feel was the real reason for Miranda's detention. He was ferrying documents between Greenwald and Laura Poitras, a filmmaker and his co-reporter on Snowden and his information. These document were on several USB memory sticks he had with him. He had already carried documents from Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro to Poitras in Berlin, and was on his way back with different documents when he was detained.

The memory sticks were encrypted, of course, and Miranda did not know the key. This didn't stop the British authorities from repeatedly asking for the key, and from confiscating the memory sticks along with his other electronics.

The incident prompted a major outcry in the UK. The UK's Terrorist Act has always been controversial, and this clear misuse -- it was intended to give authorities the right to detain and question suspected terrorists -- is prompting new calls for its review. Certainly the UK. police will be more reluctant to misuse the law again in this manner.

I have to admit this story has me puzzled. Why would the British do something like this? What did they hope to gain, and why did they think it worth the cost? And -- of course -- were the British acting on their own under the Official Secrets Act, or were they acting on behalf of the United States? (My initial assumption was that they were acting on behalf of the US, but after the bizarre story of the British GCHQ demanding the destruction of Guardian computers last month, I'm not sure anymore.)

We do know the British were waiting for Miranda. It's reasonable to assume they knew his itinerary, and had good reason to suspect that he was ferrying documents back and forth between Greenwald and Poitras. These documents could be source documents provided by Snowden, new documents that the two were working on either separately or together, or both. That being said, it's inconceivable that the memory sticks would contain the only copies of these documents. Poitras retained copies of everything she gave Miranda. So the British authorities couldn't possibly destroy the documents; the best they could hope for is that they would be able to read them.

Is it truly possible that the NSA doesn't already know what Snowden has? They claim they don't, but after Snowden's name became public, the NSA would have conducted the mother of all audits. It would try to figure out what computer systems Snowden had access to, and therefore what documents he could have accessed. Hopefully, the audit information would give more detail, such as which documents he downloaded. I have a hard time believing that its internal auditing systems would be so bad that it wouldn't be able to discover this.

So if the NSA knows what Snowden has, or what he could have, then the most it could learn from the USB sticks is what Greenwald and Poitras are currently working on, or thinking about working on. But presumably the things the two of them are working on are the things they're going to publish next. Did the intelligence agencies really do all this simply for a few weeks' heads-up on what was coming? Given how ham-handedly the NSA has handled PR as each document was exposed, it seems implausible that it wanted advance knowledge so it could work on a response. It's been two months since the first Snowden revelation, and it still doesn't have a decent PR story.

Furthermore, the UK authorities must have known that the data would be encrypted. Greenwald might have been a crypto newbie at the start of the Snowden affair, but Poitras is known to be good at security. The two have been communicating securely by e-mail when they do communicate. Maybe the UK authorities thought there was a good chance that one of them would make a security mistake, or that Miranda would be carrying paper documents.

Another possibility is that this was just intimidation. If so, it's misguided. Anyone who regularly reads Greenwald could have told them that he would not have been intimidated -- and, in fact, he expressed the exact opposite sentiment -- and anyone who follows Poitras knows that she is even more strident in her views. Going after the loved ones of state enemies is a typically thuggish tactic, but it's not a very good one in this case. The Snowden documents will get released. There's no way to put this cat back in the bag, not even by killing the principal players.

It could possibly have been intended to intimidate others who are helping Greenwald and Poitras, or the Guardian and its advertisers. This will have some effect. Lavabit, Silent Circle, and now Groklaw have all been successfully intimidated. Certainly others have as well. But public opinion is shifting against the intelligence community. I don't think it will intimidate future whistleblowers. If the treatment of Chelsea Manning didn't discourage them, nothing will.

This leaves one last possible explanation -- those in power were angry and impulsively acted on that anger. They're lashing out: sending a message and demonstrating that they're not to be messed with -- that the normal rules of polite conduct don't apply to people who screw with them. That's probably the scariest explanation of all. Both the US and UK intelligence apparatuses have enormous money and power, and they have already demonstrated that they are willing to ignore their own laws. Once they start wielding that power unthinkingly, it could get really bad for everyone.

And it's not going to be good for them, either. They seem to want Snowden so badly that that they'll burn the world down to get him. But every time they act impulsively aggressive -- convincing the governments of Portugal and France to block the plane carrying the Bolivian president because they thought Snowden was on it is another example -- they lose a small amount of moral authority around the world, and some ability to act in the same way again. The more pressure Snowden feels, the more likely he is to give up on releasing the documents slowly and responsibly, and publish all of them at once -- the same way that WikiLeaks published the US State Department cables.

Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported on some new NSA secret programs that are spying on Americans. It got the information from "interviews with current and former intelligence and government officials and people from companies that help build or operate the systems, or provide data," not from Snowden. This is only the beginning. The media will not be intimidated. I will not be intimidated. But it scares me that the NSA is so blind that it doesn't see it.

This essay previously appeared on

EDITED TO ADD: I've been thinking about it, and there's a good chance that the NSA doesn't know what Snowden has. He was a sysadmin. He had access. Most of the audits and controls protect against normal users; someone with root access is going to be able to bypass a lot of them. And he had the technical chops to cover his tracks when he couldn't just evade the auditing systems.

The AP makes an excellent point about this:

The disclosure undermines the Obama administration's assurances to Congress and the public that the NSA surveillance programs can't be abused because its spying systems are so aggressively monitored and audited for oversight purposes: If Snowden could defeat the NSA's own tripwires and internal burglar alarms, how many other employees or contractors could do the same?

And, to be clear, I didn't mean to say that intimidation wasn't the government's motive. I believe it was, and that it was poorly thought out intimidation: lashing out in anger, rather than from some Machiavellian strategy. (Here's a similar view.) If they wanted Miranda's electronics, they could have confiscated them and sent him on his way in fifteen minutes. Holding him for nine hours -- the absolute maximum they could under the current law -- was intimidation.

I am reminded of the phone call the Guardian received from British government. The exact quote reported was: "You've had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." That's something you would tell your child. And that's the power dynamic that's going on here.

EDITED TO ADD (8/27): Jay Rosen has an excellent essay on this.

31 Aug 00:26

A Problem with the US Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

by schneier
Jay McDaniel

I guess the board's real purpose is to rubber stamp the governments actions and give the gullible public a warm fuzzy. :-(

I haven't heard much about the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. They recently held hearings regarding the Snowden documents.

This particular comment stood out:

Rachel Brand, another seemingly unsympathetic board member, concluded: "There is nothing that is more harmful to civil liberties than terrorism. This discussion here has been quite sterile because we have not been talking about terrorism."

If terrorism harms civil liberties, it's because elected officials react in panic and revoke them.

I'm not optimistic about this board.

31 Aug 00:20

Another Perspective on the Value of Privacy

by schneier
Jay McDaniel

This is the most profound argument for privacy that I have ever read!

A philosophical perspective:

But while Descartes's overall view has been rightly rejected, there is something profoundly right about the connection between privacy and the self, something that recent events should cause us to appreciate. What is right about it, in my view, is that to be an autonomous person is to be capable of having privileged access (in the two senses defined above) to information about your psychological profile ­ your hopes, dreams, beliefs and fears. A capacity for privacy is a necessary condition of autonomous personhood.

To get a sense of what I mean, imagine that I could telepathically read all your conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings -- I could know about them in as much detail as you know about them yourself -- and further, that you could not, in any way, control my access. You don't, in other words, share your thoughts with me; I take them. The power I would have over you would of course be immense. Not only could you not hide from me, I would know instantly a great amount about how the outside world affects you, what scares you, what makes you act in the ways you do. And that means I could not only know what you think, I could to a large extent control what you do.

That is the political worry about the loss of privacy: it threatens a loss of freedom. And the worry, of course, is not merely theoretical. Targeted ad programs, like Google's, which track your Internet searches for the purpose of sending you ads that reflect your interests can create deeply complex psychological profiles -- especially when one conducts searches for emotional or personal advice information: Am I gay? What is terrorism? What is atheism? If the government or some entity should request the identity of the person making these searches for national security purposes, we'd be on the way to having a real-world version of our thought experiment.

But the loss of privacy doesn't just threaten political freedom. Return for a moment to our thought experiment where I telepathically know all your thoughts whether you like it or not From my perspective, the perspective of the knower -- your existence as a distinct person would begin to shrink. Our relationship would be so lopsided that there might cease to be, at least to me, anything subjective about you. As I learn what reactions you will have to stimuli, why you do what you do, you will become like any other object to be manipulated. You would be, as we say, dehumanized.

31 Aug 00:16

New Gun Friendly Credit Card Processing

by MAC

It’s no secret that several of the top credit card processing companies are anti-gun. If you sell anything firearms related through these banking services you run the risk of having your operations unceremoniously shutdown without forewarning by companies such as Square or PayPal. Bank of America will also cut you off if you are caught exercising your Constitutional rights through their banking operations.

For years people yearned for a gun friendly credit card and banking solution for the gun community. At one point we had false hope in a company named GunPal (aka GPal) that sprung from the web in November of 2009. This startup was founded by Benjamin Phillip Cannon but it went south pretty quickly with GunsAmerica issuing a public service announcement around 2010 warning people to be cautious of using the service. GunPal went down in flames taking thousands of dollars of other peoples money with them although they presumably were reimburse over a year later.

GunsAmerica thought they were going to jump into the arena with their own gun friendly banking solution but discovered the investment was too substantial for their tastes. The project never got off the ground.

All hope appeared to be lost — until now.

The famous gun maker McMillan has issued a press release announcing the formation of McMillan Merchant Solutions. McMillan plans to offer gun friendly credit card processing for the firearms community and promises competitive rates plus personalized solutions regardless of volume. That appears to mean both big and small will be welcome under the McMillan credit card processing tent.

The press release states that McMillan Merchant Solutions will be working with LTD Merchant Services which is a registered ISO/MSP of both Wells Fargo Bank and Harris Bank. They will be able to process VISA, MasterCard, Discover and American Express transactions.

Let there be much rejoicing!

30 Aug 20:20

Google and Microsoft team up against the feds over NSA spat

by Cory Gunther

The thought of Google and Microsoft teaming up certainly is an odd one, given all the trouble and past legal battles Microsoft has aimed at Google’s Android, but it’s for the greater good. This week we’ve learned that Google and Microsoft teamed up and have sued the US government. Taking on the feds directly in an attempt to have more freedom and transparency.


Both companies are hoping to be able to speak freely, be open and transparent, and share additional details regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA.) Which has obviously been in the news a lot lately with the NSA and the PRISM scandal.

Brad Smith, Microsoft’s general counsel and executive vice president of legal and corporate affairs had a few comments to share today. Saying, “We believe we have a clear right under the U.S. Constitution to share more information with the public” followed by “today our two companies stand together.” Referring to Google and Microsoft’s stance on the matter.

Smith goes on to talk about a few new policies in place where the government will be sharing more details than ever before, but only once a year. These are a few small first steps, but progress needs to move a lot faster. In the end after tons of negotiations that failed, both companies have teamed up and will proceed with the lawsuit and litigation in hopes to create change.

After all the NSA and PRISM news earlier this year we saw similar lawsuits by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and this is just the latest few, and surely more will be coming. Some reports state the NSA has access to nearly 75% of internet traffic, which is scary, and hopefully in the future big companies like Google can be more transparent with everything moving forward.

VIA: SlashGear

30 Aug 05:26

Despite What the President Said, There's Nothing “Transparent” About a Secret Court Issuing Secret Rulings

by Trevor Timm
Jay McDaniel

It is impossible for the United States Of America to be governed by the rule of law and uphold the constitution when those very same laws are secretly interpreted by a secret court without the consent or knowledge of the citizens.

On Charlie Rose last night, President Obama gave his most detailed defense of the NSA surveillance programs since a FISA court order demanding that Verizon hand over phone records information on all its US customers leaked to the Guardian two weeks ago. In a key portion of the interview, he talked about the secret FISA court that, under the auspices of the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act, has been approving the NSA’s sweeping surveillance requests. Curiously, President Obama referred to these secret courts as “transparent”:

Charlie Rose: But has FISA court turned down any request?

Barack Obama: The — because — the — first of all, Charlie, the number of requests are surprisingly small… number one. Number two, folks don’t go with a query unless they’ve got a pretty good suspicion.

Charlie Rose: Should this be transparent in some way?

Barack Obama: It is transparent. That’s why we set up the FISA court….

The FISA court, by its nature, is the opposite of transparent. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how the FISA court could be more secretive.

Let’s start with the court building itself. After the FISA Amendments Act passed in 2008, which greatly expanded the government abilities to make broad surveillance requests, the court was remodeled. The Washington Post reported at the time about secrecy measures in place to make sure the public did not find out what the court was up to:

First, the workers encased the room in reinforced concrete. Then came the thick wood-and-metal doors that seal into the walls. Behind those walls they labored in secret for two years, building a courtroom, judge's chambers and clerk's offices. The only sign that they were done came recently, when biometric hand scanners and green "Restricted Access" placards were placed at the entrances.

What workers have finally completed—or perhaps not; few really know, and none would say—is the nation's most secure courtroom for its most secretive court.

The decisions by the court, far from being transparent, are some “of the most highly classified documents inside the U.S. government,” as The Daily Beast reported todayThe Daily Beast described the ultra-secretive process for those companies who receive the orders, and the senators who want to provide oversight to the court.

Those who receive [FISA orders]—the first of its kind to be publicly disclosed—are not allowed “to disclose to any other person” except to carry out its terms or receive legal advice about it, and any person seeing it for those reasons is also legally bound not to disclose the order. The officials say phone companies like Verizon are not allowed to store a digital copy of the [FISA orders]...

Even lawmakers and staff lawyers on the House and Senate intelligence committees can only view the [FISA orders] in the presence of Justice Department attorneys, and are prohibited from taking notes on the documents.

For years now, EFF has been trying to get one of these FISA opinions declassified. Last year, the Director for National Intelligence publicly admitted that “on at least one occasion” the FISA court has ruled the NSA’s collection of domestic communications violated the Fourth Amendment, yet refused to release any other information about it.

We’ve filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to have the opinion released, but as EFF’s Mark Rumold described in detail, it was extremely difficult for EFF to even file a brief in the FISA court. The government’s Kafkaesque secrecy arguments, which they used in an attempt to prevent the opinion’s release, really have to be read to be believed.

Thankfully, the FISA court ruled last week that there was nothing barring the decision from being subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and the district court will now rule on how much of the opinion should be released to the public. To give one an idea about how secretive the court is, EFF’s motion was the first to be placed on the court’s online public docket and the first (known) win by a non-government party in the court’s history.

Today, Google commendably filed a challenge to FISA gag orders in the FISA court  as well, citing their First Amendment right to tell the public a general number of how many users are affected by FISA court orders. We hope other companies follow suit. In Google’s motion to the court, they wrote, "Transparency is critical to advancing public debate in a thoughtful and democratic manner."

We couldn’t agree more. Once upon a time, the President did too. Twice, once in 2010 and again in 2011, the Obama administration promised to declassify significant FISA court rulings. They still have not done so. If President Obama wants the FISA courts to be more transparent, he can act today.    

Related Issues: 

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30 Aug 05:20

Alert to Threats in 2013 Europe

Jay McDaniel

Although not written by John Cleese it sure is funny satire!

Was a spoof of terrorist threat levels written by English comic John Cleese?
29 Aug 03:49

The CODE Keyboard

Jay McDaniel

I want one!!

What would you do, if you could do anything?

I don't mean in a fantasy superhero way, but in terms of resources. If someone told you that you now had the resources to attempt to make one thing happen in the world, one real thing, what would that be?

If you're Elon Musk, the patron saint of Hacker News, then you create an electric car and rocket ships. And then propose a hyperloop. Not bad. Not bad at all.

My dream is more modest. I decided to create a keyboard.

The CODE Keyboard, front image with backlight

I've talked about keyboards here for years, but The CODE Keyboard is the only simple, clean, beautiful backlit mechanical keyboard I've ever found. Because we built it that way.

The name is of course a homage to one of my favorite books.

Code, by Charles Petzold

That's what I've always loved about programming, the thrill of discovering that communicating with other human beings in their code is the true secret to success in writing code for computers. It's all just … code.

A system of words, letters, figures, or other symbols used to represent others

The projects I've worked on for the last eight years are first and foremost systems for efficiently communicating with other human beings, not computers. Both Stack Exchange and Discourse are deeply concerned with people and words and the code they use to talk to each other. The only way those words arrive on your screen is because someone, somewhere typed them. Now, I've grown to begrudgingly accept the fact that touchscreen keyboards are here to stay, largely because the average person just doesn't need to produce much written communication in a given day. So the on-screen keyboard, along with a generous dollop of autocomplete and autofix, suffices.

But I'm not an average person. You aren't an average person. We aren't average people. We know how to use the most powerful tool on the webwords. Strip away the images and gradients and vectors from even the fanciest web page, and you'll find that the web is mostly words. If you believe, as I do, in the power of words, then keyboards have to be one of the most amazing tools mankind has ever created. Nothing lets you get your thoughts out of your brain and into words faster and more efficiently than a well made keyboard. It's the most subversive thing we've invented since the pen and the printing press, and probably will remain so until we perfect direct brain interfaces.

I was indoctrinated into the keyboard cult when I bought my first computer. But I didn't appreciate it. Few do. The world is awash in terrible, crappy, no name how-cheap-can-we-make-it keyboards. There are a few dozen better mechanical keyboard options out there. I've owned and used at least six different expensive mechanical keyboards, but I wasn't satisfied with any of them, either: they didn't have backlighting, were ugly, had terrible design, or were missing basic functions like media keys.

WASD Keyboards

That's why I originally contacted Weyman Kwong of WASD Keyboards way back in early 2012.* I told him that the state of keyboards was unacceptable to me as a geek, and I proposed a partnership wherein I was willing to work with him to do whatever it takes to produce a truly great mechanical keyboard. Weyman is a hard core keyboard nut who absolutely knows his stuff – I mean, he runs a whole company that sells custom high end mechanical keyboards – but I don't think he had ever met anyone like me before, a guy who was willing to do a no strings attached deal just for the love of an idealized keyboard. At one point over a lunch meeting, he paused, thought a bit, and said:

So … you're like … some kind of geek humanitarian?

I don't know about that.

But I'm not here to sell you a keyboard. Buy, don't buy. It doesn't matter. I'm just happy to live in a world where the first truly great mechanical keyboard finally exists now, in exactly the form it needed to, with every detail just so, and I can type this very post on it. As glorious as that may be, I'm here to sell you on something much more dangerous: the power of words. So whether you decide to use the CODE Keyboard, or any keyboard at all, I'm glad you're thinking about writing words with us.

* Yep, we software guys are spoiled – hardware takes forever.

[advertisement] How are you showing off your awesome? Create a Stack Overflow Careers profile and show off all of your hard work from Stack Overflow, Github, and virtually every other coding site. Who knows, you might even get recruited for a great new position!
28 Aug 05:33

'Boston Patients' Still HIV Free After Quitting Antiretroviral Meds

by Unknown Lamer
ananyo writes "Two men with HIV may have been cured after they received stem-cell transplants to treat the blood cancer lymphoma, their doctors announced today at the International AIDS Society Conference in Kuala Lumpur.One of the men received stem-cell transplants to replace his blood-cell-producing bone marrow about three years ago, and the other five years ago. Their regimens were similar to one used on Timothy Ray Brown, the 'Berlin patient' who has been living HIV-free for six years and is the only adult to have been declared cured of HIV. Last July, doctors announced that the two men — the 'Boston patients' — appeared to be living without detectable levels of HIV in their blood, but they were still taking antiretroviral medications at that time." The story reports that they have only been off of medication for seven and fifteen weeks and they won't know for a year, but signs are looking positive.

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28 Aug 04:18

Neuroscientist: First-Ever Human Head Transplant Is Now Possible

by timothy
dryriver writes "Technical barriers to grafting one person's head onto another person's body can now be overcome, says Dr. Sergio Canavero, a member of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group. In a recent paper, Canavero outlines a procedure modeled on successful head transplants which have been carried out in animals since 1970. The one problem with these transplants was that scientists were unable to connect the animals' spinal cords to their donor bodies, leaving them paralyzed below the point of transplant. But, says Canavero, recent advances in re-connecting spinal cords that are surgically severed mean that it should be technically feasible to do it in humans. (This is not the same as restoring nervous system function to quadriplegics or other victims of traumatic spinal cord injury.)"

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28 Aug 02:34

CDC Gun Research Backfires on Obama

by Kyle Wintersteen

(Photo by The Associated Press)

In the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, President Obama issued a list of Executive Orders. Notably among them, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) was given $10 million to research gun violence.

“Year after year, those who oppose even modest gun-safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it,” Obama said on Jan. 16.

As a result, a 1996 Congressional ban on research by the CDC “to advocate or promote gun control” was lifted. Finally, anti-gun proponents—and presumably the Obama Administration—thought gun owners and the NRA would be met with irrefutable scientific evidence to support why guns make Americans less safe.

Mainstream media outlets praised the order to lift the ban and lambasted the NRA and Congress for having put it in place.

It was the “Executive Order the NRA Should Fear the Most,” according to The Atlantic.

The CDC ban on gun research “caused lasting damage,” reported ABC News.

Salon said the ban was part of the NRA’s “war on gun science.”

And CBS News lamented that the NRA “stymied” CDC research.

Most mainstream journalists argued the NRA’s opposition to CDC gun research demonstrated its fear of being contradicted by science; few—if any—cited why the NRA may have had legitimate concerns. The culture of the CDC at the time could hardly be described as lacking bias on firearms.

“We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes,” Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who oversaw CDC gun research, told The Washington Post in 1994. “Now [smoking] is dirty, deadly and banned.”

Does Rosenberg sound like a man who should be trusted to conduct taxpayer-funded studies on guns?

Rosenberg’s statement coincided with a CDC study by Arthur Kellermann and Donald Reay, who argued guns in the home are 43 times more likely to be used to kill a family member than an intruder. The study had serious flaws; namely, it skewed the ratio by failing to consider defensive uses of firearms in which the intruder wasn’t killed. It has since been refuted by several studies, including one by Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck, indicating Americans use guns for self-defense 2.5 million times annually. However, the damage had been done—the “43 times” myth is perhaps gun-control advocates’ most commonly cited argument, and a lot of people still believe it to this day.

So, the NRA and Congress took action. But with the ban lifted, what does the CDC’s first major gun research in 17 years reveal? Not exactly what Obama and anti-gun advocates expected. In fact, you might say Obama’s plan backfired.

Here are some key findings from the CDC report, “Priorities for Research to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence,” released in June:

1. Armed citizens are less likely to be injured by an attacker:
“Studies that directly assessed the effect of actual defensive uses of guns (i.e., incidents in which a gun was ‘used’ by the crime victim in the sense of attacking or threatening an offender) have found consistently lower injury rates among gun-using crime victims compared with victims who used other self-protective strategies.”

2. Defensive uses of guns are common:
“Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million per year…in the context of about 300,000 violent crimes involving firearms in 2008.”

3. Mass shootings and accidental firearm deaths account for a small fraction of gun-related deaths, and both are declining:
“The number of public mass shootings of the type that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School accounted for a very small fraction of all firearm-related deaths. Since 1983 there have been 78 events in which 4 or more individuals were killed by a single perpetrator in 1 day in the United States, resulting in 547 victims and 476 injured persons.” The report also notes, “Unintentional firearm-related deaths have steadily declined during the past century. The number of unintentional deaths due to firearm-related incidents accounted for less than 1 percent of all unintentional fatalities in 2010.”

4. “Interventions” (i.e, gun control) such as background checks, so-called assault rifle bans and gun-free zones produce “mixed” results:
“Whether gun restrictions reduce firearm-related violence is an unresolved issue.” The report could not conclude whether “passage of right-to-carry laws decrease or increase violence crime.”

5. Gun buyback/turn-in programs are “ineffective” in reducing crime:
“There is empirical evidence that gun turn in programs are ineffective, as noted in the 2005 NRC study Firearms and Violence: A Critical Review. For example, in 2009, an estimated 310 million guns were available to civilians in the United States (Krouse, 2012), but gun buy-back programs typically recover less than 1,000 guns (NRC, 2005). On the local level, buy-backs may increase awareness of firearm violence. However, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, guns recovered in the buy-back were not the same guns as those most often used in homicides and suicides (Kuhn et al., 2002).”

6. Stolen guns and retail/gun show purchases account for very little crime:
“More recent prisoner surveys suggest that stolen guns account for only a small percentage of guns used by convicted criminals. … According to a 1997 survey of inmates, approximately 70 percent of the guns used or possess by criminals at the time of their arrest came from family or friends, drug dealers, street purchases, or the underground market.”

7. The vast majority of gun-related deaths are not homicides, but suicides:
“Between the years 2000-2010 firearm-related suicides significantly outnumbered homicides for all age groups, annually accounting for 61 percent of the more than 335,600 people who died from firearms related violence in the United States.”

Why No One Has Heard This
Given the CDC’s prior track record on guns, you may be surprised by the extent with which the new research refutes some of the anti-gun movement’s deepest convictions.

What are opponents of the Second Amendment doing about the new data? Perhaps predictably, they’re ignoring it. President Obama, Michael Bloomberg and the Brady Campaign remain silent. Most suspicious of all, the various media outlets that so eagerly anticipated the CDC research are looking the other way as well. One must wonder how media coverage of the CDC report may have differed, had the research more closely fit an anti-gun narrative.

Even worse, the few mainstream journalists who did report the CDC’s findings chose to cherry-pick from the data. Most, like NBC News, reported exclusively on the finding that gun suicides are up. Largely lost in that discussion is the fact that the overall rate of suicide—regardless of whether a gun is involved or not—is also up.

Others seized upon the CDC’s finding that, “The U.S. rate of firearm-related homicide is higher than that of any other industrialized country: 19.5 times higher than the rates in other high-income countries.” However, as noted by the Las Vegas Guardian Express, if figures are excluded from such anti-gun bastions as Illinois, California, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., “The homicide rate in the United States would be in line with any other country.”

The CDC report is overall a blow to the Obama Administration’s unconstitutional agenda. It largely supports the Second Amendment, and contradicts common anti-gun arguments. Unfortunately, mainstream media failed to get the story they were hoping for, and their silence on the matter is a screaming illustration of their underlying agenda.

26 Aug 20:33

NYT: FBI Background Checks Seriously Flawed

by MAC

In a recent editorial written by the New York Times the publication excoriated the FBI for its flawed background check system. In the modern era background checks have become commonplace and most of the nations employers now conduct them as part of their normal on-boarding process for new hires. The New York Times article notes that the FBI’s records are out of date and/or incomplete which leads to workers being unfairly locked out of the job market. The Times article cites examples where workers were either turned away from jobs or were fired from existing jobs based on faulty FBI records.

The seriously flawed background check system discussed by the Times editorial is the exact same system used to perform NICS background checks for firearms purchases. It’s ironic that the Times appears to be concerned about individual rights and due process when they’re talking about background checks for jobs because they didn’t seem to be too concerned about it when they supported the Manchin-Toomey legislation. In case you’ve forgotten, the Manchin-Toomey bill was also known as the “universal background checks” bill that recently failed in the Senate.

In 2011 the FBI admitted “Some records used to determine if an individual is eligible to possess or receive a firearm are not complete or up-to-date. As a result, eligible firearm transferees may be subject to lengthy delays or receive erroneous denials even after the completion of a successful appeal.”  The FBI operations report showed that 8.5% of all NICS checks were delayed which meant 1.6 million people were denied their right to buy a firearm and take it home that day. Only a fraction of these 1.6 million people were later found to be ineligible to make a purchase.

This strikes close to home for me since I was one of those 1.6 million people routinely delayed. It became so bad that I was forced to apply for a Unique Personal Identification Number (UPIN) which allows me to make firearm purchases without being delayed for every transaction. Applying for a UPIN number is much like filling out the paperwork to buy a NFA item. Obtaining a UPIN means you must submit to being entered into a database as a “registered” gun owner for the privilege of not being harassed by the government while trying to exercise your 2nd Amendment rights. But even this isn’t a guarantee that you will be able to seamlessly make future firearms purchases, it only lessens the likelihood you will be delayed.

When people ask me why I oppose universal background checks, I tell them because the system is deeply flawed. Americans have a right to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights without a government agency arbitrarily denying them that right based upon faulty or incomplete data. If I get into an argument with someone over the subject, I ask them how they would feel about being denied a job based on the same flawed data used to deny Americans their 2nd Amendment rights. Of course the typical response is a blank stare.

It’s also worth noting the New York Times has no issue with gun buyers being burdened by the flawed background check system while out of the other side of their face they scream for change to protect job seekers. The hypocrisy of left leaning rags such as the Times seems to know no bounds.

23 Aug 19:15

Completely Mind Boggling

by Matt

Every now and then, someone writes or says something so completely mind boggling, that you have to stop and give it a second look.  I find when I discover those statements, they usually come from the anti-gun crowd.  I’m happy to report, they have delivered yet again.

Head-scratcher Extraordinaire

Head-scratcher Extraordinaire

The latest head-scratcher comes from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence via their Twitter account.  Take a look at the tweet they sent out two days ago.  After you read it, and it has fully soaked in, realize they truly feel that way.  That is evidenced by the fact that that tweet has not been deleted or retracted.

Just to clarify, yes, they are actually saying that they do not think that people should EVER use deadly force, even if that force is used to save oneself or someone else.

These are the same mentality of people who in the past have willingly walked themselves into killing fields and gas chambers.  These people are unwilling to stand up to defend their own lives, and think none of us should either.  These people are totally nuts!  These people, *heavy sigh*, vote…

If you are one of “these people”, or have friends or family member who are, please do society, and especially those of us in law enforcement a favor.  Please gather your fellow “I’m so rabidly anti-gun I’m willing to die to avoid killing in self-defense” friends together and design some sort of flag, vest or even a bandanna that will allow those of us unwilling to sacrifice our lives, or the lives of others, to avoid the loss of life (yeah, I know, lacking some logic there) to readily identify you at distance.  Please carry or wear said design at all times, that way the rest of us can be sure to never intervene on your behalf and do something to save you if you are ever in that situation.  I’d hate to upset you because I went against your wishes and used deadly force to protect you or your loved ones.

As always, your questions and comments are welcome.
Be safe out there,

23 Aug 18:53

The Japanese Response to Terrorism

by schneier
Jay McDaniel


Lessons from Japan's response to Aum Shinrikyo:

Yet what's as remarkable as Aum's potential for mayhem is how little of it, on balance, they actually caused. Don't misunderstand me: Aum's crimes were horrific, not merely the terrible subway gassing but their long history of murder, intimidation, extortion, fraud, and exploitation. What they did was unforgivable, and the human cost, devastating. But at no point did Aum Shinrikyo represent an existential threat to Japan or its people. The death toll of Aum was several dozen; again, a terrible human cost, but not an existential threat. At no time was the territorial integrity of Japan threatened. At no time was the operational integrity of the Japanese government threatened. At no time was the day-to-day operation of the Japanese economy meaningfully threatened. The threat to the average Japanese citizen was effectively nil.

Just as important was what the Japanese government and people did not do. They didn't panic. They didn't make sweeping changes to their way of life. They didn't implement a vast system of domestic surveillance. They didn't suspend basic civil rights. They didn't begin to capture, torture, and kill without due process. They didn't, in other words, allow themselves to be terrorized. Instead, they addressed the threat. They investigated and arrested the cult's leadership. They tried them in civilian courts and earned convictions through due process. They buried their dead. They mourned. And they moved on. In every sense, it was a rational, adult, mature response to a terrible terrorist act, one that remained largely in keeping with liberal democratic ideals.