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Friday, January 28, 2011

How to Foil a Nationwide Internet Shutdown

By Adam Dachis
January 28, 2011

The Egyptian government cut internet connections across their country to silence protests, leaving nearly all of its citizens without online access. But they weren't entirely successful. When governments shut down broadband and mobile connections, here's what to do.

What's Going on Now?

If you haven't been keeping up with the story, here's the gist. Citizens across Egypt are protesting their government in unprecedented numbers, and its believed that the internet played a major role in the protests. So what did the Egyptian government do? First, they started blocking domain name servers (DNS)—the phone book of the internet—but citizens circumvented this limitation by using proxy servers. In reaction, the government cut broadband connections to the web and forced mobile providers to do the same. For more details, read Gizmodo's take on how Egypt turned off the internet. The result: a nationwide internet blackout that's preventing Egyptian citizens from communicating online. To put it bluntly, this sucks. But it's still not good enough. We're going to look at how Egyptian citizens can (and are) circumventing the problem.

Old School Internet

Unless the Egyptian government kills all of the phone lines as well, you might remember one means of getting online that broadband has since relegated to obsolescence: dial-up. While there's no Egyptian ISP that will allow internet access to Egyptian citizens, other countries will, meaning any Egyptian citizen with long-distance calling capabilities can break out their old school 56k modem and dial-up an ISP in another country. (Sure it's going to be a slow connection, but you can survive.)

Several ISPs—such as Budget DialUp—offer dial-up numbers all over the globe. Some ISPs in other countries are offering free access to Egyptians specifically in response to the Egyptian government's actions. 

According to twitter user @ioerror, French ISP FDN is one of them:

Egypt can use this number for dial up: +33172890150 (login 'toto' password 'toto') - thanks to a French ISP (FDN)

DIAL-UP ISP IS WORKING. DSL still working,
Try their Dial up numbers (0777 7770),(0777 7000) SPREAD THE WORD

While dial-up isn't an ideal means of getting online for most of us, it's still a perfectly effective means of connecting when your government shuts down the internet. And until the Egyptian government shuts down all landline access—another huge step up the censorship ladder—there's not much they can do to completely shut down the internet.

Harness the power of the cloud and TOR to get Egyptians a better connection



How Egypt Turned Off the Internet

January 28, 2010

Yesterday, something unprecedented happened: Egypt turned off the internet. A nation of 80,000,000 instantly disconnected. So how'd they do it?

Phone Calls

There was no giant lever or big red button involved, but in reality it was almost as easy: the Egyptian Government simply issued an order for ISPs to shut down service.

"Under Egyptian legislation the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply with it," Vodafone Egypt explained in a statement shortly after. Along with Vodafone, Egypt's other three major ISPs, Link Egypt, Telecom Egypt, and Etisalat Misr, all stopped service. Jim Cowie, the co-founder and CTO of internet monitoring firm Renesys, told the WSJ:
What is most likely is that somebody in the government gives a phone call to a small number of people and says, ‘Turn it off.' And then one engineer at each service provider logs into the equipment and changes the configuration of how traffic should flow.

It was likely as easy as that.


Renesys saw the effects immediately. Some 3,500 Border Gateway Protocol or BGP routes—the places where networks connect and announce which IP addresses they are responsible for—disappeared in an instant:
At 22:34 UTC (00:34am local time), Renesys observed the virtually simultaneous withdrawal of all routes to Egyptian networks in the Internet's global routing table. Approximately 3,500 individual BGP routes were withdrawn, leaving no valid paths by which the rest of the world could continue to exchange Internet traffic with Egypt's service providers. Virtually all of Egypt's Internet addresses are now unreachable, worldwide.

How Egypt Turned Off the Internet

But Stéphane Bortzmeyer, an IP communications whiz, surmised that Egypt pulled the plug on the net literally: "BGP is the symptom, not the cause. The cables have simply been unplugged."

Withdrawing BGP routes (or just unplugging cables) is a much more effective way of blocking the internet than, say, turning off DNS, in which case users could use DNS from overseas to access the internet.

Compared to Tunisia, where certain BGP routes were blocked, or Iran, where internet connections were simply throttled, Egypt's disconnection is a severe one.

Disconnected (Almost)

As of last night, Renesys estimated that 93% of Egyptian's networks were unreachable, with only one service provider, the Noor Group, still serving its customers. It's unclear why they're the only ones who didn't get turned off, though some are speculating that its role as service provider for the Egyptian Stock Exchange is what's keeping it online.

Reports from Egypt suggest that citizens may be able to use dial-up to access the internet, and LifeHacker has the nitty gritty on how to do it (see article above). It's not going to be fast, but it seems like for a vast majority of the Egyptians, it might be the only option. [Renesys, DomainIncite]


Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Anniversary of Citizens United Ruling, DOJ Asked to Investigate Scalia and Thomas for Conflicts of Interest

by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzale
Democracy Now!
January 21, 2011

Interview Transcript

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, that opened the floodgates for unlimited corporate spending on election campaigns. We speak with Bob Edgar, the president of Common Cause, which has filed a petition with the U.S. Department of Justice urging it to investigate whether Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have recused themselves from the case last year because of a conflict of interest.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Today marks the one-year anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. The ruling lifted a 63-year-old ban prohibiting corporations, trade associations and unions from spending unlimited amounts of money on political advocacy. A number of national and local organizations are planning rallies across the country today to protest the decision.

On Thursday, the watchdog group Common Cause filed a petition with the Justice Department urging it to investigate whether Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas should have recused themselves from the case last year because of a conflict of interest. Common Cause alleges that both justices were paid guests at exclusive gatherings organized by Koch Industries, where conservative business leaders and elected officials secretly strategized around elections. The justices were among those who provided the critical votes in the 5-4 ruling, a ruling that has prompted an unprecedented flood of corporate expenditures on electoral campaigns over the last year.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Edgar is the president of Common Cause and a former congressman from Pennsylvania. He’s joining us now from Washington, D.C.
Welcome to Democracy Now! What are you doing today about Citizens United? I mean, it was handed down by the Supreme Court.

BOB EDGAR: Well, as you know, Amy, we filed a petition with the Justice Department to have them investigate Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas in terms of conflict of interest. You’ll recall that just one year ago, by a five-to-four vote, the Supreme Court, believing that corporations are people, voted to give them the ability to dip into their corporate treasuries and spend that on independent expenditures on campaigns. Over the course of this year, we’ve discovered that Justice Scalia, in 2007, and Justice Thomas, in 2008, attended a special workshop seminar sponsored by the Koch brothers, who run the second-largest private industry in the United States, and it just seemed odd to us that these two justices would have their way paid to this special conference and then, on the Citizens United case, which could have been decided on just the very narrow grounds of the issues that were brought before the Court, decided to break that open and end a ruling that had been in place for over 60 years to prevent corporations from dipping in and playing politics.

Our concern is that the Citizens United case has exponentially increased the amount of money that is being spent on campaigns. It, further, is putting corporate interests above the public’s interest, and it needs to be reversed. We’re working with groups who think that it’s possible to get a constitutional amendment. We think that’s in the long term. We’re working with others who believe that changing the makeup of the Court would help to reverse this awful decision. If Sandra Day O’Connor had still been on the Court, this decision would have been five to four in the other direction. So it’s a very narrow decision.

We think the Justice Department ought to investigate the conflict of interest. Remember that the Justice Department was on the side of the people against the final decision that came down. And Eric Holder, as a lawyer, has a responsibility to investigate conflicts of interest. If they do find that there is fire where we see smoke, then he has the responsibility of asking the Solicitor General to go to Justice Roberts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and ask them to investigate and see whether there are any remedies. And what we’re really asking is that they vacate the Citizens United decision and that Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas recuse themselves from working on that decision.

One final thing, Justice Thomas is of particular concern to us. His wife, Virginia Thomas, was the leader of something called Liberty Central. That was an organization formed to work on behalf of ultra-conservative political leaders, mostly Republicans, and she appeared in the newspaper as saying that she believed that that group could make a difference, and they could take corporate money for the first time in recent memory. We think that particular conflict of interest should have been acknowledged by Justice Thomas and that there really is an interest there where she is benefiting from something that her husband was the deciding vote on.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Bob Edgar, to a lot of people, this seems like a longshot complaint that you’re filing here. What are the—currently, the regulations in terms of among federal judges, in terms of conflicts of interest and recusing themselves from particular cases, as far as you know? And who monitors that?

BOB EDGAR: Well, unfortunately, the justices monitor their own behavior, and there are not clear procedures. If you’re sitting on a regular federal bench, there are rules and regulations about recusing oneself. But at the Supreme Court level, they sometimes choose to ignore that. I’m very proud of Justice Kagan, who has recused herself on issues that she was only narrowly related to because she was the Solicitor General.

And there are instances where the justices have stepped forward and have been courageous and voluntarily recused themselves.

But we think that particularly Scalia and Thomas need to recognize the appearance of impropriety. Here is two of the justices going to a partisan, political, conservative seminar and then coming back to the Court and voting on something that was discussed at that seminar. So, we hope that as a result of our putting this before the Justice Department, putting it out in the media, that it will put enough pressure on the Court to clean up their procedures and make sure that as we move forward on some very difficult issues, that the justices will in fact act in the public’s interest and not on the interest of narrow special interests, as we think happened in this case.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Edgar, can you explain more just who Charles and David Koch are and their significance in funding the Tea Party and in the massive amounts of money that have gone into elections?

BOB EDGAR: Well, Charles and David Koch have, for 30 years, been at the heart of funding ultra-conservative operations across the country—think tanks and candidates—to try to get government controlled and operated for corporate interests as opposed to the public’s interest. And there’s a great deal of information out there about the Koch Industries. The New Yorker had an important review.
Just next week, some of us are going out to Palm Springs, because they are having another one of their special seminars, and we’re just going to have a silent witness that what they are doing is not in the best interest of the nation. They are funding and fueling an effort to take power even further away from average, ordinary citizens and place it in the hands of the wealthy, place it in the hands of corporate interest. And they have just been very destructive in our political process—along with others. There’s a whole host of moneyed interests that are fueling our campaigns. You know, very few of your listeners believe that before the Citizens United case a year ago, that corporations didn’t have power, that labor unions didn’t have power in Washington. This simply opens up the possibility for excessive power, and it’s all funded by these two brothers.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And could you quantify some of the impact already of the Citizens United case, in terms of how it’s already affected the most recent elections?

BOB EDGAR: Well, in this most recent election, corporations were able to invest in targeted districts, and we saw the House go from Democrat to Republican. And in large measure, attack ads, TV commercials, that were for and against particular candidates, for the first time in history could be paid for by the Chamber of Commerce and by corporations. And because Congress didn’t step in and successfully pass what was called the DISCLOSE Act—and that’s another story—the DISCLOSE Act would have given all of us the opportunity, first, to know who was making those contributions, but secondly, would have prohibited foreign corporations from investing, which they now can do. Federal contractors, big Boeing Vertol, could get a large defense contract and now take some of that money and spend it on political campaigns. And we saw an exponential rise in how much money was spent in just this midterm.

One of our big fears is, what’s going to happen in the 2012 election? Suppose a rogue corporation decides they want to get involved in politics, and they want to, on day one, put a billion dollars behind a particular candidate. There’s nothing that anyone can do about that, because the Supreme Court has said corporations are people, they’re covered under the freedom of speech provisions of the Constitution, they can do that. We think, at Common Cause, that that is a mistake, and we’ll just see the exponential increase of this. There was a humorist who suggested that Congress people wear uniforms like race car drivers and have patches on it that show BP and Exxon and healthcare industry and insurance companies, so that you could actually see how much money is flowing into the system. While that is a humorous thought, it has some reality in it.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, hasn’t it already been said that President Obama hopes to raise over a billion dollars for the 2012 presidential election?

BOB EDGAR: Well, I’m glad you raise that. Common Cause, working with a whole bunch of other groups, are interested in public financing. We installed that in Arizona, Maine and Connecticut. We worked very hard in the last Congress to try to get it passed for the House and Senate, to allow for small contributions to be made, but for elected officials to voluntarily not take any special interest money.
There is a presidential public financing system, which is broken. It was broken in the '08 election. And we're rather disappointed that the White House has not earlier come out with a reform of the presidential public financing system. And now we’re caught in a situation where it’s rumored that next week the House of Representatives, as its second act, will bring up the repeal of the presidential public financing system. We think that system has to be repaired. We think it was broken in '08 and needs to be fixed for the 2012 election. But we would like to see some leadership out of the White House and leadership out of the Congress to renovate and reform and improve the presidential public financing system that has been in place for a long time, make the money adequate, make the timing of giving the public financing out to those candidates who voluntarily accept the system. Let's get on with making it happen, so that we don’t have a rush to raising these billions of dollars for political campaigns, including the presidential campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Former congressman Bob Edgar, we want to thank you very much for being with us, president and CEO of Common Cause.


Advocacy Group Says Justices May Have Conflict in Campaign Finance Cases

 Read New York Times Article


Sunday, January 16, 2011

First Comes Fear

By Robert Wright
The New York Times
January 11,
[emphasis added]

People on the left and right have been wrestling over the legacy of Jared Loughner, arguing about whether his shooting spree proves that the Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks of the world are fomenting violence. But it’s not as if this is the only data point we have.

Here’s another one:

Six months ago, police in California pulled over a truck that turned out to contain a rifle, a handgun, a shotgun and body armor. Police learned from the driver — sometime after he opened fire on them — that he was heading for San Francisco, where he planned to kill people at the Tides Foundation. You’ve probably never heard of the Tides Foundation — unless you watch Glenn Beck, who had mentioned it more than two dozen times in the preceding six months, depicting it as part of a communist plot to “infiltrate” our society and seize control of big business.

Note the parallel with Loughner’s case. Loughner was convinced that a conspiracy was afoot — a conspiracy by the government to control our thoughts (via grammar, in his bizarre worldview). So he decided to kill one of the conspirators.

It’s not clear where Loughner got his conspiracy theory. The leading contender is a self-styled “king of Hawaii” who harbors, along with his beliefs about government mind control, a conviction that the world will end next year. But it doesn’t matter who Loughner got the idea from or whether you consider it left wing or right wing. The point is that Americans who wildly depict other Americans as dark conspirators, as the enemy, are in fact increasing the chances, however marginally, that those Americans will be attacked.

In that sense, the emphasis the left is placing on violent rhetoric and imagery is probably misplaced. Sure, calls to violence, explicit or implicit, can have effect. But the more incendiary theme in current discourse is the consignment of Americans to the category of alien, of insidious other. Once Glenn Beck had sufficiently demonized people at the Tides Foundation, actually advocating the violence wasn’t necessary.

By the same token, Palin’s much-discussed cross-hairs map probably isn’t as dangerous as her claim that “socialists” are trying to create “death panels.” If you convince enough people that an enemy of the American way is setting up a system that could kill them, the violent hatred will take care of itself.

When left and right contend over the meaning of incidents like this, the sanity of the perpetrator becomes a big issue. Back when Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at Fort Hood, the right emphasized how sane he was and the left how crazy he was. The idea was that if Hasan was sane, then he could be viewed as a coherent expression of the Jihadist ideology that some on the right say is rampant in America. In the case of Loughner, the right was quick to emphasize that he was not sane and therefore couldn’t be a coherent expression of right-wing ideology. Then, as his ideology started looking more like a left-right jumble, and his weirdness got better documented, a left-right consensus on his craziness emerged.

My own view is that if you decide to go kill a bunch of innocent people, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re not a picture of mental health. But that doesn’t sever the link between you and the people who inspired you, or insulate them from responsibility. Glenn Beck knows that there are lots of unbalanced people out there, and that his message reaches some of them.

This doesn’t make him morally culpable for the way these people react to things he says that are true. It doesn’t even make him responsible for the things he says that are false but that he sincerely believes are true.

But it does make him responsible for things he says that are false and concocted to mislead gullible people.

I guess it’s possible that Beck actually believes his hyper-theatrically delivered nonsense. (And I guess it’s possible that professional wrestling isn’t fake.) But in that case the responsibility just moves to Roger Ailes, head of Fox News, and Rupert Murdoch, its owner. Why are they giving a megaphone to someone who believes crazy stuff?

The magic formula of Palin and Beck — fear sells — knows no ideology. 

When Jon Stewart closed his Washington “rally to restore sanity” with a video montage of fear mongers, he commendably included some on the left — notably the sometimes over-the-top Keith Olbermann. The heads of MSNBC have just as much of an obligation to help keep America sane as the heads of Fox News have.

To be sure, at this political moment there is — by my left-wing lights, at least — more crazy fear-mongering and demonization on the right than on the left. But that asymmetry is transient.

What’s not transient, unfortunately, is the technological trend that drives much of this. It isn’t just that people can now build a cocoon of cable channels and Web sites that insulates them from inconvenient facts. It’s also that this cocoon insulates them from other Americans — including the groups of Americans who, inside the cocoon, are being depicted as evil aliens.

It’s easy to buy into the demonization of people you never communicate with, and whose views you never see depicted by anyone other than their adversaries.

In this environment, any entrepreneurial fear monger can use technology to build a following. You don’t have to be the king of Hawaii to start calling yourself the king of Hawaii and convince a Jared Loughner that there’s a conspiracy afoot.

So I’m not sure how much good it would do if you could get a Glenn Beck to clean up his act. With such a vast ecosystem of fear mongers, his vacated niche might be filled before long. But I think Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch owe it to America to at least do the experiment.

Postscript: Encouragingly, Roger Ailes said in the wake of the Tucson shooting that “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.” So stay tuned. Also encouragingly, two journalists from liberal and conservative magazines — the American Prospect and National Review — had an extremely civil discussion about the Tucson shooting, about 24 hours after it happened, on my Web site


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ratigan: Thanks to Corporate Communism, $24 Trillion Is Being Sucked Into A Broken Banking System At Our Expense

By Susie Madrak
Crooks and Liars
January 11, 2011

Dylan Ratigan's guest column at the Daily Bail calls out "corporate communism" and makes some pretty powerful arguments:

If you allow weak, outdated players to take control of the government and change the rules so they are protected from the natural competition and reward systems that have created so many innovations in our country, you not only steal from the citizens on behalf of the least worthy but you also doom them by trapping the capital that would be used to generate new innovation and, most tangibly in our current situation, jobs.
We are losing the opportunity cost of all the great ideas that should be coming from the proper deployment of that 23.7 trillion in capital. Everything from innovation in medical delivery systems to accessible space travel, free energy to the driverless car; all of these things may never come to bear because those powerful individuals who have failed, been passed over by technological advancements, innovation and flat-out smarts, have commandeered our government to unfairly sustain their wealth and power.

Unfortunately, they use our wealth and laws not only to benefit their outdated, failed companies, but also spend a small pittance of their ill-gotten gains lobbying and favor-trading with politicians so the government will continue to protect them from competition and their well-deserved failure.
The massive spike in unemployment, the utter destruction of retirement wealth, the collapse in the value of our homes, the worst recession since the Great Depression have all resulted directly from the abdication of proper government.
Even with all that -- the only changes that have been made, have been made to prop up and hide the massive flaws on behalf of those who perpetuated them. Still utterly nothing has been done to disclose the flaws in this system, improve it or rebuild it. Only true rules-based capitalism ensures constant adaptation and implementation of the latest and best practices for a given business, as those businesses that don't adapt fail, and those who deploy the latest innovations to their customers benefit, prosper.
The concept of communism is rightly reviled in this country for the simple reason that it is blind to human nature, allowing a small group of individuals near-total control, while sticking everyone else with the same crappy systems -- and the bill. America spent countless lives and half a century fighting against this system of government. So why are we standing for it now?

Sounds like Ratigan's right in line with an essay George Soros wrote back in 1997, "The Capitalist Threat" in which he called "untrammeled capitalism" the biggest threat to an open society. I thought it was an interesting idea at the time, but now? Can't argue a bit.


Sunday, January 02, 2011

Hi-tech industries in disarray as China rations vital minerals

By Martin Hickman
Consumer Affairs Correspondent
Independent UK
Dec. 30, 2010
[emphasis added]

China has struck fear into Western governments and electronics giants by slashing exports of a highly sought-after array of metals which are crucial for electronics products ranging from iPads and X-ray systems, to low-energy lightbulbs and hybrid cars.

In a sign of its growing industrial and political clout, China has cut its export quotas for rare earth elements (REEs) by 35 per cent for the first six months of 2011, threatening to extend a global shortage of the minerals and intensifying a scramble to find alternative sources.

Mines in China supply 97 per cent of the world's rare earths, 17 obscure metals which possess various qualities, such as conductivity and magnetism, that make them an essential component in many modern applications such as smartphones, computers and lasers.

Instead of last year's 22,282 metric tons, China's Ministry of Commerce revealed the total for the first six months of next year would be 14,446 tons, split among 31 domestic and foreign-invested companies.

Commentators said the announcement was probably designed to limit the environmental damage caused by the mines while ensuring its manufacturers were able to meet growing domestic and international demand.

However the announcement caused dismay among Western governments, which have belatedly begun to appreciate that China's stranglehold on elements such as lanthanum, used for batteries in hybrid cars, and neodymium, for permanent magnets in wind turbines, give it immense economic and political power.

The US Trade Representative's office, which advises President Barack Obama, said it had raised concerns with China over the export restraints. Britain, which previously said it was monitoring whether China's stance on REEs broke World Trade Organisation rules, reiterated its commitment to "free, fair and open markets".

A spokesman for the Department for Business said: "Competitive markets are essential to achieving long-term sustainable growth, which is why the UK supports the need to cut red tape and resist protectionism."

Electronics companies could be hard hit by rising prices caused by the export cut, which was predicted by The Independent in January. The consumer electronics giant Sony described the move as an obstacle to free trade. "At this point in time there is no direct impact on our company. But further restrictions could lead to a shortage of supply or rise in costs for related parts and materials. We will watch the situation carefully," a Sony spokesman said.

Other manufacturers, such as Apple, whose iPad uses rare earths, declined to comment.

REEs lie near the surface in only a few, usually inhospitable, areas. During the past 20 years, China has rapidly increased production from a single mine near the city of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, leading to the closure of mines in the US and elsewhere unable to compete with the low prices.

However, a global shortfall now looms because worldwide demand for REEs has almost tripled from 40,000 tons to 110,000 tons in the past 10 years, while China – which accounts for about 75 per cent of usage with the remainder divided between Japan, the US and Europe – has begun to scale back exports, from 48,500 tons a year to 14,446 tons for the first half of 2011. The move has the potential to damage the industries reliant on rare earths, which are estimated to be worth £3 trillion, or 5 per cent of global GDP.

The US rare earth mining company Molycorp aims to reopen a mine in the Mojave Desert at the end of this year, which will produce 20,000 tons a year, or about 25 per cent of current Western imports from China, by mid-2012. Deposits are also found in Greenland, opening the prospect of its wilderness being scarred by environmentally damaging mining.

"Export quotas continue to be a tool for the Chinese government to limit the export of its strategic resource," said Nick Curtis, the chief executive of Lynas, which is opening a new mine in Australia and whose share price shot up by 10 per cent on news of China's move.

A global scramble for rare earths has now begun, according to Gareth Hatch, an analyst at Technology Metals Research, in Illinois. "We have a race against time: we've found the materials we know where they are, now we have to develop them," he said.

"There has been some discussion in some quarters that China has been using the quotas to control or manipulate what's going on in the West," he said in an interview with the BBC. "I don't share that view, but the fact is the environmental issues associated with some of the mines historically used by the Chinese to produce these materials have been in terrible shape, and there is a genuine concern that they need to get that sorted out and meet this demand internally in China which is growing. But... you don't really want to rely on a single geographic location for your material."

"It doesn't really make sense – and yet we find ourselves in that situation," he added.