Evidence of Russian malware found on U.S. electrical company laptop

The Verge reports: A utilities company in Vermont has detected evidence of Russian malware, according to a report this evening from The Washington Post, which cited anonymous US officials. The code is said to be connected to a Russian hacking outfit the US government has named Grizzly Steppe.

According to the company, later revealed to be the Burlington Electric Department, the code linked to Grizzly Steppe was found on just one laptop, and the laptop wasn’t connected to the electrical grid — allaying earlier fears that Russia had hacked into the nation’s electrical grid. Owned by the city of Burlington, the utility firm confirmed the breach in a post on its Facebook page.

“The grid is not in danger,” Vermont Public Service Commissioner Christopher Recchia told the Burlington Free Press. “The utility flagged it, saw it, notified appropriate parties and isolated that one laptop with that malware on it.” [Continue reading…]

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The most defining moments in America, as ranked by each generation

Quartz reports: Historic events come to define our national identity. But do we all agree on what’s important?

Pew asked 2,025 Americans from each generation to name the 10 events in their lifetime with “the greatest impact” on the country. The answers reveal a world newly redefined by the rise of domestic and foreign terrorism, and the transformative role of technology and civil rights.

Everyone agreed on one thing. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, stood out as the most important event, cutting across age, race, and political party. Roughly three-quarters (76%) of all respondents included the terror attacks in their top 10, and the events of that day were seen as the most defining overall for each generation, even ranking ahead of World War II for the Silent Generation (born between 1901 and 1927). The next closest contender was Barack Obama’s election to the White House, which 40% of the public named as one of their top events. (It shared the top spot among the survey’s black respondents.) [Continue reading…]

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What it was like as a Muslim to cover the election

Asma Khalid writes: Sometime in early 2016 between a Trump rally in New Hampshire, where a burly man shouted something at me about being Muslim, and a series of particularly vitriolic tweets that included some combination of “raghead,” “terrorist,” “bitch” and “jihadi,” I went into my editor’s office and wept.

I cried for the first (but not the last) time this campaign season.

Through tears, I told her that if I had known my sheer existence — just the idea of being Muslim — would be a debatable issue in the 2016 election, I would never have signed up to do this job.

To friends and family, I looked like a masochist. But I was too invested to quit.

I was hired by NPR to cover the intersection of demographics and politics. My job required crisscrossing the country to talk to all kinds of voters. I attended rallies and town halls for nearly every candidate on both sides of the aisle, and I met people in their homes, churches and diners.

I am also visibly, identifiably Muslim. I wear a headscarf. So I stand out. And during this campaign, that Muslim identity became the first (and sometimes only) thing people saw, for good or for bad.

Sometimes I met voters who questioned the 3-D nature of my life, people who viscerally hated the idea of me.

One night an old journalist friend called me and said, “Look, don’t be a martyr.”

It was a strange comment to me, since the harassment seemed more like a nuisance than a legitimate threat. And I knew if I was ever legitimately concerned, I had two options: I could ask for a producer to travel with me, or I wouldn’t wear a headscarf. (And a couple of times I didn’t.) Without a hijab, I’m incognito, light-skinned enough that I can pass as some sort of generic ethnic curiosity.

For many journalists, the 2016 campaign was the story of a lifetime. And it was indeed the story of a lifetime for me, too, but a story with real-life repercussions.

And I hung on, because the story of Donald Trump’s America is not some foreign story of a faraway place; it’s my homeland.

I’m from Indiana. We grew up in a mostly Democratic county. But my town was predominantly white and fairly conservative, a place where the Ten Commandments are engraved in marble outside the old County Courthouse.

I loved our childhood — summers playing basketball, winters sledding. We weren’t outsiders — I sold Girl Scout cookies, was captain of the tennis team.

We were part of the club — or so we thought. [Continue reading…]

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Most Americans are suckers for fake news

BuzzFeed reports: Fake news headlines fool American adults about 75% of the time, according to a large-scale new survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News.

The survey also found that people who cite Facebook as a major source of news are more likely to view fake news headlines as accurate than those who rely less on the platform for news.

This survey is the first large-scale public opinion research study into the fake news phenomenon that has had a sweeping effect on global politics, and that recently caused a gunman to threaten a DC pizza place. The results paint a picture of news consumers with little ability to evaluate the headlines that often fly toward them without context on social media platforms. They also — surprisingly — suggest that consumers are likely to believe even false stories that don’t fit their ideological bias. And the survey calls into question the notion — which Facebook has reportedly begun testing — that consumers themselves can do the work of distinguishing between real and fake news.

The new data comes from an online survey of 3,015 US adults conducted between Nov. 28 and Dec. 1. For more on the methodology, see the bottom of this article. A detailed summary of results to all questions can be found here. Additional calculations can be found here. [Continue reading…]

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More Americans support torture than Afghans, Iraqis and South Sudanese. Why?

The Washington Post reports: The United States has a higher tolerance for torture than any other country on the U.N. Security Council, and Americans are more comfortable with torture than citizens of war-ravaged countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine.

Those are two key findings reported by the International Committee of the Red Cross on Monday, in a new report highlighting global perspectives on war.

The American willingness to use torture was part of a worrying trend identified by the ICRC — a growing belief globally that enemy combatants can be tortured for information. When researchers asked that question in 1999, just 28 percent of respondents said enemy combatants could be tortured. This year, 36 percent said it was justified.

That finding has raised concern, ICRC researchers said, about the role of international law in the world’s numerous armed conflicts. The report said the rules of armed conflict, like the Geneva Conventions, “are being questioned perhaps more than at any time in recent history.”

But there’s also a shocking lack of awareness that those rules exist — 39 percent of the Americans who supported torture told the ICRC they “didn’t realize my country had agreed to ban torture” as a signatory to the Geneva Conventions. [Continue reading…]

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Making America white again

Toni Morrison writes: This is a serious project. All immigrants to the United States know (and knew) that if they want to become real, authentic Americans they must reduce their fealty to their native country and regard it as secondary, subordinate, in order to emphasize their whiteness. Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force. Here, for many people, the definition of “Americanness” is color.

Under slave laws, the necessity for color rankings was obvious, but in America today, post-civil-rights legislation, white people’s conviction of their natural superiority is being lost. Rapidly lost. There are “people of color” everywhere, threatening to erase this long-understood definition of America. And what then? Another black President? A predominantly black Senate? Three black Supreme Court Justices? The threat is frightening.

In order to limit the possibility of this untenable change, and restore whiteness to its former status as a marker of national identity, a number of white Americans are sacrificing themselves. They have begun to do things they clearly don’t really want to be doing, and, to do so, they are (1) abandoning their sense of human dignity and (2) risking the appearance of cowardice. Much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray. Embarrassing as the obvious display of cowardice must be, they are willing to set fire to churches, and to start firing in them while the members are at prayer. And, shameful as such demonstrations of weakness are, they are willing to shoot black children in the street.

To keep alive the perception of white superiority, these white Americans tuck their heads under cone-shaped hats and American flags and deny themselves the dignity of face-to-face confrontation, training their guns on the unarmed, the innocent, the scared, on subjects who are running away, exposing their unthreatening backs to bullets. Surely, shooting a fleeing man in the back hurts the presumption of white strength? The sad plight of grown white men, crouching beneath their (better) selves, to slaughter the innocent during traffic stops, to push black women’s faces into the dirt, to handcuff black children. Only the frightened would do that. Right?

These sacrifices, made by supposedly tough white men, who are prepared to abandon their humanity out of fear of black men and women, suggest the true horror of lost status.

It may be hard to feel pity for the men who are making these bizarre sacrifices in the name of white power and supremacy. Personal debasement is not easy for white people (especially for white men), but to retain the conviction of their superiority to others—especially to black people—they are willing to risk contempt, and to be reviled by the mature, the sophisticated, and the strong. If it weren’t so ignorant and pitiful, one could mourn this collapse of dignity in service to an evil cause. [Continue reading…]

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This is who we are

Vann R Newkirk II writes: You learn a lot about America on its country roads.

My education came under the tutelage of my father, a man who taught me his love for driving through the South. There’s a beauty in the neat tobacco rows on Highway 64 and the tall, quiet sentinel trees on 87. With mouths full of sunflower seeds, my daddy would quiz me on each plant, animal, and landmark we passed, and I picked up both his habits of driving and cataloguing the things that made us Southern, black, and whole.

But things ain’t always beautiful, and I learned those too. One hot summer afternoon, taking the 74 east from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Elizabethtown in my daddy’s black Toyota truck, a man ran us off the road. We skidded on the dirt shoulder as the man sped on past, his Confederate battle flag license plate a final insult to our situation. The bile rose in my throat, and the hot anger and shame at the symbol made my skin prickle. Here was a man who could just be a jerk having a bad day, but whose choice of a single symbol suddenly made that bad day personal. My dad just cussed a little bit, put another handful of sunflower seeds in his mouth, and continued on our way down that road.

At a gas station just outside of Rockingham, serendipity found us. As we pulled up to the pump, just there in front of our car was Mr. Confederate Plate, leaning like all villains do against the side of his car. I’m not sure who recognized whom first, but I remember the shouting match, and Mr. Confederate Flag calling my father the one name he would never answer to, looking at me and saying the same, and then pantomiming that he had a gun in the car. I remember looking around at similar flags on another truck and inside the gas station, and knowing instinctively that we were not in friendly territory. I also remember my father shaking with rage and that same hot shame as my own when he climbed back in the truck.

After another cussing fit, Vann Newkirk, Sr. looked at me and said the thing that’s always stuck with me since. “This is who we are,” he told me. “Don’t forget.” And we went back down the road.

This is who we are. Those words often come to me when I see the ugly things in life now. When the first details about Tamir Rice’s death at the hands of police officers came to me on Twitter, they were a scream in the dark. When people questioned with straight faces if our president was even born in America, they echoed about my ears. When the Department of Justice report revealed that Ferguson, Missouri was a racial kleptocracy, they were a whisper in the wind.

When a man who was accused of multiple sexual assaults, was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, characterized Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” and promoted stop and frisk as a national campaign of “law and order” was elected president, they boomed like thunder. [Continue reading…]

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Violence has long been a feature of American elections

By Jesse Rhodes, University of Massachusetts Amherst

The 2016 American presidential campaign has renewed concerns about the specter of violence in American electoral politics. The campaign has been marked by tense – and occasionally violent – altercations between supporters and critics of Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Trump encouraged his supporters to “knock the crap” out of protesters, and even suggested he would pay the legal fees of followers who assaulted his critics.

By refusing to commit to accepting the results of the election, he has confirmed the doubts among his supporters about the integrity of American elections. Thereby, he has increased the risk of possibly violent resistance by hard-core Trumpists.

It would be comforting to conclude that the menace of violence surrounding the 2016 presidential election is unique. But my research on the history of voting rights in the United States suggests that this is far from the case. Indeed, the threat and execution of violence around elections has a long, sad history in American politics.

Somewhat like the 2016 election – which has revolved around issues of race and immigration – efforts by disadvantaged (and often nonwhite) citizens to secure greater political influence have been met with violent repression by those already enjoying power (usually more affluent whites) throughout American history.

[Read more…]

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In pop culture, there are no bad police shootings

Alyssa Rosenberg writes: Movies, television and novels have trained audiences to excuse almost any police shooting, including the deaths of children — until now, when the emergence and near-ubiquity of real-life videos have made the gap between fiction and reality undeniable.

Whether a shooting is legal is determined in part by an officer’s fear. But when the Los Angeles Police Department cleared scripts for television series such as “Dragnet” or “Adam-12,” “any shooting that was done on the shows was squeaky clean,” explained former detective sergeant Joseph Wambaugh, who worked briefly in the LAPD’s public information office, where the scripts were reviewed. “Any officer would have to be in total control.”

If this standard had nothing to do with how officers actually reacted after shooting someone, it was intended to bolster the audience’s confidence in police officers.

In fact, officers on early cop shows such as “Dragnet” and “Naked City” were often presented as so decent that they questioned their own decisions to shoot and had to be convinced that they’d done the right thing. Often, the person doing the convincing was a parent or relative of the dead person.

The first time Joe Friday (Jack Webb), the archetypal stoic police officer, killed a person in the “Dragnet” episode “The Big Thief,” he was so distressed that his partner had to help him fill out his incident report. “I kind of wonder if there was another way,” Friday declared glumly, unconvinced that he was right to shoot even though the other man had a gun. Friday was ultimately reassured by the law itself, when the shooting was ruled a justifiable homicide.

Friday’s question hangs in the air, but it both casts and dispels doubt in a single sentence. If someone who cares as much as Joe Friday does couldn’t find a better solution when confronted with a dangerous criminal, then maybe one doesn’t exist. Friday’s concerns are themselves the proof that he would never do the wrong thing. [Continue reading…]

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In health and well-being, youth in America rank below those in Iraq and Bangladesh

In the Global Youth Development Index and Report 2016 (YDI), released by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the United States falls far below its self-acclaimed status as global leader. In overall ranking among 183 states, the U.S. comes 23rd.

Although there is no universally accepted definition of “youth,” the report’s authors primarily use the most commonly applied age bracket of 15-29, in line with other international organizations.

The YDI is a composite index of 18 indicators that collectively measure progress on youth development in 183 countries, including 49 of the 53 Commonwealth countries. It has five domains, measuring levels of education, health and wellbeing, employment and opportunity, political participation and civic participation among young people.

In its rankings within these five domains, the number on American youth that jumps out is for health and well-being: 106 — that’s below, for instance, Iraq (103) and Bangladesh (102).

There’s no mystery as to why the U.S. ranks so poorly in this regard. The primary reason: obesity. And the primary causes of obesity are diets loaded in empty calories combined with sedentary life styles.

The American way of life has become a system of factory farming in which a large proportion of citizens get fattened up and fed into a life-long disease management system. The primary beneficiaries of this system are the pharmaceutical industry, the manufacturers of sodas and junk food, and the entertainment industry.

Suppose a terrorist plot was uncovered revealing a plan to poison most Americans. This discovery probably wouldn’t generate a huge amount of alarm for the simple reason that however evil its ambitions might be, no terrorist organization could actually carry out a plot on this scale.

On the other hand, even though there has never been a corporate conspiracy designed to accomplish this goal, a largely unquestioned obedience to the principle of profit has brought America to this juncture. This is a chronic condition of commercial exploitation and social decay that has been decades in the making.

In “The Global Epidemic of Obesity: An Overview,” a report published in Epidemiologic Reviews, Dr. Benjamin Caballero wrote:

The sedentary lifestyle of the US population was already a concern in the 1950s, when President Eisenhower created the Council on Fitness and Health to promote physical activity in the population. While secular data to assess trends are limited, in 2000 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that less than 30 percent of the US population has an adequate level of physical activity, another 30 percent is active but not sufficiently, and the remainder is sedentary. A longitudinal study of girls aged 9–18 years documented the dramatic decline in physical activity during adolescence, particularly among Black girls. A number of factors may result in limited physical activity at schools, such as budget constraints and pressure to meet academic performance targets. Out of school, physical activity is also frequently limited. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a dramatic decline in the proportion of children who walk or bike to school, from close to 42 percent in 1969 to 16 percent in 2001. At home, the average US teenager spends over 30 hours per week watching television. This activity is not only sedentary but also associated with reduced consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, possibly related to consumption of snack foods while watching television and to the influence of food commercials, most of which advertise low-nutrient-density foods.

In the 1950s, the sugar industry sought to halve the amount of fat in the American diet and replace this with sugar which would result in a 30% increase in sugar consumption and “a tremendous improvement in general health,” according to the president of the Sugar Research Foundation, Harry Hass. The industry turned out to be tremendously successful in boosting sugar consumption, but instead of improving health it has poisoned America, setting multiple generations on a path towards chronic disease and premature death.

 

The 2014 documentary, Fed Up, can be rented or bought here, or viewed on Netflix.

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Gary Younge: America’s deserving and undeserving dead children

It’s rare to hear an author say, “Researching and writing this book has made me want to scream.”  But perhaps it’s not surprising, given the topic of Gary Younge’s Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives — the daily, weekly, monthly, yearly death-by-gun of startling numbers of kids in this country — and the time he spent tracking down the stories of the young Americans who died on a single day in November 2013 in separate incidents nationwide.

After all, these days, the U.S. is a haven and a heaven for guns.  It’s hard to find another nation on the planet — except in places like Syria or Afghanistan where whole populations have been thrown into desperate internecine conflicts — in which guns are so readily available. Between 1968 and 2015, the number of guns in the U.S. essentially doubled to 300 million. Between 2010 and 2013 alone, American arms manufacturers doubled their production of weapons to almost 11 million a year.  And those guns have gotten more deadly as well.  Military-style assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns are now the weapons of choice for mass killers and “lone wolf” terrorists in this country.  In almost all cases those killers got their guns and ammo (often high-capacity magazines capable of holding 15 to 100 rounds) in perfectly legal fashion. And it’s getting easier to carry concealed weapons all the time. Missouri, for instance, recently passed a law that allows the carrying of such a weapon without either a permit or training of any sort.

Under the circumstances, no one should be surprised that kids die in remarkable numbers from guns for all kinds of reasons. Believe me, though, that makes it no less shocking when you read Younge’s unsettling and moving book. Long a journalist, columnist, and editor for the British Guardian stationed here in the U.S., today he offers us a look at the death toll from guns among our young and the way we Americans generally like to explain that toll to ourselves (or rather how we like to explain it away). Tom Engelhardt

An all-American slaughter
The youthful carnage of America’s gun culture
By Gary Younge

Every day, on average, seven kids and teens are shot dead in America. Election 2016 will undoubtedly prove consequential in many ways, but lowering that death count won’t be one of them. To grapple with fatalities on that scale — 2,500 dead children annually — a candidate would need a thoroughgoing plan for dealing with America’s gun culture that goes well beyond background checks. In addition, he or she would need to engage with the inequality, segregation, poverty, and lack of mental health resources that add up to the environment in which this level of violence becomes possible.  Think of it as the huge pile of dry tinder for which the easy availability of firearms is the combustible spark. In America in 2016, to advocate for anything like the kind of policies that might engage with such issues would instantly render a candidacy implausible, if not inconceivable — not least with the wealthy folks who now fund elections.

So the kids keep dying and, in the absence of any serious political or legislative attempt to tackle the causes of their deaths, the media and the political class move on to excuses. From claims of bad parenting to lack of personal responsibility, they regularly shift the blame from the societal to the individual level. Only one organized group at present takes the blame for such deaths.  The problem, it is suggested, isn’t American culture, but gang culture.

Researching my new book, Another Day in the Death of America, about all the children and teens shot dead on a single random Saturday in 2013, it became clear how often the presence of gangs in neighborhoods where so many of these kids die is used as a way to dismiss serious thinking about why this is happening. If a shooting can be described as “gang related,” then it can also be discounted as part of the “pathology” of urban life, particularly for people of color. In reality, the main cause, pathologically speaking, is a legislative system that refuses to control the distribution of firearms, making America the only country in the world in which such a book would have been possible.

[Read more…]

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The vulnerability of monolingual Americans in an English-speaking world

Ivan Krastev writes: In our increasingly Anglophone world, Americans have become nakedly transparent to English speakers everywhere, yet the world remains bafflingly and often frighteningly opaque to monolingual Americans. While the world devours America’s movies and follows its politics closely, Americans know precious little about how non-Americans think and live. Americans have never heard of other countries’ movie stars and have only the vaguest notions of what their political conflicts are about.

This gross epistemic asymmetry is a real weakness. When WikiLeaks revealed the secret cables of the American State Department or leaked the emails of the Clinton campaign, it became a global news sensation and a major embarrassment for American diplomacy. Leaking Chinese diplomatic cables or Russian officials’ emails could never become a worldwide human-interest story, simply because only a relative handful of non-Chinese or non-Russians could read them, let alone make sense of them. [Continue reading…]

Although I’m pessimistic about the prospects of the meek inheriting the earth, the bi-lingual are in a very promising position. And Anglo-Americans should never forget that this is after all a country with a Spanish name. As for where I stand personally, I’m with the bi-lingual camp in spirit even if my own claim to be bi-lingual is a bit tenuous — an English-speaker who understands American-English but speaks British-English; does that count?

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