TBR News March 25, 2017

Mar 25 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. March 25, 2017:  “Trump’s defeat of his attempt to dispose of Obama’s health bill should come as no surprise to anyone. The right wing portion of the Congress did not want to deal with the flood of loud objections of their constituents and the bill died before it hit the floor. Trump did do society a favor by officially distancing himself from the grotesque Universal Toilet issue. This was very unpopular with a very large number of citizens. Imagine a dignified lady, perhaps your wife or mother, using a public convenience when skinny six-foot man in a dress waltzes in and urinates in a wash basin. There are always the bushes in the park if need be.”

Table of Contents

  • Trump tastes failure as U.S. House healthcare bill collapses
  • Inside Trump’s War on the Traditional Media
  • Wikileaks: The CIA Has Been Spying on Apple Users for Years
  • Apple Says It Fixed CIA Vulnerabilities Years Ago
  • S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement
  • The FBI: The Silent Terror of the Fourth Reich
  • Starbucks and Walmart join growing list of advertisers boycotting YouTube
  • DEA approves synthetic marijuana for big pharma company against legalization

Trump tastes failure as U.S. House healthcare bill collapses

March 24, 2017

by David Lawder and Steve Holland


WASHINGTON-President Donald Trump suffered a stunning political setback on Friday in a Congress controlled by his own party when Republican leaders pulled legislation to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, a major 2016 election campaign promise of the president and his allies.

House of Representatives leaders yanked the bill after a rebellion by Republican moderates and the party’s most conservative lawmakers left them short of votes, ensuring that Trump’s first major legislative initiative since taking office on Jan. 20 ended in failure. Democrats were unified against it.

House Republicans had planned a vote on the measure after Trump late on Thursday cut off negotiations with Republicans who had balked at the plan and issued an ultimatum to vote on Friday, win or lose. But desperate lobbying by the White House and Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan was unable to round up the 216 votes needed for passage.

“We learned a lot about loyalty. We learned a lot about the vote-getting process,” Trump told reporters at the White House, although he sought to shift the blame to the Democrats even though his party controls the White House, the House and the Senate.

With Friday’s legislative collapse, Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act – known as Obamacare – remains in place despite seven years of Republican promises to dismantle it.

The healthcare failure called into question not only Trump’s ability to get other key parts of his agenda, including tax cuts and a boost in infrastructure spending, through Congress, but the Republican Party’s capacity to govern effectively.

Neither Trump nor Ryan indicated any plans to try to tackle healthcare legislation again anytime soon. Trump said he would turn his attention to getting “big tax cuts” through Congress, another tricky proposition.

Republican supporters said the legislation would achieve their goal of rolling back the government’s “nanny state” role in healthcare. The White House made undoing Obamacare its top priority when Trump took office two months ago.

But the White House and House leaders were unable to come up with a plan that satisfied the clashing interests of moderates and conservatives, despite Trump’s vaunted image as a deal maker.

Amid a chaotic scramble for votes, Ryan, who championed the bill, met with Trump at the White House. Ryan said he recommended that it be withdrawn from the House floor because he did not have the votes to pass it, and Trump agreed.

We were just probably anywhere from 10 to 15 votes short,” Trump said. “With no Democrat support we couldn’t quite get there.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the bill failed “because of two traits that have plagued the Trump presidency since he took office: incompetence and broken promises.”

Democrats said the bill would take away medical insurance from millions of Americans and leave the more-than-$3 trillion U.S. healthcare system in disarray.

And some moderate Republicans opposed the bill because of worries that millions of America would be hurt.

“There were things in this bill that I didn’t particularly like,” Trump added, without specifying what those were, but expressed confidence in Ryan’s leadership.

“Perhaps the best thing that could happen is exactly what happened today, because we’ll end up with a truly great healthcare bill in the future after this mess known as Obamacare explodes,” said Trump, who had posted multiple tweets throughout March proclaiming that “Obamacare is imploding” and repeatedly saying that Republicans were coming together to pass the bill.

Friday’s events cast doubt on whether Ryan can get major legislation approved by fractious Republican lawmakers.

“I will not sugarcoat this. This is a disappointing day for us. Doing big things is hard,” Ryan said at a news conference, adding that his fellow Republicans are experiencing what he called “growing pains” transitioning from an opposition party to a governing party.

“Obamacare’s the law of the land,” Ryan added. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”


Members of the Freedom Caucus, the House’s most conservative members, were instrumental in the bill’s failure, opposing it among other reasons because they considered parts too similar to Obamacare.

Trump said he was disappointed and “a little surprised” with the Freedom Caucus opposition.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said under the Republican legislation 14 million people would lose medical coverage by next year and more than 24 million would be uninsured in 2026.

News that the bill had been pulled before a final vote was greeted initially with a small sigh of relief by U.S. equity investors, who earlier in the week had been fretful that an outright defeat would damage Trump’s other priorities, such as tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Benchmark U.S. stock market indexes ended the session mixed after rallying back from session lows following the news. The S&P 500 Index ended fractionally lower, the blue chip Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped about 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index rose about 0.2 percent.

Shares of hospital operators finished sharply higher, with the S&P healthcare facilities index up 2.7 percent, while the S&P 500 healthcare sector edged down 0.03 percent. The dollar strengthened modestly on the news, and U.S. Treasury bond yields edged up from session lows.

Trump said he would be “totally open” to working with Democrats on healthcare “when they all become civilized.” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said working to lower prescription drug prices was one area of possible cooperation with Republicans.

Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher said before the bill was pulled that voting it down would be “neutering Trump” while empowering his opponents.

“You don’t cut the balls off a bull and then expect that he can go out and get the job done,” Rohrabacher told Reuters. “This will emasculate Trump and we can’t do that. … If we bring this down now, Trump will have lost all of his leverage to pass whatever bill it is, whether it’s the tax bill or whatever reforms that he wants.”

Representative Joe Barton of Texas, when asked why his fellow Republicans were so united over the past seven years to dump Obamacare only to fall apart when they actually do something about it, said, “Sometimes you’re playing fantasy football and sometimes you’re in the real game.”

Obamacare boosted the number of Americans with health insurance through mandates on individuals and employers, and income-based subsidies. About 20 million Americans gained insurance coverage through the law.

The House plan would have rescinded a range of taxes created by Obamacare, ended a penalty on people who refuse to obtain health insurance, and ended Obamacare’s income-based subsidies to help people buy insurance while creating less-generous age-based tax credits

It also would have ended Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid state-federal insurance program for the poor, cut future federal Medicaid funding and let states impose work requirements on some Medicaid recipients.

House leaders agreed to a series of last-minute changes to try to win over disgruntled conservatives, including ending the Obamacare requirement that insurers cover certain “essential benefits” such as maternity care, mental health services and prescription drug coverage.

(Additional reporting by Dustin Volz, David Morgan, David Lawder, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan, Steve Holland, Roberta Rampton, Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bill Rigby and Leslie Adler)

 Inside Trump’s War on the Traditional Media

Since his declaration that the media is the “enemy of the people,” White House correspondents have been battling to maintain their position in the new America. Trump is giving them competition by filling the press corps with trolls and a new wave of right-wing media.

March 24, 2017

by Markus Feldenkirchen


Washington, D.C.-Only a few feet separate those in power and the people who are part of their checks and balances. Fifteen steps. Perhaps 20. They lead across a beige spotted carpet in the White House that has seen better days. A blue sliding door leads from the head of the Briefing Room where Donald Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, seeks each day to harmonize the president’s world with reality, to the small kingdom of his support staff. With the push of a button, a further sliding door opens on the left to the West Wing, the heart of American power.

The Rose Garden is to the left and on the right is a heavily armed Secret Service man behind a desk. If you leave him and his skeptical gaze behind, you arrive at the door to the Cabinet Room and, beyond it, the Oval Office, where the president spent this afternoon in the week before last negotiating the health care reform bill.

In front of Trump’s office are freshly framed and newly hung photographs of the day of his inauguration, with a picture beneath it of the crowds in front of the capital. Spicer has said that never before had an inauguration been as well-attended as Trump’s. It was the first fat lie to be told by the new government, one for which Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway even came up with a new term that has come to symbolize this new era: “alternative facts.”

In the press Briefing Room, located in the few square feet that separate Trump’s living quarters from his office, a heated battle is currently taking place over the balance of power in the United States. At stake is the freedom of the press and the future of liberal democracy in the world. And the importance of truth as the foundation of democratic discourse. If you spend a week in the White House Press Briefing Room, you can learn a lot about how these questions are being negotiated — between the people spinning Trump’s policies and the White House Press Corps, the reporters who cover the presidency on a daily basis.

A narrow hallway leads to the right of the Oval Office to Spicer’s office. The door opens and there stands Spicer, wearing a white shirt and wide tie, but no jacket. “What’s up?” Upon learning his guest is from Germany, Spicer explains how he made a call that morning to his counterpart in Berlin to prepare for the chancellor’s visit, which took place last Friday. He looks over at his secretary and asks, “What was the guy’s name again?” She quickly looks it up. “Seibert, that’s right. Nice guy!”

An Inflamed Climate

A massive television is mounted on the wall above the secretary, and the country’s four major news channels are all running simultaneously. But the audio is only turned on for Fox News, the conservative broadcaster owned by Rupert Murdoch that helped over the years to create the current inflamed societal climate, without which it is hard to imagine Trump ever having been elected.

What does Spicer have to say about the relationship between the new administration and the media, which the president has described as “the enemy of the people”?

“Oh, there are always tensions between the government and the press,” Spicer says, smiling. He says he makes a real effort to be friendly and that he tries to take questions from as many reporters as possible during briefings. He’s open to all questions, he adds, one can’t expect more than that. He says he also knows that Trump’s sharp rhetoric doesn’t play well with journalists. “But that just happens to be the way the president thinks.” And he has reasons for thinking that way, Spicer says, noting that there are unfortunately many incorrect reports about Donald Trump and his government. “That’s why we are going to fight hard against Fake News in the future.”

There’s that term again, one which Spicer and Trump like to drop each day in an attempt to further destroy trust in the work done by journalists. Spicer laughs and pats his visitor on the shoulder. Here in his office, without the presence of cameras, he comes across a lot more charming and chummy than he does during his almost daily appearances behind the lectern of the Briefing Room to unironically disseminate Trump’s latest rallying cry. He acts as though it were all just a big game, as if there were no attempt being made to intimidate newspapers, broadcasters and their reporters. As if there were no attempt being made to destroy the consensus about what is a truth and what is a lie.

Higher Ratings than a Soap

Since Donald Trump’s election, the White House briefing room has been more packed than ever before. The 49 permanent seats, which include a silver plaque at the foot featuring the name of the medium, are all filled. Double that many reporters can usually be found crammed to the sides and along the back wall. The press briefing, once a boring affair, is now broadcast live on several stations. Over 4 million people watch it each day, providing it with ratings that are better than most afternoon soap operas. Part of the attraction for viewers is the palpable tension that can be felt in the room each day — and not only between the press and the government. The Briefing Room has also transformed into the site of a battle by the new conservative media against the journalism establishment. The divide currently being seen across the country also runs through the press corps.

When Sean Spicer enters the Briefing Room on Thursday, March 9, CNN correspondent Jim Acosta is broadcasting live on air. He is standing in front of his regular seat — the first seat to the right in the front row — and speaking loudly toward his camera at the back of the room. It isn’t just the millions of CNN viewers who are listening to him, but also Acosta’s 150 colleagues in the room. And Spicer.

“I don’t want to interrupt you,” Spicer says, attempting a smile. Acosta ends his segment. “You can start.”

“No, no,” Spicer counters. “Whenever you’re ready.” He grins, and this despite Acosta currently being one of the Trump administration’s primary enemies. During a press conference shortly before his inauguration, Trump made a threatening gesture at him and ordered him to shut his mouth, refusing his right to ask a question with the words: “You are fake news!”

Acosta is one of the most jovial and modest reporters in the entire White House Press Corps, where ego and ability aren’t always in direct proportion to one another. But these days, Acosta neither can nor wants to discuss his relationship with the government. Many other reporters are in the same position. It appears that the attempts to intimidate are having an effect.

Protected By the Constitution

If Trump and Spicer had their way, Acosta would no longer be allowed in; they wanted to ban him from the White House. But Jeff Mason, who sits next to him in the Briefing Room in the first row, second seat, went to bat for his colleague. Mason is a correspondent for Reuters and the chair of the White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents the interests of the reporters covering the president here. Mason was born in Germany as the son of an American soldier and later returned for several years as a correspondent in Frankfurt and Berlin. He speaks fluent German.

“We’re not the enemy of the people,” says Mason, who has wedged himself into one of the narrow seats in his elegant pinstripe suit. “It isn’t acceptable for the president to just say something like that. That’s not OK,” he says. Mason speaks quietly, trying to remain calm and even-keeled and to counter Trump’s aggression with composure. His colleagues call him the diplomat. “As journalists, we have an important role for our democracy,” says Mason. “It is protected by the Constitution.”

Mason wages a daily battle over the degree to which this protection is still valued under the Trump administration. Even before the new president took office, it was revealed that his team was considering removing the press from their traditional rooms in the White House. Mason walks out the door of the Briefing Room and points up to a semi-circular window in the White House residence where Trump lives. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s swimming pool, he says, used to be in what is today’s Briefing Room. The fact that the media ultimately moved into part of the White House is a symbol of a time in which the U.S. was considered a global role model for press freedom, the separation of powers and democracy.

“I never even would have thought we would have to have a discussion about whether or not we are allowed to stay here,” Mason says. His next fight was over whether reporters would be allowed to continue traveling with Trump on Air Force One. Trump and his close advisors also wanted to eliminate that tradition.

More attacks followed. Mason sought to prevent Acosta’s ouster in a private conversation with Spicer, but then, three weeks ago, instead of inviting the media to the normal press conference, Spicer invited select outlets to a meeting in his office. He didn’t, however, invite those outlets that have been most vocal in their criticism of the Trump administration, including the New York Times, CNN and Politico. He did, however, invite right-wing outlets like Breitbart News, the Washington Times and the One America News Network. Mason protested as did the editors-in-chief of the major newspapers and Spicer hasn’t held anymore private press conferences since.

Is the Free Press Threatened?

Is freedom of the press truly under fire in the United States? And Is the president a danger to democracy? “I’d rather not comment on that,” says Mason, the diplomat, and glances over to the West Wing entrance as though to ensure that none of those in power are listening. “In any case, I’m fighting to make sure that things stay democratic.”

Others are less optimistic. “These attacks threaten the American democracy,” says Joel Simon, who heads the Committee to Protect Journalists, an American organization that was originally founded to strengthen press freedom around the world. Now the organization’s focus is largely on developments in its own country. The U.S., Simon says, had long been viewed as a beacon of light when it came to freedom of the press. That, though, has changed since Trump and his “fake news” talk, he says. “We’ll be laughed at when we turn up in authoritarian states and criticize the lack of press freedom,” he says. “Trump is a gift to all the autocrats and dictators of this world.”

Recently, Sean Spicer has been asked almost every day about a tweet sent out by the president on Saturday, March 4, at 6:35 a.m. “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory,” he wrote. “Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” A short time later, he added, “This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

It’s a tremendous and unprecedented accusation of a sitting president to make against his predecessor. In the days that followed, journalists tried every day to push Spicer to share with them the evidence Trump had to back the accusation. Did the president not, after all, have access to all the information that could prove his allegation? They also asked if Spicer personally believed that Obama wiretapped Trump?

It seems safe to say that they were the worst moments for Spicer since he came on board as White House spokesman. He stuttered and his eyelids twitched. How was he supposed to explain the nonsense his boss had spewed out on Twitter early in the morning? He wriggled and tried to get rid of the issue by calling on a reporter he knew would throw him a softball question.

There is everything to suggest that Trump, who enjoys access to all intelligence information, based his claim solely on reports originating from media that promote right-wing conspiracy theories. It was the same way he arrived at his recent conclusion that Sweden is in a horrific state.

Last Thursday, after Spicer had spent a particularly long time stammering about the wire-tapping accusations, a co-worker appeared and stuck a yellow Post-it note on his lectern. Soon thereafter, he returned to the issue — and this time he was much clearer and more decisive. Spicer is often handed notes during his briefings. The week before last, it happened twice.

Many journalists believe that Trump follows Spicer’s appearances and that the Post-its are his way of intervening. And it is conspicuous that Trump rarely has meetings scheduled during the press conferences.

Trump would likely rather take on Spicer’s job himself. He often complains about his spokesman’s appearances, and not just about his ill-fitting suits. It has been reported that he was especially irritated about actress Melissa McCarthy’s devastating parody of Spicer on Saturday Night Live, which he believed undermined his authority. For narcissists like Trump, the media remains the biggest and most important mirror, even as president.Mike McCurry didn’t have such problems. His boss Bill Clinton preferred playing basketball over watching the press conferences, he says. McCurry is sitting at the bar of the National Press Club in Washington and asks if it’s too early for a martini. It’s 11 a.m. His shirt is unbuttoned and he exudes the same kind of coolness his former boss possessed. McCurry was Clinton’s spokesman during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

McCurry says he has sympathy for his successor Spicer, for example when he was forced to lie about the size of the crowd attending the inauguration ceremony. “He made that claim for a single person,” says McCurry, “the president himself.”

McCurry knows how it feels for a spokesperson when their boss is lying. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” When he quotes those famous words, he mimes the former president’s expression and runs his pointer finger through the air the way Clinton did on television at the time. “It’s a very unhappy memory,” McCurry says. “Bill’s statement, as you know, turned out not to be 100 percent accurate.” In contrast to Trump, however, who has yet to apologize for anything, Clinton did provide one — to McCurry and to 275 million Americans.

Plus, with Trump lies tend to be the rule rather than the exception. He has said he won the most Electoral College votes since Ronald Reagan, even though three other presidents since then have received more. Then he claims that more than 3 million people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.

McCurry says that, through his office, the president of the United States has the loudest voice in the world and that nobody can attract more attention. And if that voice is constantly used to spread lies, then it constitutes an attack on the truth.

Before Trump, every president accepted that the press plays an important role in the country’s democracy. That it is the media’s job to scrutinize the government in power and to challenge it. McCurry says Clinton used to get very upset by reports, but he never admitted as much in public, and that’s the difference.

McCurry believes that Trump would like to curtail press freedom. “If he could issue an order that the only coverage allowed of him was positive, he would do so without delay.”

The New Right Media

For the moment, Trump and Spicer have chosen a different path. They are instead seeking to discredit and obstruct traditional media outlets while at the same time providing support to nascent right-wing media that are sympathetic to their cause.

Among the winners in this new age is Jennifer Wishon. She’s sitting in the basement in the area of the West Wing where correspondents do their work. Journalists here have always been provided with conditions that are about as comfortable as the pens on a chicken farm, but Wishon has been a bit luckier than others — she’s been provided with a relatively large cubbyhole of about 17 square feet and even has a door to cut off the bustle. It’s big enough for a small desk, a chair and Wishon.

Wishon works for the Christian Broadcasting Network, which is largely viewed by evangelical Christians who count among Trump’s biggest supporters. She apologizes for her shortness of breath and points to her belly, saying she’s pregnant. Then she points to the black curtain in front of the window on the door. Her office, she says, is now called the “Breast Wing” because she has invited female colleagues to pump milk here in peace.

During the Obama years, Wishon sat in the last row of the Briefing Room and almost never got picked for questions. Since Trump has been in office, she has been able to ask questions almost every day. During Spicer’s first press briefing, she even got to ask the second question. And during Trump’s press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu, her colleague got to ask one of the two questions journalists were able to pose. Then the president gave the broadcaster one of two exclusive interviews he granted. “There are many firsts for us now,” Wishon says. “The difference is like day and night. It’s wonderful for us.”

It used to be that the first question almost always went to a news wire — first The Associated Press, then Reuters and then came the major TV stations because they had the most viewers. But this old order has been turned on its head. Wishon says that when Trump describes the media as the enemy of the people, he is saying what conservative America has been thinking for an eternity. After all, the liberal media supports abortion, gay marriage and restrooms for transsexuals.

Wishon is perhaps the most candid among those profiting from this new era. Odder are all the young men and women in dashing suits and tight outfits who have been placing themselves in strategic spots in the Briefing Room in order to catch Spicer’s attention. He derives great pleasure in overlooking the established media and instead calling on newer organizations that no one had even heard of a short time ago and who are more than happy to ask non-threatening questions.

‘That’s What I Call a Nice Question’

At Trump’s first press conference, he called on a 19-year-old admirer who had recently established his own internet channel. His question was about the first lady. “Mr. President,” he said, “Melania Trump announced the reopening of the White House Visitors Office. And she does a lot of great work for the country as well. Can you tell us a little bit about what first lady Melania Trump does for the country?”

“Now, that’s what I call a nice question,” he answered. “That is very — who are you with?”

“UNF news,” the 19-year-old answered.

“Good,” the president said. “I’m going to start watching, all right?” He then went on to explain in-depth just how magnificent his wife is for the country.

Twenty-three-year-old Trey Yingst of the One American News Network is among the most eager beavers in the room. He can often be seen nodding along as Spicer speaks and he is the first to raise his hand when Spicer finishes his statements. The company he works for began broadcasting three years ago as an alternative to Fox News that is even further to the right.

On this particular Wednesday, Yingst is congratulated by his colleagues at Breitbart News because he got to ask two questions during the previous day’s briefing. “Yeah, it’s great,” he says. “I hope i can keep up the momentum.” Right after asking a harmless question, he immediately checks the two smart phones he has placed in front of him to see the response on Facebook and Twitter.

Trolling the Old Media

The new right-wing media like One America, Newsmax, the Daily Caller or LifeZette are enjoying the full support of the current administration. Indeed, they are being used to unsettle the old media, to take question time away from them, to disrupt the usual procedures and to challenge the old system. The idea is to call into question the credibility of the experienced, independent and reporting-intensive publishers and broadcasters and to deny their legitimacy.

The defining medium of the new right is Breitbart News, whose former CEO Stephen Bannon now sits in the Oval Office as the White House’s chief strategist. Bannon had spent years yearning for this new era and he personally pushed for these new media groups to be provided with access to the White House Press Corps.

On Friday, before the beginning of the briefing, a loud argument erupts. Jon Decker, an experienced radio correspondent for Fox News Radio, which in the era of Trump almost seems like the established media, complains loudly about the presence of Lucian Wintrich, a 28-year-old who is supposed to represent the right-wing radical blog Gateway Pundit at the White House. Gateway Pundit is notorious for its crude conspiracy theories and headlines like, “Dental Expert: Hillary Clinton Is Suffering from Serious Gum Infection and Immune Disorder.” The Trump administration was the first to provide the blog with White House accreditation and Wintrich had never before worked as a journalist.

Decker calls out loudly that the reporter, Wintrich, was from a medium that “hates blacks, Jews and Hispanics.” He’s stunned that Trump’s White House actually allow this poser journalist in. Many colleagues pat him on the shoulder in thanks.

A reporter from the New Yorker was recently able to observe how Wintrich and his boss Jim Hoft prepared for the first appearance in the press corps and what questions he might ask. “Just make sure it has ‘fake news’ in it, Lucian,” Hoft said. “Every question you ask with the words ‘fake news,’ you get a ten-dollar bonus.” His main job is not to report about politics — it’s to rile the “liberal mainstream media” and their “ridiculous hypocrisy” or, better yet, to make them look bad.

After the briefing, Wintrich held his own press conference. He stood smoking and wearing sunglasses in front of the door to the Briefing Room and accused the “fake news correspondent” from Fox of having physically attacked and insulted him.

‘We’re the Fabled Boiling Frog’

“We haven’t yet even realized how devastating this corrosive effect will be in the long term,” says Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist in his office located not far from the White House. “Trump is attempting to drive journalists crazy so that one day we really will go crazy and he can then turn around and tell his supporters: I told you they are crazy.”

With his constant barrage of fresh lies, Trump is gradually altering the country. “We’re the fabled boiling frog,” says Friedman. Each week Trump turns the temperature up a little higher. At first people don’t notice, but at some point the water starts to boil. “And then we’re dead.” By that, he means journalists. But the metaphor could also be extended to society as a whole.

At the end of the week, Sean Spicer enters the Briefing Room with some exciting news. The new labor market data has come in. On the campaign trail, Trump had constantly dismissed such data as a “hoax.” “Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment,” Trump had said. “The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even recently heard 42 percent.”

But on this day, the news is that the unemployment rate, as had already been the case under the Obama administration, is continuing to shrink. A journalist in the briefing asks if the president actually believes the numbers. “Yeah, I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly,” Spicer says jovially. “‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.'”

The statement is insolent in the extreme, an intellectual insult. But nobody protested. Maybe you start to get tired if you are attacked day after day. Maybe you simply get used to any system, regardless of how absurd it is. Whatever the case, when Spicer quoted his boss, the Briefing Room erupted in laughter.

Wikileaks: The CIA Has Been Spying on Apple Users for Years

We always suspected, but now we know.

March 23, 2017

by Jack Crosbie


The CIA has had the ability to hack into Apple products, including pristine iPhones straight from the factory floor for almost a decade, and until Thursday, the public had no idea.

Wikileaks released a new bundle of documents in its massive “Vault 7” project on Thursday morning. It’s a huge trove of classified CIA records that show the spy agency’s abilities and aspirations to infiltrate every aspect of its targets’ lives, including their iPhones, iPads, and Macbooks.

The new documents, code-named “Dark Matter” by Wikileaks, detail the CIA’s specific capabilities to hack Apple products, including iPhones and Mac computers, sometimes in completely undetectable ways. The hacks, in some cases, are wild.

What are “NightSkies” and “Sonic Screwdriver”?

The CIA’s “Sonic Screwdriver” program, for instance, was able to store its code on the firmware of a Thunderbolt-to-ethernet adaptor, something most modern Mac laptops need to directly connect to the internet but isn’t thought of as ever storing any data. Another document details the aforementioned iPhone exploit called “NightSkies,” which is particularly terrifying.

Also included in this release is the manual for the CIA’s “NightSkies 1.2” a “beacon/loader/implant tool” for the Apple iPhone. Noteworthy is that NightSkies had reached 1.2 by 2008, and is expressly designed to be physically installed onto factory fresh iPhones. i.e the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets since at least 2008.

In other words, you could order a brand new iPhone from the Apple Store online. If the CIA had you on a list, it could intercept the phone before it got to you, install a “beacon/loader/implant tool,” that could monitor your activity, and then send the phone on its way. And it’s been able to do this since 2008, just one year after the iPhone debuted.

The documents detail an agency with relatively unprecedented abilities to infect the digital devices of its targets in foreign countries (and, potentially, domestically). All of the methods detailed take direct advantage of Apple’s “firmware” or permanent software programmed onto the device, usually by the manufacturer. This sets the CIA’s exploits apart from many other digital attacks — Wikileaks’s press release notes that once an exploit is in a device’s firmware, “the infection persists even if the operating system is re-installed.”

In other words, there’s very little a typical user can do to get rid of the agency’s viruses, because they’ve managed to worm their way into the permanent, base-level code of the computer. (Specifically, most of the CIA’s hacks can crack into EFI/UEFI firmware, the most common type of firmware in Apple laptops and most modern PCs.) As Motherboard notes, many “high-value targets” for the CIA — businesspeople, diplomats, politicians and more — use top of the line Apple products, and have done so for years. In other words, the CIA predicted that Apple’s personal devices would become ubiquitous for those with the money to afford them, and have been working hard to crack them ever since.

The hacks are also almost funny in their implementation of extremely high tech and extremely low tech hacking at the same time. Corrupting the firmware of a device designed by the best minds in Silicon Valley is no mean feat, but the whole system only works if an agent steals a package out of a UPS truck (or, more likely, has a certain recipient flagged by international postal services and collects those packages before they’re delivered).

And while some of the hacks may seem dated (NightSkies nostalgically refers to an “iPhone 3G” as its intended target), there’s little chance the CIA has abandoned any of these programs. Wikileaks notes that another laptop hack, DerStake1.4, “dates to 2013, other Vault 7 documents show that as of 2016 the CIA continues to rely on and update these systems and is working on the production of DerStarke2.0.” It might be a good time to put tape over your laptop camera.

Apple Says It Fixed CIA Vulnerabilities Years Ago

March 24 2017

by Sam Biddle

The Intercept

Yesterday, WikiLeaks released its latest batch of pilfered CIA material, five documents describing malicious software for taking over Apple MacBooks and iPhones, and wrote in an accompanying post that “the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets,” prompting concerned readers to wonder if their iPhone or MacBook had been infected on the factory floor. In a statement, Apple says that is almost certainly not the case.

As indicated in the documents, the attack methods described date in some cases back to 2009, when the iPhone line was in its infancy. Apple’s statement, provided to The Intercept and other media outlets, indicates that unless you’re still using a relatively ancient model like the iPhone 3G, your smartphone could not even be even hypothetical vulnerable to the specific attacks published by WikiLeaks, and your Mac should be safe if it was made in the last four years.

We have preliminarily assessed the WikiLeaks disclosures from this morning. Based on our initial analysis, the alleged iPhone vulnerability affected iPhone 3G only and was fixed in 2009 when iPhone 3GS was released. Additionally, our preliminary assessment shows the alleged Mac vulnerabilities were previously fixed in all Macs launched after 2013.

Although it’s not uncommon to use an older and increasingly out of date laptop model — phones tend to rollover faster — it’s unlikely that many people anywhere in the world, potential CIA targets or not, are still using the iPhone 3G.

Still, it’s noteworthy that the CIA had success compromising Apple products that were current at the time the documents were published. The iPhone attack was described in January 2009, a full six months before the iPhone 3G was replaced. The attacks on MacBooks were described in documents dated up through 2013, or undated, and describe models current up through the middle of that year. As The Intercept reported in 2015, the CIA has mounted a sustained campaign against Apple products going back to at least 2010.

On Twitter, WikiLeaks described the MacBook attacks as hitting “systemtic” vulnerabilities and called Apple’s statement “duplicitous.”

Also in its statement, Apple added a strongly worded note on WikiLeaks’s  claim that it would conditionally hand over information about software vulnerabilities to  tech companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft, whose products have been singled out in the CIA documents:

We have not negotiated with WikiLeaks for any information. We have given them instructions to submit any information they wish through our normal process under our standard terms. Thus far, we have not received any information from them that isn’t in the public domain. We are tireless defenders of our users’ security and privacy, but we do not condone theft or coordinate with those that threaten to harm our users.

Apple declined to comment on the WikiLeaks claim that “the CIA has been infecting the iPhone supply chain of its targets.” One document published by WikiLeaks  referenced CIA malware whose “install is ideal for supply chain,” but the claim that the supply chain is actually compromised does not appear to be borne out by anything in documents WikiLeaks has published so far. As with its claim earlier this month that the CIA had developed a method to “bypass” encrypted apps like Signal and read their contents, WikiLeaks is stretching the facts beyond what it has published; it remains entirely possible that American spy agencies have infiltrated Apple’s supply chain, but not based on what’s furnished here. Per usual, the documents provided here are deeply interesting, but not worth the concern WikiLeaks generated by its public comments

U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement

July 3, 2013

by Ron Nixon

The New York Time

WASHINGTON — Leslie James Pickering noticed something odd in his mail last September: a handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home.

“Show all mail to supv” — supervisor — “for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. It included Mr. Pickering’s name, address and the type of mail that needed to be monitored. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green.

“It was a bit of a shock to see it,” said Mr. Pickering, who with his wife owns a small bookstore in Buffalo. More than a decade ago, he was a spokesman for the Earth Liberation Front, a radical environmental group labeled eco-terrorists by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Postal officials subsequently confirmed they were indeed tracking Mr. Pickering’s mail but told him nothing else.

As the world focuses on the high-tech spying of the National Security Agency, the misplaced card offers a rare glimpse inside the seemingly low-tech but prevalent snooping of the United States Postal Service.

Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

Together, the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.

The mail covers program, used to monitor Mr. Pickering, is more than a century old but is still considered a powerful tool. At the request of law enforcement officials, postal workers record information from the outside of letters and parcels before they are delivered. (Opening the mail would require a warrant.) The information is sent to the law enforcement agency that asked for it. Tens of thousands of pieces of mail each year undergo this scrutiny.

The Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program was created after the anthrax attacks in late 2001 that killed five people, including two postal workers. Highly secret, it seeped into public view last month when the F.B.I. cited it in its investigation of ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. It enables the Postal Service to retrace the path of mail at the request of law enforcement. No one disputes that it is sweeping.

“In the past, mail covers were used when you had a reason to suspect someone of a crime,” said Mark D. Rasch, who started a computer crimes unit in the fraud section of the criminal division of the Justice Department and worked on several fraud cases using mail covers. “Now it seems to be, ‘Let’s record everyone’s mail so in the future we might go back and see who you were communicating with.’ Essentially you’ve added mail covers on millions of Americans.”

Bruce Schneier, a computer security expert and an author, said whether it was a postal worker taking down information or a computer taking images, the program was still an invasion of privacy.

“Basically they are doing the same thing as the other programs, collecting the information on the outside of your mail, the metadata, if you will, of names, addresses, return addresses and postmark locations, which gives the government a pretty good map of your contacts, even if they aren’t reading the contents,” he said.

But law enforcement officials said mail covers and the automatic mail tracking program are invaluable, even in an era of smartphones and e-mail.

In a criminal complaint filed June 7 in Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, the F.B.I. said a postal investigator tracing the ricin letters was able to narrow the search to Shannon Guess Richardson, an actress in New Boston, Tex., by examining information from the front and back images of 60 pieces of mail scanned immediately before and after the tainted letters sent to Mr. Obama and Mr. Bloomberg showing return addresses near her home. Ms. Richardson had originally accused her husband of mailing the letters, but investigators determined that he was at work during the time they were mailed.

In 2007, the F.B.I., the Internal Revenue Service and the local police in Charlotte, N.C., used information gleaned from the mail cover program to arrest Sallie Wamsley-Saxon and her husband, Donald, charging both with running a prostitution ring that took in $3 million over six years. Prosecutors said it was one of the largest and most successful such operations in the country. Investigators also used mail covers to help track banking activity and other businesses the couple operated under different names.

Other agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services, have used mail covers to track drug smugglers and Medicare fraud.

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” said James J. Wedick, a former F.B.I. agent who spent 34 years at the agency and who said he used mail covers in a number of investigations, including one that led to the prosecution of several elected officials in California on corruption charges. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”

But, he said: “It can be easily abused because it’s so easy to use and you don’t have to go through a judge to get the information. You just fill out a form.”

For mail cover requests, law enforcement agencies submit a letter to the Postal Service, which can grant or deny a request without judicial review. Law enforcement officials say the Postal Service rarely denies a request. In other government surveillance programs, like wiretaps, a federal judge must sign off on the requests.

The mail cover surveillance requests are granted for about 30 days, and can be extended for up to 120 days. There are two kinds of mail covers: those related to criminal activity and those requested to protect national security. Criminal activity requests average 15,000 to 20,000 per year, said law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are prohibited by law from discussing them. The number of requests for antiterrorism mail covers has not been made public.

Law enforcement officials need warrants to open the mail, although President George W. Bush asserted in a signing statement in 2007 that the federal government had the authority to open mail without warrants in emergencies or in foreign intelligence cases.

Court challenges to mail covers have generally failed because judges have ruled that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy for information contained on the outside of a letter. Officials in both the Bush and Obama administrations, in fact, have used the mail-cover court rulings to justify the N.S.A.’s surveillance programs, saying the electronic monitoring amounts to the same thing as a mail cover. Congress briefly conducted hearings on mail cover programs in 1976, but has not revisited the issue.

The program has led to sporadic reports of abuse. In May 2012, Mary Rose Wilcox, a Maricopa County supervisor in Arizona, was awarded nearly $1 million by a federal judge after winning a lawsuit against Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The sheriff, known for his immigration raids, had obtained mail covers from the Postal Service to track her mail. The judge called the investigation into Ms. Wilcox politically motivated because she had been a frequent critic of Mr. Arpaio’s, objecting to what she considered the targeting of Hispanics in his immigration sweeps. The case is being appealed.

In the mid-1970s the Church Committee, a Senate panel that documented C.I.A. abuses, faulted a program created in the 1950s in New York that used mail covers to trace and sometimes open mail going to the Soviet Union from the United States.

A suit brought in 1973 by a high school student in New Jersey, whose letter to the Socialist Workers Party was traced by the F.B.I. as part of an investigation into the group, led to a rebuke from a federal judge.

Postal officials refused to discuss either mail covers or the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program.

Mr. Pickering says he suspects that the F.B.I. requested the mail cover to monitor his mail because a former associate said the bureau had called with questions about him. Last month, he filed a lawsuit against the Postal Service, the F.B.I. and other agencies, saying they were improperly withholding information.

A spokeswoman for the F.B.I. in Buffalo declined to comment.

Mr. Pickering said that although he was arrested two dozen times for acts of civil disobedience and convicted of a handful of misdemeanors, he was never involved in the arson attacks the Earth Liberation Front carried out. He said he became tired of focusing only on environmental activism and moved back to Buffalo to finish college, open his bookstore, Burning Books, and start a family.

“I’m no terrorist,” he said. “I’m an activist.”

Mr. Pickering has written books sympathetic to the liberation front, but he said his political views and past association should not make him the target of a federal investigation. “I’m just a guy who runs a bookstore and has a wife and a kid,” he said.


From the FAS Project on Government Secrecy

Volume 2017, Issue No. 22

March 24, 2017


Most people are not going to read a book-length study of nuclear weapons command and control, and they shouldn’t have to. But those who need a quick sketch — whether they are reporters, students, or regular citizens — can now find a concise, two-page introduction to the topic from the Congressional Research Service. See Defense Primer: Command and Control of Nuclear Forces, CRS In Focus, December 1, 2016.

This document is part of a series of some three dozen “defense primers” that were prepared lately by CRS for new members of Congress in order to explain “key aspects of the Department of Defense and how Congress exercises authority over it.” The reports can serve the same purpose for interested members of the public.

The CRS primers naturally will not turn readers into experts. But they generally do an excellent job of presenting complex or obscure matters in clear language that almost anyone can understand, while identifying key policy issues, and introducing the essential vocabulary used to address them. The fact that CRS has no particular institutional stake in those issues enhances the credibility of the reports and makes them useful to readers of any persuasion, and to those who don’t yet know what to think.

Among the titles in the series are these:

Defense Primer: Intelligence Support to Military Operations, CRS In Focus, December 30, 2016

Defense Primer: Organization of U.S. Ground Forces, CRS In Focus, December 29, 2016

Defense Primer: Commanding U.S. Military Operations, CRS In Focus, December 13, 2016

Defense Primer: Ballistic Missile Defense, CRS In Focus, December 12, 2016

Defense Primer: Cyberspace Operations, CRS In Focus, December 8, 2016

Defense Primer: Legal Authorities for the Use of Military Forces, CRS In Focus, December 7, 2016

Defense Primer: Congress’s Constitutional Authority with Regard to the Armed Forces, CRS In Focus, December 7, 2016

Defense Primer: Budgeting for National and Defense Intelligence, CRS In Focus, December 5, 2016

Defense Primer: The Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), CRS In Focus, November 16, 2016

Defense Primer: Geography, Strategy, and U.S. Force Design, CRS In Focus, October 14, 2016

Starbucks and Walmart join growing list of advertisers boycotting YouTube

Major companies pulling adverts a sign that many doubt Google’s ability to prevent marketing campaigns from appearing alongside repugnant videos

March 25, 2017

The Guardian

PepsiCo, Walmart and Starbucks on Friday confirmed that they have suspended their advertising on YouTube, joining a growing boycott in a sign that big companies doubt Google’s ability to prevent marketing campaigns from appearing alongside repugnant videos.

The companies pulled their ads after the Wall Street Journal found that Google’s automated programs placed their brands on five videos containing racist content. AT&T, Verizon, Volkswagen and several other companies pulled ads earlier this week.

“The content with which we are being associated is appalling and completely against our company values,” Walmart said in a Friday statement.

Besides suspending their spending on YouTube, Walmart, Pepsi and several other companies have said they will stop buying ads that Google places on more than 2m other third-party websites.

The defections are continuing even after Google apologized for tainting brands and outlined steps to ensure ads don’t appear alongside unsavory videos.

If Google can’t lure back advertisers, it could result in a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Most analysts, though, doubt the ad boycott will seriously hurt Google’s corporate parent, Alphabet. Alphabet shares have fallen more than 3% since Monday, closing at $839.65 on Thursday.

Although they have been growing rapidly, YouTube’s ads still only represent a relatively small financial piece of Alphabet, whose revenue totaled $73.5bn last year after subtracting commissions paid to Google’s partners. YouTube accounted for $5.6bn, or nearly 8%, of that total, based on estimates from the research firm eMarketer.

Whether the recent events are a mere blip on the radar for Google or a harbinger of bigger problems to come may depend on whether the company can quickly improve its technical tools to give advertisers more control over where their ads appear.

YouTube has begun reviewing its advertising policies and will take steps to give advertisers more control, Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, wrote in a blog post this week. Google also plans to hire more people for its review team and refine its artificial intelligence – a key step, since much of the ad-serving is handled by automation.

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet, acknowledged in a Fox News interview that ads appearing next to videos promoting hate speech or advocating violence had slipped through the digital cracks in Google’s elaborate ad-serving systems.

“We match ads and the content, but because we source the ads from everywhere, every once in a while somebody gets underneath the algorithm and they put in something that doesn’t match,” Schmidt said. “We’ve had to tighten our policies and actually increase our manual review time and so I think we’re going to be OK.”

But Google’s public statements have done little to assuage advertisers’ fears, said David Cohen, president, North America, for media buying firm Magna Global.

Even before the most recent revelations about YouTube, control over online ad placement had become a hot button topic for advertisers. Social networks and news aggregators came under fire during and after the US presidential election for spreading fake news reports, and advertisers have also sought to avoid having their brands appear beside content that they categorize as hate speech.

“Between non-human traffic and fraud, fake news and hate speech, brands are more concerned than ever,” said Marc Goldberg, CEO of Trust Metrics, a New York-based company that addresses ad fraud.

DEA approves synthetic marijuana for big pharma company against legalization

March 25, 2017


A synthetic marijuana product could be available for commercialization after the DEA gave a newly approved drug a schedule II classification.

On Thursday, Insys Therapeutics announced that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued an interim final rule that would put Syndros, their synthetic marijuana drug, on Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

“Insys is looking forward to bringing this new drug product to chemotherapy patients to help alleviate their nausea and vomiting and AIDS patients with anorexia associated weight loss, respectively,” Dr. Santosh Vetticaden, interim CEO, said in the announcement.

“We look forward to interacting with the FDA to finalize the labeling and subsequent launch of Syndros in the second half of 2017,” Vetticaden said.

Syndros is a synthetic version of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component in the plant. In July 206, the company announced the FDA approved their liquid form of synthetic THC to treat anorexia associated AIDS patients, and nausea and vomiting induced by cancer patients going through chemotherapy.

The DEA approval placed Syndros and its generic formulations in schedule II of the CSA, which is reserved for drugs that have “a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.”

While some Schedule II drugs can be used for medical purposes, like Vicodin, oxycodone, Adderall, and many prescription painkillers, Schedule I drugs are all federally illegal. Non-synthetic marijuana is a Schedule I drug, which is reserved for drugs that have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

In 2011, Insys wrote a letter to the DEA, urging them to maintain the Schedule I status for non-synthetic marijuana, citing “a longstanding policy of the United States to disfavor domestic cultivation of narcotic raw materials because of concerns about the abuse potential from farming of this material.”

Insys also opposed legalization in Arizona, donating $500,000 to Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, a group opposing Proposition 205, an initiative to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol in Arizona.

In a statement, Insys said it opposed Prop 205, “because it fails to protect the safety of Arizona’s citizens, and particularly its children,” according to the Arizona Republic.

The proposition was narrowly defeated in the state, meaning users in Arizona could face felony charges for possessing even small amounts of the plant.

JP Holyoak, chairman of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona, says Insys funded the opposition “to kill a non-pharmaceutical market for marijuana in order to line their own pockets,” according to the Washington Post.

In 2007, Insys filed a disclosure statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission, directly stating that marijuana legalization would threaten their products.

“If marijuana or non-synthetic cannabinoids were legalized in the United States, the market for dronabinol product sales would likely be significantly reduced and our ability to generate revenue and our business prospects would be materially adversely affected,” the company said.

The company is currently under investigation for illegally marketing Fentanyl, an opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin, which has been linked to the death of Prince last year.

In December, several executives at the company were arrested and the CEO was forced to step down after they were charged with using speakers fees to entice doctors to prescribe Subsys, a medication for cancer patients that contains Fentanyl.

“You have a company using profits from the sale of what has been called ‘the most potent and dangerous opioid on the market’ to prevent adults from using a far less harmful substance,” Holyoak said according to the Arizona Republic.




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