Saturday, May 23, 2015

Minnesota environmental bill a disaster

What are we? Wisconsin?

Ask Governor Dayton to veto bad anti-people, pro-pollution bills

by Alan Muller on May 23, 2015

The regular session of the Minnesota Legislature has thankfully ended. Many bad things and few good things happened. It seems to me that the leadership of the House (Republican) and the Senate (DFL) were generally united against the people. How did this come about? A question that needs answering…..and a situation that needs changing.

Some of the worst language was removed or toned down due to lobbying by the Attorney General’s office, Isaac Walton League, Trout Unlimited, Carol Overland, and others.

At this point the only way to (possibly) improve the situation is to convince Governor Dayton to veto bad bills.

Here are the two of the worst bills we have been following. Note that during the session the bad stuff has sometimes moved from one bill number to another, sometimes more than once. This is the endpoint.

(Continued here.)

Friday, May 22, 2015

Gunfight Between Police and Gang in Mexico Leaves at Least 45 Dead

At least three officers, 42 others killed in battle with alleged members of Jalisco New Generation drug cartel

By Dudley Althaus And Santiago Pérez, WSJ
Updated May 22, 2015 5:48 p.m. ET

MEXICO CITY—A gunbattle between federal police and alleged members of a criminal gang on Friday killed at least three officers and 42 other people in Mexico’s troubled Michoacán state, government officials said.

Gunmen ambushed a police convoy about 10 a.m., local time, as it traveled a rural highway in Tanhuato, a sparsely populated municipality near Lake Chapala, which is a resort area in the Western part of the country popular with U.S. and other foreign retirees, a senior official confirmed.

“Federal forces repelled the aggression,” the official said.

Michoacán state Governor Salvador Jara told Mexican TV station Milenio that the gunmen appeared to be members of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, a rising narcotics gang that has clashed repeatedly with federal forces in recent weeks, killing dozens security officers.

Members of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s security cabinet are traveling to the area to assess the incident, the officials said. The death toll is based on preliminary estimates and could change, they added. Gov. Jara declined to provide additional information.

(More here.)

One Woman’s Crusade for U.K. Town’s Young Rape Victims

Jayne Senior’s child-abuse reports, ignored for years, now deepen a national soul-searching

By Margaret Coker and Alexis Flynn, WSJ
May 22, 2015 3:49 p.m. ET

ROTHERHAM, England— Jayne Senior worked for more than a decade to expose rampant child sexual abuse in this rusting steel town in South Yorkshire, but she met mostly indifference and scorn from authorities.

The youth-charity director amassed evidence that a network of pedophiles “groomed” nearly 2,000 girls in her hometown, creating emotional bonds with them before raping them. Police largely dismissed her reports. In 2011, town hall revoked her funding.

Things seemed to change last August, when an independent investigation confirmed the widespread sex abuse Ms. Senior identified, concluding that at least 1,400 girls in Rotherham had been sexually abused from 1997 through mid-2013, allegedly by a gang from the Pakistani community. The police commissioner, town-council leader and child-services head resigned. After its own probe, the U.K. government in February ordered outside administrators to take over the town’s management.

The U.K.’s National Crime Agency is now examining the Rotherham cases. The national police-internal-affairs agency is investigating misconduct allegations against at least 42 officers who worked in Rotherham and the surrounding South Yorkshire police district. The NCA says it is determined to bring all offenders to justice. The police agency declines to comment on misconduct allegations.

Yet despite national attention on Rotherham, police have made only three arrests since last fall among the dozens of gang members identified as alleged perpetrators; the three haven’t been charged. Since Ms. Senior began reporting assaults in 1999, only five men have been convicted in cases she reported.

(More here.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wyoming criminalizes citizen science

Forbidden Data

By Justin Pidot

Imagine visiting Yellowstone this summer. You wake up before dawn to take a picture of the sunrise over the mists emanating from Yellowstone hot springs. A thunderhead towers above the rising sun, and the picture turns out beautifully. You submit the photo to a contest sponsored by the National Weather Service. Under a statute signed into law by the Wyoming governor this spring, you have just committed a crime and could face up to one year in prison.

Wyoming doesn’t, of course, care about pictures of geysers or photo competitions. But photos are a type of data, and the new law makes it a crime to gather data about the condition of the environment across most of the state if you plan to share that data with the state or federal government. The reason? The state wants to conceal the fact that many of its streams are contaminated by E. coli bacteria, strains of which can cause serious health problems, even death. A small organization called Western Watersheds Project (which I represent pro bono in an unrelated lawsuit) has found the bacteria in a number of streams crossing federal land in concentrations that violate water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act. Rather than engaging in an honest public debate about the cause or extent of the problem, Wyoming prefers to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. And under the new law, the state threatens anyone who would challenge that belief by producing information to the contrary with a term in jail.

(Continued here.)

College students are out for the summer, but they can always prepare for the fall

These Are the Four Types of Drunk College Students, According to Science

Posted by Ross Pomeroy, RealClearScience
According to anecdotal reports, clinical lore and internet articles like ‘‘The 12 types of drunk people you’ll encounter at a bar,’’ ‘‘The 7 kinds of drunk people you’ll find at parties,’’ and ‘‘The 9 types of drunk people (and which one you may be!),’’ not all drinkers act the same when intoxicated.
So begins Rachel Winograd's latest scientific paper, published in the journal Addiction Research and Theory. When Winograd, a psychology graduate student at the University of Missouri, perused those clickbait Internet articles, she found them devoid of scientific evidence and entirely incapable of answering the valid question they broached: Are there truly "types of drunks"?

The landscape of published scientific literature was similarly barren. Winograd and her co-authors, Douglas Steinley and Kenneth Sher couldn't find a single empirical study on the matter, so they formulated their own. The trio was treading upon new ground. It would be the first attempt to scientifically identify drunk personality types.

The work began where many psychology studies often do: in an introductory psychology class.

187 pairs of "drinking buddies" were recruited via email and invited into the laboratory, where -- in strict confidence -- they individually completed surveys covering their background, drinking behavior, and personality, both sober and drunk. Each participant also described the personality and drinking behavior of their "buddy."

(Continued here.)

Monday, May 18, 2015

The GOP Is Dying Off. Literally.

[VV note: This article, of course, is referring to voters. But who needs older voters when special interests have gobs of money to buy influence, and when they can deceive still alive — physically if not mentally — voters that they are advocating in their best interests? Hell, most of the Supreme Court is still alive and the moneyed interests have them deceived!]

By DANIEL J. MCGRAW, Politico.com
May 17, 2015

It turns out that one of the Grand Old Party’s biggest—and least discussed—challenges going into 2016 is lying in plain sight, written right into the party’s own nickname. The Republican Party voter is old—and getting older, and as the adage goes, there are two certainties in life: Death and taxes. Right now, both are enemies of the GOP and they might want to worry more about the former than the latter.

There’s been much written about how millennials are becoming a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, but there’s been much less attention paid to one of the biggest get-out-the-vote challenges for the Republican Party heading into the next presidential election: Hundreds of thousands of their traditional core supporters won’t be able to turn out to vote at all.

The party’s core is dying off by the day.

(More here.)

Unaffiliated and Underrepresented

Charles M. Blow, NYT
MAY 18, 2015

President Obama is a Christian (despite the fact that most Republicans apparently still believe that his “deep down” beliefs are Muslim, according to one poll conducted last year.)

In fact, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, there have only been four “religiously unaffiliated heads of state in American history,” the last being Rutherford B. Hayes, who left office in 1881. This, however, does not mean that they did not believe in God.

Perhaps the most famous unaffiliated president was Abraham Lincoln, who wrote in 1846:

“That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular.”

Now it is almost unconscionable to think of a president who didn’t believe in God. In fact, a poll last year by the Pew Research Center found that not believing in God was the most negative trait a presidential candidate could have among a variety of options, even more negative than having an extramarital affair.

(More here.)

Boko Haram Militants Raped Hundreds of Female Captives in Nigeria

By ADAM NOSSITER, NYT
MAY 18, 2015

DALORI, Nigeria — Hundreds of women and girls captured by Boko Haram have been raped, many repeatedly, in what officials and relief workers describe as a deliberate strategy to dominate rural residents and possibly even create a new generation of Islamist militants in Nigeria.

In interviews, the women described being locked in houses by the dozen, at the beck and call of fighters who forced them to have sex, sometimes with the specific goal of impregnating them.

“They married me,” said Hamsatu, 25, a young woman in a black-and-purple head scarf, looking down at the ground. She said she was four months pregnant, that the father was a Boko Haram member and that she had been forced to have sex with other militants who took control of her town.

“They chose the ones they wanted to marry,” added Hamsatu, whose full name was not used to protect her identity. “If anybody shouts, they said they would shoot them.”

Boko Haram, a radical Islamist sect that has taken over large stretches of territory in the country’s northeast, has long targeted women, rounding them up as it captures towns and villages. Women and girls have been given to Boko Haram fighters for “marriage,” a euphemism for the sexual violence that occurs even when unions are cloaked in religion.

(More here.)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

How the DEA took a young man’s life savings without ever charging him with a crime

By Christopher Ingraham
May 11, WashPost

Joseph Rivers was hoping to hit it big. According to the Albuquerque Journal, the aspiring businessman from just outside of Detroit had pulled together $16,000 in seed money to fulfill a lifetime dream of starting a music video company. Last month, Rivers took the first step in that voyage, saying goodbye to the family and friends who had supported him at home and boarding an Amtrak train headed for Los Angeles.

He never made it. From the Albuquerque Journal:
A DEA agent boarded the train at the Albuquerque Amtrak station and began asking various passengers, including Rivers, where they were going and why. When Rivers replied that he was headed to LA to make a music video, the agent asked to search his bags. Rivers complied.
The agent found Rivers's cash, still in a bank envelope. He explained why he had it: He was starting a business in California, and he'd had trouble in the past withdrawing large sums of money from out-of-state banks.

The agents didn't believe him, according to the article. They said they thought the money was involved in some sort of drug activity. Rivers let them call his mother back home to corroborate the story. They didn't believe her, either.

The agents found nothing in Rivers's belongings that indicated that he was involved with the drug trade: no drugs, no guns. They didn't arrest him or charge him with a crime. But they took his cash anyway, every last cent, under the authority of the Justice Department's civil asset forfeiture program.

(More here.)

President Obama on how Fox News teaches the middle class to demonize the poor

By Emily Badger May 12 WashPost

Depictions of the poor as "lazy" and "undeserving" are regularly on Fox News, President Obama said Tuesday at a summit on poverty hosted by Georgetown University.

If we're being totally honest about why we haven't found more political will to attack poverty in the U.S., the obstacle isn't mere apathy. It's not simply that we don't prioritize the poor, or devote enough money to lifting them up, or demand of our politicians that they talk about poverty more often. Those would be problems of ambivalence — of not caring enough.

In reality, the hurdle is higher than that: Much of our political rhetoric doesn't simply disregard the poor, it actively disdains them. It treats them as takers, freeloaders, deadbeats. As morally weak and gleefully dependent. And like many narratives that are true in the rare anecdote but false on the whole, this one requires a whole lot of breathless storytelling.

"There’s always been a strain in American politics where you’ve got the middle class, and the question has been 'who are you mad at if you’re struggling, if you’re working but you don’t seem to be getting ahead?'" President Obama said Tuesday at a summit on poverty hosted by Georgetown's Initiative on Catholic Thought and Social Life. "Over the last 40 years, sadly, I think there's been an effort to either make folks mad at folks at the top, or be mad at folks at the bottom."

The latter strategy has been remarkably potent of late.

"I think the effort to suggest that the poor are sponges — leeches, don’t want to work, are lazy, are undeserving — got traction," Obama said. "Look, it’s still being propagated. I have to say that if you watch Fox News on a regular basis, it is a constant menu. They will find folks who make me mad. I don’t know where they find them. 'I don’t want to work, I just want a free Obama phone, or whatever.' And that becomes an entire narrative that gets worked up."

(More here.)

Israel & the U.S.: more evidence of the tail wagging the dog

How the US Treasury Department Promotes Israel's Propaganda Lines

By Gareth Porter, Truthout
Saturday, 16 May 2015

In February, a US Department of the Treasury press release announced sanctions on three Lebanese in Africa it said were linked to a "Hezbollah terrorist cell."

But behind that press release is a story of how the portrayal of the Lebanese by the Treasury Department was based entirely on a case constructed by Israel's foreign intelligence agency Mossad through its Nigerian clients, and how that Treasury release suppressed publicly available facts, which made it apparent that those claims were false.

It was not the first time the Treasury Department had used its "designations" of foreign individuals and organizations to put out false and misleading information reflecting an Israeli propaganda line. In 2011, Treasury claimed that Iran had reached a "secret deal" with al-Qaeda to allow the terrorist organization to use Iranian territory for its operations, despite clear evidence that the only agreement that had been reached was to facilitate the release of an Iranian hostage held by al-Qaeda in return for the release of al-Qaeda prisoners.

(Continued here.)

Why you should never, ever play the lottery

By Matt O'Brien
May 14, WashPost

What if I told you there was a $70 billion tax that the poor pay the most. You'd probably say that isn't very fair. But that's exactly what the lottery is: an almost 12-figure tax on the desperation of the least fortunate.

To put that in perspective, that's $300 worth of lottery tickets for every adult every year. But it's actually worse than that, because, as The Atlantic's Derek Thompson points out, researchers have found that the bottom third of households buy more than half of all tickets. So that means households making less than $28,000 a year are dishing out $450 a year on lotteries. And, as a result, everybody else doesn't have to pay the higher taxes they would if gaming revenues weren't underwriting our schools.

So what? Lotteries might be just like a tax for all but the one-in-a-hundred-million who win them, but they're still a voluntary tax. It's not the government's fault that people either don't care or don't realize that, once you account for taxes and the possibility of splitting the pot, it never makes financial sense to buy a lottery ticket. Right? Well, no. It's not that poor people don't understand that the lottery has a near-zero chance of making them dynastically wealthy. It's that they think everything else has an actually-zero chance. That's why, as Thompson highlights, people making less than $30,000 are 25 percent more likely to say that they buy lottery tickets for money than for fun, while it's the opposite for everyone else. State lotteries, in other words, don't just prey on poor people's dreams—they do that for everyone—but rather on desperate dreams.

(More here.)

With Another Bush Eyeing White House, Family Money Machine Springs to Life

Jeb Bush set for record haul from loyal donor network built over decades

By Beth Reinhard And Christopher S. Stewart, WSJ
May 15, 2015 1:01 p.m.

Former first lady Barbara Bush began adding campaign donors to the family’s Christmas card list five decades ago, building an index-card file of well-heeled contributors who went on to serve as ambassadors, cabinet members and State Department advisers in the two Bush administrations.

Jeb Bush, who opened the door to a presidential campaign five months ago, is now reaping a record-setting haul thanks to a donor network that stretches back to his father’s election to Congress in 1966.

“The Bush family gave us the chance to serve,” said donor David D. Aufhauser, who worked as general counsel for the Treasury Department under former President George W. Bush. “So we are loyal.”

Mr. Aufhauser and his wife, who worked at the Commerce Department, were among the hosts of a fundraiser earlier this year for Mr. Bush’s Right to Rise super PAC.

(More here.)

Harvard Accused of Bias Against Asian-Americans

Complaint alleges university sets higher bar for applicants to limit Asian enrollment

By Douglas Belkin, WSJ
Updated May 15, 2015 9:26 p.m. ET

A complaint Friday alleged that Harvard University discriminates against Asian-American applicants by setting a higher bar for admissions than that faced by other groups.

The complaint, filed by a coalition of 64 organizations, says the university has set quotas to keep the numbers of Asian-American students significantly lower than the quality of their applications merits. It cites third-party academic research on the SAT exam showing that Asian-Americans have to score on average about 140 points higher than white students, 270 points higher than Hispanic students and 450 points higher than African-American students to equal their chances of gaining admission to Harvard. The exam is scored on a 2400-point scale.

The complaint was filed with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

“Many studies have indicated that Harvard University has been engaged in systemic and continuous discrimination against Asian-Americans during its very subjective ‘Holistic’ college admissions process,” the complaint alleges.

The coalition is seeking a federal investigation and is requesting Harvard “immediately cease and desist from using stereotypes, racial biases and other discriminatory means in evaluating Asian-American applicants.”

Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s general counsel, said the school’s admissions policies are “fully compliant with the law.” The school says its admissions process takes into account a variety of factors besides academics, including applicants’ extracurricular activities and leadership qualities.

(More here.)

Separating Fact From Seymour Hersh’s Fiction About bin Laden

Osama’s body was chopped up and dropped from a helicopter? That's odd. I saw video of his burial at sea.

By Michael Morell, WSJ
Updated May 15, 2015 6:16 p.m. ET

As a career intelligence officer, I learned that there are few things in life of which you can be absolutely certain. But I am positive that a lengthy new article by journalist Seymour Hersh, which is getting widespread attention with a whole new tale about how Osama bin Laden was brought to justice, is wrong in almost every significant respect.

I can be certain because I was deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency when senior officials from our Counterterrorism Center first brought to CIA Director Leon Panetta and me the news that they had trailed an individual whom they believed was a bin Laden courier to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. And I was there for every meeting that followed as we worked through the evidence that led our analysts to conclude that the most-wanted man in the world was hiding at the compound.

So I had good reason to know that Mr. Hersh’s 10,000-word story in the London Review of Books was filled with falsehoods. But here’s something I got wrong: I was certain that Mr. Hersh’s allegations would be quickly dismissed. After all, there was a public record about the raid in statements by the White House, Pentagon and CIA, and in books by former officials such as Mr. Panetta, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others. Then there were the media appearances by the Navy SEAL who says he personally shot bin Laden. It should have been clear that either Mr. Hersh’s version of the truth was bogus or that we all had participated in one of the most successful and complex conspiracies in modern history.

Despite the many and obvious holes in Mr. Hersh’s story, his allegations gained some traction. A number of respected news organizations ranging from the New York Times to NBC News picked up slivers of information in Mr. Hersh’s account and essentially said, “Yeah, we heard something like that too.” Almost all of these accounts were attributed to anonymous former officials—many of whom admitted having at best secondhand information. Incredibly, these “I know a guy, who knows a guy who swears that . . .” accounts were given credence over on-the-record statements made in the past four years by people who were in the room—or on the scene.

Mr. Hersh has appeared in the media in recent days saying that when I and others asserted that his report was wrong, we were offering “non-denial denials” because our objections lacked specificity. All right, let me specifically address his major allegations.

(More here.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Fraternity of Failure

Paul Krugman, NYT
MAY 15, 2015

Jeb Bush wants to stop talking about past controversies. And you can see why. He has a lot to stop talking about. But let’s not honor his wish. You can learn a lot by studying recent history, and you can learn even more by watching how politicians respond to that history.

The big “Let’s move on” story of the past few days involved Mr. Bush’s response when asked in an interview whether, knowing what he knows now, he would have supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He answered that yes, he would. No W.M.D.? No stability after all the lives and money expended? No problem.

Then he tried to walk it back. He “interpreted the question wrong,” and isn’t interested in engaging “hypotheticals.” Anyway, “going back in time” is a “disservice” to those who served in the war.

Take a moment to savor the cowardice and vileness of that last remark. And, no, that’s not hyperbole. Mr. Bush is trying to hide behind the troops, pretending that any criticism of political leaders — especially, of course, his brother, the commander in chief — is an attack on the courage and patriotism of those who paid the price for their superiors’ mistakes. That’s sinking very low, and it tells us a lot more about the candidate’s character than any number of up-close-and-personal interviews.

(More here.)

Wyoming Makes It A Crime To Collect Evidence Of Pollution On Public Lands

Author: Charles Topher May 14, 2015 11:58 am, AddictingInfo

Wyoming has implemented a law that will make it virtually impossible for citizen watchdog groups, whistleblowers, and even concerned private citizens to collect data evidence of pollution outside of city limits.

The law, signed by Governor Matt Mead (R) makes it illegal to collect data, outside of city boundaries, on all lands public, private or federal. It cites “data collection” as meaning “take a sample of material, acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form from open land which is submitted or intended to be submitted to any agency of the state or federal government.”

Essentially if you live in or visit Wyoming, taking a picture of a polluted stream as a concerned citizen for the purpose of informing the EPA, National Forestry Service or any other agency could land you a $5000 fine and up to a year in jail.

Some are touting the law as a way to protect ranchers from scientists and whistleblowers from crossing their lands to collect evidence of wrongdoing, as those lands are private and should be protected from trespass.

(More here.)

Vast Antarctic ice shelf a few years from disintegration, says Nasa

Remnant of Larsen B Ice Shelf, about half the size of Rhode Island, is expected to break apart completely around the year 2020, adding to sea level rises



The research focused on a remnant of the so-called Larsen B Ice Shelf, which has existed for at least 10,000 years but partially collapsed in 2002. What is left covers about 625 sq miles (1,600 sq km), about half the size of Rhode Island.

Antarctica has dozens of ice shelves – massive, glacier-fed floating platforms of ice that hang over the sea at the edge of the continent’s coast line. The largest is roughly the size of France.

Larsen B is located in the Antarctic Peninsula, which extends toward the southern tip of South America and is one of two principal areas of the continent where scientists have documented the thinning of such ice formations.

“This study of the Antarctic Peninsula glaciers provides insights about how ice shelves farther south, which hold much more land ice, will react to a warming climate,” said Eric Rignot, co-author of the study and a glaciologist at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

(More here.)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Traces of Chemicals in Syria Add to Pressure on Obama to Enforce a ‘Red Line’

By PETER BAKER and ERIC SCHMITT
MAY 13, 2015

WASHINGTON — If President Obama hoped that the danger of chemical warfare in the Middle East receded when Syria gave up tons of poison gas, mounting evidence that toxic weapons remain in the strife-torn country could once again force him to decide just how far he is willing to go to enforce his famous “red line.”

The discovery of traces of ricin and sarin in Syria, combined with the use of chlorine as a makeshift weapon in the country’s grinding civil war, undercut what Mr. Obama had viewed as a signal triumph of his foreign policy, the destruction of President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arsenal.

But Mr. Obama appears no more eager to use military force against Mr. Assad’s government today than he was in 2013 when he abruptly called off a threatened airstrike in exchange for a Russian-brokered agreement in which Syria voluntarily gave up its chemical weapons. Instead, the Obama administration responded to reports of violations this time by seeking renewed assistance from Russia and exploring a new United Nations Security Council resolution addressing Syria’s continued use of chemicals as weapons.

“You’re dealing with a regime that is not very credible on weapons of mass destruction programs,” said Robert Ford, the Obama administration’s former ambassador to Syria. “No one should be surprised the regime didn’t declare all of its facilities. But the bad news in all of this is the regime is using chemical weapons regularly — even if not sarin gas now, they’re using chlorine gas regularly and they are not deterred from doing so.”

(More here.)

5 Big Banks Expected to Plead Guilty to Felony Charges, but Punishments May Be Tempered

By BEN PROTESS and MICHAEL CORKERY
MAY 13, 2015

For most people, pleading guilty to a felony means they will very likely land in prison, lose their job and forfeit their right to vote.

But when five of the world’s biggest banks plead guilty to an array of antitrust and fraud charges as soon as next week, life will go on, probably without much of a hiccup.

The Justice Department is preparing to announce that Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and the Royal Bank of Scotland will collectively pay several billion dollars and plead guilty to criminal antitrust violations for rigging the price of foreign currencies, according to people briefed on the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Most if not all of the pleas are expected to come from the banks’ holding companies, the people said — a first for Wall Street giants that until now have had only subsidiaries or their biggest banking units plead guilty.

The Justice Department is also preparing to resolve accusations of foreign currency misconduct at UBS. As part of that deal, prosecutors are taking the rare step of tearing up a 2012 nonprosecution agreement with the bank over the manipulation of benchmark interest rates, the people said, citing the bank’s foreign currency misconduct as a violation of the earlier agreement. UBS A.G., the banking unit that signed the 2012 nonprosecution agreement, is expected to plead guilty to the earlier charges and pay a fine that could be as high as $500 million rather than go to trial, the people said.

(More here.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Russia Has Complete Information Dominance in Ukraine

By James J. Coyle, Atlantic Council

Armed men, believed to be Russian servicemen, forced their way into a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea with armored vehicles, automatic fire, and stun grenades on March 22, 2014. As Russia seized Crimea, mobile telephone services were blocked, Russian naval ships jammed radio communications, Crimean government websites were knocked offline, telecommunications offices were raided, and cables cut.

Hackers have consistently used low-level cyber warfare tactics to advance Russian goals in Ukraine.

A dedicated group of hackers successfully infected the e-mail systems of the Ukrainian military, counterintelligence, border patrol, and local police. The hackers use a spear-phishing attack in which malware is hidden in an attachment that appears to be an official Ukrainian government email. For the most part, the technologies are not advanced but the attacks have been persistent. Lookingglass, a cybersecurity firm, suspects the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) is the culprit behind the virus dubbed Operation Armageddon.

The Russian government is likely behind an even more dangerous virus. Since 2010 BAE Systems has been monitoring the activities of malware they dubbed Snake, and numerous digital footprints point to the Russian Bear. Moscow time zone stamps were left in the code and Russian names are written into the software. Other clues point to the Kremlin. "It's unlikely to be hacktivists who made this. The level of sophistication is too high. It is very well written—and extremely stealthy," observed Dave Garfield, BAE's Managing Director for cyber security.

According to the IT security company Symantec, Snake has infected dozens of computers in the office of Ukraine's Prime Minister and at least ten Ukrainian embassies since 2012. Snake was used against the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to access documents on the Ukraine crisis. The malware establishes a "digital beachhead" that allows its operators to deliver malicious code to the targeted networks. The implications are far-reaching: "Russia not only now has complete informational dominance in Ukraine," an intelligence analyst told the Financial Times, "it also has effective control of the country's digital systems, too. It has set the stage."

(More here.)

Russians Rewrite History to Slur Ukraine Over War

Simon Shuster / Moscow @shustry, TIME
Oct. 29, 2014.

Vladimir Putin has turned the idea of fascism into a political tool, and now Russian historians are adapting to the Kremlin line

The trio of German historians, as well as a handful of their colleagues from Eastern Europe, flew into Moscow last week for what they thought would be a conference on the history of Nazi war crimes. It was the fifth in a series of international summits held every other year since 2006, first in Berlin and Cologne, then in Slovakia and Belarus, to keep alive the memory of the towns and villages destroyed during World War II. But the German co-chairman of the conference, Sven Borsche, began to feel that something was amiss in Moscow as soon as he met his Russian hosts. “All they wanted to talk about was the conflict in Ukraine,” he says.

Even without the simultaneous translations provided for the foreign guests, they would have gotten the political message. The photographs shown by several of the Russian speakers put the atrocities of the Nazi SS right alongside pictures from the current war in eastern Ukraine. There is not much difference, the Russian historians suggested, between the actions of the Ukrainian military in its war against separatist rebels and the atrocities that Hitler’s forces committed during World War II.

“Right now, fascism is again raising its head,” declared Yaroslav Trifankov, a senior researcher at the state historical museum in the Russian region of Bryansk, which borders Ukraine. “Right now,” he said from the podium, “our brother Slavs in Ukraine have been so thoroughly duped and brainwashed by their puppet government, which answers only to the U.S. State Department, that they truly have come to see themselves as a superior race.”

(More here.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

US taxpayers subsidising world's biggest fossil fuel companies

Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum got subsidises granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, Guardian investigation reveals

Damian Carrington and Harry Davies, The Guardian
Last modified on Tuesday 12 May 2015 08.41 EDT

The world’s biggest and most profitable fossil fuel companies are receiving huge and rising subsidies from US taxpayers, a practice slammed as absurd by a presidential candidate given the threat of climate change.

A Guardian investigation of three specific projects, run by Shell, ExxonMobil and Marathon Petroleum, has revealed that the subsidises were all granted by politicians who received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry.

The Guardian has found that:
  • A proposed Shell petrochemical refinery in Pennsylvania is in line for $1.6bn (£1bn) in state subsidy, according to a deal struck in 2012 when the company made an annual profit of $26.8bn.
  • ExxonMobil’s upgrades to its Baton Rouge refinery in Louisiana are benefitting from $119m of state subsidy, with the support starting in 2011, when the company made a $41bn profit.
  • A jobs subsidy scheme worth $78m to Marathon Petroleum in Ohio began in 2011, when the company made $2.4bn in profit.
“At a time when scientists tell us we need to reduce carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change, it is absurd to provide massive taxpayer subsidies that pad fossil-fuel companies’ already enormous profits,” said senator Bernie Sanders, who announced on 30 April he is running for president.

Sanders, with representative Keith Ellison, recently proposed an End Polluter Welfare Act, which they say would cut $135bn of US subsidies for fossil fuel companies over the next decade. “Between 2010 and 2014, the oil, coal, gas, utility, and natural resource extraction industries spent $1.8bn on lobbying, much of it in defence of these giveaways,” according to Sanders and Ellison.

(More here.)

Monday, May 11, 2015

Wall Street Vampires

Paul Krugman, NYT
MAY 11, 2015

Last year the vampires of finance bought themselves a Congress. I know it’s not nice to call them that, but I have my reasons, which I’ll explain in a bit. For now, however, let’s just note that these days Wall Street, which used to split its support between the parties, overwhelmingly favors the G.O.P. And the Republicans who came to power this year are returning the favor by trying to kill Dodd-Frank, the financial reform enacted in 2010.

And why must Dodd-Frank die? Because it’s working.

This statement may surprise progressives who believe that nothing significant has been done to rein in runaway bankers. And it’s true both that reform fell well short of what we really should have done and that it hasn’t yielded obvious, measurable triumphs like the gains in insurance thanks to Obamacare.

But Wall Street hates reform for a reason, and a closer look shows why.

For one thing, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — the brainchild of Senator Elizabeth Warren — is, by all accounts, having a major chilling effect on abusive lending practices. And early indications are that enhanced regulation of financial derivatives — which played a major role in the 2008 crisis — is having similar effects, increasing transparency and reducing the profits of middlemen.

(More here.)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Seymour M. Hersh, London Review of Books
Vol. 37 No. 10 · 21 May 2015

(TM comment: well... maybe. Everybody lies or makes things up except the people who talk to Hersh.)

It’s been four years since a group of US Navy Seals assassinated Osama bin Laden in a night raid on a high-walled compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The killing was the high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election. The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account. The White House’s story might have been written by Lewis Carroll: would bin Laden, target of a massive international manhunt, really decide that a resort town forty miles from Islamabad would be the safest place to live and command al-Qaida’s operations? He was hiding in the open. So America said.

The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders – General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI – were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions, including one by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times Magazine of 19 March 2014. Gall, who spent 12 years as the Times correspondent in Afghanistan, wrote that she’d been told by a ‘Pakistani official’ that Pasha had known before the raid that bin Laden was in Abbottabad. The story was denied by US and Pakistani officials, and went no further. In his book Pakistan: Before and after Osama (2012), Imtiaz Gul, executive director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, a think tank in Islamabad, wrote that he’d spoken to four undercover intelligence officers who – reflecting a widely held local view – asserted that the Pakistani military must have had knowledge of the operation. The issue was raised again in February, when a retired general, Asad Durrani, who was head of the ISI in the early 1990s, told an al-Jazeera interviewer that it was ‘quite possible’ that the senior officers of the ISI did not know where bin Laden had been hiding, ‘but it was more probable that they did [know]. And the idea was that, at the right time, his location would be revealed. And the right time would have been when you can get the necessary quid pro quo – if you have someone like Osama bin Laden, you are not going to simply hand him over to the United States.’

This spring I contacted Durrani and told him in detail what I had learned about the bin Laden assault from American sources: that bin Laden had been a prisoner of the ISI at the Abbottabad compound since 2006; that Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms; that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false.

(More here.)

When Stalin was Hitler's ally

Timothy Snyder, Eurozine

As Russia revives the tradition of wars of aggression on European territory, Vladimir Putin has chosen to rehabilitate the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as good foreign policy. But why violate now what was for so long a Soviet taboo? Timothy Snyder explains.

As Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has chosen to rehabilitate the alliance between Hitler and Stalin that began the World War II. In speaking of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as good foreign policy doing so he violates both the long Soviet taboo and adjusts his own prior position that the agreement was "immoral". What might he have in mind? What it is about the alliance with Hitler that is appealing just at the present moment? What does this revision of the history of World War II mean as Russia revives the tradition of wars of aggression on European territory?

Putin has become an amateur of history, and his recent speeches reveal a kind of wishful reconstruction of the Russian past. Mixing clichés with a good deal of bad faith, he has presented, since his war upon Ukraine began in February, a rather strange history of his own country. He has maintained that Russia and Ukraine are one nation because of a baptism that might or might not have happened more than a thousand years ago in a trading post that was, at the time, a synthesis of pagan Vikings and Jewish Khazars. He presents Crimea, now that it has been invaded and annexed, as eternally Russian, even though its history is a European pageant of cultures. Its Russian character is due largely to murderous expulsion of Crimean Tatars by the Stalinist regime in 1943. As Belarusian President Lukashenko has mischievously pointed out, by Putin's own logic of ethnic history it would make more since to hand over Moscow to the Crimean Tatars than it does to hand over Crimea to Moscow. After all, Muscovy began as a protectorate of the Tatars. Finally, Putin has claimed that Russia should expand southward because there was once a region called New Russia. He gets the borders of the historical district wrong, but this only conceals the deeper error. Expanding Russia into New Russia makes as much sense as England claiming New England or Scotland claiming New Caledonia or South Wales claiming New South Wales. In contemporary history, Russian propaganda embraces simple contradiction and dares the "decadent" West to notice: there is no Ukrainian nation but all Ukrainians are nationalists; there is no Ukrainian state but its organs are oppressive; there is no Ukrainian language but Russians are being forced to speak it.

(More here.)

A paean to moms … even the the ugly ones

Dear Mom: You're Better Than These Fantastic Insect Mothers. And That's Saying Something!

Posted by Ross Pomeroy, RealClearScience

Doting mothers come in all shapes and sizes, even small, some might say "unflattering" ones. Take the earwig, for instance. After egg-laying, females of this inch-long insect species dutifully guard their eggs, all 20 to 80 of them, warding off predators and continuously cleaning them. Once the eggs hatch, she'll protect her flock for a further few weeks, until their second molt.

The female lace bug is similarly motherly. When a damsel bug approaches to snack on her young nymphs, she'll jump on the back of the larger, armored insect and fan out her wings in an attempt to slow it down, allowing her young time to scuttle away to safely. The encounter usually doesn't end well for the mom, but at least some of her offspring may survive.

It's a pity the lace bug isn't more formidable, like the praying mantis. Utilizing brain and brawn, the mother mantis sends her nymphs to the tip of a twig, and positions herself at the base. There's only one way to her kids, and it's through her. Most insect predators elect not to test the gauntlet.

* * *
Now, to all the human mothers out there, you might think that nothing says "I love you" like letting yourself be eaten from the inside out, but I disagree -- you're just being humble. The sacrifices you made, in terms of time, physical health, and sanity, for outweigh those of the mother strepsiptera. She never had to deal with dirty diapers, complaining, or puberty. Cannibalism was a cop out.

Happy Mother's Day!

(The article is here.)

The Suicide of Britain

Ross Douthat, NYT
MAY 9, 2015

FOR much of European history, empire was the normal political arrangement: Large, polyglot, multiethnic and eventually multireligious, with a monarch on top and a jostling confederation underneath.

Then came modernity, democracy and nationalism, and the “nations” of Europe — half-real, half-invented — demanded self-determination and self-rule.

Between 1914 and 1945 (with a final act in the Balkans in the 1990s), this led to world-historical disaster, mass exterminations, ruthless wars for mastery. But out of those conflicts came a new kind of hybrid order. The nations would have self-rule, within borders redrawn by war and ethnic cleansing. But they would be supervised by a kind of postmodern empire, an imperial bureaucracy without the emperor — the European Union.

The outlier, as always, was Great Britain. Like its rivals, the United Kingdom lost its overseas colonies, but it kept much of its domestic empire, the several nations — English, Scottish, Welsh and Ulster Irish — that still share a flag and crown. And as befits its anachronistic status, Britain has held itself somewhat aloof from the European Union’s postmodern imperium, joining the union but not its common currency.

These distinctive arrangements have been good for the U.K. overall. Remaining a united kingdom has magnified its global clout, and being in the E.U., but not fully of it, has spared it the worst of the continent’s Euro-driven woes.

(More here.)

How Hillary Is Winning

Frank Bruni, NYT
MAY 9, 2015

AS fleetly as Hillary Clinton vacuums up the money, she piles up the paradoxes.

She showed fatal weaknesses the last time she chased the presidency and her inevitability evaporated like a California puddle, but she’s somehow inevitable all over again. Invincible, even. Journalists have to remind themselves daily not to type or say “presumptive Democratic nominee” before her name.

She’s fashioning herself as someone uniquely attuned to “everyday Americans” while her husband fashions $500,000 speeches as amulets against the bill collector. Someone’s got to pay for the burrito bowls.

And her Republican rivals convince themselves that “I’m not Hillary” is their strongest argument and best bet, although the reverse holds true. At least for now, not being any one of them is her ace in the hole.

The 2016 race in its adolescence is between the dependably messy, perpetually maddening spectacle of the Clintons and a party with a brand-decimating profusion of mad hatters like the two who announced their bids and grabbed the spotlight last week, Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson.

(More here.)

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Putin’s Russia Has To Deal With the Legacy of World War II

by Cathy Young, TIME
12:05 AM ET

Cathy Young is a contributing editor at Reason magazine.

Having spent my first 16 years in the Soviet Union, I grew up hearing very little about World War II and a great deal about the “Great Patriotic War”—the German invasion in June 1941 and the four-year “sacred war” that followed. The war was a centerpiece of official propaganda; but it was also a living collective memory of hardship, loss, and survival. The Soviet Union’s Victory Day, May 9, was the one Soviet holiday that belonged to everyone, even to people like my parents and grandparents who quietly hated the Soviet regime. Now, on the 70th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat, the war and the victory are a legacy that seem to divide far more than they unite—a subject of often bitter contention between Russia and its ex-Soviet neighbors, between Russia and the West, and between Kremlin-loyal “patriots” and pro-Western liberals within Russia.

Of course, the legacy of the war was never simple. In our history lessons in Soviet school, we heard about the very real heroism of Soviet men and women who fought in the Red army and in partisan guerilla units; but we did not learn that the Soviet leadership knowingly threw tens of thousands of barely trained, sometimes barely armed or fed draftees into the maw of the German war machine. We did not learn that the NKVD, Joseph Stalin’s secret police, and the dreaded military intelligence force SMERSH (an abbreviation for “death to spies”), had men marching behind regular forces ready to gun down anyone who tried to run or retreat. We were told about the perfidious German attack on the USSR—but the Soviet-German pact was glossed over, and there was no mention of the fact that Soviet troops and government officials in the path of the invasion initially fled in panicked disarray.

I learned about the other side of the Great Patriotic War from personal stories, from my parents, from clandestine foreign radio broadcasts and forbidden literature that found its way into our home. I learned that a family friend’s father was arrested and imprisoned in 1941 for “sabotaging morale” because, while listening to Stalin’s first post-invasion radio address among neighbors, he imprudently remarked that the Soviet leader’s voice sounded very sad. I learned that for millions, U.S. food aid had been essential to wartime survival. (My mother, who was five when the war started, still has fond memories of Spam.) I learned that many across the Soviet Union initially welcomed the Germans as liberators from Communism, and that most Soviet POWs bitterly fought repatriation after the war’s end—not surprisingly, since their homecoming usually ended in the gulag as punishment for the “treason” of letting themselves be captured alive.

(More here.)

Friday, May 08, 2015

They still miss their slaves

Confederates in the Jungle

By Ron Soodalter, NYT
May 8, 2015 7:00 am

The Fourth of July celebration has all the hallmarks of a scene from “Gone with the Wind,” or a county fair in the most unreconstructed corners of Mississippi or Alabama. The men, dressed in Confederate gray shell jackets, yellow-trimmed frock coats, kepis and plumed black slouch hats, cross the dance floor to select their partners, elegant young women in colorful hoop-skirted ball gowns. Arm in arm, they step to the rhythms of ancient dances, as the fiddle and banjo strike up the old-time strains of “Dixie’s Land,” “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” “The Virginia Reel” and “Cumberland Gap.”

Meanwhile, families gather around banquet tables loaded down with dishes that are the products of centuries-old Southern family recipes. Along the sidelines, vendors hawk rebel battle flags, Confederate campaign caps, and T-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers emblazoned with slogans like “Hell no, we won’t forget!”

Nearby stands a small stucco-walled chapel. An old cemetery, shaded by Alabama pines and bougainvillea, contains over 500 graves with stones bearing such venerable Southern names as MacKnight, Miller and Baird, Steagall, Oliver, and Norris, Owens, Carlton and Cobb.

The setting is, in fact, in the South – very far south, in Brazil.

(More here.)

Fringe Festival

Timothy Egan, NYT
MAY 8, 2015

In 2008, Mike Huckabee ran for president as a likable chucklehead who had lost 100 pounds. And you can, too! Now he’s running for president as a grievance–burdened theocrat who has lost his mind. In the interim, he lent his name to infomercials hawking a dubious diabetes treatment of cinnamon and some other concoction, putting the Huckster in Huckabee.

In 2005, Carly Fiorina was fired as chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard, after laying off nearly 30,000 people and overseeing the collapse of the company’s stock price. She left with a $21 million severance package. She then lost a Senate race in California by a million votes. Now she’s running for president. And why not? Rewarded for failure in business, she’s trying it in politics.

Up until 2013, Dr. Ben Carson was known mainly as a celebrated neurosurgeon, much in demand on the speaking circuit for his inspirational talks. But then he compared President Obama to a psychopath, said expanding health care was the worst thing to happen to this country since slavery, and claimed homosexuality was a choice, because “people go into prison straight — and when they come out, they’re gay.” Of course, he’s now running for the highest office in the land.

(More here.)

How Russians Lost the War

By MIKHAIL SHISHKIN, NYT, MAY 8, 2015

ZURICH — My father went to war as a volunteer at age 18. He was a submariner in the Baltic Sea.

When I was small, we lived in a basement on the Arbat, in central Moscow. Hanging on the wall above my bed was a photograph of his Shchuka-class submarine. I was terribly proud that my papa had a submarine, and I was always copying that photograph into my school notebook.

Every year on May 9, Victory Day in Russia — marking the anniversary of the day that news of the German surrender in 1945 reached Moscow — my father would go to the closet and take out his sailor’s uniform, which required regular alteration to accommodate his growing belly, and pin on his medals. It was so important to me to be proud of my father: There had been a war and my papa had won it!

When I grew up, I realized that in 1944 and 1945, my father was sinking ships that were evacuating German civilians and troops from Riga, in Latvia, and Tallinn, in Estonia. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people met their deaths in the waters of the Baltic — for which my father received his medals. It’s been a long time since I was proud of him, but I don’t judge him. It was war.

(More here.)

Fool me once: NAFTA … Fool me twice: TPP

America is about to make a horrible mistake all over again

In the '90s, NAFTA was full of grand promises that never came true. Now we're hearing those same promises again

CONOR LYNCH, SALON

Back in the early ’90s, a debate was raging over whether to pass the enormous North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. Al Gore debated Ross Perot on “Larry King Live,” while President Clinton had former Presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford all join together to praise the deal and earn the public’s trust. Throughout all of the media escapades, a lot of promises were made. On the signing of NAFTA, President Clinton said that the deal would create an economic order in the world that would “promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment and a greater possibility of world peace.” Specific promises were also made — Clinton said that the deal would “create 200,000 jobs [in the U.S.] by 1995,” specifically “by fostering an export boom to Mexico.”

NAFTA was not a typical trade deal. There was much more to it than just cutting tariffs and quotas. This deal was more about expanding corporate privileges and safeguarding foreign investments, which in a sense makes it less about free trade, and more about hooking up big business with the ultimate corporate welfare package. NAFTA included the infamous Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision, extended patent rights for medicine, and limited regulation for certain industries.

The promises were great, but like so many political promises, they were just plain wrong. While an export boom to Mexico was predicted, the opposite happened. In 1993, one year before NAFTA was implemented, the United States had a trade surplus with Mexico of $2.5 billion (inflation-adjusted) and a $29.1 billion deficit with Canada. In 2012, after more than a decade and a half, the combined U.S. deficit had grown to $181 billion. Indeed, NAFTA ended up creating an import boom from Mexico, rather than an export boom to it.

(Continued here.)

Thursday, May 07, 2015

70th Anniversary Of End Of World War II Marked By Fascism In Russia

Guest post written by Andrea Chalupa, Forbes

Ms. Chalupa is a journalist and the author of Orwell and The Refugees: The Untold Story of Animal Farm.

Reggie Yates is clearly fearless. The black British reporter traveled to Russia for the BBC to understand the recent rise of fascism. In addition to discovering a mini Comic-Con glorifying Putin, he was also harassed for being black at a nationalist march founded by the president and was calmly informed in one interview that the mixing of races is impure and leads to mutations. (Yates is mixed race.) The charming and buoyant reporter at first smiles through the absurdity, but the bigotry gets to be too much for him. His emotions begin to show on his face. Twice we see Yates abruptly end an interview and rush for the exit.

Xenophobia has been an upward trend in Russia even before recent tensions with the West. Yates gives us a stomach-turning glimpse of a montage of YouTube videos celebrating vicious attacks on immigrants, including a man sitting on a bench who is suddenly kicked in the face. He also interviews an immigrant who was randomly stabbed on the street only to have the doctor refuse to treat him because he was an immigrant.

A 2013 poll by the independent Levada Center found that 69% of Russians believe the country has too many immigrants. The discrimination even targets citizens of post-Soviet countries and regions, like the Caucasus. Ironically, Putin and his supporters call for the return of the Soviet Union yet don’t want to live alongside the very same people Russia once colonized.

A vile pride has taken over the country. It is the design of a dictator who severely restricts press and internet freedoms, legislates homophobia, and exalts the invasion of much smaller neighbors. Journalists and opposition leaders have been arrested and murdered under Putin’s watch. Soviet history is even being rewritten to glorify Joseph Stalin.

(More here.)

Russia's Greatest Weapon May Be Its Hackers

By Owen Matthews / May 7, 2015, Newsweek

In hacker jargon, it’s called a “cyber-to-physical effect.” It’s when a hacker reaches out from the virtual world into the real one—often with catastrophic consequences. The Americans and Israelis pioneered the technique back in 2009 when the Stuxnet program infiltrated Iranian computer systems and wrecked thousands of uranium-enriching centrifuges. But now other players—especially the Russians and Chinese—are getting into the game of remotely using computer networks to destroy infrastructure and threaten human lives. Last year, according to a report by Germany’s Federal Office for Information Security, a blast furnace melted down in an unnamed industrial city in Germany after a digital attack on its control systems, causing “massive damage.”

It nearly happened in the United States too, when unknown hackers succeeded in penetrating U.S. electrical, water and fuel distribution systems early in 2014. While old-fashioned, relatively low-tech data hacks make headlines—for instance, high-profile break-ins over the last 12 months to the email systems and databases of the White House, State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense and Sony Pictures Inc.—what has security officials seriously worried is the new and dangerous world of cyber-to-physical infrastructure attacks.

“This is not theoretical,” National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers told the U.S. House of Representatives’ Intelligence Committee recently. Hacking attacks on the U.S. and its allies are “costing us hundreds of billions of dollars,” Rogers warned, and will result in “truly significant, almost catastrophic failures if we don’t take action.”

(More here.)