theintercept.com: Why John Oliver Can’t Find Americans Who Know Edward Snowden’s Name (It’s Not About Snowden)

theintercept.com: Why John Oliver Can’t Find Americans Who Know Edward Snowden’s Name (It’s Not About Snowden)

By Glenn Greenwald.

On his HBO program last night, John Oliver devoted 30 minutes to a discussion of U.S. surveillance programs, advocating a much more substantive debate as the June 1 deadline for renewing the Patriot Act approaches (the full segment can be seen here). As part of that segment, Oliver broadcast an interview he conducted with Edward Snowden in Moscow, and to illustrate the point that an insufficient surveillance debate has been conducted, showed video of numerous people in Times Square saying they had no idea who Snowden is (or giving inaccurate answers about him). Oliver assured Snowden off-camera that they did not cherry-pick those “on the street” interviews but showed a representative sample.

Oliver’s overall discussion is good (and, naturally, quite funny), but the specific point he wants to make here is misguided. Contrary to what Oliver says, it’s actually not surprising at all that a large number of Americans are unaware of who Snowden is, nor does it say much at all about the surveillance debate. That’s because a large number of Americans, by choice, are remarkably unaware of virtually all political matters. The befuddled reactions of the Times Square interviewees when asked about Snowden illustrate little about the specific surveillance issue but a great deal about the full-scale political disengagement of a substantial chunk of the American population.

The data on American political apathy is rather consistent, and stunning. Begin with the fact that even in presidential election years, 40 to 50 percent of the voting-age public simply chooses not participate in the voting process at all, while two-thirds chooses not to vote in midterm elections.

Even more striking is what they do and do not know. An Annenberg Public Policy Center poll from last September found that only 36 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government, and only 38 percent know the GOP controls the House. The Center’s 2011 poll “found just 15 percent of Americans could correctly identify the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, while 27 percent knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol.”

A 2010 Findlaw.com poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — were incapable of naming even a single member of the U.S. Supreme Court. A 2010 Pew poll discovered that 41 percent of Americans are unable to name the current vice president of the U.S; in other words, Oliver could just as easily (if not more easily) compile a video of Times Square visitors looking stumped when asked if they knew who Joe Biden, or Antonin Scalia, is.

These are obviously significant facts which receive far too little discussion, analysis and attention. One reason is that they serve as a rather stinging indictment on the political system which media and political insiders love to glorify: a huge chunk of the population, probably the majority, have simply turned away entirely from politics, presumably out of a belief that it makes no difference in their lives. It’s difficult to maintain mythologies about the glories of American democracy if most of the population believes it has so little value that it merits literally none of their time and mental attention.

Then there’s the role that U.S. media itself plays in this dynamic. I’ve often cited as the most revealing fact of the post-9/11 era this Washington Post poll from September, 2003 — six months after the invasion of Iraq — which found that “nearly seven in 10 Americans believe it is likely that ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks” and that a “majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents believe it’s likely Saddam was involved.”

Propagandizing 70 percent of the population is not easy to do, and obviously requires active deceit or pervasive acquiescence by the country’s news media. As part of his discussion last night, Oliver showed my favorite MSNBC clip in order to illustrate the lack of substantive surveillance discussion in the media:

As if to prove his point, click-hungry gossip websites (such as one named Time) ignored most of Oliver’s substantive discussion of the Patriot Act and surveillance and instead seized on the Times Square aspect to mock Snowden for his cultural irrelevance. To the extent that’s true, what they’re actually (unintentionally) mocking is the political process they typically glorify and, most of all, their role within it.

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erratasec.com: Pin-pointing China’s attack against GitHub

erratasec.com: Pin-pointing China’s attack against GitHub

For the past week, the website “GitHub” has been under attack by China. In this post, I pin-point where the attack is coming from by doing an http-traceroute.

GitHub is a key infrastructure website for the Internet, being the largest host of open-source projects, most famously Linux. (I host my code there). It’s also a popular blogging platform.

Among the zillions of projects are https://github.com/greatfire and https://github.com/cn-nytimes. These are mirrors (copies) of the websites http://greatfire.com and http://cn.nytimes.com. GreatFire provides tools for circumventing China’s Internet censorship, the NYTimes contains news stories China wants censored.

China blocks the offending websites, but it cannot easily block the GitHub mirrors. It’s choices are either to block or allow everything on GitHub. Since GitHub is key infrastructure for open-source, blocking GitHub is not really a viable option.

The way the attack worked is that some man-in-the-middle device intercepted web requests coming into China from elsewhere in the world, and then replaced the content with JavaScript code that would attack GitHub. Specifically, they intercepted requests to Baidu’s analytics. The search-engine Baidu is the Google of China, and it runs analytics software like Google in order to track advertising. Everyone outside China visiting internal pages would then run this JavaScript to attack GitHub. Since the attack appears to be coming “from everywhere”, it’s impractical for GitHub to block the attack.

Using my custom http-traceroute, I’ve proven that the man-in-the-middle machine attacking GitHub is located on or near the Great Firewall of China. While many explanations are possible, such as hackers breaking into these machines, the overwhelmingly most likely suspect for the source of the GitHub attacks is the Chinese government.

This is important evidence for our government. It’ll be interesting to see how they respond to these attacks — attacks by a nation state against key United States Internet infrastructure.

WashingtonPost.com: Japan’s sexual apathy is endangering the global economy

WashingtonPost.com: Japan’s sexual apathy is endangering the global economy

But this is more than a story about Japan and its cultural quirks: It’s a story about the global economy. Japan is the world’s third-largest economy, a crucial link in global trade and a significant factor everyone else’s economic well-being. It owns almost as much U.S. debt as does China. It’s a top trading partner of the U.S., China and lots of other countries. The Japanese economy is in serious enough trouble that it could set the rest of us back. And the biggest source of that trouble is demographic: Japanese people aren’t having enough kids to sustain a healthy economy. One big reason they’re having fewer kids is that they’re not as interested in dating or marrying one another.

Economists Peter Boone and Simon Johnson warned in The Atlantic that Japan “could face a wave of insolvencies, triggering a broader loss of confidence” and setting off a financial crisis greater than even the Euro’s. Investors could one day look at the country’s aging and shrinking tax base and decide that Japan’s public debt might not actually be such a safe investment, triggering a loss of confidence and possible insolvency. Given that Japan owns $1.1 trillion in United States debt, a Japanese financial collapse could be very scary for us as well.