The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Israel takes a breath

A nearly-comical coalition of political parties in Israel successfully achieved the only thing they agreed on by removing Benjamin Netanyahu from power yesterday:

The long and divisive reign of Benjamin Netanyahu, the dominant Israeli politician of the past generation, officially ended on Sunday night, at least for the time being, as the country’s Parliament gave its vote of confidence to a precarious coalition government stitched together by widely disparate anti-Netanyahu forces.

Naftali Bennett, a 49-year-old former aide to Mr. Netanyahu who opposes a Palestinian state and is considered to the right of his old ally, replaced him as prime minister after winning by just a single vote. Yair Lapid, a centrist leader and the new foreign minister, is set to take Mr. Bennett’s place after two years, if their government can hold together that long.

They lead a fragile eight-party alliance ranging from far left to hard right, from secular to religious, that few expect to last a full term and many consider both the embodiment of the rich diversity of Israeli society but also the epitome of its political disarray.

Mr. Netanyahu’s departure was a watershed moment for politics in Israel. He had been in power for so long that he was the only prime minister that many young adults could remember. For many, he had grown synonymous not only with the Israeli state, but also with the concept of Israeli security — and an Israel without him seemed almost inconceivable to some.

Of course, he could return pretty soon if the government collapses. Given the past few years of Israeli history, that seems more likely than not. On the other hand, Netanyahu can't govern from jail...

Heavy competition for "Dumbest in Congress" award this year

Many of the top contenders for the bottom position on the US House of Representative's intellectual achievement league table have only recently joined the august body. First-term representatives Lauren Boebert (R-CO), a high-school dropout, and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), have backed up their sterling educational credentials with solid records of stupidity. Of course, US Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) would win by two lengths if he served in the House instead of the Senate. Fortunately, the House has Jim Jordan (R-OH) to represent the same demographic (stereotypical meathead football coaches with neolithic political views).

Yesterday, however, Louie Gohmert (R-TX), a perennial contender and multiple-year winner of the award, lowered the bar dramatically with a truly remarkable idea he shared with the House Natural Resources Committee and an associate deputy chief of the US Forest Service:

"I was informed by the immediate past director of NASA that they've found that the moon's orbit is changing slightly and so is the Earth's orbit around the sun. We know there's been significant solar flare activity," he said. "And so, is there anything that the National Forest Service or BLM can do to change the course of the moon's orbit or the Earth's orbit around the sun? Obviously, that would have profound effects on our climate."

Eberlien responded, smiling, "I would have to follow up with you on that one, Mr. Gohmert."

"If you figure out there's a way in the Forest Service you could make that change, I'd like to know," Gohmert said.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) helpfully provided an answer for his astronomy-challenged colleague:

Gohmert, now in his 7th term in Congress, faces no significant challenger in 2022. And with this, he may not face a serious challenge to his title of Dumbest in Congress for the 13th year running.

Wednesday afternoon

I spent the morning unsuccessfully trying to get a .NET 5 Blazor WebAssembly app to behave with an Azure App Registration, and part of the afternoon doing a friend's taxes. Yes, I preferred doing the taxes, because I got my friend a pile of good news without having to read sixty contradictory pages of documentation.

I also became aware of the following:

Tomorrow morning, I promise to make my WebAssembly app talk to our Azure Active Directory. Right now, I think someone needs a walk.

The world still spins

As much fun as Cassie and I have had over the last few days, the news around the world didn't stop:

Finally, journalist Jack Lieb filmed D-Day using a 16mm home movie camera, which you can see on the National Archives blog. It's really cool.

Because conservatives love states' rights

SDCA Senior Judge Roger Benitez, a George W Bush appointee, has ruled that California's assault-weapons ban violates the 2nd Amendment:

The state’s definition of illegal military-style rifles unlawfully deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonly allowed in most other states and by the U.S. Supreme Court, the judge wrote.

Judge Roger T. Benitez, who has favored pro-gun groups in past rulings, described the AR-15 rifle, used in many of the nation's deadliest mass shootings, as an ideal weapon.

"Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment," he wrote in Friday's decision.

"Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR15 type rifle," Benitez continued. "Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional."

What a novel theory: other states allow this thing, so California must also. And yet I would bet you an entire dollar that Judge Benitez would disagree with his own theory as regards, say, marijuana or abortions.

The hypocrisy of Republicans on this issue is a lot like their hypocrisy on many others: what they want, others must have; what they don't want, no one else can have. The Federal government can't tell states they have to allow abortions, but they can tell states they can't ban the causes of the biggest health crisis in America since the invention of the automobile.

Benitez' opinion opens with a lengthy argument that the AR-15, a weapon designed specifically to allow American infantry to kill lots of people as reliably and as easily as possible, really isn't as deadly as someone's hands (no, really, footnote 3 on page 3). But really, he goes on, the term "assault weapon" is too broadly defined to be useful, but even if the AR-15 is an assault rifle, "like all guns, [it] can be used for ill or for good" (at 8).

Judge Benitez does not elaborate on the good that an AR-15 can do.

Naturally his opinion quotes dissents from Thomas, Scalia, and Kavanaugh quite a bit. For non-lawyers, quoting a dissent usually signals that the judge knows he's on the wrong side of precedent, but hopes that he can create new precedent if the case goes all the way up on appeal. He also spends a lot of time on Heller, which, I'm sure even casual Daily Parker readers know, I think was wrongly decided and has caused no end of suffering all over the US.

I expect it will. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will probably overturn Benitez, as I would guess they have done on many previous occasions. I have little doubt that our hyper-politicized Supreme Court will grant certiorari, and if so, probably reverse the appellate court.

I'm sick of my country's gun fetish. And assholes like Judge Benitez, who proudly say "there's no way to prevent this" in the only country where this regularly happens.

The Republican Civil War moves to Oregon

The Multnomah County, Ore., Republican Party has suffered what one might call a psychotic episode:

The story in Multnomah County, which is home to both Democrat-dominated Portland and a strong contingent of right-wing militia types, started with anger and frustration over [ousted GOP county chair Stephen] Lloyd’s effort to make the party “open to everyone,” including with more public-facing meetings. 

To some, that was simply too much. In early May, a faction of the party scheduled a recall vote.

The petition cited the supposed danger posed by local anti-fascist activists, asserting, “We dare not announce where and when we are meeting in the city of the original Antifa group, Rose City Antifa, which continues to actively hurt people and damage property nightly in Portland!”

But the May 6 recall vote was unusual. 

For one thing, its location, a Portland church, was not publicized ahead of time, WW reported. More suspicious still, an associate of the Proud Boys, Daniel Tooze Sr., provided volunteer security at the door as his associates roamed around the neighborhood. 

Ball told TPM the meeting included an unfamiliar crowd that he eventually heard were Proud Boys.

If this sort of thing sounds familiar, it should: it looks a lot like the rise of private militias in other democracies that have ultimately failed, going all the way back to Rome. You know how we sometimes say "people who don't study history are doomed to repeat it?" These tremors in the Republican Party are coming from people who have studied history and want to repeat it. The Right's leaders know what they're doing, even if the Herrenvolk do not.

In related news, Facebook has suspended the XPOTUS for two years.

Third day of summer

The deployment I concluded yesterday that involved recreating production assets in an entirely new Azure subscription turned out much more boring (read: successful) than anticipated. That still didn't stop me from working until 6pm, but by that point everything except some older demo data worked just fine.

That left a bit of a backup of stuff to read, which I may try to get through at lunch today:

Finally, summer apparently arrives in full force tomorrow. We're looking forward to temperatures 5-10°C above normal through mid-June, which will continue northern Illinois' drought for at least a few more weeks.

Blogging is harrrrrrrd

After 7,927 blog entries over more than 23 years, I must express surprise that the XPOTUS managed a full 29 days:

Former President Donald Trump’s blog — a webpage where he shared statements after larger social media companies banned him from their platforms — has been permanently shut down, his spokesman said Wednesday.

The page, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” has been scrubbed from Trump’s website after going live less than a month earlier.

After he launched the thing, people stayed away in droves. Can't think why.

Oh, actually, I can: the kinds of people who uncritically believe that he would write anything worth reading are exactly the kinds of people too intellectually lazy and technologically hapless to expend the mental effort required to find his blog. And those of us who have technical and other kinds of savvy didn't want to read it.

The one thing I'll give the XPOTUS credit for: he has become the ne plus ultra of serial failure. Seriously, I can't help feeling impressed at the new ways he finds to fail in order to distract from his previous failures.

Ransomware in the news

I've just received my third nearly-identical fake DMCA takedown notice, which I may decide to turn over to the FBI if I can muster the shits to give. I find it funny how each one of them has a few differences that make them look like something other than lazy script-kiddie stuff. This one again misstated the statutory damage limits for willful copyright infringement, and the randomly-generated name of the "claimant" was no less bizarre than the other two. And yet I wonder why they bothered altering the bits they altered. Maybe there are multiple entities involved, with each email coming from a different person or group? Maybe they have some low-paid flunky typing in the note each time, so I'm watching its slow drift from a semi-competent DMCA notice into the digital equivalent of "hodor?"

This one bounced through an IP address in New York State, which means my previous guess that this was a domestic script-kiddie operation might be wrong. For one thing, the threatening language has a few tells that its author doesn't speak English natively. I had originally thought the author merely wanted to sound more convincing by using stock phrases and "magic" legal words, but now that I've seen three examples of the same basic text, it looks more like Russian-inflected English. In any event, I wave my private parts at their aunties.

Both the New Yorker and New York Times published reports over the weekend about crap like this. In the first, Rachel Monroe talked with ransomware negotiator Kurt Minder about negotiating with criminals:

For the past year, Minder, who is forty-four years old, has been managing the fraught discussions between companies and hackers as a ransomware negotiator, a role that didn’t exist only a few years ago. The half-dozen ransomware-negotiation specialists, and the insurance companies they regularly partner with, help people navigate the world of cyber extortion. But they’ve also been accused of abetting crime by facilitating payments to hackers. Still, with ransomware on the rise, they have no lack of clients. Minder, who is mild and unpretentious, and whose conversation is punctuated by self-deprecating laughter, has become an accidental expert.

Hackers use various techniques to gain access to a company’s computers, from embedding malware in an e-mail attachment to using stolen passwords to log in to the remote desktops that workers use to connect to company networks. Many of the syndicates are based in Russia or former Soviet republics; sometimes their malware includes code that stops an attack on a computer if its language is set to Russian, Belarusian, or Ukrainian.

When Minder founded GroupSense, in Arlington, Virginia, in 2014, the cybersecurity threat on everyone’s mind was data breaches—the theft of consumer data, like bank-account information or Social Security numbers. Minder hired analysts who spoke Russian and Ukrainian and Urdu. Posing as cybercriminals, they lurked on dark-Web marketplaces, seeing who was selling information stolen from corporate networks. But, as upgrades to security systems made data breaches more challenging, cybercriminals increasingly turned to ransomware.

Early last year, GroupSense found evidence that a hacker had broken into a large company. Minder reached out to warn it, but a server had already been compromised. The hacker sent a ransom note to the company, threatening to release its files. The company asked Minder if he would handle the ransom negotiations. Initially, he demurred—“It never occurred to me as a skill set I had,” he said—but eventually he was persuaded.

The profile on Minder dovetailed with the Times' collaboration with a criminal named Woris who gave the paper access to the tools gangs use to launch ransomware attacks:

The Times gained access to the internal “dashboard” that DarkSide customers used to organize and carry out ransom attacks. The login information was provided to The Times by a cybercriminal through an intermediary. The Times is withholding the name of the company involved in the attack to avoid additional reprisals from the hackers.

Access to the DarkSide dashboard offered an extraordinary glimpse into the internal workings of a Russian-speaking gang that has become the face of global cybercrime. Cast in stark black and white, the dashboard gave users access to DarkSide’s list of targets as well as a running ticker of profits and a connection to the group’s customer support staff, with whom affiliates could craft strategies for squeezing their victims.

In the chat log viewed by The Times, a DarkSide customer support employee boasted to Woris that he had been involved in more than 300 ransom attacks and tried to put him at ease.

“We’re just as interested in the proceeds as you are,” the employee said.

Together, they hatched the plan to put the squeeze on the publishing company, a nearly century-old, family-owned business with only a few hundred employees.

In addition to shutting down the company’s computer systems and issuing the pedophile threat, Woris and DarkSide’s technical support drafted a blackmail letter to be sent to school officials and parents who were the company’s clients.

The Russian government allows this to happen because (a) Russian President Vladimir Putin loves annoying the West, and (b) it seems obvious after two seconds of thought that Russian government officials are probably on the take.

All of this gets so exhausting, doesn't it? Simple economics demonstrates the inevitability of theft. It imposes a tax on everyone else, both financially (it costs money to set up good security) and mentally (I will never get back the hour I spent investigating the bogus DMCA notices). At some point, though, it just becomes easier to tolerate a certain level of theft than to build a squirrel-proof bird feeder.

Welcome to Summer 2021

The northern hemisphere started meteorological summer at midnight local time today. Chicago's weather today couldn't have turned out better. Unfortunately, I go into the office on the first and last days of each week, so I only know about this from reading weather reports.

At my real job, we have a release tomorrow onto a completely new Azure subscription, so for only the second time in 37 sprints (I hope) I don't expect a boring deployment. Which kind of fits with all the decidedly-not-boring news that cropped up today:

  • The XPOTUS and his wackier supporters have a new conspiracy theory about him retaking office in a coup d'état this August. No, really.
  • In what could only 100% certainly no doubt how could you even imagine a coincidence, former White House counsel Don McGahn will testify before the House Judiciary Committee tomorrow morning.
  • Also uncoincidentally, a group of 100 historians and political scientists who study this sort of thing have put out a statement warning of imminent democratic collapse in the US. “The playbook that the Republican Party is executing at the state and national levels is very much consistent with actions taken by illiberal, anti-democratic, anti-pluralist parties in other democracies that have slipped away from free and fair elections,” according to the Post.
  • Speaking of democratic backsliding, Josh Marshall takes the Israeli cognoscenti to task for still not getting how much the Israeli government aligning with an American political party has hurt them.
  • Here in Illinois, the state legislature adjourned after completing a number of tasks, including passing a $46 billion budget that no one got to read before they voted on it. (I'm doubly incensed about this because my own party did it. We really need to be better than the other guys. Seriously.)
  • For the first time since March 2020, Illinois has no states on its mandatory quarantine list. And we reported the fewest new Covid-19 cases (401) since we started reporting them.
  • The Northalsted Business Alliance wants to change the name of Chicago's Boystown neighborhood to...Northalsted. Residents across the LGBTQ spectrum say "just, no."

Finally, a Texas A&M business professor expects a "wave of resignations" as people go back to their offices.