Moral Relativism

I’ve mentioned WEIRD on this blog before. For those who haven’t heard, the basic idea is that college students in North America are very unlike most people on Earth, yet psychology usually considers them type specimens for our entire species.[1] This calls into question a lot of “universals” proposed in psychology papers.

You might think morality would be a clear exception to that. Young people are fitter, old people have already contributed most of what they will to society; if one of each group is put in danger, we should try to save the former first before the latter. Right?

We are entering an age in which machines are tasked not only to promote well-being and minimize harm, but also to distribute the well-being they create, and the harm they cannot eliminate. Distribution of well-being and harm inevitably creates tradeoffs, whose resolution falls in the moral domain. Think of an autonomous vehicle that is about to crash, and cannot find a trajectory that would save everyone. Should it swerve onto one jaywalking teenager to spare its three elderly passengers? Even in the more common instances in which harm is not inevitable, but just possible, autonomous vehicles will need to decide how to divide up the risk of harm between the different stakeholders on the road. […]

… we designed the Moral Machine, a multilingual online ‘serious game’ for collecting large-scale data on how citizens would want autonomous vehicles to solve moral dilemmas in the context of unavoidable accidents. The Moral Machine attracted worldwide attention, and allowed us to collect 39.61 million decisions from 233 countries, dependencies, or territories.

Awad, Edmond, Sohan Dsouza, Richard Kim, Jonathan Schulz, Joseph Henrich, Azim Shariff, Jean-François Bonnefon, and Iyad Rahwan. “The Moral Machine Experiment.” Nature 563, no. 7729 (November 2018): 59. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0637-6.

Well, the data is in. I could do an entire blog post on just their summary, but for now merely note the benevolent sexism,[2] focus on punishment, classism, deontology, and cat hatred. That left bar chart is confusing; the bar between the elderly and the young isn’t indicating that both would be spared equally often, but that children would be spared 49 percentage points more often.

Figure 2 (global preferences) from Edmond et. al (2018).

Sure enough, there’s a clear preference for sparing the young over the elderly. But hold on here; this was an online survey, and the map of people playing the “game” shows a definite skew towards North America and Europe. This summary is “global” in that it aggregates all the data together, but not in the sense that it represents the globe’s preferences. We would do better to break down the responses into countries and analyze that.

First, we observe systematic differences between individualistic cultures and collectivistic cultures. Participants from individualistic cultures, which emphasize the distinctive value of each individual, show a stronger preference for sparing the greater number of characters (…). Furthermore, participants from collectivistic cultures, which emphasize the respect that is due to older members of the community, show a weaker preference for sparing younger characters (…). Because the preference for sparing the many and the preference for sparing the young are arguably the most important for policymakers to consider, this split between individualistic and collectivistic cultures may prove an important obstacle for universal machine ethics. …

We observe that prosperity (as indexed by GDP per capita) and the quality of rules and institutions (as indexed by the Rule of Law) correlate with a greater preference against pedestrians who cross illegally (…). In other words, participants from countries that are poorer and suffer from weaker institutions are more tolerant of pedestrians who cross illegally, presumably because of their experience of lower rule compliance and weaker punishment of rule deviation. This observation limits the generalizability of the recent German ethics guideline, for example, which state that “parties involved in the generation of mobility risks must not sacrifice non-involved parties.” …

… we observe that higher country-level economic inequality (as indexed by the country’s Gini coefficient) corresponds to how unequally characters of different social status are treated. Those from countries with less economic equality between the rich and poor also treat the rich and poor less equally in the Moral Machine. … the differential treatment of male and female characters in the Moral Machine corresponded to the country-level gender gap in health and survival (a composite in which higher scores indicated higher ratios of female to male life expectancy and sex ratio at birth—a marker of female infanticide and anti-female sex-selective abortion). In nearly all countries, participants showed a preference for female characters; however, this preference was stronger in nations with better health and survival prospects for women. In other words, in places where there is less devaluation of women’s lives in health and at birth, males are seen as more expendable in Moral Machine decision-making.[1]

Just consider the consequences of all this: do we have to change the moral calculus of a self-driving car if the owner sells it to someone in another country, or if they merely drive into one? If we tweak the calculus to remove all benevolent sexism, people will feel these cars are unfairly harming women; either we need to pair driver-less cars with a global education campaign to eliminate sexism, or there’ll be a mass movement to bake sexism into our cars. At the same time, self-driving cars will save quite a few lives no matter what moral system they follow; should we sweep all this variation under the rug, and focus on the greater good?

Our moral code depends strongly on where we live and how well we’re living, so how could we all agree to a universal moral code, let alone follow it? Non-normative moral relativism, contrary to the name, is the human norm, and imposing a universal moral code on us will cause all sorts of havoc.

Except when it comes to cats.

[HJH 2018-12-05: Huh, where did that graphic go? I’ve popped it back into place.]


[1] Henrich, Joseph, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan. “Beyond WEIRD: Towards a Broad-Based Behavioral Science.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 33, no. 2–3 (June 2010): 111–35. doi:10.1017/S0140525X10000725.

[2] Glick, Peter, and Susan T. Fiske. “An Ambivalent Alliance: Hostile and Benevolent Sexism as Complementary Justifications for Gender Inequality.” American Psychologist 56, no. 2 (February 1, 2001): 109–18.

On Jakiw Palij

You may have heard of this story.

The last known Nazi collaborator living in the United States — a 95-year-old former camp guard who played an “indispensable role” in the murders of thousands of Jews — was deported to Germany from his New York City home early Tuesday morning, completing what the U.S. ambassador to Germany called a “difficult task.”

But I have yet to see a single news report that gives you the full account. For instance, they guy was 95 years old, yet there’s been an active hunt for Nazis for decades. Why did it take so long to find him?

Christopher A. Wray, Acting Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, announced that a federal judge in Brooklyn, N.Y., today revoked the citizenship of a Queens resident on the basis of his service as an armed guard at an SS slave-labor camp in Nazi-occupied Poland and his concealment of that service when he immigrated to the United States. The denaturalization decision issued today by U.S. District Judge Allyne Ross cited admissions and other evidence proving that Jakiw Palij, 79, served during 1943 as an armed guard at the notorious Trawniki Labor Camp, which the court found was created “[t]o further the exploitation of Jewish labor.”“By guarding the prisoners held under inhumane conditions at Trawniki, Jakiw Palij prevented their escape and directly contributed to their eventual slaughter at the hands of the Nazis,” said Roslynn R. Mauskopf, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Some of the reason is due to Palij covering his tracks well, but if you do some mental math on his age you’ll realize he was stripped of US citizenship back in 2003. So why did it take 15 years to deport a Nazi war criminal?

Palij, an ethnic Ukrainian born in a part of Poland that is now Ukraine, said on his 1957 naturalization petition that he had Ukrainian citizenship. When their investigators showed up at his door in 1993, he said: “I would never have received my visa if I told the truth. Everyone lied.” […]

But because Germany, Poland, Ukraine and other countries refused to take him, he continued living in limbo in the two-story, red brick home in Queens he shared with his late wife, Maria. His continued presence there outraged the Jewish community, attracting frequent protests over the years that featured such chants as, “Your neighbor is a Nazi!”

The place he was born is now in a different country, and neither Poland nor Ukraine wanted Palij. There was no place to deport him to! And once they did deport him, why Germany?

The German government has acknowledged its moral responsibility to receive Palij, who could not be prosecuted in the US, and whom other countries such as Poland, where he was born, and Ukraine, where the place of his birth is now located, have refused to take in. […]

Palij has never possessed German citizenship. It has emerged that his current legal residency status in Germany is based on a clause of the residency law under which non-Germans can be transferred to Germany if “international law or urgent humanitarian reasons” requires it, or “to protect the political interests of Germany”.

The basic idea is that Germany was responsible for the rise of Nazis, ergo it should be responsible for cleaning up after them. They accepted Palij for humanitarian reasons, to heal old wounds. Though it’s kind of awkward to hold a trial for a frail 95-year-old person.

While authorities in the southern city of Würzburg had been trying to bring a case against Palij since 2016, Rommel said that investigation had been closed because no evidence was ever found linking Palij to any murders.

“His transfer from the USA doesn’t change anything about the state of evidence,” he added. “In theory, prosecutors in Würzburg could resume their proceedings in case something changed, but for that proof would be necessary in particular, which would bring the person into direct connection with the crimes, and that is what has been missing so far.”

Nobody, not even Palij himself denies he was part of the SS …

Palij admitted to officials that he was trained at an SS training camp in Trawniki, which was next to the labor camp, in the spring of 1943, according to court documents. But the documents didn’t say what he did after his training.

“There’s a big gap in the historical record,” Eli Rosenbaum, former director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Investigations, tells NPR. And Palij wasn’t talking: “Mr. Palij took the Fifth Amendment and would not cooperate in the search for truth in his case.”

… but beyond showing he was an employee of the Trawniki concentration camp at around the time a massacre occurred, there’s no evidence to close that gap. Palij claims he was coerced into the SS to save his family, which is a common defense of former Nazis, but there are circumstances where that did happen. It was enough to convince a US judge that he should be stripped of his citizenship and deported, but it’s not enough for German prosecutors to bring a case. Arguably, the move to Germany will be a step up for Palij; he used to live on his own in the US, relying on retirement funds he saved. Now:

“Palij will spend the rest of his life here,” an editorial in the left-leaning Taz read. “The Nazi collaborator will now be cared for, receive financial help, a roof, food, clothing, paid for by the state.”

Look, I’m quite firmly on the “Punch Nazis” side of things. But that doesn’t prevent me from also pointing out that very little justice has resulted from this deportation. It’s not something to crow about.

The president used Mr. Palij’s deportation, which came one day after he saluted an Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer and border agents at the White House, as an opportunity to praise the agency, implicitly challenging those who would denounce it. […]

A few hours later, the Republican National Committee sent out a news release noting that Mr. Palij had lived in the congressional district where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a rising star among Democrats who has called for the abolition of ICE, is seeking a House seat. […]

At a campaign rally Tuesday night, Mr. Trump invoked Mr. Palij’s deportation during a screed against Democrats, who he said would throw open America’s borders and do away with ICE.

All those headlines about abused children being ripped from their families (almost 500 are still separated, despite a court order to reunite them nearly a month ago) have resulted in widespread calls to dissolve ICE and a movement to reform immigration procedure to make it more humane. Palij’s deportation is a cynical ploy to fight back: since no-one disagrees with deporting Nazis, it follows that his deportation is necessary and therefore both ICE and the current hard-line policy should remain in place.

Jakiw Palij’s deportation is a net plus to the world, but he was a not deported to promote justice; he was instead deported so he could become a political talking point for the Republican party. Like those children, he was not a human being in their eyes but an object to be exploited and abused.

Even when they do good, the Republican party cannot stop themselves from cruelty.

Obstruction of Justice

Rod Rosenstein has been a fierce defender of the Special Council investigation, refusing to bend to Republican demands to end or curtail it. Ordinarily that wouldn’t matter, as he’s merely the Deputy Attorney General, but Jeff Sessions has recused himself and that makes Rosenstein the boss of Mueller. Eliminating Rosenstein would be the first step in a modern Saturday Night Massacre, shifting control of the Special Council to someone Republicans can control.

Just before their recess, the House Freedom Caucus tried to queue up that first step by introducing articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein. Fortunately, nearly everyone thought it was an empty gesture.

It appears that the resolution will have little chance of success on the House floor, in part because Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has not signed on to to the impeachment effort, and has defended the DOJ’s efforts to cooperate with the committee. “Impeachment is a punishment, it’s not a remedy,” Gowdy said according to The Washington Post. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is also among the leadership who have not signed on to the Rosenstein impeachment effort.

But it looks like we were lied to. I’ve added italics for emphasis.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: “But also, on things that came up in the House on Rosenstein impeachment thing. And it appears from an outsider that the Republicans were not supported.”

REP. NUNES (R-CA): “Yeah, well, so it’s a bit complicated, right? And I say that because you have to, so we only have so many months left, right? So if we actually vote to impeach, okay, what that does is that triggers the Senate then has to take it up. Well, and you have to decide what you want right now because the Senate only has so much time. Do you want them to drop everything and not confirm the Supreme Court justice, the new Supreme Court justice? So that’s part of why, I don’t think you have, you’re not getting from, and I’ve said publicly Rosenstein deserves to be impeached. I mean, so, I don’t think you’re gonna get any argument from most of our colleagues. The question is the timing of it right before the election.

REP. MCMORRIS RODGERS (R-WA): “Also, the Senate has to start –”

REP. NUNES (R-CA): “The Senate would have to start, the Senate would have to drop everything they’re doing and start to, and start with impeachment on Rosenstein. And then take the risk of not getting Kavanaugh confirmed. So it’s not a matter that any of us like Rosenstein. It’s a matter of, it’s a matter of timing.

Devin Nunes is the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and enjoys strong support from Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House and one of the most powerful Republicans in the party. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the most powerful woman in the Republican party and high up in the leadership hierarchy. If the two of them claim most Republicans are in favour of impeaching Rosenstein, that’s probably the case.

It also snaps the final puzzle piece into place for a Massacre. You need a place a stooge in the line of succession below Rosenstein before you start the Massacre, and Republicans already have that in the form of Brian Benczkowski.

Benczkowski’s nomination was controversial because of his work for Alfa Bank, which has been scrutinized by FBI counterintelligence. Benczkowski, a former lead staffer to Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate and a Trump transition official, has faced criticism from Democrats since he was nominated last year over his past private-practice work on behalf of Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s largest financial institutions.[…]

Sen. Dick Durbin, the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat, said in a tweet Tuesday that “the warning signs are clear” about Benczkowski. And Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, in a floor speech called out his “astoundingly weak qualifications,” positing that Benczkowski’s close ties to Sessions and the administration could be leveraged to stymie the ongoing Mueller probe or create a backchannel for improper information sharing.

Any Massacre would throw the country into a constitutional crisis, and almost certainly invoke the Supreme Court. Enter Brett Kavanaugh, a justice who thinks the President should wield more power and be above the law. Confirming him would solidify Conservative control over the court and give them enough votes to rubber-stamp a Massacre. Democrats are doing what they can to oppose Kavanaugh, but

The reality is Democrats have little power to block Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Republicans need only 50 votes to confirm a nominee, so if every sitting Republican votes for Kavanaugh, he’ll be confirmed. Plus, there are several red-state Democrats who have plenty of incentives to demonstrate that they are working with Republicans in Washington.

Devin Nunes just confirmed the Republican Party is teeing up another Saturday Night Massacre. They’re not only conspiring to defraud the United States, the majority of the party are eager to obstruct justice to cover up their misdeeds. Italics are mine again.

REP. NUNES (R-CA): “So therein lies, so it’s like your classic Catch-22 situation where we were at a – this puts us in such a tough spot. If Sessions won’t unrecuse and Mueller won’t clear the president, we’re the only ones. Which is really the danger. That’s why I keep, and thank you for saying it by the way, I mean we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.

No wonder Republicans are bark more than they bite as they keep refusing to fund election security initiatives in the face of blinking red lights, they’re counting on a mixture of voter suppression and Kremlin interference to keep them in power and safe from prosecution. It brings to mind what Sarah Kendzor said in the latest episode of Gaslit Nation,

It’s not controversial to say the GOP at this point is trying for one party rule and they’re going to do everything they can do gain that in the mid-terms.

You should vote like this is the last election you may see in your life, because it might be, and I’m not kidding about that. I’m not saying that lightly. This is how autocracies are formed.

Conspiracy to Defraud the United States

Watching the fallout from yesterday’s shit-show has been fascinating. The White House’s official talking points are A) Trump has always thought Russia was behind the hack, and as proof they quote-mine his statements, B) Trump talked extensively about Russian election meddling with Putin, something we’ll never be sure of as he met with Putin alone for two hours, but seems to contradict what he said immediately afterwards to Sean Hannity as well as Putin and Lavrov‘s rosy assessments, and C) why dwell on the past?

That hasn’t gone over well; as I’m typing this, Trump has tried re-writing history and announced he said “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t” in Helsinki, Finland, which is the opposite of convincing.

He didn’t come up with that on his own. Ditch the “would”/”wouldn’t” bit, switch “my campaign didn’t collude” to “there’s no proof it changed the outcome of the election,” and you’ve got a carbon copy of what Paul Ryan was spouting earlier in the day. Above all, what’s fascinating to me is how Republicans are reacting to Trump’s actions. Ryan, for instance, has plenty of criticism for Russia and yet completely omits Trump. Tom Cotton does the same, as does Mitch McConnell, while Trent Gowdy argues Trump is unable to detach criticism of the Kremlin from criticism of his election victory, which ignores Trump’s overtures to Putin before Trump was elected. There’s a bit of whataboutism from Warren Davidson and Tucker Carlson, in addition to old-fashioned question dodging from Devin Nunes. The other major line I’ve seen:

Mike Murphy – I’m furious R’s are cowardly about Trump. But here is what they say in private: 1.) Trump is a disgrace. 2.) I give fiery press conf tmmrw saying that. 3.) Nothing changes, Trump remains nuts and remains POTUS. 4.) A nut beats me in next primary. So how does my pol suicide help?

Jake Sherman – In playbook this am: what republicans are telling me on Russia: What the hell do you want us to do? They say they’ve done what’s been asked of them. They feel they can’t stop trump. They’ve opposed him at all times on Russia.

Kevin M. Kruse – Legislation is certainly needed, sir, but as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee you can also use your subpoena powers and convene public hearings to get to the bottom of the president’s relationship with Russia.

So the party with control of both the House and Senate, with Democrats eager to cooperate on this subject, is completely powerless to check the power of the President? No Republican is proposing a concrete action to censure Trump? John McCain may have had some very harsh words, for instance, but even he delegates any action to unnamed “Americans.” This is an extremely odd situation, and echos of it have been around since Trump was elected. [Read more…]

Remember This Old Thing?

I’m a bit of an oddity on this network, as I’m pretty convinced Russia was behind the DNC email hack. I know both Mano Singham and Marcus Ranum suspect someone else is responsible, last I checked, and Myers might lean that way too. Looking around, though, I don’t think anyone’s made the case in favor of Russian hacking. I might as well use it as an excuse to walk everyone through using Bayes’ Theorem in an informal setting.

That was me one year, one month, and fifteen days ago, kicking off the first of a four-part series. My two main points were A) the priors favored the Kremlin, as they’ve done more to influence elections than anyone else (save the CIA), and B) while each bit of evidence may have been weak, the majority of it was more likely to be observed if the Kremlin were behind the hack than under any other hypothesis. Looking back, I don’t think I’d change a word, not even this bit in part 3:

Publicly revealing the evidence of hacking is a great way to convince people of its truth, but it’s also a great way to lose the ability to track the hackers. This is why the police never reveal their evidence until they absolutely have to at trial. This is why the FBI will let people they think are consuming child pornography walk free. This is why the CIA “cannot confirm or deny,” because even a single bit of information can reveal volumes. It is never in a government’s interest to explain the details of an investigation, especially when the target of the investigation is part of another government.

That line of thinking had me pessimistic that we’d ever see a good accounting of what happened. What government agency would dare reveal those details, and burn their sources?

12. Defendant IVAN SERGEYEVICH YERMAKOV (…) was a Russian military officer assigned to ANTONOV’s department within Unit 26165. Since in or around 2010, YERMAKOV used various online personas, including “Kate S. Milton,” “James McMorgans,” and “Karen W. Millen,” to conduct hacking operations on behalf of Unit 26165. In or around March 2016, YERMAKOV participated in hacking at least two email accounts from which campaign-related documents were released through DCLeaks. In or around May 2016, YERMAKOV also participated in hacking the DNC email server and stealing DNC emails that were later released through Organization 1. […]

21.c. On or about March 28, 2016, YERMAKOV researched the names of Victims 1 and 2 and their association with Clinton on various social media sites. Through their spearphishing operations, LUKASHEV, YERMAKOV, and their co-conspirators successfully stole email credentials and thousands of emails from numerous individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign. Many of these stolen emails, including those from Victims 1 and 2, were later released by the Conspirators through DCLeaks. […]

29. Between on or about May 25, 2016 and June 1, 2016, the Conspirators hacked the DNC Microsoft Exchange Server and stole thousands of emails from the work accounts of DNC employees. During that time, YERMAKOV researched PowerShell commands related to accessing and managing the Microsoft Exchange Server.

Apparently, the Special Council would. To be fair to past-me, this comes from an indictment submitted by Mueller’s team last Friday, so it is indeed related to a trial. Those news reports of Dutch government hackers snooping on this GRU unit also suggest that intel source is no longer needed (or alive), which also removed the need for secrecy.

And damn, those details: the GRU did indeed try to use “Company 1″‘s public statements to hide their tracks; they remained on the DNC network well into October 2016, yet “Company 1” claimed they’d been removed mid-June 2016; in September they swiped “test applications related to the DNC’s analytics;” and on July 27-ish tried to get into Hillary Clinton’s personal and campaign office. Those last two happen to line up with other plausibly-related events.

If you’re hardcore anti-CIA/FBI, this document may fall short of convincing. Remember, though, the indictment is the prelude to a trial; someone is going to ask how the hell Mueller’s team knew what specific Russian citizens were Googling on specific days, and if this is all a ruse it should be obvious from the government’s replies. By making easily falsified assertions, the Special Council is signaling they have high confidence they have sufficient evidence to prove them in court, and that’s not so easily dismissed.

Personally? I’m feeling vindicated. My original analysis was within epsilon of spot-on.

“Aggressive, unpredictable, unreliable”

It’s funny, Trump didn’t used to be this opposed to Iran. Now, between all the domestic scandals he faces, and his love of military power along with the warmongering far-right, he’s decided to reverse course and get aggressive with Iran.

“It is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Room. “The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing we know exactly what will happen.” In announcing his decision, Trump said he would initiate new sanctions on the regime, crippling the touchstone agreement negotiated by his predecessor. Trump said any country that helps Iran obtain nuclear weapons would also be “strongly sanctioned.”
“This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made,” the President said. “It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.” … “At the point when the US had maximum leverage, this disastrous deal gave this regime — and it’s a regime of great terror — many billions of dollars, some of it in actually cash — a great embarrassment to me as a citizen,” Trump said.

One problem: what are the consequences of withdrawing? Iran’s nuclear program was going fine when they were under earlier sanctions, so imposing sanctions isn’t going to have much effect. As for the political situation within Iran,

Sadeq Zibakalam, a prominent political commentator and professor of politics at Tehran University, struck a pessimistic tone about the consequences of Trump’s decision in Iran. “Many people are worried about war,” he told the Guardian on phone from Tehran. “Whenever the country faces a crisis in its foreign policy or economy, the situation gets better for hardliners, they’d be able to exert their force more easily.”

He added: “At the same time, hardliners will gain politically from this situation, because they’ll attack reformists and moderates like [President] Rouhani that this is evidence of what they had been saying for years, that the US cannot be trusted, and that US is always prepared to knife you in the back.”

Zibakalam, who is close to the reformists, said he did not think it would take long for Europeans and other nations to follow in the footsteps of the US, because they won’t endanger their economic ties with Washington, which would outweigh the benefits of doing business with Iran.

Rouhani has taken an aggressive stance to jump in front of the hardliners.

“This is a psychological war, we won’t allow Trump to win… I’m happy that the pesky being has left the Barjam,” he said referring to Persian acronym for JCPOA or the nuclear deal.

“Tonight we witnessed a new historic experience… for 40 years we’ve said and repeated that Iran always abides by its commitments, and the US never complies, our 40-year history shows us Americans have been aggressive towards great people of Iran and our region .. from the [1953] coup against the legitimate government of [Mohammad] Mosaddegh Mosadeq government and their meddling in the affairs of the last regime, support for Saddam [Hussein during Iran-Iraq war] and downing or our passenger plane by a US vessel and their actions in Afghanistan, in Yemen,” he said.

“What Americans announced today was a clear demonstration of what they have been doing for months. Since the nuclear deal, when did they comply? They only left a signature and made some statements, but did nothing that would benefit the people of Iran.”

Rouhani said the International Atomic Energy Agency (the IAEA) has verified that Tehran has abide by its obligations under the deal. “This is not an agreement between Iran and the US… for US to announce it’s pulling out, it’s a multilateral agreement, endorsed by the UN security council resolution 2231, Americans officially announcement today showed that their disregard for international commitments.. We saw that in their disregard for Paris agreement..

“Our people saw that the only regime that supports Trump is the illegitimate Zionist regime, the [s]ame regime that killed our nuclear scientists”

“From now on, this is an agreement between Iran and five countries… from now on the P5+1 has lost its 1… we have to wait and see how other react. If we come to the conclusion that with cooperation with the five countries we can keep what we wanted despite Israeli and American efforts, Barjam can cursive,” he said referring to Persian acronym for JCPOA or the nuclear deal.

“We had already come to the conclusion that Trump will not abide by international commitments and won’t respect Barjam.”

And the other signers to the Iran deal are keeping a stiff upper lip, at least for now.

According to the IAEA, Iran continues to abide by the restrictions set out by the JCPoA, in line with its obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The world is a safer place as a result. Therefore we, the E3, will remain parties to the JCPoA. Our governments remain committed to ensuring the agreement is upheld, and will work with all the remaining parties to the deal to ensure this remains the case including through ensuring the continuing economic benefits to the Iranian people that are linked to the agreement.

Most commentators are united in calling the withdrawal a prelude to disaster. Most Americans were fine with the Iran deal. Most of the world is starting to get on board this train:

Last year, on a reporting trip though a few European capitals, something I heard over and over from European foreign policy officials: We remember 2003, and we’re starting to think this is the real America. Aggressive, unpredictable, unreliable, and dangerous.

The Spectre of Future Meltdowns

I’ve created and deleted drafts on this topic all weekend. All the metaphors I’ve tried to come up with are pretty inaccurate, or don’t add anything that others haven’t already said. So I’ll just do this the boring way.

Don’t let the cute logos fool you, both Spectre and Meltdown are about as serious as you can get in computer security. Both take advantage of the design of many high-end CPUs. In order to squeeze out as much efficiency as possible, nearly all CPUs from Intel allow the processor to reorder the instructions it executes and make guesses about certain values. Unfortunately, when the CPU is jumping ahead it relaxes some of its normal security checks; fortunately, if those guesses are wrong it undoes any changes and executes the right code. On the surface, that prevents any security issues.

But there are still fingerprints of what was executed left behind, hidden in places a programmer can’t directly access but which nonetheless have subtle effects on the behavior of the processor. A clever programmer can combine brute-force checking with probability to guess at the contents of what the processor executed then erased, allowing them to wiggle past security checks. The result is devastating, as it can reveal sensitive data like passwords or worse. These attacks also take place at the hardware level, which makes them incredibly difficult to fix; at one point, US-CERT’s primary recommendation was to replace your CPU, roughly equivalent to replacing a car’s engine. Ouch! Bruce Schneier has weighed in, which saves me from being doom-and-gloom for once.

The problem is that there isn’t anything to buy that isn’t vulnerable. Pretty much every major processor made in the past 20 years is vulnerable to some flavor of these vulnerabilities. Patching against Meltdown can degrade performance by almost a third. And there’s no patch for Spectre; the microprocessors have to be redesigned to prevent the attack, and that will take years. […]

It shouldn’t be surprising that microprocessor designers have been building insecure hardware for 20 years. What’s surprising is that it took 20 years to discover it. In their rush to make computers faster, they weren’t thinking about security. They didn’t have the expertise to find these vulnerabilities. And those who did were too busy finding normal software vulnerabilities to examine microprocessors. Security researchers are starting to look more closely at these systems, so expect to hear about more vulnerabilities along these lines.

Spectre and Meltdown are pretty catastrophic vulnerabilities, but they only affect the confidentiality of data. Now that they — and the research into the Intel ME vulnerability — have shown researchers where to look, more is coming — and what they’ll find will be worse than either Spectre or Meltdown. There will be vulnerabilities that will allow attackers to manipulate or delete data across processes, potentially fatal in the computers controlling our cars or implanted medical devices. These will be similarly impossible to fix, and the only strategy will be to throw our devices away and buy new ones.

I got lucky. When I ran the Spectre demo code on my home computer, nothing happened; while many AMD CPUs are effected, they fare better than Intel’s. ARM CPUs, like those on your phone, are somewhere in between. Having said that, Schneier’s right: these bugs are a big deal, and are guaranteed to spur the development of nastier ones.

If you’d like info on both these bugs, Computerphile has a great semi-technical explanation and Jann Horn a super-technical one.

Pardon the Interruption,

but there’s someone I’d like you to meet. His name is George Papadopoulos, and he has quite the story to tell.

In early March 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS learned he would be a foreign policy advisor for the Campaign. Defendant PAPADOPOULOS was living in London, England, at the time. Based on a conversation that took place on or about March 6, 2016, with [Sam Clovis] (the “Campaign Supervisor”), defendant PAPADOPOULOS understood that a principal foreign policy focus of the Campaign was an improved U.S. relationship with Russia. […]

On or about March 31, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS attended a “national security meeting” in Washington, D.C., with then-candidate Trump and other foreign policy advisors for the Campaign. When defendant PAPADOPOULOS introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin. […]

On or about ApriI 18, 2016, the Professor introduced defendant PAPADOPOULOS over email to an individual in Moscow (the “Russian MFA Connection”) who told defendant PAPADOPOULOS he had connections to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (“MFA .. ). The MFA is the executive entity in Russia responsible for Russian foreign relations. Over the next several weeks, defendant PAPADOPOULOS and the Russian MFA Connection had multiple conversations over Skype and email about setting “the groundwork” for a “potential” meeting between the Campaign and Russian government officials. […]

The government notes that [Paul Manafort] forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to [Rick Gates] (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated: “Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should
be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

What’s especially fascinating is when all this happened. Not the bits detailed in the “Statement of the Offense,” mind, but the fact that Papadopoulos was arrested in July of 2017 and pled guilty on October 5th. Robert Muller not only has a critical witness to Trump-Kremlin collusion in his back pocket (see section 6 on page 4, plus this tweet), he’s managed to keep that from leaking out for months. Even worse, Papadopoulos has close connections to Jeff Sessions and Donald Trump.

RYAN: Thank you… We’ve heard you’re going to be announcing your foreign policy team shortly… Any you can share with us?

TRUMP: Well, I hadn’t thought of doing it, but if you want I can give you some of the names… Walid Phares, who you probably know, PhD, adviser to the House of Representatives caucus, and counter-terrorism expert; Carter Page, PhD; George Papadopoulos, he’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy; the Honorable Joe Schmitz, [former] inspector general at the Department of Defense; [retired] Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg; and I have quite a few more. But that’s a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do, but that’s a representative group.

See what I mean? I expect we’ll be hearing a lot more from Papadopoulos in future.


Goddammit, could they at least pace this stuff out?

The Court being in receipt of the government’s letter of October 30th, 2017, and having considered the government’s representation that sealing of the plea proceedings in the above-captioned case is no longer necessary … it is hereby

ORDERED that the Clerk of the Court shall unseal and make available on the public docket any and all documents filed with the Court pertaining to the above-captioned case, including: the information; defendant’s plea agreement (including the Statement of Facts); the transcript of the October 5, 2017 plea hearing, the government’s October 5, 2017 motion to seal; and the Court’s order granting the motion of seal; and it is further

ORDERED that the dockets in the above-captioned criminal case [Papadopoulos’ false statement case] and the associated miscellaneous case (No. 17-mc-2482) shall be unsealed in their entirety.

A few hours later, documents are starting to rain down on us. You’ll need a paid PACER account to read that one, but it’ll only be a matter of time until someone makes the document public. As that happens, I’ll try to update this post with links.

Also, what is “17-mc-2482?” That’s not the Manafort/Gates indictment, and Google searches come up empty. I guess we’ll find out shortly…


Sorry for all the shouting, courts just like to do that. In order of appearance, right from the top:

Sigh, I haven’t spotted any filings in Papadopoulos’ legal case in a few days. I guess they are pacing this out.

In the meantime, the White House’s denials that Papadopoulos had a non-trivial role in Trump’s campaign are beginning to unwind.

“Papadopolous was only one among the many contacts [the American Jewish Committee] established and maintained among advisers to both parties’ 2016 presidential candidates and in the two parties’ national committees,” AJC spokesperson Ken Bandler said in a statement. […]

The AJC forum, occurred on the third day of the RNC in downtown Cleveland. Papadopolous sat on a panel with Reps. Tom Marina, R-Pa., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., both members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee while Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, gave opening remarks.[…]

Papadopoulos’ public role for the Trump campaign continued. In late September, just six weeks before Election Day, he gave an interview as a Trump campaign official to the Russian Interfax News Agency, where he said that Trump will “restore the trust” between the U.S. and Russia.

And he met with Israeli leaders during the inauguration in January as a foreign policy adviser for the newly-sworn in president. “We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel, including the historic Judea and Samaria,” Papadopoulos told the Jerusalem Post the following day.

Naturally, Carter Page isn’t helping the situation.