Benjamin Wittes recounts what James Comey told him

This post by Benjamin Wittes on his Lawfare blog sheds light on the Comey firing. Wittes is a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He’s also a friend of Comey’s and has unique insights into what Comey faced from the Trump White House.

Wittes wrote:

 Comey understood Trump’s people as having neither knowledge of nor respect for the independence of the law enforcement function. And he saw it as an ongoing task on his part to protect the rest of the Bureau from improper contacts and interferences from a group of people he did not regard as honorable.

A very interesting and worthwhile read.

The daily headlines are starting to look like they came from an Alan Moore graphic novel

This is from today’s New York Times:

Trump Told Russians That Firing ‘Nut Job’ Comey Eased Pressure From Investigation

Seriously. Furthermore, the article features this photo:

As we know, the White House barred American journalists from President Trump’s meeting in the Oval Office with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak. So photos from the meeting, including the one above, come exclusively from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. So no American reporters allowed, yet Russian photographers were. In. The. White. House.

The FCC takes first steps toward dismantling Net Neutrality Protections

From Wired:

 THE BROADBAND INDUSTRY has scored a major victory: The Federal Communications Commission just took the first step toward overturning its own Obama-era net neutrality protections.

The rules won’t disappear overnight. In a party-line vote today, the FCC formally agreed to start the process of gathering feedback before drafting a more specific plan, which could take months (#bureaucracy). But FCC chair Ajit Pai has made it clear that, barring a successful legal challenge, the agency will give up its authority to actually enforce net neutrality regulations.

The rules that prevent Internet Service Providers from blocking, throttling or discriminating against (via paid prioritization or “fast lanes”) any content will now certainly begin to be whittled away thanks to a 2-1 party-line vote at the FCC.

I am an early cord-cutter and have been getting all my television content from internet access. I rely on being online and consume a lot of data, averaging 300+ GB monthly. The average U.S. household monthly broadband usage in 2016 was 190 GB. Without net neutrality protections, ISPs will get to do whatever they want. Will the free market be able to rein in abuses? Or will innovations actually happened due to increased competition? I think I should expect my bill to increase.

Chris Cornell, Soundgarden and Audioslave Frontman, Dies at 52

From the New York Times:

  Chris Cornell, the powerful, dynamic singer whose band Soundgarden was one of the architects of grunge music, died on Wednesday night in Detroit hours after the band had performed there. He was 52.

The death was a suicide by hanging, the Wayne County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a statement released on Thursday afternoon. It said a full autopsy had not yet been completed.

It looks like depression has taken another. David Foster Wallace, Robin Williams and Alexander McQueen are high profile suicides by hanging. Chris Cornell joins the list of gone-too-soons. RIP.

A great look at Apple’s new campus

Wired has a terrific exposé of Apple’s new campus as it sets to open soon. Apple Park, as it is named, was Steve Jobs’s final and arguably biggest project. The images on Wired are breathtaking. The scope of the project is equally so.

WannaCry Ransomeware was part of NSA toolkit

During the iPhone unlocking debate pertaining to the San Bernadino shooter, critics wanted Apple to create a version of iOS for the government to use, under the promise that it would never escape their safe hands and get into the wild.

Apple, of course, vehemently argued against that. Thank goodness Apple did not submit to that. Last week’s WannaCry ransomeware was vindication that Apple did the right thing. The hack used by the perpetrators–who apparently has ties to North Korea–was part of stolen NSA espionage tools that made its way online last last year.

From the Washington Post:

The hack renewed a long-running debate about the dangers of intelligence agencies such as the NSA collecting and using software flaws for espionage, rather than quickly alerting companies to vulnerabilities so they can fix them.

In this case, the NSA found a flaw in Microsoft software that made the hack possible. The agency reported the flaw to the company after a security breach was discovered in August, according to former U.S. officials speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Microsoft fixed the problem in a patch it released in March, before a group calling itself the “Shadow Brokers” publicly released it online in April.

But system administrators appear to have applied the patch inconsistently, leaving some computers vulnerable. The vulnerability gave the hackers what amounted to a lock pick to the Microsoft software on computers that did not receive the update from the company or that used outdated operating systems.

 

About those Game of Thrones spinoffs

When news broke that HBO is developing up to four new Game of Thrones spinoffs, the Internet went into a frenzy. GOT is obviously a huge franchise and HBO will leverage that as much as it could. Speculations abound on what these spinoffs will be. George R.R. Martin, though, always has his ears to the track and has set the record straight via a blog post. Firstly, don’t call these new shows, “spinoffs.”

From Martin:

 For what it’s worth, I don’t especially like the term “spinoff,” and I don’t think it really applies to these new projects. What we’re talking about are new stories set in the “secondary universe” (to borrow Tolkien’s term) of Westeros and the world beyond, the world I created for A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE… None of these new shows will be ‘spinning off’ from GOT in the traditional sense… Every one of the concepts under discussion is a prequel, rather than a sequel. Some may not even be set on Westeros. Rather than ‘spinoff’ or ‘prequel,’ however, I prefer the term ‘successor show.’ That’s what I’ve been calling them.

Oh, and if you’re wondering:

 And yes, before someone asks, I AM STILL WORKING ON WINDS OF WINTER and will continue working on it until it’s done.

One Candidate’s Plan to Resist Trump by Teaching Kids to Code

The rise of Trumpism has spawned an interesting reaction: political activism from Silicon Valley. More and more tech execs are throwing their hats into the political arena or at least are getting more involved. There is increasing speculation that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is laying the groundwork for a presidential run. There is another report that Sam Altman, who heads the incubator Y Combinator, may run for governor of California.

Then there’s Alec Ross, who is not exactly a Silicon Valley veteran, but he did help craft candidate Barack Obama’s technology platform in 2008. Ross also served as Hillary Clinton’s senior innovation advisor when she was Secretary of State. Now he is running for governor of Maryland and he is directing his message to the same “forgotten men and women” that Donald Trump spoke about on the campaign trail. But rather than sealing off our borders and reviving the coal industry at the expense of the world’s climate, Ross argues that the key to a more inclusive economy depends on a simple promise: ensuring all students have access to a computer science education.

Ross proposes to set aside $10 million a year to train computer science teachers for Maryland schools. His initiative would also require all K-12 schools to teach computer science by 2022. Ten million dollars is a drop in the bucket in the state’s existing $6.3 billion education budget. Ross, who started his career as a teacher in West Baltimore, believes this investment in early skills training will prepare every kid in the state for the digital economy. Here’s a startling number: there are currently 20,000 open computing jobs in Maryland alone. These pay an average of about $100,000 a year, twice the state average. That equates to $2 billion in open salaries. Yet just 40% of Maryland’s schools offer computer science courses.

The trend is clear as day. The economy is shifting quickly and our sociopolitical and economic infrastructure needs to adjust at the same pace. However, the 2016 election proved that voters were more receptive Trump’s plan to bring back old-school manufacturing jobs. That just doesn’t make sense. As Ross has said, “Computer code is the alphabet that much of the future is going to be written in.”

(Read the Wired article.)

Trump White House cannot get its stories straight

Last week, it was the Comey firing. The explanations by Sean Spicer, Mike Pense, Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders shifted on an hourly basis. Not to mention the bizarre reasoning that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein gave for justification of Comey’s dismissal–Hillary’s emails, really?–only to be upstage by Trump’s own admission.

This week, it’s the revelation that Trump disclosed classified intel about ISIS to the Russians. First H.R. McMaster declared the Washington Post story as “false,” but didn’t offer any explanation. Then in the early morning hours Trump tweeted that he had the “absolute right” to share “facts.” So now the White House staff is scrambling for a narrative. Congress can’t be sitting easy anymore and in fact key Republicans are now asking for more details.

Of course, the Russian disclosure was yesterday’s news. Today’s new crisis is the report that Trump had pressured Comey to drop the Flynn investigation, which the White House predictably has denied. Still, Comey apparently drafted a two-page account of the private meeting he had with Trump. These notes, one assumes, exist somewhere.