How To Read News Like A Search Warrant Application

How To Read News Like A Search Warrant Application
By Ken White

Biased, wish-fulfilling, partisan, badly supported news stories abound. (I’m going to try to avoid the f–e n–s term, even ironically.) Has it always been thus? Maybe. But it’s never too late to try to improve yourself. Moreover, with a highly controversial and divisive President, such stories will probably multiply. We’ll be faced, daily, with more news that tells us what we want or expect to hear, that endorses our dim view of the political and social figures we don’t like.

Critical reading is essential. Skepticism of even one’s favored sources is important, unless we’re looking only to be entertained and affirmed. This is an hourly habit, not an occasional one. It’s a task I fail daily and will probably keep failing daily even if I try harder. But maybe I could fail a little less often.

Recently it hit me: what if I reviewed news stories with the skeptical eye I turn towards search warrant applications?

If you’re not familiar with them, search warrant applications include a declaration under penalty of perjury from the investigating officer or agent. The declaration and supporting paperwork are supposed to identify the location to be searched, the items to be seized, and the specific facts providing probable cause that those items are evidence of a crime. Federal courts scrutinize search warrants more closely than state courts. That’s not the law; that’s just reality.

When I was a prosecutor, my job was to review proposed warrant applications from federal agents and make sure that they complied with legal requirements before submitting them for approval to federal magistrate judges. As a criminal defense attorney, my job is to analyze warrant applications that have yielded searches of my clients and scrutinize them for flaws and constitutional failures that I can present carefully and forthrightly to a judge so that the judge can then ignore or rationalize them. The critical eye that prosecutors and judges are supposed to use when reviewing a warrant application — and that defense lawyers use in evaluating whether they can be challenged — comes in handy in assessing the trustworthiness of news. Three doctrines in particular come to mind.

Attribution: Around the time I became a federal prosecutor, thanks to a series of unfavorable Ninth Circuit decisions (which, naturally, I resented at the time as unfairly anti-government), the U.S. Attorney’s Office began emphasizing attribution in reviewing search warrant applications and prosecutor training. Put simply, attribution means this: for each fact asserted in the warrant application, how does the affiant know it? if the affiant learned the fact from someone else, how did that person know it?

A good search warrant establishes clean attribution for each fact, even if that attribution involves second, third, or fourth-hand knowledge. For example, a good search warrant would say something like this: “I spoke with Officer Jones of my department on January 15th, 2017. Officer Jones told me the following: she interviewed Mary Smith earlier that day. Smith stated that she was present at the corner of Elm and Oak and saw the car accident. Smith told Officer Jones that she was walking north on Oak when she saw a red SUV travelling at a high rate of speed run a stop sign and crash into the side of a green sedan.” A well-drafted affidavit also identifies its factual inferences and its basis for them. “I obtained electricity usage records with an administrative subpoena to Southern California Edison for the subject address. I noted that, starting the month that suspect ROBERTS occupied the residence, energy usage spiked 350%, to a level that was consistently more than three times what the energy usage had been for the same time of year over the last five years at the residence. In my training and experience, I know that indoor marijuana grows often result in substantial spikes in energy usage because of the lights and other equipment used”

Thanks to thorough attribution, the reader knows the ultimate source of the fact and the ultimate source’s basis for asserting the fact. A bad search warrant application, by contrast, makes assertions about what happened without any indication of how the affiant knows those facts.

A well-attributed news story might be less stilted. But it would still make clear the basis for the facts asserted in the story. Partial or unclear attribution obscures this. Take yesterday’s extremely popular New York Times story about Rick Perry’s gig as Energy Secretary. I certainly wanted to believe it. I deplore Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent (mostly thanks to his criminal justice stance) Rick Perry. The slams on Perry were artful and viscerally satisfying. The picture it painted confirmed what I wanted to believe about the administration. But notice how the story’s main assertion — that Perry thought he was signing up to lead energy industry policy, when in reality his job would be primarily about nuclear security — comes in the first three paragraphs without any attribution. The fourth paragraph has a quote from a (former) insider, but the paragraphs are structured so it’s impossible to determine if that source told the Times what’s in the previous three paragraphs, or if he endorses that content (he says he doesn’t), or whether he’s simply provided a pull quote that the Times can present as consistent with their theme. Is the point of the story the Times’ characterization or interpretation of facts, or is it based on something that a source specifically told the Times? If it came from the source, was it all based on direct knowledge or based on the source’s own gloss? (Notice how the source switches from “I asked him” to describe one sentiment and the vague and unattributed “now he would say” for the second). We’re left to guess.

Particularity: My debut as a prosecutor also coincided with a Ninth Circuit push for more particularity in warrants. That is, the Court pushed back against the habit of general warrants that sought permission to seize whatever the investigating agents felt like seizing.1 Instead, the Court demanded that warrant affidavits not only specify with reasonable particularity what is to be seized, but support the proposition that each thing to be seized is somehow evidence of a crime. “There are things that are evidence of a crime, some of those things are in this house, therefore all things in this house should be seized” doesn’t cut it.

Particularly is useful in evaluating news stories too. If a story attributes a stance, or a goal, or a motive to a public figure, does it give specific examples of conduct consistent with stance? If the story offers examples of conduct — specific facts — does it connect them to the thesis of the article? Does it show how those specific examples actually support its thesis, or does it simply regurgitate them and rely on proximity to persuade the reader to assume they are connected? So, for instance, the New York Times’ Rick Perry story has a number of paragraphs questioning Perry’s qualifications, comparing the better qualifications of a prior Energy Secretary, and discussing Trump’s likely energy policy. Are those paragraphs proof of the article’s thesis? Does Perry’s lack of qualification — if that’s what it is — support the thesis that he thought he was going to be controlling energy use policy instead of nuclear security?

Corroboration: Anonymous or obscure sources are not inherently impermissible in search warrants or in journalism. A search warrant may rely in part on an anonymous source if the affiant corroborates that source — that is, offers other facts supporting what the source says. In theory a warrant application should corroborate facts only an insider could know. “My source told me that methamphetamine is being cooked at a green house at 123 Elm. I traveled to 123 Elm and observed that the house is, in fact, green” is not meaningful corroboration. “My source told me that suspect ROBERT is cooking methamphetamine at 123 Elm, that he began cooking in March 2016, and that he had precursor chemicals delivered there beginning in April. Based on my review of the Southern California Edison records described above, I noted that there was a 300% spike in energy usage at 123 Elm beginning in March 2016. My review of the UPS records described in paragraph 17 above showed a series of deliveries from an online chemical supply company beginning in April of 2016″ is good corroboration.

I can’t critique the New York Times Perry story on source corroboration because it’s not clear what parts of it come from sources, anonymous or otherwise. But it’s now routine for the media to offer sources — anonymous and named — with no corroboration and very little indication of the source’s basis for knowledge (which is also an attribution problem). I recognize that journalists have an interest in protecting their sources, but that protection has a cost, and that cost ought to include a higher level of skepticism with readers. A reliable story based on an anonymous source would corroborate elements of the source’s story in a meaningful way for the reader. Otherwise it’s just the reporter’s appeal to his or her own authority — I trust this person so you should as well — and that’s no different than an agent’s “trust my skeevy anonymous informer because I’m a cop so you can trust me.”

If you’re reading this to suggest that I think one “team” or another is more guilty of this or more or less credible, you’re reading it wrong. Skepticism and critical reading are good. The fact that we’ll certainly fall short is not a reason not to try. And gosh, what if a habit of critical reading of the news could even translate to critical evaluation of law enforcement claims? Nah. One improbable goal at a time.

Edited to add: I missed that Jesse Singal already made the same point about attribution.

Copyright 2016 by the named Popehat author.

January 19, 2017 at 12:02PM
via Popehat

Bears are No Joke

Bears are No Joke
By martinlongman

I grew up in Central New Jersey. Mercer County is the home of the state capital as well as Princeton University. A large chunk of the Route One business corridor runs through it. It’s not bear country. In fact, in the eighteen years that I lived in Princeton, I never once heard of a bear sighting. I don’t think I knew that any bears lived in New Jersey. If you wanted to see one (and you probably didn’t), I figured you needed to head across the river to Pennsylvania or go up to the Catskills or Adirondacks. I was very wrong.

The recently concluded bear hunt in New Jersey netted 607 bears. To me, that seems like a ton of bears. But when I looked at the county by county breakdown, I wasn’t surprised to see that zero bears were killed in Mercer County. There were also zero bears killed in Somerset, the county immediately to the north.

I live in Chester County, Pennsylvania now. I actually live in a cabin in the woods. But this is still not bear country. I’ve never seen a bear here, and I’ve never heard that any of my neighbors have either. However, this year I received a notice from my son’s school that there was a lockdown at one the district’s elementary schools due to a bear sighting. And articles started cropping up in the local papers about bears roaming around in the area, including one that got caught on closed circuit television moseying around the parking lot of a nearby shopping center at three in the morning.

One gentleman who lives a couple of towns over encountered a bear in his yard when he went outside at 10pm to water his plants before leaving town on a business trip

So, I started thinking about bears a little more than in the past. I’d think about them when rolling my garbage cans down my wooded driveway to the street in the dark. What would I do if I encountered a bear?

If you live in genuine bear country, having a gun around seems like common sense to me. But that’s up to each individual. What doesn’t seem warranted is to make that decision for someone.

I felt the same way when I lived in high crime areas of Philadelphia. Home invasions were common, and the police were overwhelmed and slow to respond. I didn’t own a gun in the city, but I definitely felt that I should retain the right to own one.

I’ve never been a gun control hardliner. I’m appalled at the prevalence of gun crimes and accidents in this country, and I definitely wish we didn’t make military-style weapons readily available to people. I think gun ownership comes with responsibilities, and that we under-regulate in a seemingly suicidal manner.

I can think of many ways that we can assure that people can acquire guns for personal protection that also make it more difficult to quickly get a gun, to get a gun without proper training, or to use a gun without traceability and accountability.

But I also think it’s not quite as ludicrous as many people think it is to talk about the need to have guns to protect yourself from bears.

The more bears there are where you live, the less ludicrous it sounds.

Betsy DeVos is a ridiculous person and a foolish choice for Secretary of Education. And the schools in Wyoming seem to be doing just fine with their bear protection plans without the need to keep a small armory on their campuses.

So, this isn’t a defense of her testimony at her confirmation hearing. It’s just a reminder that there’s a cultural disconnect on issues like this. And bears are no joke.

January 18, 2017 at 12:09PM
via Washington Monthly

Source: Understanding Patriarchy by bell hooks

Source: Understanding Patriarchy by bell hooks

Source: Understanding Patriarchy by bell hooks

January 12, 2017 at 04:22PM
via saved by the bell hooks

Donald Trump Says ’96 Million’ Are Looking for Work

Donald Trump Says ’96 Million’ Are Looking for Work
By Derek Thompson

Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect will be best-remembered for his jeering at the press and vague dismissals of financial and ethical impropriety. But buried inside the taunting and dissembling was a Trump moment that stands out as a kind of microcosmic footnote—subtle yet representative of his ability to scramble the news cycle with simple falsehoods.

“Right now, there are 96 million [people] wanting a job and they can’t get [one],” he said. “You know that story. The real number. That’s the real number.”

No. That’s not “the real number.”

This is a perfect example of the effect Trump will have on any policy debate he seizes. He takes a fraught yet critical topic—American work, lack of the work, and the way the U.S. government addresses both—reduces it to a bizarro sound bite that bears no relationship to reality, and bends the political and policy conversation toward his dramatic warping of the truth, all without offering a substantive plan to address even the moderate version of his apocalyptic proclamations.

Trump didn’t pull this particular figure out of thin air. There are 96 million Americans over the age of 16 who are not in the labor force. But “not in the labor force” does not mean they want a job and can’t get one. In fact, it means something quite different: that they are neither working nor looking for work.

To use this number as a data point about unemployment is absurd. Most of these 96 million people are retired. Most of the rest are stay-at-home parents and students. To say that 96 million people “want a job and can’t get one” is to argue that a 90-year-old grandfather at a nursing home is struggling to find a suitable job. Is Trump hoping grandpa gets back on his feet and starts realizing his latent labor potential? If not, don’t call him unemployed! If yes, we have deeper issues.

I don’t want to give the impression that unemployment is a cut-and-dry issue just because Trump’s mistake is cut-and-dry. As CNBC’s Steve Liesman wrote, the “real number” is closer to the 5.4 million Americans who say they want a job but aren’t working.

Liesman is technically right. But determining the “real” unemployment rate is not like measuring the pressure of a gas in a beaker. It’s a measurement inflected with mutable values and arbitrary definitions.

Imagine a home with one working parent, one stay-at-home parent, and three children between the age of 16 and 21 who are busy attending school. According to Trump, the unemployment rate of this household is 80 percent. According to the government, by contrast, the unemployment rate of the household is zero percent. But there are plenty of people think that’s not quite right either. What if the stay-at-home parent is a father who used to work at an auto factory that was shut down and he only decided to stay home with the kids after unsuccessfully looking for work for 12 months? In this case, he was considered “unemployed” for 12 months. When he stopped looking for work, he fell out of the labor force, which means the government stopped counting him as “unemployed,” even though he’s just as jobless as he was before.

Unemployment is supposed to measure slack—the difference between Americans’ ambition and capacity to work and the work they actually do. Because measuring what people want is always complicated, the government has several ways to measure the unemployment rate. A 55-year-old would prefer to work but he’s taken early retirement and only checks job listings once a year or so. Is he “unemployed”? It’s is a tough question, and reasonable people could disagree. A 17-year-old spends all month studying for her AP finals. Is she “jobless but looking for work”? No, and it’s not very close.

Trump’s gaslighting of the unemployment rate isn’t just an epistemological quandary. The president elect has made it this far by over-dramatizing the scale of America’s problems while under-developing a reasonable plan to fix them. He lambasts inner-cities as post-apocalyptic hell holes for black Americans without bothering to consider the root causes of poverty, racial prejudice, and gun violence. He incites Rust Belt voters to furious resentfulness without a broader plan to help millions of displaced workers adjust to shocks from globalization and technology. He claims that middle America is beset by unemployment and precarity, while the cornerstone of his economic policy is a multi-trillion-dollar tax cut aimed at the richest Americans and corporations, combined with the repeal of a health care law that insures millions of people who belong to that very precariat.

That’s why this is about more than an unemployment statistic. A free press will be constantly challenged in a political environment where the most powerful individual is indifferent to the provenance of information and disdainful of the very instinct to investigate the veracity of his statements. A press conference is often an opportunity for journalists to catch a politician in a lie under the lights and cameras. But this is Trump. The lights and cameras signal a theatrical performance in which he, the star, can make up whatever lines he wants without shame or accountability.

So, the real work must happen off-stage, in the slow, messy, and uncelebrated process of separating truth from fiction, even in a country where legacy news companies have lost control over the dissemination of information to audiences, and the president himself is indifferent to evidence. And yet, on “the 96 million” and so much else, there is immense value is pointing out again and again that the president elect is simply wrong, wrong, wrong, even if there is no expectation that Trump himself will ever admit it.

January 12, 2017 at 01:29PM
via The Atlantic

Don’t Talk About What Trump Wants You To Talk About

Don’t Talk About What Trump Wants You To Talk About
By martinlongman

I have no problem with Meryl Streep having her say about what she thinks of our incoming president. I think it’s fine that screenwriters for the show Blackish decided to use their platform to make an anti-Trump statement, and I see no problem with promoting the show during NFL playoff games. However, when I go look at today’s Memeorandum, I notice that you have to scroll quite a way down the page before you see any articles dedicated to Trump’s nominees to serve in his cabinet. All anyone seems to be talking about are these stories about Streep, and rednecks who are pissed at blacks for badmouthing the president-elect during their Houston Texans game, and Kellyanne Conway spinning all of this nonsense the best she can.

I think this is how Trump managed to pull off his miracle election. People can’t focus on the important things. There’s always something new to obsess over instead of staying on message. Do you care more about angry Trump voters who call the National Football League (NFL) the Black Lives Matter Football League (BLMFL), or are you more concerned with the idea of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III running the Department of Justice?

Donald Trump didn’t nominate Meryl Streep as his Director of Central Intelligence or his Secretary of Treasury. He nominated a full-on wingnut and a Goldman Sachs veteran foreclosure specialist for those jobs. So, every second wasted on Meryl Streep is a benefit to Trump and the prospects for his nominees to sail through the confirmation process with little fuss.

Of course Trump wants to talk about the Golden Globes. He wants you to talk about him talking about the Golden Globes.

It’s a simple game he plays, and it’s hard to combat it.

Some self-awareness is a start, however. Don’t going chasing his rabbit down every hole.

January 9, 2017 at 02:24PM
via Washington Monthly

Security Culture Is Good

Security Culture Is Good
By Kade Crockford


Take these precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones from the state


Five easy things you can do right now, and some basic tips:

Start simple. These are bare-minimum security requirements for anyone using modern communications tools.

• Download HTTPS Everywhere and Privacy Badger for your browser.

• Turn on two-factor authentication for all your social media and email accounts.

• Update all of your software as soon as new versions become available on your phone and computer (including your browser). Turn on automatic updates.

• Fix your passwords! Use a password manager to keep track of them.

• Encrypt your hard drive and your smartphone.

For more detailed information about how to do all of these things, and which encryption and password manager software you should trust, visit:

Also, keep in mind that deleting tweets and using an “Incognito” browser window won’t do shit to stop you from being monitored. The Internet is forever.

If you’re editing documents as a group and don’t want to use Google docs, try a Riseup pad. Sandstorm is another alternative that has some cool features.

Finally, watch out for common social engineering tricks. If someone sends you an email that looks weird, don’t click on the link or attachment. If your friend sends you a link that looks weird, call or text them to make sure they actually sent it. The most common way people get owned online is through social engineering. It can be tricky to avoid if you’ve got a persistent and powerful adversary like the NSA, but common sense and paying careful attention to what you click will protect most people most of the time.


Encryption: Use it, but be aware of its limitations.

You probably know by now that end-to-end encryption is our best defense against dragnet government and corporate surveillance. “Use Signal. Use Tor” is a joke at this point in the security community. It has become a joke because it’s a cliché; it’s a cliché because it’s the best advice for people looking to easily protect themselves online. But neither of these tools is foolproof, meaning they won’t necessarily stop the cops or FBI from spying on you. Nonetheless, you should use them religiously—if you can.

Signal is a free, open-source app that encrypts voice-over-IP calls and text messages. It works well and it’s easy to use, as long as your communication partner also has the app installed. Signal is great because it doesn’t only protect the content of your communications—it also protects associational metadata. That means if cops send a warrant or court order to Whisper Systems (the company that runs Signal) asking for information about who you’ve been calling and texting through their app, they won’t get anything in return. The company doesn’t create or keep these records. Since Signal allows group chats, it can work as a replacement for email (which is notoriously insecure) if you need to keep information private. This is important for organizers and you should make use of this feature.

Tor is a browser that protects your Internet activity from the spying eyes of Comcast, Time Warner, and the FBI alike. Using Tor won’t encrypt the content of your Gmail, or keep Facebook from tracking your thoughts and associations. But it will make it more difficult for companies and governments to track everything you do online.

The trick with these two security tools is that they only work if you use them, and they have limitations. Primary among those limitations is the threat of hacking. If someone installs malware on your device (on either your phone or your computer), no amount of encryption is going to stop them from reading everything on it. Encryption protects data in transit and at rest, not on your (unlocked or hacked) machine. In other words: if someone has your password, or installs malware on your device, Signal and Tor are helpless to stop them from owning your digital life.

Furthermore, Signal only works if you have a data connection or wifi, making it a crappy option for people who rely on SMS and phone calls to communicate. It also doesn’t run on Windows phones. Despite these limitations, it’s our best option for easy-to-use, secure, free communications technology—that is, besides whispering in the woods. Use it to tell your weed dealer how much dank you want, to tell your comrades where to meet up, and to tell your mom you love her. Use it for everything.


Threat modeling: Do it.

The concept of threat modeling is relatively simple: perform an analysis of your unique situation to protect yourself from harm. Ask and answer the following questions:

• What information are you trying to protect?
• Whom are you trying to protect it from?
• What are the capabilities of your adversary?
• How can you protect information from your adversary, given its capabilities and your own?

Let’s consider a possible scenario:

You’re an organizer in New York City. You’re planning a direct action where you and some comrades will lock down at a bank in Brooklyn. You want to keep the existence of the direct action and the identities of the people organizing it secret from the NYPD and the bank’s security team.

The NYPD—your adversary—has advanced surveillance capabilities. You don’t know much about the bank’s security team, but you do some research and find out they’ve got security officials working alongside the NYPD at the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative. Given the department’s penchant for obsessive secrecy and its love of surveillance, it’s probably got a lot of toys and powers that you don’t know about. It’s not quite the NSA, but for a police department it’s as close as they come. The NYPD has cameras all over the city, and access to the MTA’s surveillance feeds. The department has cellphone-tracking stingrays, perfect for spy cops who don’t want to bother with courts, warrants, or the limited outside oversight they provide. NYC’s police also have an obsession with crushing dissent, and an enormous budget with which to do it. They might also use undercover informants or police operatives in leftist movements in the city, but you’re not totally sure.

In order to protect yourself and your crew in this hostile environment, you may want to take the following approach:

• Trust your comrades. This is really important. Technology can’t stop human beings from fucking up or becoming disloyal. That means you shouldn’t organize direct actions with people you don’t know or trust, and you shouldn’t announce that you’re planning a direct action or invite people to join you unless you know them, or know and trust someone who can vouch for them. Some people might call this paranoid, but trust is the foundation of security.

• Make sure that everyone involved in the action is on the same page when it comes to security. You don’t want people getting smacked with conspiracy charges, so this is important for all of you—not just the handful of people who are locking down. Come to a security agreement before you get into details about what the action will look like and how it will work, and before you agree to roles. Devise a threat model together as a group, and stick to the agreements you make. For example, you may want an agreement from everyone involved that you’ll only use Signal to communicate, that you won’t discuss the action outside the circle of its organizers, and that you won’t put any information about the action in any digital format the group hasn’t approved of collectively. Finally, go over the basics of what happens if and when you’re confronted by law enforcement. Most important, as always, is to keep your mouth shut. You might think you’re being clever by telling the police something false or giving them only limited information to throw them off track, but you’re not being clever. Do not speak to the police or the Feds. Make sure everyone in your group understands that at the outset. If necessary, do some role-playing to drive the point home.

• Prior to the action, make sure everyone in your organizing crew deletes all of their Signal messages. To do this, go to settings > privacy > clear history logs. A screen will appear asking if you’re sure you want to do this. Press the red “I’m sure” button. That way, if someone in your group is arrested, the cops won’t be able to read the entire organizing thread if they illegally search the phone or obtain a warrant to legally search it. This is an important self-defense measure to counter possible conspiracy charges.

• Don’t discuss the action on Facebook (or, depending on the group agreement, Google products). Treat Facebook like it is not private—even the messages part. We aren’t totally sure right now whether the NSA can crack Facebook’s encryption, but we know the agency hoovers up Internet traffic with a gigantic vacuum and has installed employees in tech firms working undercover to steal their secrets and compromise their products’ security. We also know that the FBI has access to a lot of the info the NSA steals. Therefore you should consider Facebook, like email, presumptively available to the cops. If you don’t want them reading it, don’t put it on that godforsaken website. The same goes for Twitter.

• If you’re planning something public to go along with the direct action, keep the planning of the two actions separate. Choose a liaison among your direct action group who can attend meetings to help plan the larger public action, so your group is in the loop—but don’t tell people at the public meetings that a secret action is underworks. Don’t worry about being perceived as some kind of revolutionary vanguard. You aren’t keeping the direct action secret because you think you’re cool; you’re doing it because you want the action to happen, and you don’t want all of your comrades going to jail. Security isn’t about glamour, it’s about solidarity.

• Don’t meet to discuss the action in public places where people might overhear you. You never know who’s a narc, an undercover cop, or even a right-wing blogger. You also may want to avoid leftist organizing spaces. If I were an FBI agent I’d have bugged those spots a long time ago.

• Finally, always keep in mind that the state will likely be extra vicious with your Muslim, Black, Latino, Arab, POC, immigrant, trans, and queer comrades. When you’re planning an action, think about how to leverage existing privilege to forward the group’s goals, and make sure you protect the members of your group who are most vulnerable to state oppression. While an arrest might not be such a big deal for a white cisgendered U.S. citizen with access to money and a flexible job, it could mean deportation for an undocumented comrade. As the saying goes: “Be careful with each other so you can be dangerous together.”

Now, this “locking down in a Brooklyn bank” activist scenario is very different from another one folks need to grapple with: you’re a Muslim dad in Wisconsin, and you just want to go about your life without worrying that the FBI will force you to become an informant or try to entrap your teenager into an “ISIS plot.” The next section provides the most important information for a person dealing with this type of threat.


What to do if the FBI comes for you:

Over the decades, the FBI has developed a very efficient means of screwing people over: getting them to talk to its agents. If FBI officials contact you at home or at your office, asking to have a chat, take their business card and inform them that your lawyer will be in touch. Politely decline any other conversation with the agents. This is extremely important. You should never talk to the FBI without your lawyer present, even if you think you have “nothing to hide” or you want to help them. You must help yourself first. And the only way to do that is to keep your mouth shut.

When the FBI interviews someone, they send two agents: one person asks questions, and the other takes notes. The stenographer then goes back to the office and types up the notes into an official document known as Form 302. This is the government’s official record of the interview, and it can and likely will be used against the interview subject. If an FBI official writes on the 302 that you said you were at a basketball game Sunday morning at 11, and then you later tell a grand jury that you were at the basketball game at 10, you can be charged with lying to a federal agent. A conviction for lying to a federal agent will land you in federal prison for years. This is how the FBI puts people in a vice, and gets them to inform. The truth doesn’t matter; the only thing that matters is what’s written on that Form 302.

This is why it’s absolutely critical that you do not speak to the FBI under any circumstances without your lawyer present.
In many (if not most) cases, when your lawyer follows up with agents to schedule the interview, the agents will drop it. It’s more difficult for them to manipulate people who know their rights. Don’t be fooled by their nice smiles or their vague threats—“We can do this the hard way, or we can do it the easy way now…” or “This could be bad for you if you don’t talk. It makes it seem like you’ve got something to hide.”

If you’re reading this and you’re worried that perhaps an elder or someone else in your family or community doesn’t know not to trust the FBI, read up about how the FBI does this to people, and educate them. (Go to and search for “FBI manipulation” for some stories; show them the films The Newburgh Sting and (T)ERROR.) People want to help, they don’t want to be seen as obstructing justice, and they want to believe the government will protect them. But the unfortunate reality is that the FBI cannot be trusted and justice isn’t usually what they seek—especially when it comes to Muslims and dissidents.

Finally, beware of people who are new to the community and offer money or power to the disenfranchised, destitute, or intellectually disabled. The FBI has more informants on its payroll today than it did at the height of the COINTELPRO era, and they are hard at work every day trying to convince misguided or lost young people to get involved in illegal activity, sometimes for promises of money, other times for promises of heavenly rewards. Study the way the FBI has manipulated people using informants, and then educate your community. Like a predator attacking a herd of deer, the FBI goes after the weakest people in communities—those who for whatever reason cannot defend themselves. Keep that in mind and do whatever you can to protect those people.


Know your rights. And flex them!

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. If you want legal advice, call a lawyer.

Knowing your rights can mean the difference between you getting locked up and you walking away from the cops to go home. You’ve got to know your rights in order to flex them. Here are some important ones:

• You have the right to remain silent, and you must exercise that right. It’s the best defense against getting arrested, charged, or convicted for some bullshit. These are the only things you should say to the police:

• “Am I being detained? Am I free to go?”
• “I do not consent to this search.”
• “I want to talk to my lawyer.”

• If the police ask you, “Is this your computer?” or “Is this your phone?” don’t answer them. See above for the only three things you should ever say to the police without your lawyer present. Simply say: “I want to talk to my lawyer.”

• Government agents must obtain a warrant to search your cell phone, even if it is seized during your arrest. They cannot search your phone simply because they arrested you; they need separate probable cause to get into your phone. If cops demand that you give them your phone password, tell them you want to speak with your lawyer. Do not give them your password until you’ve gotten the ok from your attorney.

• Important: Don’t use the fingerprint feature on your phone as your password. For arcane legal reasons it may provide less protection than a password.

• Unless you’re driving, you are not required to show police your ID in many states; in others, you can be required to show ID to an officer if she has “reasonable suspicion” to believe you’re involved in criminal activity. Nowhere are you required to show ID to a cop if they don’t have “reasonable suspicion.”

• If you’re stopped on the street or at a protest and a cop asks for your ID, ask, “Am I being detained or am I free to go?” If you’re free to go, calmly walk away. If you are being detained, ask why.

Make sure you look up the law in your state. If you cannot be arrested for refusing to show your ID, don’t produce it. If you can be arrested for refusing to show your ID, consider that before you act. If you aren’t sure how to do the research to find out what your state law says about whether you are required to show an ID when she has “reasonable suspicion,” try calling the state affiliate of the ACLU to see if someone there can help you.

• Keep in mind that lots of cops don’t care about the law and will arrest you simply for disobeying them. Just because the charges won’t stick doesn’t mean you want to go to jail over some bullshit like refusing to give a cop your ID. Know your own ability to take risks, and know the police department in question. If you don’t think the cop will freak out and arrest you because you disobeyed him, assert your rights. If you think he might, and you’ve got a kid at home and can’t risk arrest, you might want to make a different choice. Know yourself, your adversary, and your limits.


How serious is all of this? It’s serious as fuck, actually.

Resist the urge to take lightly the advice I’ve dished out above. It might seem like a lot of these measures are evidence of unjustifiable paranoia, but with organizing as with sex, safety comes first. And just like contraception can’t stop 100% of pregnancies, there’s no way to eradicate the possibility that you’ll get bagged. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear a condom, or take care to protect yourself and your comrades from state repression. It would be foolish not to.

In Obama’s America, Black Lives Matter organizer Jasmine Richards was convicted of felony lynching for de-arresting a comrade at a demonstration. Richards faces four years in prison. This was in California, not Mississippi. Cops across the country—in addition to the FBI and DHS—have used military style tactics and surveillance equipment to undermine opposition to the carceral/police state. The FBI has spent the past 15 years treating Muslims like the new communists—an “enemy within.” Obama deported more undocumented people than any prior president in U.S. history. Meanwhile, the state’s centuries-old war on Black America rages on. In Trump’s America, do you think the state’s repressive apparatus is going to stop engaging in this behavior, or ramp it up?

No matter who you are or what you look like, you must take responsibility for protecting yourself and your community from state harm. This isn’t a game. People’s lives and freedom are on the line. The ability of our movements to push back against the rising tide of fascism will depend on our ability to organize coherent resistance. Keep yourself and your comrades safe. And good luck out there.

December 19, 2016 at 07:46AM
via The New Inquiry

On Digital Minimalism

On Digital Minimalism
By Study Hacks


The Curmudgeonly Optimist

People are sometimes confused about my personal relationship with digital communication technologies.

On the one hand, I’m a computer scientist who studies and improves these tools. As you might therefore expect, I’m incredibly optimistic about the role of computing and networks in our future.

On the other hand, as a writer I’m often pointing out my dissatisfaction with certain developments of the Internet Era. I’m critical, for example, of our culture’s increasingly Orwellian allegiance to social media and am indifferent to my smartphone.

Recently, I’ve been trying to clarify the underlying philosophy that informs how I think about the role of these technologies in our personal lives (their role in the world of work is a distinct issue that I ‘ve already written quite a bit about). My thinking in this direction is still early, but I decided it might be a useful exercise to share some tentative thoughts, many of which seem to be orbiting a concept that I’ve taken to calling digital minimalism.

The Minimalism Movement

To understand what I mean by digital minimalism it’s important to first understand the existing community from which it takes its name.

The modern minimalism movement is led by a loose collection of bloggers, podcasters, and writers who advocate a simpler life in which you focus on a small number of things that return the most meaning and value — often at the expense of many activities and items we’re told we’re supposed to crave.

Minimalists tend to spend much less money and own many fewer things than their peers. They also tend to be much more intentional and often quite radical in shaping their lives around things that matter to them.

Here’s how my friends Joshua and Ryan (aka, The Minimalists) describe the movement:

Minimalism is a lifestyle that helps people question what things add value to their lives. By clearing the clutter from life’s path, we can all make room for the most important aspects of life: health, relationships, passion, growth, and contribution.

(For some excellent examples of minimalism blogs, I recommend: The Minimalists, Leo Babauta, Joshua Becker, Tammy Strobel, the Frugalwoods and Mr. Money Moustache. See also Joshua and Ryan’s sharp documentary on the topic now streaming on Netflix.)

These ideas, of course, are not new. The minimalism movement can be directly connected to similar ideals in many other periods, from the voluntary simplicity trend of the 1970s to Thoreau. But what is new is their embrace of tools like blogs that help them reach vast audiences.

I first encountered this movement through Leo Babuta’s Zen Habits blog about a decade ago. This was the early days of Study Hacks and these sources soon played a major role in transforming my writing and speaking during this period. Most notably, they shifted my attention away from the technical aspects of studying and toward the philosophical aspects of creating a meaningful student experience (the Zen Valedictorian, for example, owes an obvious debt to Zen Habits).

It occurred to me recently, when I was pondering my philosophy on technology, that my thinking continues to be influenced by minimalism. I am, I realized, perhaps usefully described as an advocate for a new but urgently relevant branch of this philosophy — a branch focused on the proper role of digital communication technologies in our increasingly noisy lives…

Digital Minimalism

Adapting some of the above language from Joshua and Ryan, I loosely define digital minimalism as follows:

Digital minimalism is a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

To be a digital minimalist, in other words, means you accept the idea that new communication technologies have the potential to massively improve your life,  but also recognize that realizing this potential is hard work.

Here’s a preliminary list of some core principles of digital minimalism…

  • Missing out is not negative. Many digital maximalists, who spend their days immersed in a dreary slog of apps and clicks, justify their behavior by listing all of the potential benefits they would miss if they began culling services from their life. I don’t buy this argument. There’s an infinite selection of activities in the world that might bring some value. If you insist on labeling every activity avoided as value lost, then no matter how frantically you fill your time, it’s unavoidable that the final tally of your daily experience will be infinitely negative. It’s more sensical to instead measure the value gained by the activities you do embrace and then attempt to maximize this positive value.
  • Less can be more. A natural consequence of the preceding principle is that you should avoid wasting your limited time and attention on low-value online activities, and instead focus on the much smaller number of activities that return the most value for your life. This is a basic 80/20 analysis: doing less, but focusing on higher quality, can generate more total value.
  • Start from first principles. Digital maximalists tend to accept any online activity that conceivably offers some value. As most such activities can offer you something (few people would write an app or launch a web site with no obvious purpose) this filter is essentially meaningless. A more productive approach is to start by identifying the principles that you as a human find most important — the foundation on which you hope to build a good life. Once identified, you can use these principles as a more effective filter by asking the following question of a given activity: will this add significant value to something I find to be significantly important to my life?
  • The best is different than the rest. Assume a given online activity generates a positive response to the question from the preceding principle. This is not enough. You should then follow up by asking: is this activity “the best” way to add value to this area of my life? For a given core principle, there may be many activities that can offer some relevant value, but you should focus on finding the small number of activities that offer the most such value. The difference between the “best” and “good enough” in this context can be significant. For example, someone recently told me that she uses Twitter because she values being exposed to diverse news sources (she cited, in particular, how major newspapers were ignoring aspects of the Dakota pipeline protests). I don’t doubt that Twitter can help support this important principle of being informed, but is a Twitter feed really the best use of all the Internet has to offer to achieve this goal?
  • Digital clutter is stressful. The traditional minimalists correctly noted that living among lots of physical clutter is stressful. The same is true of your online life. Incessant clicking and scrolling generates a background hum of anxiety. Drastically reducing the number of thing you do in your digital life can by itself have a significant calming impact. This value should not be underestimated.
  • Attention is scarce and fragile. You have a finite amount of attention to expend each day. If aimed carefully, your attention can bring you great meaning and satisfaction. At the same time, however, hundreds of billions of dollars have been invested into companies whose sole purpose is to hijack as much of your attention as possible and push it toward targets optimized to create value for a small number of people in Northern California. This is scary and demands diligence on your part. As I’ve written before, this is my main concern with large attention economy conglomerates like Twitter and Facebook: it’s not that they’re worthless, but instead it’s the fact that they’re engineered to be as addictive as possible.
  • Many of the best uses of the online world support better living offline. We’re not evolved for digital life, which is why binges of online activities often leave us in a confused state of strung out exhaustion. This explains why many of the highest return online activities are those that take advantage of the Internet to improve important aspects of your offline life. Digital networks, for example, can help you find or form a community that resonates with you, but the real value often comes when you put down your phone and go out and engage with this new community IRL.
  • Be wary of tools that solve a problem that didn’t exist before the tool. GPS helped solve a problem that existed for a long time before it came along (how do I get where I want to go?), so did Google (how do I find this piece of information I need?). Snapchat, by contrast, did not. Be wary of tools in this latter category as they tend to exist mainly to create addictive new behaviors that support ad sales.
  • Activity trumps passivity. Humans, deep down, are craftsmen. We find great satisfaction in creating something valuable that didn’t exist before. Some of the most fulfilling online activities, therefore, are those that involve you creating things, as oppose to simply consuming. I’m yet to meet someone who feels exhilarated after an evening of trawling clickbait, yet I know many who do feel that way after committing a key module to an open source repository.

The above list, and much of the thinking behind it, is still tentative. I should also emphasize again that it applies almost exclusively to the role of digital technology in your personal life, and is largely distinct from my thinking about how to integrate technologies productively in the professional sphere.

But there’s something coherent lurking in the background here that I will continue to work through.

Digital minimalism, for example, has helped me better understand some of the decisions I’ve made in my own online life (such as my embrace of blogging and rejection of major social media platforms), while at the same time challenging me with areas where I could be leveraging new technologies to even better support some of my core principles. In other words, like any productive philosophy, it gives me both clarity and homework.

The bottom line of this general thinking is that a simple, carefully curated, minimalist digital life is not a rejection of technology or a reactionary act of skepticism; it is, by contrast, an embrace of the immense value these new tools can offer…if we’re willing to do the hard work of figuring out how to best leverage them on behalf of the things we truly care about.

(Photo by Loren Kerns)

December 17, 2016 at 08:49PM
via Blog – Cal Newport

Team Chat

Team Chat

2078: He announces that he's finally making the jump from screen+irssi to tmux+weechat.

January 6, 2017 at 12:00AM


By jwz

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

January 4, 2017 at 08:14PM
via jwz

PSA: It’s January. Have you done your off-site backup yet?

PSA: It’s January. Have you done your off-site backup yet?
By jwz

January 4, 2017 at 08:34PM
via jwz