Los Angeles Times | February 26, 2015 | 6:41 PM
Unbeknown to state officials, oil producers in Kern County have been disposing of chemical-laden wastewater in hundreds of unlined trenches in the ground without proper permits, according to an inventory that regional water officials completed this week.
The Los Angeles Times obtained the results of the survey conducted by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, which uncovered more than 300 pits that officials previously didn't know existed.
Thursday, February 26, 2015
Republicans Unlearning Facts Learned in Third Grade to Compete in Primary
Saturday, February 21, 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
The Opinion Pages | CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER
The Plot to Kill Health Care
Republicans hate activist judges — those black-robed elites who are willing to upset the lives of millions of people just to further a political cause. Ditto trial lawyers trolling for clients, the ambulance-chasing, "Better Call Saul" guys. They hate them, until they need them.
And in the raw power play that is behind the attempt to kick millions of people off health care gained through the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are attempting one of the most brazen manipulations of the legal system in modern times. To pull it off, they're relying on a toxically politicized judiciary to make law, and to make a mockery of everything that conservative legal scholars profess to believe.
In less than two weeks' time, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in King v. Burwell — the net result of a well-orchestrated, well-financed, five-year campaign to kill President Obama's signature achievement by legal assassination. It's a remarkably flimsy case, the plaintiffs may lack standing, and a host of business and health care professionals have said the consequences of backing the right-wing consortium behind this case could be catastrophic.
But none of that matters to at least four justices on the court who would rule in favor of a ham sandwich, if it meant overturning the health care law.If they get a fifth vote, more than eight million people in 34 states could lose their health coverage. Premiums for several million more would rise enough to make insurance impossible. Thousands of people, lacking basic care, may even die prematurely.
"The Supreme Court is going to render a body blow to Obamacare from which I don't think it will ever recover," said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn of Texas last month. He was licking his chops in anticipation.
This comes at a time when Republicans have recently discovered the working poor. For those holding to the last, slippery rung of middle-class dignity, nothing is harder than having no health insurance. And there is no bigger knockout blow, forcing a family into bankruptcy, than a massive medical bill.
So, consider just who stands to lose most if the health care subsidies for people in two-thirds of the states are denied — as the plaintiffs are demanding of the Supreme Court. More than 80 percent of them are lower- or middle-income people, working part time or full. Most of them are white. And majority of them are in the South. So much for helping your base.
Enrollment for private coverage under Obamacare is surging this year, particularly in red states. In Texas alone, more than a million people have signed up. All the dire predictions — that enough young people wouldn't join the exchanges, that health care expansion would be a job killer, that premiums would soar — have turned out to be bogus.
And so it comes down to this: a legal challenge based on a technicality — specifically, four words. Should subsidies be available only to exchanges "established by the states"? Or were they designed to cover the entire nation, as is obvious in the intent of the law?
The Supreme Court case, to be decided by June, grew out of a gathering in 2010 of far-right attorneys looking for a way to destroy Obamacare.
"This bastard has to be killed as a matter of political hygiene," said Michael S. Greve, a former chairman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, during a panel discussion. "I don't care how this is done, whether it's dismembered, whether we drive a stake through its heart, whether we tar and feather it and drive it out of town, whether we strangle it."
They found four plaintiffs right out of a Rush Limbaugh ditto-headfest, all of whom have come under withering press scrutiny of late. One is just a half-year shy of eligibility for Medicare. Two others are military veterans who appear to qualify for premium-free federal care. Somehow, they claim to be "harmed" by a technicality in the health care law that allows the federal government to subsidize people who don't get help from the states that did not set up their own markets.The first attempt to strangle it failed by one vote in a 2012 Supreme Court ruling. The next assault is this case, organized by the same Competitive Enterprise Institute, an advocacy group with long ties to climate change denial and tobacco distortion campaigns.
"You are asking us to kick millions of Americans off health insurance just to save four people a few dollars," said Judge Andre M. Davis, in oral arguments before a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va. That court ruled unanimously to throw out the challenge. But the hyperpartisan Supreme Court took up the case on appeal.
One of many ironies here is that at least three of those plaintiffs appear to qualify for the great socialist, single-payer system used by Medicare or by Veterans Affairs. So, they don't really have to worry if their legal assault kills the health care of millions of people who don't have access to the cheaper federal plans.
So long as judges do their dirty work, Republicans don't have a problem with politicizing the judiciary. This week, in a move that dramatically changes the lives of millions of people, a Texas federal judge with a history of animus toward the Obama administration's immigration policy brought a halt to plans to bring people out of the shadows. Before ruling against the president's decision to defer deportation of certain immigrants, Judge Andrew Hanen, an appointee of George W. Bush, had left a trail of comments that could have come out of the mouth of any garden-variety Republican. With a swift blow this week, he did exactly what Republicans in Congress have been trying, but so far failed, to do.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. once used a memorable phrase to describe this kind of activism. "My job is to call balls and strikes, and not to pitch or bat," he said during his confirmation hearings. By June of this year, we'll see which side of the plate he's on.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
U.S. Embedded Spyware Overseas, Report Claims
SAN FRANCISCO — The United States has found a way to permanently embed surveillance and sabotage tools in computers and networks it has targeted in Iran, Russia, Pakistan, China, Afghanistan and other countries closely watched by American intelligence agencies, according to a Russian cybersecurity firm.
In a presentation of its findings at a conference in Mexico on Monday,Kaspersky Lab, the Russian firm, said that the implants had been placed by what it called the "Equation Group," which appears to be a veiled reference to the National Security Agency and its military counterpart, United States Cyber Command.
It linked the techniques to those used in Stuxnet, the computer worm that disabled about 1,000 centrifuges in Iran's nuclear enrichment program. It was later revealed that Stuxnet was part of a program code-named Olympic Games and run jointly by Israel and the United States.
Kaspersky's report said that Olympic Games had similarities to a much broader effort to infect computers well beyond those in Iran. It detected particularly high infection rates in computers in Iran, Pakistan and Russia, three countries whose nuclear programs the United States routinely monitors.
Some of the implants burrow so deep into the computer systems, Kaspersky said, that they infect the "firmware," the embedded software that preps the computer's hardware before the operating system starts. It is beyond the reach of existing antivirus products and most security controls, Kaspersky reported, making it virtually impossible to wipe out.
In many cases, it also allows the American intelligence agencies to grab the encryption keys off a machine, unnoticed, and unlock scrambled contents. Moreover, many of the tools are designed to run on computers that are disconnected from the Internet, which was the case in the computers controlling Iran's nuclear enrichment plants.
Kaspersky noted that of the more than 60 attack groups it was tracking in cyberspace, the so-called Equation Group "surpasses anything known in terms of complexity and sophistication of techniques, and that has been active for almost two decades."
Kaspersky Lab was founded by Eugene Kaspersky, who studied cryptography at a high school co-sponsored by the K.G.B. and once worked for the Russian military. Its studies, including one describing a cyberattack of more than 100 banks and other financial institutions in 30 countries, are considered credible by Western experts.
The fact that security software made by Kaspersky Lab is not used by many American government agencies has made it more trusted by other governments, like those of Iran and Russia, whose systems are closely watched by United States intelligence agencies. That gives Kaspersky a front-row seat to America's digital espionage operations.
The firm's researchers say that what makes these attacks particularly remarkable is their way of attacking the actual firmware of the computers. Only in rare cases are cybercriminals able to get into the actual guts of a machine.
Recovering from a cyberattack typically involves wiping the computer's operating system and reinstalling software, or replacing a computer's hard drive. But if the firmware becomes infected, security experts say, it can turn even the most sophisticated computer into a useless piece of metal.
In the past, security experts have warned about "the race to the bare metal" of a machine. As security around software has increased, criminals have looked for ways to infect the actual hardware of the machine. Firmware is about the closest to the bare metal you can get — a coveted position that allows the attacker not only to hide from antivirus products but also to reinfect a machine even if its hard drive is wiped.
"If the malware gets into the firmware, it is able to resurrect itself forever," Costin Raiu, a Kaspersky threat researcher, said in the report. "It means that we are practically blind and cannot detect hard drives that have been infected with this malware."
The possibility of such an attack is one that math researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, a branch of the Commerce Department, have long cautioned about but have very rarely seen. In an interview last year, Andrew Regenscheid, a math researcher at the institute, warned that such attacks were extremely powerful. If the firmware becomes corrupted, Mr. Regenscheid said, "your computer won't boot up and you can't use it. You have to replace the computer to recover from that attack."
That kind of attack also makes for a powerful encryption-cracking tool, Mr. Raiu noted, because it gives attackers the ability to capture a machine's encryption password, store it in "an invisible area inside the computer's hard drive" and unscramble a machine's contents.
Kaspersky's report also detailed the group's efforts to map out so-called air-gapped systems that are not connected to the Internet, including Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities, and infect them using a USB stick. To get those devices onto the machines, the report said, the attackers have in some cases intercepted them in transit.
Documents revealed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden detailed the agency's plans to leap the "air gaps" that separate computers from the outside world, including efforts to install specialized hardware on computers being shipped to a target country. That hardware can then receive low-frequency radio waves broadcast from a suitcase-size device that the N.S.A. has deployed around the world. At other times the air gaps have been leapt by having a spy physically install a USB stick to infect the adversary's computer.
Basing its estimate on the time stamps in code, the Kaspersky presentation said the Equation Group had been infecting computers since 2001, but aggressively began ramping up their capabilities in 2008, the year thatPresident Obama was elected, and began doubling down on digital tools to spy on adversaries of America.
While the United States has never acknowledged conducting any offensive cyberoperations, President Obama discussed the issue in general in aninterview on Friday with Re/code, an online computer industry publication, describing offensive cyberweapons as being unlike traditional weapons.
"This is more like basketball than football, in the sense that there's no clear line between offense and defense," said Mr. Obama, himself a basketball player. "Things are going back and forth all the tim
Friday, February 13, 2015
F.B.I. Director Speaks Out on Race and Police Bias
WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, delivered anunusually candid speech on Thursday about the difficult relationship between the police and African-Americans, saying that officers who work in neighborhoods where blacks commit crimes at a high rate develop a cynicism that shades their attitudes about race.
Citing the song "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" from the Broadway show "Avenue Q," he said police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently. In an address to students at Georgetown University, Mr. Comey said that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that "becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights" because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.
In speaking about racial issues at such length, Mr. Comey used his office in a way that none of his predecessors had. His remarks also went beyond what President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have said since an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
Mr. Comey said that his speech, which was well received by law enforcement officials, was motivated by his belief that the country had not "had a healthy dialogue" since the protests began in Ferguson and that he did not "want to see those important issues drift away."
Previous F.B.I. directors had limited their public comments about race to civil rights investigations, like murders committed by the Ku Klux Klan and the bureau's wiretapping of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But Mr. Comey tried to dissect the issue layer by layer.
He started by acknowledging that law enforcement had a troubled legacy when it came to race.
"All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty," he said. "At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups."
Mr. Comey said there was significant research showing that all people have unconscious racial biases. Law enforcement officers, he said, need "to design systems and processes to overcome that very human part of us all."
"Although the research may be unsettling, what we do next is what matters most," Mr. Comey said.
He said nearly all police officers had joined the force because they wanted to help others. Speaking in personal terms, Mr. Comey described how most Americans had initially viewed Irish immigrants like his ancestors "as drunks, ruffians and criminals."
"Law enforcement's biased view of the Irish lives on in the nickname we still use for the vehicle that transports groups of prisoners; it is, after all, the 'Paddy wagon,' " he said.
But he said that what the Irish had gone through was nothing compared with what blacks had faced.
"That experience should be part of every American's consciousness, and law enforcement's role in that experience, including in recent times, must be remembered," he said. "It is our cultural inheritance."
Unlike Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York and Mr. Holder, who were roundly faulted by police groups for their critical remarks about law enforcement, Mr. Comey, a former prosecutor whose grandfather was a police chief in Yonkers, was praised for his remarks.
Ron Hosko, the president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and a former senior F.B.I. official, said that while Mr. Holder's statements about policing and race after the Ferguson shooting had placed the blame directly on the police, Mr. Comey's remarks were far more nuanced and thoughtful.
"He looked at all the sociological pieces," Mr. Hosko said. "The director's comments were far more balanced, because it wasn't just heavy-handed on the cops."
Mr. Comey said the police had received most of the blame in episodes like the Ferguson shooting and the death of an unarmed black man in Staten Island who was placed in a chokehold by an officer, but law enforcement was "not the root cause of problems in our hardest-hit neighborhoods."
In many of those areas, blacks grow up "in environments lacking role models, adequate education and decent employment," he said.
"It's hard to hate up close," he said.Mr. Comey said tensions could be eased if the police got to know those they were charged to protect.
He also recommended that law enforcement agencies be compelled, by legislation if necessary, to report shootings that involve police officers, and that those reports be recorded in an accessible database. When Mr. Brown was shot in Ferguson, Mr. Comey said, F.B.I. officials could not say whether such shootings were common or rare because no statistics were available.
"It's ridiculous that I can't tell you how many people were shot by the police last week, last month, last year," Mr. Comey said.
He added, "Without complete and accurate data, we are left with ideological thunderbolts."
Ronald E. Teachman, the police chief in South Bend, Ind., said Mr. Comey did not need to take on the issue. But Chief Teachman said it would be far easier for him to continue the discussion in Indiana now that Mr. Comey had done so in such a public manner.
"It helps me move the conversation forward when the F.B.I. director speaks so boldly," he said.
Mr. Comey concluded by quoting Dr. King, who said, "We must all learn to live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools."
"We all have work to do — hard work to do, challenging work — and it will take time," Mr. Comey said. "We all need to talk, and we all need to listen, not just about easy things, but about hard things, too. Relationships are hard. Relationships require work. So let's begin. It is time to start seeing one another for who and what we really are."
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST
The Act of Rigorous Forgiving
There's something sad in Brian Williams's need to puff up his Iraq adventures and something barbaric in the public response.
The sad part is the reminder that no matter how high you go in life and no matter how many accolades you win, it's never enough. The desire for even more admiration races ahead. Career success never really satisfies. Public love always leaves you hungry. Even very famous people can do self-destructive things in an attempt to seem just a little cooler.
I've only spoken with Williams a few times, and can't really speak about the man (though I often appear on NBC News's "Meet the Press"), but I do think we'd all be better off if we reacted to these sorts of scandals in a different way. The civic fabric would be stronger if, instead of trying to sever relationships with those who have done wrong, we tried to repair them, if we tried forgiveness instead of exiling.The barbaric part is the way we respond to scandal these days. When somebody violates a public trust, we try to purge and ostracize him. A sort of coliseum culture takes over, leaving no place for mercy. By now, the script is familiar: Some famous person does something wrong. The Internet, the most impersonal of mediums, erupts with contempt and mockery. The offender issues a paltry half-apology, which only inflames the public more. The pounding cry for resignation builds until capitulation comes. Public passion is spent and the spotlight moves on.
Forgiveness is often spoken of in sentimental terms — as gushy absolution for everything, regardless of right or wrong. But many writers — ranging from Hannah Arendt and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to modern figures like Jeffrie Murphy and L. Gregory Jones — have tried to think hard about rigorous forgiveness, which balances accountability with compassion.
They've generally described four different processes involved in forgiveness:
Pre-emptive mercy. Martin Luther King Jr. argued that forgiveness isn't an act; it's an attitude. We are all sinners. We expect sin, empathize with sin and are slow to think ourselves superior. The forgiving person is strong enough to display anger and resentment toward the person who has wronged her, but she is also strong enough to give away that anger and resentment.
In this view, the forgiving person makes the first move, even before the offender has asked. She resists the natural urge for vengeance. Instead, she creates a welcoming context in which the offender can confess.
Judgment. A wrong is an occasion to re-evaluate. What is the character of the person in question? Should a period of stupidity eclipse a record of decency?
It's also an occasion to investigate each unique circumstance, the nature of each sin that was committed and the implied remedy to that sin. Some sins, like anger and lust, are like wild beasts. They have to be fought through habits of restraint. Some sins like bigotry are like stains. They can only be expunged by apology and cleansing. Some like stealing are like a debt. They can only be rectified by repaying. Some, like adultery, are more like treason than like crime; they can only be rectified by slowly reweaving relationships. Some sins like vanity — Williams's sin — can only be treated by extreme self-abasement.
During the judgment phase, hard questions have to be asked so that in forgiving we don't lower our standards.
Confession and Penitence. At some point the offender has to get out in front of the process, being more self-critical than anyone else around him. He has to probe down to the root of his error, offer a confession more complete than expected. He has to put public reputation and career on the back burner and come up with a course that will move him toward his own emotional and spiritual recovery, to become strongest in the weakest places.
Reconciliation and re-trust. After judgments have been made and penitence performed, both the offender and offended bend toward each other. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, trust doesn't have to be immediate, but the wrong act is no longer a barrier to a relationship. The offender endures his season of shame and is better for it. The offended are free from mean emotions like vengeance and are uplifted when they offer kindness. The social fabric is repaired. Community solidarity is strengthened by the reunion.
I guess I think Brian Williams shouldn't have to resign, for the reason David Carr emphasized in The Times: Williams's transgressions were not part of his primary job responsibilities. And because I think good people are stronger when given second chances.
But the larger question is how we build community in the face of scandal. Do we exile the offender or heal the relationship? Would you rather become the sort of person who excludes, or one who offers tough but healing love?