Links & Briefs For July 1, 2015

Did you see the Jupiter-Venus conjunction last night or tonight? Me neither; last night I got sidetracked and tonight cloud cover sent me to the sidelines. The lead image? Bookstall, Jemaa el-Fnaa Square, Marrakech, September 2014.

Some of today’s reading…

Black churches burning

After at least six seven eight African American churches have been torched in recent days –at least four of those deliberate arson, possibly six– Juan Cole posits: If ISIL had burned down 4 Churches, it would have been Headline News. He has a point.

Fanning flames in Greece

After some doubts emerged briefly yesterday, Sunday’s yes/no referendum will be taking place. That’s now clear after last night’s late hour offer by Greek PM Alexis Tsipras was rejected by European creditors without consideration. ““Before a referendum, as planned, is carried out, we won’t negotiate on anything new at all,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Greeks are largely split on the referendum, which will decide whether voters want to accept the austere terms of the EU bailout (a yes vote) or reject them (no vote), with opinion now edging towards the former due at least in part to the European Central Bank’s cut of emergency funding which led to the closure of banks and withdrawal limits on Monday. From GreekReporter:

Conducted by the ProRata institute and published in the EfSyn, the poll showed that before the banks closed 57 per cent of people would vote ‘no’ to reject the troika’s proposals, but after the banks closed this dropped to 46 per cent.

To be clear, austerity hasn’t done much for the Greek economy over the last five years. Time:

When Greece first accepted austerity in exchange for a bailout in 2010, its creditors badly underestimated the damage it would do to the Greek economy. The country’s GDP wound up shrinking by a quarter over the next five years, creating a recession that has been deeper and more protracted than the U.S. Great Depression. Unemployment also rose to a peak of around 28% in February, with half of young people now jobless in Greece.

With a promise of more of the same, don’t expect too many smiling faces at the polls on Sunday.

Introducing XKEYSCORE, the NSA’s self-proclaimed “widest reaching” spying system

The Intercept published 48 pages top-secret and other classified documents today about XKEYSCORE, one of the NSA’s most powerful mass surveillance tools. With this system, tracking someone’s internet activity is as simple as entering an email address.

The NSA’s XKEYSCORE program, first revealed by The Guardian, sweeps up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords, and other private communications. XKEYSCORE is fed a constant flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network, among other sources, for processing. As of 2008, the surveillance system boasted approximately 150 field sites in the United States, Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom, Spain, Russia, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Japan, Australia, as well as many other countries, consisting of over 700 servers.

These servers store “full-take data” at the collection sites — meaning that they captured all of the traffic collected — and, as of 2009, stored content for 3 to 5 days and metadata for 30 to 45 days. NSA documents indicate that tens of billions of records are stored in its database. “It is a fully distributed processing and query system that runs on machines around the world,” an NSA briefing on XKEYSCORE says. “At field sites, XKEYSCORE can run on multiple computers that gives it the ability to scale in both processing power and storage.”


The reach and potency of XKEYSCORE as a surveillance instrument is astonishing. The Guardian report noted that NSA itself refers to the program as its “widest reaching” system. In February of this year, The Intercept reported that NSA and GCHQ hacked into the internal network of Gemalto, the world’s largest provider of cell phone SIM cards, in order to steal millions of encryption keys used to protect the privacy of cell phone communication. XKEYSCORE played a vital role in the spies’ hacking by providing government hackers access to the email accounts of Gemalto employees.


Numerous key NSA partners, including Canada, New Zealand and the U.K., have access to the mass surveillance databases of XKEYSCORE. In March, the New Zealand Herald, in partnership with The Intercept, revealed that the New Zealand government used XKEYSCORE to spy on candidates for the position of World Trade Organization director general and also members of the Solomon Islands government.

The documents, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, are dated up to 2013.

Easy listening..

The Nation’s John Nichols on Patti Smith’s Summer of Rebellion, currently on show at just about every music festival in Europe:

“This is protest music. But it is protest with a fierce edge that seamlessly weaves a new politics into a rich legacy of rock-and-roll rebellion. Smith is not preaching to the converted, nor is she mouthing talking points. She’s doing something altogether different, and altogether more important: She is celebrating a connection between music and movements that is swaggering and confident and more than ready to declare—as Smith does—that “we’re gonna change the fucking world!”

She’ll be in Ljubljana on August 2. Unfortunately I won’t be.

Longform Podcast #148 is a delightful 61 minutes with Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel and these days the Editor of Fusion’s Digital Voices section. Great insight into the early days of the wildly popular Jezebel, and more generally into the web media scene which remains oh so very foreign to many. Me included.

And entirely unrelated:

A listing of free outdoor art and culture events in Amsterdam this summer, via Art Weekenders.

Here in Colombia..

Good news today. Citing “steps taken by national authorities to reduce illegal extraction of timber and overfishing”, UNESCO removed Colombia’s Los Katíos National Park from its List of World Heritage in Danger listing yesterday.

The park, which covers 72,000 hectares in the country’s northwest, was inscribed as a heritage site in 1994, was put on the danger list in 2009 at the request of the Colombian government to assist with its protection.

The decision was announced at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee currently under way in Bonn.

.. and here on the website

Cali Moon, the Venus-Jupiter Conjunction and Star Photography – a few resources for photographing the night sky.

And the Tune du Jour, “Pulse” by Galina, a dreamy midweek landscape that lives up to its ‘FlamencoChill’ hash tag.



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