Ever Wonder Why We Keep Seeing Reports Of Foreign Signal Intelligence Equipment In DC? Unsecured Presidential Personal Phone Edition

Washington DC has a fake cell phone tower problem. It is an open secret that Foreign Intelligence Services are using a variety of means to capture signals intelligence (SIGINT) in DC. From Wired:

LAST WEEK, THE Department of Homeland Security confirmed for the first time that it is aware of unauthorized cell-site simulators, the surveillance tools often called stingrays or IMSI Catchers, in various parts of Washington DC.

While it’s not surprising that foreign intelligence groups or criminal actors would be cell-snooping in the nation’s capital, the DHS statement is the first US government acknowledgement that sensitive political communications, not to mention those of anyone in DC, are at risk of interception by devices that are currently unaccounted for. In spite of this step, though, observers find it unlikely that any group will move to defuse the threat in the foreseeable future.

Ruh Roh!!!!!!

From Politico (emphasis mine):

President Donald Trump uses a White House cellphone that isn’t equipped with sophisticated security features designed to shield his communications, according to two senior administration officials – a departure from the practice of his predecessors that potentially exposes him to hacking or surveillance.

The president, who relies on cellphones to reach his friends and millions of Twitter followers, has rebuffed staff efforts to strengthen security around his phone use, according to the administration officials.

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones – one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and pre-loaded with a handful of news sites – are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

The president has gone as long as five months without having the phone checked by security experts. It is unclear how often Trump’s call-capable phones, which are essentially used as burner phones, are swapped out.

Trump’s call-capable cell phone has a camera and microphone, unlike the White House-issued cell phones used by Obama. Keeping those components creates a risk that hackers could use them to access the phone and monitor the president’s movements. The GPS location tracker, however – which can be used to track the president’s whereabouts – is disabled on Trump’s devices.

“It’s baffling that Trump isn’t taking baseline cybersecurity measures at a time when he is trying to negotiate his way out of a trade war with China, a country that is known for using cyber tactics to gain the upper hand in business negotiations,” said Samm Sacks, a China and technology expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Former government officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations expressed astonishment that any White House would issue the president a cell phone that posed a security threat.

I’m sure there’s no operations security issues involved here at all. It isn’t like the President is up at odd hours with a bunch of media personalities who give him advice and wind him up about what decisions to make after he tells them what’s going on. Err, um… Never mind.

Stay spreadable!

Open thread.

House, Garden, and Peeps Update

Got some stuff done in the garden the past few days, so I thought I would share some pics. First, the front of the house:

As you can see, the oak (strong like bull) and the maple are doing well, and the other oak which is not pictured is similarly very healthy. The ferns needed to be cleaned out and watered, so I am hoping the rain tonight handles that, and all of the hostas on the stairs are going to be split up and planted tomorrow.

Moving to the back, first, the deck repairs, which could not have come at a worse time with the whole Lily thing (that’s why we have credit cards), but all the bad wood is gone, the railing which was falling in has been replaced, and for the first time since I bought this house and fell through the god damned deck 8 hours after buying it I feel safe on the back porch. It is structurally sound, as you can see, because it can support the weight of your less than trim host and his sausage roll of a dog.

Now the whole back yard:

On the left, both apple trees are doing splendidly- the blooms were beautiful, and I expect in a couple years they will be fruiting nicely. The chestnut tree went the way of the dodo, and I don’t think I am going to replace it because I think that is where I want the wildflower garden for the hummingbirds and butterflies. IN the back corner, you can not see them, but the blueberries and blackberries are growing well and again I expect fruit maybe next year. In the back right, we have several rows of peas and sugar snap peas. When they are done I will put in some beans. The rest of the gardens hold a variety of tomatoes, peppers, etc., and one bed is for watermelon. The three tiered planter has garlic and onions, and near the fall will be beets.

I managed to salvage all the soil and some of the beds from the old place, and I covered that with that fabric crap and then topped it with a layer of soil. Here is Thurston “helping.”

If you notice in between the beds and the deck the grass looks like total hell, but that is ok because I need to get about ten tons of top soil to level out the damned yard anyway. There’s a guy that will do it for 200 bucks, so I imagine next month when I get paid again that will happen. I’m starting to collect flagstones at the creek and intend to make a walkway to the back gate. Now for the best part- PEEPS:

Here is a shitty picture of mom on a wire screaming bloody murder because I had the nerve to get within 20 feet of her babies:

Fortunately, I had the brains to get some video of her hollering at me, so maybe you all can tell me what she is:

Probably just a swallow or something but I don’t care I am happy she has decided to make this her home and I hope she and her kids come back every year.

Open Thread: Popular, Yet Divisive, Culture

Don’t read the replies, of course, if you wanna keep your mood good.

The replies / to&fro *here*, on the other hand, are a godsdamned joy:

Cat “Semi-Bleg” — Houston Area

From commentor Kirk S:

The background:
I live in an apartment complex in Houston – been here for three years now. There’s a cat colony in our section that has an extremely prolific mother. Unfortunately she’s also very smart about traps and completely opposed to a hand or other human body part within a couple of feet. At the same time she knows – and teaches her kittens – that people are where the food is. (We are not the only ones. We put out water as do a few other apartments. Sometimes we put out dry cat food.) As a consequence the descendants range from skittish to pet-like in behavior.

The cat you see in the picture was one of Mama’s litter from a few months ago. She’s one of the ‘wants to be a pet’ cats – though cautious of new people, she wanted to be petted and held, and would try to come inside. The kittens were her first litter at what is way too early an age.

How much too early? Wednesday afternoon she dropped 8 kittens in a circling line, crying in pain, and once the last was out she ran. A neighbor and my wife saw the later end of this and gathered the living kittens – the four survivors – brought them into the apartment in a small box, and gave them a little water.

Soon after this cat came to the Mrs. wanting to be held and comforted. So Mrs. brought her in and put them all together. The cat was panicky and kept pushing the kittens away till Mrs. found a larger box (a microwave box headed for the trash), put a towel in the bottom, put kittens and cat inside, and lowered two flaps to form a cave. A few minutes later the four kittens were nursing.

The plea:
My apartment allows me to have two pets. I have two dogs. Now I’ve got a cat and kittens and they can’t stay.
Read more

Every Day Is Opposite Day

In the run up to the 2016 election, the FBI did indeed give one campaign special treatment: Its director, James Comey, publicly trashed Hillary Clinton at the conclusion of the bureau’s investigation into how Clinton handled emails as secretary of state and precipitously and needlessly revealed that the investigation had been reopened in the final days of the campaign. The FBI remained silent about the far more serious and substantial allegations that the Trump campaign had been infiltrated by figures acting on behalf of a hostile foreign power.

Now, the beneficiary of that special treatment is waging all-out war on the FBI and his own Department of Justice, which appears to be intimidated enough to roll over and piddle on its own belly.

During the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump loudly complained about corruption in Washington DC and endlessly invoked the specter of the “forgotten men and women” who were getting ripped off by elites.

Now, Trump has installed a breathtakingly corrupt cabinet and auctioned off U.S. foreign policy for the financial benefit of himself and his family members. A Trump-installed Supreme Court justice just wrote the majority opinion on a decision that allows companies to force workers into individual arbitration rather than pursuing class action lawsuits.

Some days, I think the Trump junta won’t get away with its many crimes. Other days, I think maybe they will. In the morning thread, Kay said we keep breaking through institutional safety nets, and the last one is the vote. She’s right. If we don’t roll these bastards back hard in November, they’ll cut enough holes in that final safety net to destroy it too. Fellow citizens, I think 2018 is our last shot.

Morbidity discrepencies and Basic Health Plans

This is going to be wonky even for me.

The Medicare’s Office of the Actuary (OACT), came out with their projection of what the proliferation of short term, underwritten, and renewalable plans would do the ACA market. They project significant movement out of the ACA plans by healthy people into short term plans.  They also project that this will cost the federal government almost $40 billion dollars in additional subsidies over the course of time.

I have a question.

OACT and other actuaries are all predicting that the ACA risk pool will become increasingly morbid as there are more and more exit points for people who can pass underwriting to get out of the ACA.  The only people who will stick around are those who are either very well subsidized or those who cannot pass underwriting because they have expensive chronic conditions.

This is a fairly standard story and it makes sense as the underlying morbidity of the ACA eligible pool is far healthier than the morbidity of the pool of people who actually buy an ACA policy.

What happens to Basic Health Plan (BHP/Section 1331) funding in this scenario?

The BHP is a program where states take a per enrollee block grant that is equal to 95% of what the Federal government would have spent on that individual in the ACA market.  This pool of money is then used to pay for enhanced benefits and lower premiums for people who earn under 200% Federal Poverty Level (FPL).  So far, only New York and Minnesota are using a BHP.

Note the important words: per enrollee block grant.  Let’s assume a a state had a ACA group of 100,000 BHP eligible buyers at an average federal subsidy of $3,000 per enrollee for $300 million in ACA funds for the enrolled population.  Now let’s assume the state signs up 200,000 people to their new BHP, the state gets $570 million dollars for their BHP (.95*$3,000*200,000).

As the relative morbidity increases, the BHP arbitrage increases.  The baseline from which the BHP per enrollee grant is calculated from is the far more expensive and morbid ACA enrollee.  The healthier not enrolled individuals who would sign up for the BHP will cost significantly less on a per capita basis than the benchmark.  States could tap into a significant pool of federal funds that will continue to grow as the ACA risk pool is intentionally made more morbid and expensive.

I don’t think this is a 2019 question as we are too late in the year for the implementation planning to go well.  I think this should be a 2020 question in states that actually want to protect their citizens.

Monday Morning Open Thread: The Best Revenge Is A Life Well Lived

On the Road and In Your Backyard

Good Morning All,

This weekday feature is for Juicers who are are on the road, traveling, or just want to share a little bit of their world via stories and pictures. So many of us rise each morning, eager for something beautiful, inspiring, amazing, subtle, of note, and our community delivers – a view into their world, whether they’re far away or close to home – pictures with a story, with context, with meaning, sometimes just beauty. By concentrating travel updates and tips here, it’s easier for all of us to keep up or find them later.

So please, speak up and share some of your adventures and travel news here, and submit your pictures using our speedy, secure form. You can submit up to 7 pictures at a time, with an overall description and one for each picture.

You can, of course, send an email with pictures if the form gives you trouble, or if you are trying to submit something special, like a zipped archive or a movie. If your pictures are already hosted online, then please email the links with your descriptions.

For each picture, it’s best to provide your commenter screenname, description, where it was taken, and date. It’s tough to keep everyone’s email address and screenname straight, so don’t assume that I remember it “from last time”. More and more, the first photo before the fold will be from a commenter, so making it easy to locate the screenname when I’ve found a compelling photo is crucial.

Have a wonderful day, and enjoy the pictures!

Prepare for some wow today folks!

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East Coast Launch: Early Morning Viewing!


There’s an Orbital ATK Antares rocket launch at 4:39 AM Eastern, in just a bit. It’s launching from the Wallops Island Facility in Southeast Virginia.

Since the rain has gone, it looks like a lot of folks may see something, should they look the appropriate direction (and up!).

Link to more info: https://www.space.com/40644-watch-orbital-atk-rocket-launch-oa9-webcast.html

You can watch the launch live on space.com

A Late Snack: Caramel Swirl Cake

I made a caramel swirl layer cake with salted caramel ganache for Mother’s Day brunch last week.

I adapted the white layer cake recipe from Epicurious, which you can find at this link. Or use your own preferred white cake recipe. The adaptation was swirling salted caramel ganache into the cake batter before putting it into the oven.

Salted Caramel Ganache

8 ounces of caramels (If you have a recipe for caramels you like and want to do the work, then make them. If there is a for purchase caramels that you like, then save yourself some time and effort and buy them.)

8 ounces of heavy whipping cream

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Kosher salt to taste

Place 8 ounces of caramels in a mixing bowl. Scald the cream and vanilla extract and pour it over the caramels. Because caramels don’t melt like chocolate does, place the mixing bowl over a pot of boiling water as a double boiler. Let the scalded cream sit on the caramels in the double bowler till the caramels are soft enough to whisk the hot cream into, then whisk them together to make the ganache. Add kosher salt to taste, or if you like your caramel unsalted, leave it out. I won’t call the food police. Swirl the caramel ganache into the cake batter after it has been poured into the cake pans and then bake per the recipe’s instruction. They should look something like this:

Once the cakes are done and cool, make another batch of caramel ganache and set it aside until it comes to room temperature. Then whip another 8 ounces of heavy whipping cream till you get stiff peaked whipped cream. Fold the room temperature caramel ganache into the whipped cream to make caramel mousse.

Turn the cake out onto a round, then frost the top of the first layer with mousse. Place the second layer on top, then frost the top of that and the sides of the whole cake. Then place in the refrigerator. Make one last 1/2 batch of the caramel ganache – just 1/2 everything in the recipe – and let it cool to room temperature. Remove the cake from the refrigerator, and pour the ganache over the top and smoothing it out over the top and the sides with a spatula. Then sprinkle the top with kosher salt or whatever your preferred finishing salt is.

Then slice and enjoy!

Stay hungry!

Open thread.

Sunday Night Peeps Update

There were five eggs, and I do believe I can make out five wee peepers here:

I hope these rascals appreciate that my fern is dying because I can not water it.

What’s goin’ on down yonder yer way?

*** Update ***

Commenter Davidh, who apparently knows how to use photoshop, has fixed this picture:

The Mystery Man Revealed – And Open Thread

Quinta Jurecic and Ben Wittes have written their article on outing FBI informants, and several outlets have given the name of the probable informant.

I have the sense that I still don’t fully understand this situation, which I commonly get about revelations of the Trump campaign and its connections to various skeevy people. That is probably because there are more shoes to drop from this centipede, so I can’t fully understand the situation.

That Stefan Halper might be an informant has been publicly discussed since March. His positions and connections should have suggested that possibility to anyone who dealt with him before that. The Washington Post and New York Times articles of Friday night, together with material published earlier, lead to the conclusion that the person being discussed is Stefan Halper.

What Halper did was talk to George Papadopoulos and propose a project with him and also met with Carter Page and Sam Clovis in the summer of 2016. Earlier he met with Michael Flynn. Presumably this was because the FBI had information that Russians were communicating with these folks, and Halper was trying to get information about how that was going down.

The FBI could have sent agents openly to talk to those people, but they probably decided to take an indirect route because of the proximity of the election. Those FBI visits would have gotten out and caused some publicity. This is one of the asymmetries with how the Clinton emails were dealt with.

It would have been good practice for the Trumpies to have notified the FBI themselves when they were contacted by Russians, but, as we have seen in other cases, they did not once see fit to do this.

Since Halper already had a public profile and connections to intelligence agencies, it’s not clear to me why outing him seems to have been such a big deal to those agencies, who were reported to have been working for weeks to minimize the damage if he was outed. It’s possible that he was doing more than what is publicly available, and that those additional activities were much more sensitive.

Part of the concern is that if Congress is willing to reveal intelligence operatives for political reasons, it will be much more difficult to recruit sources and informants. And, of course, the President has now piled on.

It’s not at all clear why Devin Nunes, Trump, and others claim that knowing who this person is will undercut the Mueller investigation. They have claimed a connection between him and the Steele dossier, but, if anything, the information Halper obtained would have gone to the FBI before the dossier did. So, to the extent Halper’s material correlates with what’s in the dossier, it would be independent support.

It’s also not clear how all the information was leaked. Did the leaks start in March? Who are the sources for the Times and the Post stories? Will this be prosecuted the way Valerie Plame’s outing was?

The Jurecic – Wittes article is long and much more closely argued than what I’ve written. Very worth reading.

Repub Venality Open Thread: Go Away, Smarmy Dubya Minion

KellyAnne Conway’s husband (a lawyer) rebuts…

Little toad refuses to quit, comes back for another round…

In Through the Out Door

Oh fer fuck’s sake:

Texas GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said after the nation’s latest school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, that teachers need guns, parents should secure firearms safely at home, and schools should eliminate some of their entrances.
“We need our teachers to be armed,” Patrick said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Patrick also called for “gun control at home,” with firearms out of childrens’ reach, but declined to say whether he would support requiring that by law, saying Texas holds gun owners “very responsible.”

“Be sure that your kids and grandkids or anyone who might have access to your home cannot get your guns,” Patrick said.

The latest school shooting in Texas on Friday left 10 people dead and 13 others wounded. In the wake of the shooting, Patrick blamed the deaths in part on “too many entrances and too many exits.”

Patrick repeated his argument about entrances on Sunday.

“We need to get down to one or two entrances into our schools,” Patrick said, adding, “You have the necessary exits for fire, of course, but we have to funnel our students into our schools so we can put eyes on them.”

Texas, being Texas, will probably make this guy their next governor.

One of my wingnut friends from the Army who resides in Texas had a comment thread on Facebook about the shooting, and one of his fellow travelers blamed the shooting on liberal laws, stating that if teachers had been allowed to spank the guy for wearing a trenchcoat every day, this never would have happened. Which is only about as dumb as blaming this shooter on the wide availability of… doors.

This Will End Well

It will be fun watching law and order Republicans look the other way.