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Three Things: Day 1 – Tax Day, Ballmer’s Gift, Microsoft

Day 1: Tax Day
You have today until midnight local time today to file your federal income taxes or file for an extension. As of midnight, Trump owes us yet another federal tax return.

And no, Trump’s federal income tax return for 2016 is NOT under audit as the deadline hasn’t even passed. Even if an audit of Trump’s 2016 filing began tomorrow there’s no excuse for not disclosing what has been filed with the IRS regardless of audit status.

What made America great has been its lower rate of corruption and clear expectations of oversight and governance. What makes America less than great is a failure of governance, lack of transparency, and increasing corruption. Why would any foreign individual, or company, or country invest in the U.S. when they can no longer reasonably expect fairness and security from our government? Trump’s behavior (and that of his family and his corporate holding structure) placing himself beyond the law undermines our strength. This cannot continue.

Steve Ballmer’s gift: USAFacts
Admittedly, I was never very crazy about Ballmer as CEO of Microsoft. He continued Bill Gates’ flawed ideology after Windows reached near-ubiquity, suppressing Microsoft’s value and negatively influencing the tech industry for too long. What a pleasant surprise, though, to learn about his retirement hobby: USAFacts, a Big Data initiative tracing the flow of tax dollars using government data.

The project began after Ballmer’s spouse prodded him to do more philanthropically. He resisted because he paid a lot of taxes; weren’t his tax dollars enough? Mm-hmm.

He learned a lot, and I expect we will be, too, as USAFacts matures. Some ugly truths have already been exposed to people like Ballmer who might not otherwise have looked — like the power of the gun lobby to suppress government reporting, or the inability of children to rise from poverty.

Ballmer’s redeeming himself. I only hope his project can get out in front of the Trump administration’s rapid decimation of government reporting.

Microsoft: a very different gift
Systems administrators who manage Windows-based enterprises aren’t very happy with a change Microsoft made to its security bulletins — they’re gone, replaced by a searchable database.

Which sounds all fine and dandy in theory until reality meets the road. Just read users’ feedback and you’ll quickly grasp additional workload has been pushed off onto administrators who already have quite enough to do. SANS Internet Storm Center looked swamped by the change.

Elimination of the security bulletin format had been expected since last November and anticipated for February. It’s not clear if there is a relationship between the unusual patch pushes February and March and this new security updates database.

One meager upside: malicious hackers will have just as much difficulty (or more) determining what was patched as will Windows administrators.

Speaking of hackers, I should note here I may be a minority report on The Shadow Brokers (TSB). The manner in which the last three months of Windows’ security fixes have been handled — which included many key vulnerabilities in advance of TSB’s latest NSA toolkit dump — suggests somebody inside Microsoft already knew what to patch months ago. Perhaps even last year when the change to security bulletins was announced given the amount of lead time needed to fix complex vulnerabilities.

Further, Microsoft had been compromised once some years ago that we know of by a Russian spy. Recall the roundup of the Illegals Program by FBI in late June 2010 when ten Russian sleeper agents including Anna Chapman were taken into custody and deported less than two weeks later in a spy swap. An eleventh agent had been picked up in Seattle where he worked for Microsoft. Reports said he was a only entry-level software tester who had established employment under his real name, Alexey Karetnikov. He first worked as an intern for Microsoft in the summer of 2008, then hired on full time in October 2009 after a gap year in Russia. (Karetnikov wasn’t the only Illegal Program spy in the Seattle area; a spy using the name ‘Tracey Foley‘ had been hired to work for a real estate company’s Seattle branch but had not fully established a presence in the northwest by the time she was arrested. There didn’t appear to be an immediate link between Foley and Microsoft or any Seattle-area technology company.)

What did Microsoft do after they learned about Karetnikov’s presence? When did they learn about him — before his arrest, or only when the arrest took place? How did MSFT mitigate risks, including the possibility there were other undisclosed spies in their ranks? Is TSB really a means by which now-useless or exposed tools are rolled up while being used as a honeypot? Could explain why linguists say TSB is likely English-speaking masquerading as non-English speaker.

We’ll probably never know for sure.

A little less than seven hours until tax filing deadline here in Eastern Daylight timezone. Tick-tock.

Three Things: Not-So-Neutral, Day 2 and Reading

This house was occupied by outside forces this long holiday weekend, obstructing output. Hope your weekend was similarly occupied by loved ones. Here’s three things for today.

It’s Day 2, Donald
At least 150 Tax March rallies across the country on Saturday reflected the public’s opinion about Trump’s tax returns — he must disclose them. Predictable locations participated, like New York City, but when red state cities and towns like Florida’s West Palm Beach have marches it’s an indicator.

Where are your tax returns, Trump? And don’t give us the “under audit” excuse yet again like you did through Spicer this afternoon. All previous presidents have been automatically audited while in office and still disclosed their returns. Nor are we going to buy your administration’s trash talk about the Tax Marches; we know what’s up with organized white supremacist provokatsiya.

Projection, much?

Net-not-so-Neutral
The big guys in technology — Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Netflix, Twitter, more — are slowly stirring from their post-inauguration torpor on net neutrality and the threat to their businesses non-neutrality poses. Their industry group, the Internet Association, expressed their concerns last week to the Federal Communications Commission about the FCC Chair Ajit Pai’s intent to kill net neutrality regulations established under the Obama administration.

Kind of slow on the uptake, dudes. Could have seen this coming based on Pai’s anti-neutrality stance when he served as an FCC commissioner. Also could have easily predicted Pai’s position based on the current administration’s drive against regulations.

And Pai’s move to reduce FCC oversight of the internet by shifting it to the Federal Trade Commission is a blowjob gift for the telcos — in spite of the fact more communications travel over the internet, a move to the FTC reduces exposure of communications to existing communications regulations. This does not serve the public’s interest.

There’s an alternate tack members of the Internet Association could take, if a little pricey and radical: they could simply buy the telcos. Google could acquire AT&T which has been a major PITA obstructing competition from Google Fiber. Apple could just buy Verizon for iPhone service and Facebook could snap up CenturyLink. The Internet Association could take on a role as mediator addressing traffic issues between them.

And then let’s see what happens to reducing regulation and net neutrality. Of course this creates an entirely new set of challenges with regard to privacy, but I’d rather move toward regulations to address them under FCC. (And I’d really rather digital morons like Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) had nothing to do with the intersection of privacy and technology when he clearly doesn’t grasp the internet is telecommunications deserving the same privacy as landlines.)

Speaking of acquisitions, there’s speculation Apple could buy Disney which includes ABC and other content subsidiaries like ESPN. Looks like wishful thinking right now on part of analysts, but if FCC’s Pai continues shredding net neutrality, it makes more sense for Apple (and other internet companies) to snap up companies which make content, cutting out carriers or forcing them to pay for Apple’s content.

Longreads
Here’s a few things worth your time during a commute or lunch hour this week:

A look at the end of Gaullism as France approaches its election.

Essay: Friendship as a Civic Democratic Practice — that’s little d democratic here; Ivy Schweitzer asks if we can’t look to our friendships to fix our national political schism. (Me? On a limited basis; I can’t be friends with Nazis.)

Marc Ambinder on U.S. government continuity — worth a read, but I’ve long had a nasty feeling continuity plans were changed because of 9/11 and they’re in a classified executive order if I’m right.

Interesting look at impact of open-source citizen investigations on Russian disinformation — focal point of this analysis is the doomed 2014 Malaysian Air flight MH17.

Those should keep you busy. Day 1 ahead — last day to file income taxes without penalty or file for an extension. Time, tide, and taxes wait for no man, Trump.

Three Things: Day 6, Bombs Away, Get Carter 2

As long as my schedule permits I’ll continue to post Three Things each day at least through next Tuesday. Here we go…

Day 6: Countdown to Tax Day deadline continues
There’s a clear trend in interest about Trump’s tax returns since the election with a spike reflecting two pages leaked from Trump’s 2005 return on Rachel Maddow’s show last month. Stretching out the Google Trends period to five years and a seasonal bump can be seen each year. This year’s seasonal bump is completely distorted by discussion of Trump’s returns.

59 Tomahawk missiles launched at Syria and a GBU-43/B MOAB dropped on Afghanistan aren’t going to change this picture. Where are your tax returns, Trump?

Bombs away
Speaking of missiles and bombs, I sure hope somebody is watching transactions related to military industrial complex stocks. The image here includes just three companies, one of which is Raytheon, the maker of Tomahawk missiles in which  Trump may or may not own shares. How convenient for shareholders of record last Friday the stock went ex dividend this Monday after a spike in price late last week when 59 missiles were aimed just off a Syrian runway.

Considering both Russia and Syria knew in advance the US was deploying missiles, one would be foolish not to wonder if any one with vested interest in NYSE:RTN or competitors might also have known in advance to buy before the 01:40 UTC launch with a sell order for Monday’s open. For those of you mentally checking off time zones of key cities and major stock markets:

Damascus Fri 07-APR-2017 4:40:00 am EEST UTC+3 hours
Washington DC Thu 06-APR-2017 9:40:00 pm EDT UTC-4 hours
Moscow Fri 07-APR-2017 4:40:00 am MSK UTC+3 hours
Tokyo Fri 07-APR-2017 10:40:00 am JST UTC+9 hours
Shanghai Fri 07-APR-2017 9:40:00 am CST UTC+8 hours
Corresponding UTC(GMT) Fri 07-APR-2017 01:40:00

Get Carter 2
I’d much rather talk about a second installment of the 1971 movie featuring Michael Caine but no, it’s all about Carter Page and his less-than-stellar ability to prevaricate about his dealings with Russians. While quizzed by ABC’s George Stephanopolous about the chances sanctions were discussed by Page and Russians during the 2016 campaign season, Carter replied, “Something may have come up in a conversation…”

Uh-huh. Imagine somebody at the FBI cutting to a taped conversation or two at that point. Page insists he didn’t ask or offer about the sanctions, but he’s wholly unconvincing. It’s no wonder at all known Russian spies in the Buryakov case were skeptical about Page, a.k.a. ‘Male-1’. Whatever Page claims there was enough there to pass the threshold requirements for a FISA warrant.

Why is Page talking to media now anyhow? Is he somebody’s canary-in-the-coal-mine? Definitely not a FISA warrant canary.

That’s Three Things. By the way: about 22 percent of taxpayers wait until the last two weeks before the deadline to file. Tick-tock — only a handful of hours until Day 5 before deadline.

(p.s. treat this like an open thread)

Three Things: Day 7, Get Carter, SLAPP-ish Defense

Busy, busy, busy here, now running very late. Only have time for three quick things.

DAY 7 and counting
U.S. income tax filings are due by midnight local time next Tuesday, April 18, the day before we ask where Trump’s 2016 tax returns are in addition to previous years’ returns.

Coincidentally, scientists may have gotten a snapshot of a black hole for the first time, though we won’t know for a few months. We may have better luck looking to that void for Trump’s tax returns.

Get Carter
Carter Page, that is, not to be confused with the 1971 film character Jack Carter. You’ve surely heard since Tuesday night’s reports that a FISA warrant was issued mid-2016 to allow the FBI to monitor Page’s communications. You’ll recall that Page was identified as U.S. contact “Male-1” in the 2015 Buryakov complaint. Russian spy Victor Podobnyy tried to recruit Page, who was intent on doing business with state-controlled energy company Gazprom. It was Page’s relationship with both Gazprom and Russia which were touted as strengths when he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016 as an adviser. Page had been both an investor and an adviser to Gazprom; with Gazprom being majority owned by the Russian government since 2005, Page’s status under the Foreign Agents Registration Act has been fuzzy, though not as clear as Evgeny Buryakov or Victor Podobnyy. As of mid-2015, things did not look good for Gazprom — rough because of U.S. sanctions from 2014, and worse because of cannibalization of the domestic energy business by Rosneft. If Page was still invested in or committed to Gazprom, it’s hard to see how he would not have been influenced by this Russian state-controlled business. He has said he sold his Gazprom stock, but details about timing aren’t readily available.

And now, Get Paul — sorry, no movie of that name, but things are definitely heating up about the former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. He’s registering as a foreign agent — a wee bit after the fact — conveniently after AP reported money received by his business linked with a black ledger produced last year. Do watch sourcing; not many names attached to the content. Are they leaked materials or are the sources unwilling to go public given how many Russians have suddenly taken to keeping on their backs, pining for the fjords?

Anthem SLAPPs breach victims
I’m not a lawyer, but looks to me like Anthem is using strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) against customers who whose private health care data was exposed by a breach of Anthem’s security. The health care insurer won court orders demanding examination of customers’ computers to determine if any exposure was due not to Anthem’s breach but to the customers’ information security prior to the breach. Customers withdrew their suits against Anthem rather than subject their machines to examination. This sets a hideous precedent allowing greater sloppiness with information security which may only be reined in by shareholder suits and government intervention if HIPAA regulations were violated.

Nearly Day 6 o’clock. Do you know where your deductions are?