1. Everything you need to know about Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower

    Edward Snowden…

    …was born on June 21, 1983 in North Carolina. He is twenty-nine years old.

    …acquired the classified information he released while working as an National Security Agency (NSA) contractor for Booz Allen Hamilton. Prior to his employment with the NSA, he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in maintaining computer network security. He also worked as a security guard for an unspecified NSA facility at the University of Maryland earlier in his career.

    has epilepsy. According to Snowden, he told his supervisor at the NSA that he needed time off from work to treat his disorder before flying to Hong Kong and releasing the classified documents.

    joined the United States Army as a Special Forces recruit in 2004. He was discharged the same year after breaking both of his legs in a training excercise.

    dropped out of high school and took high school courses at a community college in Maryland, but did not acquire a diploma. He later completed his GED.

    may have donated to Ron Paul’s election campaign in 2012.

    volunteered to have his identity released by The Guardian and The Washington Post. He said of his decision, “I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong.”

    believes that his actions are justified. On questions about the safety implications of his actions, Snowden told The Guardian, “I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest. There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn’t turn over, because harming people isn’t my goal. Transparency is.”

    is seeking political asylum. Snowden, located in Hong Kong as of June 9, is seeking asylum in Iceland. Whether he will be successful in receiving it or whether he will be extradited to the United States is a matter of debate.

    (Source: elephrame.com)

     

  2. Everything you need to know about the NSA spying on you

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    The Guardian and the Washington Post have reported that the National Security Agency, or the NSA, has been spying on millions of Americans and other individuals. The previously secret surveillance programs target people who have contracts with Verizon Wireless (and perhaps other phone service providers) in addition to some users of services provided by Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. The following is a list of answers to some questions that most of us have about how this revelation may affect our lives.

    Is the NSA spying on me?

    If you have a phone contract with Verizon, then the answer is “yes”. The NSA was granted an order by a federal court to collect phone records for every single Verizon customer from April 25, 2013 to July 19, 2013. Even further, according to the Wall Street Journal, the NSA participates in a similar program with Sprint and AT&T. Consequently, if you have a contract with either of those providers, you may be under surveillance as well.

    If you use certain services provided by Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube or Apple, then the answer is “maybe.” According the Washington Post, the NSA program that collects data from these companies is referred to as PRISM. Under PRISM, the NSA, in concert with the FBI, allegedly taps directly into the servers of participating companies and, in turn, has access to every user’s data. However, the agencies are believed to only select information that they believe is foreign. Even so, the NSA still acquires a great deal of information about Americans which it calls “incidental.” In sum, while you are less likely to be spied on by the NSA under PRISM if you are an American, there is no guarantee that the content from your Facebook, Gmail, Skype or other accounts will not be “incidentally” collected by the government.

    What information does the NSA have about me?

    If you are a Verizon customer, then nearly everything about your calls except for the actual words you speak are given to the NSA by Verizon. The Guardian reports that “the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.”

    If your data has been collected from Facebook, Google, et al., then a variety of your communications, including your words, may be monitored. According to the Washington Post, “audio, video, chat, and file transfers” from Skype users in addition to “Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance of search terms” among other content is collected by the NSA

    Can the NSA use that information to harm me?

    Perhaps. If you are engaged in terrorism, then yes, the NSA and other agencies could potentially use that information to arrest, kill or otherwise harm you. If you are engaged in other, less serious, illegal crimes, then it’s unlikely that the information could be used against you legally as it is not obtained with a proper warrant. If you are a boring, regular person who talks to your mother for an hour every night or spends most of your time searching for information on the latest fashion tips or movies, then there is probably nothing from your Verizon, Google, Facebook or other records that can be used against you.

    Whether or not occasional searches or conversations about topics like terrorism or violence could be used as means of requesting even more surveillance on you specifically or as a means of erroneously linking you to illegal activities remains to be seen. There is also, of course, the possibility that your information could be used to frame you or someone else for a crime in an NSA orchestrated conspiracy. Beyond that is the more mundane, and yet more plausible, scenario that the NSA’s records could be released inadvertently and your info along with everyone else’s is made public. However, that is a risk we all take by having cell phones and posting online in the first place.

    Are the NSA’s actions legal?

    There is no clear answer to this yet. The government has said that its actions are legal. However, the ACLU among other criticshave questioned both the legality and ethics of the surveillance programs.

    What have Verizon, Microsoft, et al. said about these surveillance programs?

    Verizon released a statement that said, in part, “We have no comment on the accuracy of The Guardian newspaper story or the documents referenced.” Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, PalTalk, AOL and DropBox have released statements on their alleged involvement in PRISM. Each denies participating in the program.

    How do I stop the NSA from spying on me?

    Because the scope of the NSA’s surveillance programs is not yet fully known or confirmed, there is no definite answer this question other than “stop using everything” which is impractical advice. In the long term, however, pushing elected officials to repeal laws like the Patriot Act that allows such surveillance to take place may be a means of enacting change. Moreover, organizations like the ACLU are already in the process of examining the constitutionality of the government’s actions which may lead to a lawsuit against the NSA and other agencies for their actions. At this point, however, the most immediate thing we can do is simply wait for more information.

    Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

    (Source: elephrame.com)

     

  3. Everything you need to know about Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev

    Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev are suspected of planning and executing the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured over one hundred eighty others on April 15, 2013 in Massachusetts. While Tamerlan died on April 19, 2013 after a gunfight with police, Dzhokhar was arrested on the same day after a daylong manhunt by local, state and federal authorities.

    Both brothers immigrated to the United States - Dzhokhar in 2002 and Tamerlan in 2003 - where they and the rest of their family, including two sisters, were granted asylum after their father cited persecution of ethnic Chechens in Russia. The family settled in Cambridge, MA and received permanent residence status in 2007.

    Dzhokhar Tsarnaev…

    …was born on July 22, 1993 in Kyrgyzstan.

    …was an accomplished wrestler and captain of the wrestling team in high school at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.

    …attended the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth where he majored in marine biology after he graduated from high school in 2011. He lived in the Pine Dale Hall dorm.

    …became a naturalized U.S. citizen on September 11, 2012.

    …listed Islam as his worldview on his VK profile and referenced his religion on Twitter. He did not, however, appear to be a particularly devoted Muslim to friends and family.

    …was popular, sweet, nice and normal according to former friends and acquaintances.

    …was charged by the federal government on April 22, 2013 with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction against persons and property in the United States resulting in death in addition to malicious destruction of property by means of an explosive device resulting in death.

    Tamerlan Tsarnaev…

    …was born on October 21, 1986 in the Republic of Dagestan in Russia.

    studied accounting at Bunker Hill Community College on and off from 2006 to 2008.

    …was the New England Golden Gloves heavyweight champion in 2009 and 2010.

    …was interviewed by the FBI in early to mid 2011 at the request of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) which suspected that he had ties to radical Islam. He was eventually cleared by the FBI as it did not find evidence of terrorist activity. In contrast the FBI’s characterization of its investigation, Tamerlan’s mother says that the FBI monitored him for three years.

    …took a six month trip to Russia from January to July 2012. It has been posited that he became “radicalized” during this time period. A relative, however, said that he spent this period of time helping his father with a construction project.

    married Katharine Russell with whom he had a daughter.

    …was described as angry, crazy and up to no good by acquaintances and family.

     

  4. Everything you need to know about the Boston bombings

    Numbers

    2 bombs were detonated

    3 people were killed by the explosions, including an 8 year old boy

    144 people have been reported injured by hospitals in the area including several who lost limbs

    Time and Place

    The explosions went off in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood within seconds of each other at around 2:50 p.m. ET. The first explosion occurred at 671 Boylston Street in front of Marathon Sports and across from the Boston Public Library while the second occurred 550 west of the first on the same street

    Investigators

    It has been reported that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has taken the lead on the investigation into the attacks.According to a press release from the Bureau, it considers the investigation a “multi-agency response” that includes “state and federal law enforcement agencies”.

    Perpetrator(s)

    Neither the Boston Police Department (BPD) nor the FBI have identified those responsible for the attacks. Earlier reports by the New York Post and CBS of a Saudi national in custody were denied by Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis who reported that no suspects were in custody last night.

    Local and federal law enforcement officials have searched an apartment in suburban Revere, Massachusetts in connection with the bombings. They were seen leaving the residence with several bags at around 2 a.m. Tuesday. Aside from a confirmation by the Mass. State Police of a search warrant for the apartment, neither local nor federal authorities have commented on the investigation into the apartment or its residents.

    Motive

    No motive has been confirmed by the BPD, the FBI or any other federal or local authorities. According to the FBI, “The situation remains fluid, and it remains too early to establish the cause and motivation.”

     

  5. How likely is it that North Korea will destroy the United States with nuclear weapons?

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    North Korea is always making waves with its nuclear program and, in response to its threats, the American media and government tend critique North Korea’s behavior with a sense of urgency. If they do not explicitly state that North Korea is an immediate threat to the United States, then they leave plenty of room for others to infer as much from their words. These threats from North Korea and the American responses to them raise a question: How likely is it that North Korea will destroy us with nukes? In order to answer that question, we need to determine whether its threats are credible, whether its weapons are powerful enough to hurt the United States and whether the United States could protect itself from an attack.

    Are North Korea’s threats of war credible?

    Not likely.

    While the numerous threats the North Korean government has made against the United States are alarming on the surface and not to be entirely dismissed, they are more likely examples of propaganda than genuine warnings of impending military action. While the North Korean government can, much of the time, seem crazy enough to attack the United States, it’s readily apparent that it has a very real desire to survive and that it is more interested in the safety of nuclear deterrence rather than the bloodshed of nuclear war. Because that deterrent and, most urgently, that survival would be annihilated in a preemptive attack or second strike by the United States, the chances of North Korea attempting to nuke U.S. territory are slim to none.

    Are North Korea’s nuclear weapons powerful enough to reach and destroy the United States?

    No.

    The North Korean government has carried out three nuclear tests over the span of seven years. While the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) says that North Korea’s secrecy makes it “impossible to reach a firm conclusion about [the nations’] current nuclear weapons capability,” the organization has also stated that “it cannot be confidently said that North Korea has developed reliable, deliverable nuclear weapons.” A more definitive assessment has been offered by Jim Walsh, an international security expert from MIT. He noted that after its most recent nuclear test, Pyongyang is “not there on the nuclear end and would have to have many more tests to have enough confidence that they have a reliable mode of delivery.” Echoing Walsh’s position, Greg Thielmann of the Arms Control Association told NPR, “Based on the testing we’ve seen and some other assumptions about North Korean abilities, we don’t think they’re ready to arm an ICBM with a nuclear warhead yet even if they had an ICBM, which they don’t yet.”

    As Thielmann indicates, North Korea would have to develop an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) in addition to effective nuclear power in order to hit the United States. According to Dr. Siegfried S. Hecker, a nuclear scientist who has visited North Korean nuclear facilities, the military does not possess the weapons required to hit the United States because “they have yet to demonstrate that they have developed an intercontinental ballistic missile.” Confirming this analysis, the IISS has stated that ”North Korea does not have operational missiles capable of striking the US with nuclear weapons.”

    While the North Korean government is not currently equipped to strike the United States, it may, at some point, develop and deploy nuclear weapons capable of reaching that target. Even so, in order for such weapons to damage U.S. territory to any degree, the United States would have to be incapable of defending itself−which brings us to our next question.

    Can the United States protect itself from a nuclear attack by North Korea?

    Yes.

    On March 16, the U.S. Department of Defense announced that it would deploy 14 anti-missile interceptors to Fort Freely in Alaska on top of the 26 that are already in place as a direct response to threats from North Korea. According to the White House, this missile defense system is “fully capable” of defending U.S. territory while David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists says that system is “in development.”

    Read more at Elephrame.

    Image: Wikimedia Commons

     

  6. Does the Catholic Church still matter?

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    Pope Benedict’s resignation, the papal conclave and the election of Pope Francis I have been staples in news coverage over the past few weeks. Such widespread coverage suggests that the Catholic Church still plays a significant role in the personal and political lives of the world’s people and societies. However, in light of the role that secularism plays in much of the modern world in addition to the damage that the Church’s sex abuse scandal has done to its reputation, its power is in question. With this in mind, it is pertinent to ask: Does the Catholic Church still matter? Is all the news coverage of its election proportional to the role it plays in the world? The following are answers to those questions relative to several standards (and focusing primarily on the United States):

    Does the Catholic Church still matter…

    …relative to sheer numbers?

    According to the Vatican, there are approximately 1.2 billion Catholics around the world out of over 7 billion people in the world which means that Catholics account for about 17% of the world’s population. While those numbers show that the Church counts a significant amount of the world in its membership, its members are still a clear minority. However, when you look at the breakdown of Christian denominations, the significance of Catholicism is more apparent as it accounts for over 50% of all Christians. In other words, while the Church may not “matter” in numbers relative to all religions around the world, it does matter a great deal as a representative of Christianity.

    …relative to Catholic lay people?

    According to Pew Research, of the 74 million Catholics in the United States, 27% consider themselves “strong” Catholics, a number that has dropped by 15% since the 1980s. Moreover, as perceived connection to the Church has fallen, so has church attendance with only 24% of American Catholics reporting that they attend Mass weekly in 2012 compared to 47% in 1974. With these stats in mind, it seems that while the Church is still relatively significant to some of its American members, it does not play an overwhelming part in the majority of their lives.

    Matching trends in the United States, the number of Catholics in Western Europe who view their religion as “very important” is low as well. In 2011, 13% of French Catholics, 34% of German Catholics and 36% of Spanish Catholics considered their religion “very important” to them. In 2009, 25% of Italian Catholics came to the same conclusion. While those percentages are not entirely insignificant, they are not enough to demonstrate that the Church plays particularly significant role in the lives of its Western European lay people. In other words, it doesn’t appear to “matter” a great deal to a notable portion of them.

    …relative to political influence?

    In the United States, the Catholic Church has three main avenues for influencing politics: Catholic voters, Catholic politicians and lobbying. When it comes to voters, Catholics accounted for 25% of the electorate in this past national election. While this is a significant voting bloc, its influence as a representation of the Church was tempered by the divisions within it as 50% voted to re-elect President Obama and 48% voted for Mitt Romney. Moreover, contrary to Church teachings, 54% of American Catholics support same-sex marriage, 51% believe that abortion should be legal in “all or most cases” and only 15% argue that contraception is “morally wrong.”

    Read more at Elephrame.

     

  7. Everything you need to know about the new Pope Francis I

    Who is the new Pope?

    Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the (now former) archbishop of Buenos Aires, was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina to Italian immigrants in 1936. At 76 years old, he has taken the name Francis I as the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He is first member of the Jesuit order to be elected as pontiff and garnered the second highest number of votes behind Pope Benedict in 2005.

    How was he picked?

    The College of Cardinals within the Church gathered in Rome for the papal conclave, or the official meeting to elect the new Pope. During the conclave, the 115 cardinals were housed in a modest guesthouse run by nuns where no communication from the outside world by way of phone, internet or other means was permitted. After making vows of secrecy and taking time for prayer, the cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel and wrote their votes on pieces of paper that they placed in an urn. Three cardinals then counted the votes to determine whether or not a two-thirds majority has been reached. While it was not reached during the first vote, it was during the second and Bergoglio was revealed to be the College’s choice.

    What will be his role in the Catholic Church?

    As Pope, Francis I will be the bishop of Rome and the leader of the Catholic Church. As the leader of the Church, Francis will have the final say on matters of administrative and doctrinal decisions in addition to the authority to appoint bishops and cardinals. Perhaps most importantly, however, Francis will serve as the Church’s most visible representation of the religious organization. He will, as Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI did before him, set the tone for how the Church is perceived by the rest the world and by many of its members. Because of this responsibility, he will likely take on the role of rectifying the damage done to the Church in light of its child molestation scandal and restore loyalty that it has lost among many of its members.

    Is he traditional or progressive?

    Both. Relative to doctrine, Francis is notably traditional. He is known for being fiercely against social issues such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and abortion. In fact, he once described same-sex adoption as “depriving [children] of the human growth that God wanted them given by a father and a mother.” More surprisingly, perhaps, is that he strongly opposed efforts by the Argentina government to encourage safe-sex by distributing free condoms throughout the country. Francis also shows no signs of supporting calls for allowing priests to marry or allowing women to occupy higher roles in Church such as priests or bishops.

    Read more at Elephrame.

     
  8. What is Elephrame?  A look at the concept behind the website.

     
     

  9. Everything you need to know about the State of the Union

    1 hour : The amount of time the President took to deliver his address.

    37.75 million : The number of people who watched the State of the Union on fourteen networks.

    The middle class : The group of Americans President Obama targeted during his speech. Early on, the President argued, “It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class.” He continued by advocating plans to fund Medicare and reform the tax code in terms of how they would aid the middle class.

    Economic and job growth : The aims that Obama called for Congress and his administration to focus on in his second term. At one point, Obama told the audience, “A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs — that must be the North Star that guides our efforts.” He went on the advocate policies to address climate change, education, infrastructure and discrimination - defending them according to how they would grow the economy and increase jobs for Americans.

    Conservative and Libertarian critics who think Obama advocates too much government : Who Obama was addressing when he said, “It is not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.”

    Critics of the government’s policy on assassinating American citizens with drones : Who Obama was addressing when he said, “I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way.”

    Reassurance : What Obama aimed to give the war-weary public when he said, “But to meet [the threat of extremist groups abroad], we don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad or occupy other nations. Instead, we’ll need to help countries like Yemen, and Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali.”

    Emotional appeal : What Obama used to advocate his plan to curb gun violence when he referenced the role guns play in decreasing the safety of American children and police officers. The President specifically recounted the story of 15 year old Hadiya Pendleton: “Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house.” He went on to speak of Gabby Giffords and Newton among others as people who “deserve a vote” when it comes to gun control.

    References : 
    Video and Interactive Transcript of the State of the Union
    Fact check from the Washington Post
    GOP response from Senator Marco Rubio

    Image Source: White House Twitter

     

  10. Everybody is wrong - Why Beyonce’s halftime show was mediocre

    The minute Beyoncé stepped onto the stage during the halftime show of last night’s Superbowl, a great deal of those watchingseemingly decided that her performance was remarkable. The problem, however, is that her performance was anything but remarkable. In fact, it was mediocre and here’s why.

    The song transitions were awkward.

    She started out strong with an old favorite (“Crazy in Love”) and while she certainly spent the rest of the night bringing out the hits everyone could sing to, the transitions between songs seemed forced rather than fluid - as if each piece had to be coerced rather than eased into the next by those who prepared the arrangements.

    The Destiny’s Child reunion was a wasted opportunity.

    What was supposed to be a powerful reunion of Destiny’s Child turned out to be an uninspired reintroduction of Beyoncé’s glorified backup dancers. Those dancers, Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, were noticeably outperformed by Beyoncé whose microphone was turned up considerably higher than theirs. Beyond that obvious reminder of whose show it was, the dancing was uninspired and the brevity of the reunion left much to be desired. In short, an opportunity to showcase the power of the “group” that started it all was squandered, seemingly in order to avoid turning “Beyoncé’s night” into “Destiny Child’s night” - which raises the question: If a reunion all but ignores two of the members, why bother with it at all?

    Beyoncé’s vocals were good, but unremarkable.

    While Beyoncé proved that she could sing well on her own, her vocals were ultimately unimpressive. After her bold start and in-between moments of ferocity, her voice was slightly out of tune, unstable and lacking in power. Of course, such imperfections might be expected given that her energy was split between her voice and her trademark dance moves (“fierce” runway walks, a leg or two in the air, a knee lift here or there and so on). Even so, good yet unremarkable vocals do not a remarkable performance make, regardless of explanations.

    Her performance was safe, but imperfect.

    A remarkable performance either perfects the expected or introduces the unexpected. Beyoncé’s halftime show did neither because Beyoncé’s performance was safe. From the song arrangements to the dance moves to the wardrobe to the “Sasha Fierce” attitude - everything was business as usual. And much of business was flawed - not so flawed that the performance was bad or worse than previous Super Bowl acts like Janet Jackson and Madonna. On the contrary, Beyoncé’s performance packed in more intensity that many of those in recent history with its exploding guitars, fiery faces and video displays . Nontheless, it didn’t take many risks beyond Beyoncé’s normal displays and it wasn’t perfect in its safety. It was good - okay - nothing special.

    (Source: elephrame.com)