The Smoke Eater For Jan. 10, 2020

A truce by tweet, big hack attacks, and Illinois goes up in smoke.

Good morning, this is The Smoke Eater for Friday, January 10, 2020, and I think there might be some Labrador in it...

Quick Hit

Anti-war sentiments spread despite the wishes of war hawks * Iran probably shot down a passenger jet by accident * Hackers get cracking * reddit will not deny my love for Nic Cage * Stoners are hotboxing the Midwest *

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Stuck In The Middle East With You

Last night the House voted 224-194 to limit the White House's ability to take military action in Iran without the approval of Congress, or unless there is "an imminent armed attack upon the United States." Roll Call reports the non-binding resolution introduced by Rep. Elissa Slotkin -- which is largely symbolic -- is notable for several Republican defections, including self-described "Florida Man," Rep. Matt Gaetz, who announced his vote by saying , "I support the president. Killing [Maj. Gen. Qasem] Soleimani was the right decision. But engaging in another forever war in the Middle East would be the wrong decision."

In an interview with NPR, U.S. national security adviser Robert O'Brien defended the security briefing given to members of Congress on the killing of Soleimani. The administration has been criticized by Republican and Democratic legislators who've accused the administration of using what's been described as "razor thin" intelligence to suggest US forces were under "imminent" threat. O'Brien responded to critics saying, "You never know the time and place of these things with perfect particularity."

BONUS: As the the House passed the war powers resolution, members of the progressive Indivisible movement staged rallies across the country. Here's a few of my photos from Chicago where protesters massed on a pedestrian bridge spanning Lake Shore Dr. during rush hour last night.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to send officials to the country in order to start creating a framework for a US troop withdraw. Abdul Mahdi has repeatedly maintained that the US presence is escalating tensions in the region, but the Trump administration has brushed off these requests by threatening Iraq with sanctions. Foreign policy analysts have cautioned that a pull out US forces could create a power vacuum, exposing weaknesses in Iraq's government to more hard lined elements, Iranian and Russian influence, a resurgent ISIS, and/or attacks against the Kurdish people. Late this morning Reuters reported Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, was stirring the pot by decrying the presence of US forces during a Friday service in the holy city of Kerbala, saying, "The people have suffered enough from wars...Iraq must govern itself and there must be no role for outsiders in its decision-making."

Despite the rise in hostilities, it seems social media might have actually been a force for good. Garrett Graff writes in Wired how the barrage of social media shitposts from Trump and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif might have created a public window into 21st century international diplomacy.

BONUS: Former Secretary of State John Kerry has an op-ed in The New York Times criticizing the Trump administration for breaking the olive branch the Obama administration offered Iran.

Iran is denying it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian plane shortly after launching ballistic missiles at two Iraqi military bases housing forces from the U.S., Iraq, and other nations. Video obtained by The New York Times appears to show an Iranian missile striking the plane, confirming reports by Western intelligence officials, including the US and Canada. The flight carried 176 people, including 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, and passengers from the U.K., Germany, Afghanistan, and Sweden. After initially rejecting international investigative efforts, Iran is now granting permission for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to aid in a joint commission being spear headed by the secretary of Ukraine's National Security Defense Council, Oleksiy Danilov.


McClatchy reports the 2020 Trump campaign's voter data shows it's still hemorrhaging support from suburban and working class white women. The Republican National Committee is hoping to stop the exodus with "Women Empowerment Days." The campaign hopes it can win over states Trump lost (or came close to losing) in 2016 by repeating their greatest hits and touting successes Ivanka Trump likes to claim credit for.

Think Of The Children

A new House bill by Republican Rep. Tim Walberg and Democratic Rep. Bobby Rush could allow parents to force tech companies to delete personal data of their kids. Called the PROTECT Act, the bill would require parental consent if Silicon Valley wants to suck up names, addresses, and selfies from people under the age of 16, would treat geolocation and biometeric data as protected information. It's being seen as an update to already very strict child protection laws, and has the possibility to cement new tech company policies that have left some social media influencers and garbage monsters crying foul. The bill is similar to legislation being pushed by Republican Sen. Josh Hawley Democratic Sen. Ed Markey. [House Bill]

Hack The Planet

A new report from industrial cyber security firm Dragos says there's been an increase in hacking attempts in North America against electric utilities. Dragos notes that in 2019 Iranian-backed hacking groups stepped up their attacks through "password sprays" and various other methods in an attempt to gain access to utility firms. In speaking with Wired, officials at Dragos say hacking groups have shown considerable interest in breaching critical infrastructure systems, but caution against freaking out. "I've not seen any capability by them to be able to cause significant disruption or destruction on infrastructure ... we’ve seen them wipe the drives that companies are using to run their business, and business grinds to a halt, and it costs them a fortune."

Hacking groups linked to Russian intelligence services have been attempting to breach Iranian hacking groups in the hopes that they can  fool people into thinking the Iranians are attacking governments and businesses in the Middle East and U.K. Russia has made similar moves before with only minor success.

The Chinese government is spreading disinfo in an attempt to sway Taiwan's presidential elections tomorrow. Axios reports that their efforts have so far failed to convince Taiwanese people to support policies beneficial to the Chinese government, and they've now resorted to paying news outlets to spread pro-China propaganda, shitpost fake news on social media, and lean on government officials.

Making The World A Better Place

With everyone freaking out about deepfakes, reddit  went a step further and updated its policies on impersonation. Reddit says it will not just ban deepfakes, but it will won't tolerate, "other manipulated content presented to mislead, or falsely attributed to an individual or entity." Reddit specifies that satire is cool, so parodies like splicing Nicolas Cage into classic movies is still totally awesome.

For the last few weeks Amazon has been telling users not to use Honey, a popular coupon extension for web browsers. The free service pokes around the internet for special deals and automagically applies them to a users' order, including Amazon. The retail giant warns Honey tracks shopping behavior and sucks up data, and is encouraging its customers people to uninstall it. Honey tells Wired that it only collects data with your permission, and, "in ways that directly benefit Honey members—helping people save money and time—and in ways they would expect," adding that it doesn't sell its users' data. Geeks are rolling their eyes and saying most browser extensions have to use your data in some way (that's the point), and think Amazon's butthurt might have something to do with Paypal's recent $4 billion acquisition of Honey.

Mark Zuckerberg says he'll no longer have "year-to-year challenges" where he reflects on how he's made the world a better place. Instead, Zuck says he will focus on, "what I hope the world and my life will look in 2030." Unfortunately, none of this seems to include taking a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut, or the the moon.

One More Thing...

A small town in the Upper Peninsula of northwestern Michigan wants to sniff out pot smokers. The town of Bessemer, population 1,905, has voted 4-1 to buy the Nasal Ranger, a field olfactometer that costs about $3,4000, as part of a new city ordinance to combat the "blight issue." Mayor Pro Tempore Terry Kryshak thinks "Somebody's got to take a stand," even though it's unclear if the snitching device can be used as evidence in court. The AP reports Michigan's lax medical marijuana laws have been attracting Wisconsinites into buying houses in the border town in order to set up legal grow houses. "The city of Bessemer stinks," complains Council Member Linda Nelson. "You can smell marijuana everywhere. We've got people who can't sit in their backyard because the smell from their neighbor is so bad."

The Midwest's problem with marijuana will only get cloudier as Illinois legalized recreational marijuana on Jan. 1, a 2018 campaign promise by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. Less than a week after legalization, Illinois dispensaries were already facing a product shortage. Pro-pot advocates -- already riding high (in long lines) at the stroke of midnight after Pritzker pardoned 11,000 low-level cannabis offenders -- think as many as 800,000 records could be expunged as a result of the new law. Sales numbers released by Prtizker show the first five days of legal weed saw almost $11 million in sales, a potential boon for the cash-strapped state.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has also been fighting blow back to make Chicago a pot-friendly city. Lightfoot wants to increase the number of dispensaries and establish consumption lounges, but some city council members have complained about a lack of equality in the dispensary licensing process.

Detractors, like the Illinois Policy Institute, a conservative think tank, have scoffed at the new law; claiming the black market will grow wild while cannabis-related emergency room visits rise. However, street-level dealers are now openly talking to reporters about their attempts to open legal businesses. A dealer who's been delivering marijuana products to customers since the early 2000s tells the Chicago Reader, "Cops in Chicago don't give a shit about this," adding, "What are they gonna do? Give you a ticket? That's fine."

OK, now here's two cute critter videos!

First we have baby hippo, Boipelo, and her mom, Adanna. Next we have Princess Penelope, the pygmy hippo (with a special appearance by Red River hoglets)!

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