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Cartoon Friday Watercooler: The Tick Vs. Chairface Chippendale

By: Kit OConnell Friday August 29, 2014 8:51 pm


It’s Cartoon Friday, again!

Tonight we’ll laugh along with the second episode of The Tick, “The Tick Vs. Chairface Chippendale.”

The Tick began its life as a satirical comic book created in college by Ben Edlund. At a time when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had successfully transformed from a gritty, black and white independent comic to a mainstream animated marketing juggernaut, Edlund was able to convince Fox to take on his quirky hero. The Tick never came close to the massive commercial success of TMNT, but at the same time it transitioned to television without losing all of its edge. The Turtles became a kid-friendly toy-selling powerhouse, while this cartoon’s blue-suited lunk retained a humor that appealed to clever kids and adults alike. The show ran for three seasons and thirty-six episodes.

Here’s how Wikipedia sums up The Tick’s powers:

The Tick possesses superhuman strength and mass, which makes him capable of inflicting great damage on his surroundings if he is not careful. His full strength is never actually quantified, although he is at the very least capable of lifting whole cars with a single hand. Tick is also ‘nigh-invulnerable,’ which means it is almost impossible to injure him in any serious way. Because of this he can survive moments of extreme duress, and demonstrated this ability on numerous occasions; once by falling 4000 feet, crashing through the concrete into a subway tunnel and subsequently being hit by an oncoming train—and surviving all this without incident (‘Evil Sits Down for a Moment,’ November 4, 1995). While he cannot be injured, he is not necessarily immune to pain, or even temporary brain damage.

Finally, Tick possesses something referred to as ‘drama power,’ or basically a tendency for The Tick’s powers to increase as the situation becomes more dramatic. He can also survive in space without a suit, and under water without oxygen for at least a long time. Despite his nigh-invulnerability, he is still susceptible to injuries. One of his only weaknesses is that he cannot keep his balance if his antennae are removed.

Since every hero needs a catch phrase, The Tick — who isn’t very bright — selects “SPOON!” as his war cry. His trusty sidekick is Arthur, a lumpy and meek fellow in a moth suit. In season 1 (as with this episode) by Mickey Dolenz, lead singer of The Monkees. And speaking of the Turtles, Tick’s voice actior Townsend Coleman also voiced Michelangelo. In each episode, The Tick and Arthur were joined by an assortment of other wacky heroes from The City like American Maid and Die Fledermaus, a ridiculously big-eared rip off of Batman. This episode, the second in the series, also introduces the Tick’s chair-headed recurring arch-nemesis.

A close up of the Tick's grinning face in his blue jumpsuit and wiggly antennae

“I’m nigh-invulnerable!”

The show also became a short-lived but fondly remembered live action TV show; it’s available online for Hulu Plus customers. After The Tick, creator Ben Edlund became better known for his involvement with television and worked on Firefly under Joss Whedon before later becoming an executive producer and screenwriter on shows like Supernatural and Revolution.

If this show whets your appetite for more SPOON-y silliness, Matthew Catania picked The Tick’s 10 Best Episodes on Topless Robot.

Seen any good cartoons lately? What are you watching on TV these days?

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OUCH! Lisa Desjardins Loses Her Job and Says Goodbye to CNN

By: Elliott Sunday June 24, 2012 6:50 am

CNN just laid off a bunch of people.

CNN President Jeff Zucker signaled last week that cuts were coming when he told staffers they’d have to “do less and have to do it with less.”

On Tuesday morning, CNN employees — and those at other Turner Broadcasting networks such as TNT, TBS, and HLN — were informed that staff over 55 years old or with the company for 10 or more years were eligible for a buyout. In a memo obtained by HuffPost, Turner indicated there will be “additional reductions in staff,” presumably layoffs, in addition to the voluntary buyouts.


For CNN, cuts are expected to hit hardest in Atlanta, where the pioneering cable news channel launched and still maintains a large footprint. The network’s center of gravity has since shifted to New York, where Zucker and many top executives are located, and few domestic programs are run out of Atlanta studios. There’s been speculation that CNN might even sell the Atlanta headquarters, though a company spokesman told Brian Stelter, the network’s media reporter, that the rumors were not true.

One of those now leaving CNN is Lisa Desjardins. She posted this goodbye note (but dammit Lisa, taking the first aid kit is just so wrong).

Lisa Desjardins on twitter

Fascism in Cleveland Faces a Voter Revolt On One Hand, Defiance On the Other

By: Ohio Barbarian Friday August 29, 2014 2:13 pm
A group of sports fans tailgating with food and drink in a parking lot

Despite a ban, the beer keeps flowing for tailgating sports fans in Cleveland.

Local politics can be fun. Several years ago, the City of Cleveland and a number of other local municipalities put up portable robotic radar camera speed traps, more commonly known as traffic cameras, all over the place. There are only a dozen or so of the infernal things, but they can be moved at will.

If one catches your vehicle speeding, you get a $100 ticket, whether you were driving the vehicle or not. My wife got zapped by one over a year ago, and so did my checking account. So did thousands of other Northeast Ohioans. And, if there’s one thing that unites both left and right, it’s a government trying to extract money from them in any way it can without benefit of due process of law. These tickets are appeal-able to a local court,  but the filing fee is as much as the ticket, and if you lose in court, now you have to pay both the ticket and the filing fee. Nice little Catch-22 they’ve got going there.

But Cleveland voters have this old progressive thing going for them called a ballot initiative. Opponents of the traffic cameras recently gathered over twice the number of signatures required to place a ban on the revenue-generating devices on the November ballot. 

Gee. Wanna place any bets on which way that election is going to go? It would be one thing if the money went to doing something that voters could actually see, like filling potholes, but Nooooo…there’s no accountability for where it does go. So. Well, there’s one small impending victory for the people.

Meanwhile, it was recently announced that all alcohol, including beer, is now prohibited from tailgating at Cleveland Browns games. It seems that the Cleveland Browns owner and the NFL were upset by people bringing in their own beer, purchased at more or less reasonable prices from grocery stores, before the games and then refusing to buy $10 beers from vendors in the stadium. the profits of which in part go to the Browns’ owner and the NFL. So they pressured the city into enacting the ban.

That one is being met with outright defiance. Even the Cleveland Police say that their policies haven’t changed, and that so long as one isn’t being obvious about drinking beer in the tailgate lot(and especially if one offers a passing cop a burger or a brat) they’re not going to look to closely. Just don’t get all rowdy and they’ll look the other way.

Come on, now. Tailgating was originally instituted as a public safety measure, you know, let people get all boozed up the night before the game, crash and burn in the trailer, have a BBQ in the morning, then go to the game and THEN drive home after they’re all sobered up. It’s pretty easy to follow the money on this one, and those benefiting from the ban have way too much already.

What can I say? Sometimes, I really love this place.

Wisconsin State Tax Collections Fall Far Short of Projections

By: WI Budget Project Friday August 29, 2014 12:14 pm

$281 Million Revenue Shortfall in 2013-14 Will Mean a Big Jump in the Structural Deficit

A dollar bill cut into shreds, with a calculator

New revenue figues show a major shortfall in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin lawmakers got bad budget news today, when the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) released state tax collection figures showing that revenue collections fell $281 million (2.0%) short of projections during the fiscal year that ended on June 30. Rather than growing by 1% as anticipated, state tax collections fell by 1%, and that will cause a substantial jump in the state’s structural deficit.

State lawmakers banked on revenue growth when they wrote Wisconsin’s two-year budget and followed up with additional tax cuts. It’s not clear at this point what will result from a substantial revenue shortfall, but one potential outcome is the state could face a new round of damaging budget cuts. What makes the state’s new budget challenge very disappointing is that it could have been easily avoided if lawmakers hadn’t rushed early this year to use every bit of increased revenue projections for another round of tax cuts, without setting funds aside for an adequate budget cushion.

Although sales tax revenue nearly met expectations – falling short by $11 million, or 0.2% – individual income tax revenue was almost $179 million below the anticipated level (a 2.5% shortfall), and corporate income tax collections came in $97.7 million (9.2%) less than expected.

The $281 million shortfall is very worrisome for a number of reasons:

  • The budget provided very little margin of error because it left a closing balance of only $165 million at the end of the biennium (which is just $100 million more than the $65 million required minimum balance). Each of the last several budget bills has postponed the statutory requirement that would significantly increase the minimum annual cushion (known as the “statutory balance”) that legislators are required to set aside.
  • The state was expecting 3.5% revenue growth in the second half of this biennium (i.e., the 2014-15 fiscal year); and now that the 2013-14 base level is 2% lower than anticipated, it will take 5.6% growth in tax 2014-15 collections to hit this year’s target of $14.7 billion (without even closing the 2013-14 shortfall).
  • If tax collections do grow by 3.5% in 2014-15, as previously anticipated, the shortfall will grow by about $291 million this fiscal year, for a total shortfall of about $572 million (or $472 million after subtracting the budget bill’s $100 million “net balance”).
  • On top of these problems, the Dept. of Health Services has projected a $93 million GPR shortfall in the Medicaid budget for 2013-15; and the gaming revenue being withheld by the Potawatomi tribe may also exacerbate the state’s fiscal challenges.

The Fiscal Bureau had calculated in May that the state was facing a “structural imbalance” or structural deficit of $642 million GPR in the next biennium (2015-17), and the reduced revenue estimates will probably add substantially to that problem. That figure represents the amount of revenue growth that would be needed in the next biennium simply to freeze spending – without factoring in any of the increased costs from factors such as inflation and rising numbers of people needing state services.

A Whirl Around The Fracking World: 29 Aug 2014

By: KateCA Friday August 29, 2014 12:52 pm


Video: Sylva, North Carolina says No to Fracking.

*USA. There are some 240,000 miles of oil and gas gathering lines across our fair country and you’ve probably never heard of them. They are relatively small, underground and unrecognized, moving oil and gas in predominantly rural areas “from wells and nearby storage areas to processing plants and transmission lines.” Projections are for 414,000 additional miles of gathering lines by 2035. Federal regulations do not apply to gathering lines in many rural areas, and few states regulate them. Guess which industry is resistant to such regs.

*USA. Research results on fracking’s impact on health are trickling in, accompanied by calls for further research. There appear to be “potential health risks” for babies born near gas wells in CO, possibly in PA and UT.

*USA. Earthquakes tend to get people’s attention. OK usually had 3 quakes a year, but that number jumped to 109 in 2013 and to 238 so far this year. Now TX is experiencing increases in earthquakes, as are AR and OH—interestingly, all “in the vicinity of wastewater injection wells.” Scientists who initially pooh-poohed suggestions that fracking was related to earthquakes are increasingly paying attention.

*AK. Oil companies lost on their big investment in a referendum measure that would have changed how the industry is taxed in Alaska. It was “hard-fought” and “by a narrow margin”, but it failed.

*AK. “Over the last eight years, Shell’s Alaskan Arctic [drilling] efforts have been plagued by blunders and accidents.” Who can forget their oil rig  floating around up there off the Alaskan coast until it finally ran aground on Kodiak Island a few years ago? Yeah, well, they’re now trying to get permission to “explore” in the Alaskan Arctic, aiming for 400,000 barrels/day in the Chukchi Sea.

*CA. Great news from the Land of the Dusty Cars (most everyone is trying hard to conserve water, you see). Unanimous approval of “a [Senate] bill requiring oil companies to report how much water they use in their drilling operations and the water’s source.” It’s on its way to Gov. Jerry Brown (D)’s desk for signature.

*CA. One place in the state is welcoming those oil trains carrying highly flammable crude: Kern County. Looks like they’re going to have “the state’s largest crude oil rail terminal”, in addition to a big one currently being built. The terminals are expected to handle “three 100-car crude oil trains a day.” The city of Berkeley got into the act, sending “Kern a letter contending its [environmental] review is inadequate,” which Kern doesn’t seem to appreciate, somehow. Bringing in volatile crude by rail is becoming an equally volatile issue in the state.

*FL. The feds have approved use of “sonic cannons [off the Eastern seaboard from FL to DE] to discover [oil] deposits under the ocean floor by shooting sound waves 100 times louder than a jet engine through water shared by endangered whales and turtles.” The “detailed information” from this endeavor, which must be costing the taxpayers a tidy sum, will be for energy companies’ use in applying for possible future oil leases. The acting director of the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management somehow sees this as a “path forward” which protects “marine life and cultural sites.” Tell that to the whales, turtles and other creatures trying to migrate and give birth while getting blasted day-in and day-out by sonic cannons.

*ILDraft rules for fracking have been sent to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. There was major negative reaction to the draft rules released last year and the IL Department of Natural Resources is being mum about whether they were modified in the interim. Interesting, too, that “Oil producers, drilling companies and geologists frustrated with the slow process” are piling bucks into Republican Bruce Rauner’s campaign chest for governor.

*INBP has a large refinery in Whiting, IN which leaked 1,638 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan in March. Seems that same refinery caught on fire this week, resulting in an explosion, but BP claims all is ok now. However that may be, BP’s still facing a lawsuit by Chicago residents allegedly suffering from Koch Industries’ petroleum coke, produced by BP and stored “in huge piles along the Calumet River,” which gets carried by the wind into their neighborhoods and homes.

*MDThe second of three fracking reports ordered by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) in 2011 is now available. Oil and gas companies are eager to begin fracking in the Marcellus Shale, specifically in MD’s Garrett County. In their second report, the University of Maryland warns of air pollution, impact on workers’ health and even “adverse birth outcomes.” Should fracking be ok’d,  the report urged “strict police and state agency monitoring of fracking operations.” We can only hope.

*MI. Gov. Rick Snyder (R) is putting together “an expert panel to review how low-activity radioactive materials are disposed following criticism of the state’s waste-handling policies.” Or lack thereof.

*NC. Legislators seem damned and determined to have fracking. They’re even considering forcing “landowners to submit to fracking whether they wanted to or not if just one neighbor signed a drilling lease.” Open hearings are now being held in the state by the NC Mining and Energy Commission. The meetings are causing so much discomfort to the pro-frackers on the Commission that they’ve threatened to shut the meetings down.

*ND. “More than a month after a million gallons of briny wastewater leaked from an underground pipeline on the Fort Berthold [Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara] Reservation  in North Dakota, a tribal environmental official said he’s still seeking confirmation that the spill did not enter the reservation’s water supply.” The huge saltwater spill flowed for about two miles and “left a swath of dead grass, brushes and trees.” Meanwhile, there seems to be a hide-the-data game going on at the reservation pertaining to the effects of the spill. Stay tuned. Update (already!): A second leak of 126,000 gallons has been reported.

*NDNatural gas flares, a direct result of the fracking frenzy on-going in the Bakken, seem to be everywhere these days as gas spews from the earth along with the crude.  Too often, drillers have nowhere to direct the natural gas since “existing pipelines . . . already are at full capacity.” But, not to worry, “regulators are cracking down” and new standards now exist requiring better capture of the gas. Meanwhile, the “loss” of all that natural gas is estimated to be worth about $100 million/month.

*NYCommunity and environmental organizations’ representatives  converged in Albany, urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to ban “trains carrying oil from entering New York state.” They cited recent National Transportation Safety Board recommendations and a statement from Karl Alexy of the Federal Railroad Administration that “oil tank cars cannot be built robust enough to withstand puncture in derailments at speeds of more than 30 miles per hour.”

*TX. As earthquakes begin to rattle folks in north TX, the Texas Railroad Commission is proposing “tightening regulations for injection wells while scientists explore a potential ink between high-pressure wastewater disposal” and quakes. ‘Induced seismicity’ is the term and the role of fracking wastewater injections in that phenomenon is becoming harder to ignore—just last January the Commission’s Chairman told reporters that quakes were “not linked to fracking.”

*Nova ScotiaAn independent panel headed by the president of Cape Breton University has released a report urging Nova Scotia’s ban on fracking remain in place “until there is more research and a way is found to give local communities a say in the process.”

*Argentina is moving ahead with fracking. A deal has been signed with Petronas, a Malaysian firm, to drill about a dozen wells which, if successful, will lead to 1,000 more. Chevon is already in Argentina in the Loca Campana field, producing “in excess of 25,000 barrels from 245 wells.” Argentina’s shale is also gas-rich, second only to China.

*Colombia will be opening its National Agency of Hydrocarbons in 2015,  consisting of professionals charged with “close supervision of the [oil] industry.” They’re also contracting with the Universidad de los Andes to conduct on-going seismic studies.

*Britain. The founder of “the UK’s largest solar solutions company” discusses the shale boom bubble which is “waiting to burst as economics of extraction falter and the trickle of bad environmental news starts to swell.” Wishful thinking or insightful analysis? Definitely worth a read.

*Norway. Imagine using oil wealth in support of the people! Norway is doing just that and, while longer-range plans haven’t crystallized, they are refreshingly realistic about the future of oil.

*Lebanon. It’s doubtful the transpo portrayed here will be reducing oil consumption significantly, even should it catch on, but the music and charm just might usher in a pleasant weekend for you.

Obama: “Russia Is Responsible For The Violence In Eastern Ukraine and Pigs Can Fly”

By: Synoia Sunday March 20, 2011 11:10 am

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to say a few words on a number of topics and take a few questions before the long Labor Day weekend.

A winged pig toy flaps its toy wings

One of America’s drones on its way to make another “precision” strike.

True so far.

First, beginning with the number one thing most Americans care about — the economy. This morning, we found out that our economy actually grew at a stronger clip in the 2nd quarter than we originally thought. Companies are investing. Consumers are spending. Over the past four and a half years, our businesses have now created nearly 10 million new jobs. So there are reasons to feel good about the direction we’re headed.

10 Million Part Time Jobs with what average pay and benefits?

But as everybody knows, there’s a lot more that we should be doing to make sure that all Americans benefit from the progress that we’ve made. And I’m going to be pushing Congress hard on this when they return next week.

Good luck with that, you lost that battle when your Abominable Care Act was executed with all the alacrity of melting Ice, and demotivated all your supporters with lack of Single Payer, following Look Forward not Backward — as if there were any future crimes to prosecute. Or, maybe that was the plan; if so we were poorly served.

Second, in Iraq, our dedicated pilots and crews continue to carry out the targeted strikes that I authorized to protect Americans there and to address the humanitarian situation on the ground.

Wonderful. More precision bombing.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will always do what is necessary to protect the American people and defend against evolving threats to our homeland. Because of our strikes, the terrorists of ISIL are losing arms and equipment. In some areas, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have begun to push them back.

Yes, but where did ISIL get their arms? From US supplies for Syrian Rebels? You need a new tool, that military one is looking shopworn, shoddy, and does not produce good results.

And we continue to be proud and grateful to our extraordinary personnel serving in this mission.

Killing our young again. When will this end?

Now, ISIL poses an immediate threat to the people of Iraq and to people throughout the region. And that’s why our military action in Iraq has to be part of a broader, comprehensive strategy to protect our people and to support our partners who are taking the fight to ISIL. And that starts with Iraq’s leaders building on the progress that they’ve made so far and forming an inclusive government that will unite their country and strengthen their security forces to confront ISIL.

True, and they are funded by whom? Saudi Arabia and Quatar? Any sanctions against those states?

Any successful strategy, though, also needs strong regional partners. I’m encouraged so far that countries in the region — countries that don’t always agree on many things — increasingly recognize the primacy of the threat that ISIL poses to all of them. And I’ve asked Secretary Kerry to travel to the region to continue to build the coalition that’s needed to meet this threat. As I’ve said, rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I’m confident that we can — and we will — working closely with our allies and our partners.

What, no Syria is the existential threat? What happened there, have you discovered the people who want Assad out are worse than Assad?

John Kerry Makes a Deal

By: David Swanson Tuesday June 21, 2011 10:56 am

Oh, damn it all. Barry, it’s not my fault.

Barry! Barr -er Mr. President, I got Congress out in the parking lot looking at the new SUVs. I’m pushing the missile strikes on the Syrian government hard, but just a few little ones, and then ka-blam we get em with the whole package deal, 800 vehicles plus fuel and maintenance, a little shock, a little awe, a little razzmatazz, and we reel em right in.

Ataboy, John, go get em.




Oh, damn it all.  Barry, it’s not my fault. They were on recess and listening to people at town hall meetings. And AIPAC is totally AWOL. And the lousy stinking pacifist Brits voted it down when I never even asked them. Apparently the entire House of Representatives is going to ride bicycles from now on.

That’s all right, John. That’s all right. They can’t hold out long. You’ll get em next time.

It makes no sense, Mr. President. We rolled right over them on Afghanistan and Libya and all the drone strikes and all the bases, and here they go saying No to bombing Syria. And I told them Assad was Hitler. And you told them it was this or support poisoning children. But nothing. What are we missing? What if we throw in free GPS and hands-free telephoning. Plus, that way we can keep a close eye on them while they pay us for the favor. Huh? Huh?

You see, there’s the old spirit. Now, listen, what we don’t want is for them to go rogue and get desperate and pick up an old wreck from down in the back lot.  You steer them away from that broken down Iranian convertible, OK?

Yes, Sir! John Kerry reporting for duty, Sir!

Oh, cut the shit, John, I’ve told you 18 times I’m not taping everything like Nixon.

Nixon didn’t have the technology to . . .

LET ME BE CLEAR, the problem with the missile strikes on Syria last time wasn’t the human cost or the financial cost or any of that crap. People didn’t want to join a war on the side of al Qaeda rebels and terrorists. We’d told them those were the Enemy for over a decade. So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to find a war where we can jump in on the side of the government, against the Islamic Extremists. Congress loves governments. The media loves governments. Everybody hates extremists. And guess where we’re going to find this war?


Good guess. Try again.


Getting warmer. Try again.

Well, I don’t . . .

Try again, that’s a direct order.


Now I’ll tell you: Syria.


Think about it, John. It’s genius, if I do say so myself. Look, people forget that Syria was our ally a few years back, but Congress remembers. We just flip back. We have to, or we’re fighting both sides of a war in Iraq and Syria. The key on Syria is to do something. Well what counts as doing something? Blowing shit up, that’s what. And nobody wants us blowing up the government. Well, we’ll blow up the rebels. Either way, we’re destroying U.S. weaponry on the ground, which is much smarter than giving it to local police as a means of creating demand for more. You think they won’t go for it because we’re flip-flopping, right? You’re always so damn terrified of flip-flopping.

You don’t know. You didn’t go through what . . .

Oh hell, they stole the votes in Ohio, John, and you bent over and said “Thank you sir, may I have another?” We’re not flip-flopping. We’re blowing up evil, evil people, lots of them. That’s the story. We’ve been funding and arming all sides in all of these wars for some time now, payments to the Taliban, weapons to ISIS. You know, the troops on the ground in Libya three years ago could have exchanged parts — they had the same U.S. guns.

Mr. President, there are hundreds of Americans who listened to us last year and have gone off and joined the rebels in Syria.

They can provide information, switch sides, or pay the price, John. Now, are you ready to go out there and make the pitch? I see the leadership on the curb there.

Mr. President, in all good faith, we’ve sold humanitarians on the need to bomb Assad, not bomb in defense of Assad.

Mr. Secretary, I’m giving you an order.

Mr. President, with all due respect, you keep saying there’s no military solution, there’s a million other approaches that don’t create this sort of SNAFU, that just . . .

Mr. Secretary, Hillary would not hesitate.

I’m on it.

Over Easy: Your Location For Sale

By: msmolly

Map symbol-pinOn Sunday, the Washington Post published a startling report that described how private companies who sell surveillance systems are marketing them to governments around the world, providing the means to track the movements of anyone who carries a cell phone — here or abroad.

A set of network protocols known as Signaling System No. 7 (SS7) allows cell phone carriers to collect location information from cell phone towers and share it with each other. So a US carrier can find a customer even if he or she travels to another country. From Wikipedia, 

Inasmuch as SS7 was not designed with security in mind, surveillance technology within the capabilities of non-state actors can be used to track the movements of cell phone users from virtually anywhere in the world with a success rate of approximately 70%

The Washington Post article says that marketers of surveillance systems also now have access to SS7, so that purchasers of these systems can home in on cell phone users’ locations as precisely as within a couple of city blocks (or in rural areas, a couple of miles). These systems can even detect how fast a person on a city street is walking, or the speed a person’s car is traveling!

According to Mother Jones, the carriers’ privacy policies aren’t protecting us very much, if at all.

Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, and AT&T each promise their customers that their location is protected (with exceptions for emergencies and complying with court orders). AT&T’s privacy policy states, “We’ll give you prior notice and ask for your consent when your location is used or shared.” Verizon’s reads, “Verizon Wireless services that use mobile device location data provide you with notice about the collection and use of this data.” Sprint and T-Mobile make similar promises, although some of these companies include the caveat that they cannot protect data that is collected by third parties while a customer’s phone is roaming.

But telecommunications networks have become so complex that it would cost billions to install new security measures to defend against these surveillance systems, and these measures might negatively impact functioning of basic services like routing calls, text messages, and Internet access to customers.

The tracking systems use queries sent over the SS7 network to ask carriers what cell tower a customer has used most recently. Carriers configure their systems to transmit such information only to trusted companies that need it to direct calls or other telecommunications services to customers. But the protections against unintended access are weak and easily defeated, said Engel and other researchers.

By repeatedly collecting this location data, the tracking systems can show whether a person is walking down a city street or driving down a highway, or whether the person has recently taken a flight to a new city or country.

An anonymous industry representative reveals that dozens of countries have either bought or leased this technology in recent years, demonstrating clearly how the surveillance industry has made super-spying technology available around the world. Needless to say, it is a very profitable industry these days, and it could easily be in use by some pretty bad actors — or it already is. NSA, I’m looking in your direction!

Companies that market SS7 tracking systems recommend using them paired with International Mobile Security Identity (IMSI) catchers, surveillance devices that use signals collected directly from the air to intercept calls and Internet traffic, send fake texts, install spyware — and determine precise locations. (IMSI is a unique identifying code on each cellular phone.) IMSI catchers are often called by a trade name, “Stingray,” and are produced by several major surveillance companies and widely used by police and intelligence services around the world. From WaPo:

The FCC recently created an internal task force to study misuse of IMSI catchers by criminal gangs and foreign intelligence agencies, which reportedly have used the systems to spy on American citizens, businesses and diplomats.

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson wrote a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler with questions about the vulnerability of cellular networks to interception and hacking, prompted by news reports in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology [PDF].

“Americans have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their communications, and in information about where they go and with whom they communicate,” Grayson wrote to Wheeler in July. “It is extremely troubling to learn that cellular communications are so poorly secured, and that it is so easy to intercept calls and track people’s phones.”

Gee, ya think?

Stingray Tracking Devices: Who’s Got Them?