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Bradley Manning and the 'Hacker Madness' Scare Tactic 169

Posted by Soulskill
from the sounds-like-a-j.-k.-rowling-novel dept.
New submitter wabrandsma sends this excerpt from New Scientist: "The Bradley Manning case continues a trend of government prosecutions that use familiarity with digital tools and knowledge of computers as a scare tactic and a basis for obtaining grossly disproportionate and unfair punishments, strategies enabled by broad, vague laws like the CFAA and the Espionage Act. Let's call this the 'hacker madness' strategy. Using it, the prosecution portrays actions taken by someone using a computer as more dangerous or scary than they actually are by highlighting the digital tools used to a nontechnical or even technophobic judge. ... We've seen this trick before. In a case that we at the Electronic Frontier Foundation handled in 2009, Boston College police used the fact that our client worked on a Linux operating system with "a black screen with white font" as part of a basis for a search warrant. Luckily the Massachusetts Supreme Court tossed out the warrant after EFF got involved, but who knows what would have happened had we not been there. And happily, Oracle got a big surprise when it tried a similar trick in Oracle v. Google and discovered that the judge was a programmer who sharply called them on it."
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Bradley Manning and the 'Hacker Madness' Scare Tactic

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  • ... the prosecution portrays actions taken by someone using a computer as more dangerous or scary than they actually are by highlighting the digital tools used to a nontechnical or even technophobic judge. ... We've seen this trick before. In a case that we at the Electronic Frontier Foundation handled in 2009 ...

    I wonder what Kevin Mitnick would have to say about this revelation as news.

    On a broad scale, people have always been scared by what they don't understand. On a more refined level, people are often willing to agree with a strongly-worded argument if they don't understand the premise ... simply to avoid admitting ignorance.

    There are lots of new problems due to technology - but very few new avoidance tactics / reactions. Look at the opposition to nearly every major advance (in science) in the last 500 years. No need to go further back - you'll find enough examples in the last 50 that going back 500 will be difficult.

    • Wizards First Rule: People are stupid. They will believe anything they fear to be true.
      • by Immerman (2627577) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @06:31PM (#44467597)

        I remember it as something closer to "People will believe what they wish to be true, or what they fear is true", which is a fair bit more subtle and powerful a statement.

        • The quote:

          "Wizard's First Rule: people are stupid." Richard and Kahlan frowned even more. "People are stupid; given proper motivation, almost anyone will believe almost anything. Because people are stupid, they will believe a lie because they want to believe it's true, or because they are afraid it might be true. People's heads are full of knowledge, facts, and beliefs, and most of it is false, yet they think it all true. People are stupid; they can only rarely tell the difference between a lie and the truth, and yet they are confident they can, and so are all the easier to fool.

          "Because of Wizards First Rule, the old wizards created Confessors, and Seekers, as a means of helping find the truth, when the truth is important enough. Darken Rahl knows the Wizard's Rules. He is using the first one. People need an enemy to feel a sense of purpose. It's easy to lead people when they have a sense of purpose. Sense of purpose is more important by far than the truth. In fact, truth has no bearing in this. Darken Rahl is providing them with an enemy, other than himself, a sense of purpose. People are stupid; they want to believe, so they do."

          So, arguably, the Wizard's First Rule is "People are stupid", though the rest of it makes clear that what Zedd actually meant is "People are credulous".

          • by Shavano (2541114)

            So, arguably, the Wizard's First Rule is "People are stupid", though the rest of it makes clear that what Zedd actually meant is "People are credulous".

            Yes, they're also stupid, which is why you have to use small words.

    • by stanlyb (1839382)
      So true. like, when you ask random people if they know that the hydrogen is two times more than the oxygen, and why the government does not do anything about it.... do you know how they react?
      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        So true. like, when you ask random people if they know that the hydrogen is two times more than the oxygen, and why the government does not do anything about it

        I'm sorry but I don't have a clue what you're trying to convey. Two times more than oxygen? Two times more what? Your comment is gibberish, you make no sense at all. Come back when you're not as drunk, OK? You're wasting my time.

        • by stanlyb (1839382)
          I write too fast. Two times more than.... in the water :D
          • by swillden (191260)

            I write too fast. Two times more than.... in the water :D

            But it's not. In fact hydrogen makes up only slightly more than one-ninth of a water molecule.

            • Ehh, you're missing the point. Besides, stanlyb was talking about an absolute ratio, not mass or volume.

              Just search Slashdot for Dihydrogen Monoxide. People were considering arresting a DJ because he said that DHMO was coming out of the taps. Though, that was Florida, so it's not that surprising.

              • by swillden (191260)

                Ehh, you're missing the point. Besides, stanlyb was talking about an absolute ratio, not mass or volume.

                "Absolute ratio"? Umm, there's nothing any more absolute about atom count than there is about mass, or volume (though volume is kind of squishy when it comes to molecules).

                • Very important actually. The ratio of atoms in the molecule is also the ratio by volume of gases at equal pressure you need to make it.

                  • by Poingggg (103097)

                    Very important actually. The ratio of atoms in the molecule is also the ratio by volume of gases at equal pressure you need to make it.

                    Uhh...no. The volume of gases at equal pressure is the same, no matter how many atoms are in a molecule. It's the mass of such a volume that varies with molecule-weight, since the number of gas molecules in a given volume at a given pressure is the same for all gases.

                    • by Poingggg (103097)

                      You are right, as well as I was. I misunderstood the post to which I answered.
                      My life has improved :-)

              • by sumdumass (711423)

                Didn't the Los Angeles city council try to ban Dihydrogen Monoxide once too?

            • by Shavano (2541114)
              That depends on whether you're counting or weighing.
          • by Shavano (2541114)
            No, I think you had it right the first time. You're trying to manipulate the ignorant, so saying "hydrogen is two times more than the oxygen" is better than adding "in water" because you want to keep the fuckers in the dark as to what you're talking about.
            • by Golddess (1361003)
              But not so far in the dark that they cannot give you the answer you want. "The hydrogen is two times more than the oxygen" is meaningless unless you convey to someone why this should worry them. Now granted, simply adding "in water" probably won't get you the desired response either. But if you make sure they understand that fire needs both oxygen and a fuel source, remind them about the Hindenburg, and then point out that this "terrible substance" is found all over the globe.... well, it's a wonder we'v
        • by khallow (566160)

          Your comment is gibberish, you make no sense at all.

          Was that meant to be relevant to the topic of the thread? Making sense wasn't the point.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The real reason the government targeted Mitnick was that he found out the NSA was spying on citizens without warrants and downloaded the source code.

      The real way the government caught Mitnick is that his ex-wife ratted him out.

      Mitnick spent almost a year in solitary subject to psychological torture that is not only unconstitutional but even a violation of the Geneva convention.

      Then when the international press found out they put him in general population and had gang members pick fights with him.

      Look at how

      • Mitnick spent almost a year in solitary subject to psychological torture that is not only unconstitutional but even a violation of the Geneva convention.

        The geneva convention discusses how to treat uniformed POWs. It has absolutely no relevance to Mitnicks case.

        • How dare you let your fascist "facts" get in the way of a good conspiracy theory!
        • Should actions which would violate the geneva convention were they carried out on a prisoner of war be considered acceptable when carried out on individuals otherwise detained? Should a government deal with it's own citizens more harshly than an enemy combatant (whom they would have killed had he not surrendered)?

          It seems you consider your fellow man the enemy. Indeed, you believe he should be dealt with more harshly than a foreigner who has taken up arms against you. You should rethink your priorities.

          • No the point is an uniformed combantant operating within the laws of land warefare in a declaired war is not a criminal.

    • by reve_etrange (2377702) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @06:45PM (#44467663)
      I figure most of us know what happened to Mitnick, but just in case, what happened was that the government convinced a judge that Mitnick could literally launch America's nuclear-armed ICBMs merely by whistling into a phone [archive.is].
      • Well this was back in the Golden Age of No Security, right? And supposedly a couple of the phone freakers had perfect pitch. Even today, we have all kinds of things that should be secure stupidly hooked up to the Internet, so is that really so implausible?

        • by delt0r (999393)
          Yes, its really that implausible. Of course international phone calls where expensive back then, and you could get them free if you knew what you where doing.
      • And that tells you just how misplaced power is in the US, does it not? That an ill-informed judge can ruin people's lives so easily...

        How about we review our judges? Let's start with, why are they so easy to swindle?

        • How about we review our judges?

          Not to mention the cynical prosecutors who tell such lies knowingly. What we really need is for all defendants to refuse all plea bargains and insist on trials. That would force reform in short order (since ~80-90% of cases are plea bargained, the courts would immediately grind to a halt).

    • Contrary to what you claim "There are lots of new problems due to technology" there is really nothing new. The rich will abuse society to get more, the poor will mostly whine about how bad things are, the middle class will be split between those that ignore reality, those that deny reality, and those that speak out against the abuses.

      The easiest way for the rich to get more is to entertain the masses with gladiators and heresy/witch trials.

      The first well known philosophical writings we have document this v

  • Relevance? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by simonbp (412489) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @06:24PM (#44467567) Homepage

    What exactly is the relevance to the Manning case? He was convicted of releasing classified information, something it's pretty obvious he did. Regardless of what the information is or how he obtained it, the release of the information is what he was charged with and convicted of doing.

    This sounds like someone trying to hitch their own free software wagon to the pro-Manning/Wikileaks train.

    • Re:Relevance? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jeff13 (255285) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @07:21PM (#44467761) Homepage

      Well, for example - ya don't think that the President of the USA calling him a "hacker", even though all he did was copy and email files, isn't part of the current FUD over "cyber-espionage"?

      • Obama has a history of running his mouth in areas where it would has been better to remain predominately silent. Right now numerous people are either avoising convictions, and or recieving greatly reduced sentences because in a speech Obama, being Commander in Chief comitted "illeagal comand influence" in sexual harasment cases.

      • Perhaps calling him a hacker was overkill, but cyber-espionage and cyber-attacks are a real and constant problem for the government, They spend a ton trying to prevent it and are probably still falling behind as the attacks are constant and have no consequence (for people in NKorea and China and the like).

        • Oh, for...we've had the tech on the books, for ages, to deal with the majority of these attacks.

          Let's see here...entity as large as the US government....

          1.) Switch the damn ports from the standard ports to non-standard ports (go for something in the higher numbers, like 3000 for HTTP).
          2.) Implement port knocking. If the knock isn't correct, the port doesn't open. (And make the knocking port different from the opening port).
          3.) SSD, Full-Disk encryption (BlowFish + 3AES, or whatever), with a Lo-Jacked BIOS.
          4

    • Re:Relevance? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 03, 2013 @07:37PM (#44467823)

      It's in TFA.

      In the Manning case, the prosecution used Manning’s use of a standard, over 15-year-old Unix program called Wget to collect information, as if it were a dark and nefarious technique. Of course, anyone who has ever called up this utility on a Unix machine, which at this point is likely millions of ordinary Americans, knows that this program is no more scary or spectacular (and far less powerful) than a simple Google search. Yet the court apparently didn’t know this and seemed swayed by it.

      The prosecution made a big deal about this during the trial. If you read the transcripts of trial, in particular the opening statement from the prosecution, wget gets mentioned numerous times, including once as a tool that provides a "technical boost" to downloading.

      • First they came for the wget users,
        and I didn't speak out because I didn't use wget

        Then they came for the curl users,
        and I didn't speak out because I didn't use curl

        Then they came for the safari users,
        and Apple made enough campaign contributions to get the government to leave them alone [slashdot.org].
      • by sjames (1099)

        And of course they have to keep him in isolation or he might whistle into a phone and start world war III or order pizza without paying for it or something.

      • No shit they made a big deal out of in during trail. When someone uses a gun to murder someone, they make a big deal out of that. When someone steals a box of chewing gum, the prosecution makes a big deal out of that too.

        Or, in other words, something that's central to the act being prosecuted gets mentioned a lot. No fucking duh.

        The only scare tactic here is from the tinfoil hat crowd. I never suspected the EFF would stoop to such spin and ignorance.

      • That kind of overselling is very common in all litigation - this is what lawyers do.

        I doubt very highly that his sentence would have been lower if it wasnt included. His crime was release of info -- just accessing the documents with wget may not have even landed him in jail if he had kept them to himself -- tho he most likely would have lost his clearances.

        Regardless, the kid was an idiot and had this coming. You dont walk up to a grizzly and poke it in the eye with a stick and then stand there smiling at i

        • by cellocgw (617879)

          That kind of overselling is very common in all litigation - this is what lawyers do.

          And the really sad thing is that the judges continue to allow the lawyers (for both sides) to pull this bullshit. If the judges weren't all former lawyers, highly trained in the art of lying and hostile (verbal) attacks, they (the judges) might possibly have the balls to tell the lawyers to STFU and stick to facts. Not to mention that, in any case involving technology, medicine, or anything that is not "the law," the judges should draw expert testimony from some random pool of specialists. Allowing eit

  • by c0lo (1497653) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @06:28PM (#44467581)
  • Bad example (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @06:38PM (#44467639)

    In the Manning case, technology is relevant. There is no way he would've been able to photocopy that amount of information. The case shows the very real danger of switching to digital without considering the security implications. Furthermore, what Manning did had quite a big impact, the volume of the leak more than explains the harsh charges, there's no need to blame it on the 'hacker scare'.

    • Furthermore, what Manning did had quite a big impact, the volume of the leak more than explains the harsh charges, there's no need to blame it on the 'hacker scare'.

      Well, there's an additional factor as well - the digital generation seems to consider almost any charges as harsh, and any punishment but the lightest slap on the wrist as unconscionable. They seem to have no concept of right or wrong, and no grasp of the existence of other people's rights.

      • by oreaq (817314)

        the digital generation seems to consider almost any charges as harsh, and any punishment but the lightest slap on the wrist as unconscionable

        Ahh! The digital generation! They are not us, they are the others, they are the enemy, the muslim communist nazi terrorists. Meanwhile, in the real world, this story is about the prosecution urging the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 136 years [wsws.org] on Manning. Are you capable of understanding the difference between "lightest slap" and "maximum sentence" or are you completely trapped in the us vs. them model?

        Well, there's an additional factor as well

        No. The imbecilic witch hunt, that you try to fuel with you post, is not an additional factor. It

        • No shit they urged the maximum sentence - that's what they practically always do. (Ask for the most, settle for what they can get.) Only someone supremely ignorant or biased would believe this to be noteworthy, let alone newsworthy - which pretty much proves my point.

          Or to put it another way, the imbecilic with hunt you endorse (by try to pretend it doesn't exist) is the additional factor - because there isn't a story. A prosecutor asking for the maximum sentence is about as surprising as a prediction of

          • by oreaq (817314)

            Only someone supremely ignorant or biased would believe this to be noteworthy, let alone newsworthy - which pretty much proves my point.

            So you insist that "lightest slap" and "maximum sentence" are the same thing and your argument for that is that the witch hunters aka the prosecutors almost always ask for the latter? The reason they get away with this abuse of the legal system is that they paint the accused as belonging to different group. He's not one of us. He's a hacker, or a terrorist, or simply not an American citizen. And suddenly all the imbeciles who can only the model the world in "good" and "evil" start cheering for their team no

  • by Ken_g6 (775014)

    In the Manning case, the prosecution used Manning's use of a standard, more than 15-year-old Unix program called Wget to collect information, as if it were a dark and nefarious technique.

    Maybe it's not quite that, but if it's used to download information that shouldn't be collected by an individual, it certainly bears watching. One would hope that the military now flags anyone using it on classified information. Though of course there are plenty of other ways to collect such information, or to hide the fact that wget is being used.

    • Re:wget (Score:5, Insightful)

      by grcumb (781340) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @08:12PM (#44467909) Homepage Journal

      In the Manning case, the prosecution used Manning's use of a standard, more than 15-year-old Unix program called Wget to collect information, as if it were a dark and nefarious technique.

      Maybe it's not quite that, but if it's used to download information that shouldn't be collected by an individual, it certainly bears watching.

      Dude, what the fuck?

      wget is a web client - you know, like the one you're using to read this comment. It bears watching just like any other web client bears watching.

      Now, one could argue it might profit them more to pay attention to what data they make available to web clients.... But that would be all... I dunno, sensible.

      • by Ken_g6 (775014)

        wget is a web client - you know, like the one you're using to read this comment. It bears watching just like any other web client bears watching.

        But wget is a special web client in two ways:

        1. It doesn't display what it downloads, at least not in a human-friendly form. So its most likely purpose is to locally store the data it's downloading. (cURL fits this criterion as well.)
        2. It is designed to be capable of collecting large amounts of data at once.

        Now, one could argue it might profit them more to pay attention to what data they make available to web clients.... But that would be all... I dunno, sensible.

        True as well. The web servers should be either on an intranet air-gap-separated from the Internet, or at least behind a good firewall. And in either case those with access should be searched for dat

        • by sumdumass (711423)

          wget shouldn't even be on the machines capable of accessing the classified information. In fact, the reason it was brought up was because it wasn't on the computer and Manning placed it there and then used it to download the files he took. The importance of installing it and using it means that he couldn't have accidentally clicked something and all the sudden had all this information. Manning purposely set out to discover the information, download it to his system, then remove it from the facility and even

    • The issue is that half of the charges were a copy of the other half with "using a computer" tacked on the end.

      He was charged with stealing information. Then he was charged with stealing information using a computer. So, he was convicted of both and is facing double the jail time.

  • Noobs. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by VortexCortex (1117377)

    It's called a "Threat Narrative". It's why there were no WMDs. There never was even suspicion of WMDs. There was only the need for a Threat Narrative to convince the people to let the armed forces off it's chain.

    Vietnam? Threat Narrative. McCarthyism? Threat Narrative.... The Holocaust? Threat Narrative.
    Require Evidence before belief -- That's rational. Always disbelieve the Threat Narrative.
    Don't Fall For It, not even once.

    • Policy is always separate from presentation, that's what people don't understand. For all I know, Iraq, Vietnam etc were based on perfectly sound foreign policy decisions, but the problem is they couldn't be sold to the people that way. 'We need to control areas with strategic energy resources' doesn't get support the same way as 'they have nukes and we are running out of time'.

    • It's called a "Threat Narrative". It's why there were no WMDs. There never was even suspicion of WMDs. There was only the need for a Threat Narrative to convince the people to let the armed forces off it's chain.

      Vietnam? Threat Narrative. McCarthyism? Threat Narrative.... The Holocaust? Threat Narrative.

      Require Evidence before belief -- That's rational. Always disbelieve the Threat Narrative.

      Don't Fall For It, not even once.

      I'm sorry, but you're implying the holocaust was a sham used to justify our entrance into WW2?

      If so, you're a moron on several levels.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Pretty sure that he is implying the Nazi regime was able to bring about the Holocaust through the threat narrative used to paint the Jews and others as some sort of menacing threat to their state. The details of the concentration camps weren't discovered until lonnnnggg after the US joined the allies in the war, which obviously would have happened one way or the other once Pearl Harbour occurred heh.

      • Re:Noobs. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SuricouRaven (1897204) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @01:40AM (#44468579)

        Other way around. He was implying the holocaust was justified using a threat narrative. Even the Nazis couldn't just declare time for a bit of genocide. They had to first build up some level of public support by spreading stories about the Jewish 'threat' - they told stories of how Jews sabotaged the first world war leading to Germany's humiliating defeat, accused Jewish bankers of deliberately crippling the economy with hyperinflation for their own profit, and warned that with the high birth rate in the Jewish population their inferior race of lower intelligence would take over all of Germany and hold the country back culturally, intellectually and economically. Thus they invented this threat narrative - one powerful enough that once the government began forcing Jews into ghettos and shipping them off to 'relocation' centers, public objection and protest was limited enough to contain with standard police-state measures.

        If you want an American example, there is the Japanese American Internment, in which the US government placed more than a hundred thousand American citizens of Japanese ancestry into camps out of a fear that their ethnicity may cause them to remain loyal to the 'country of their people' and lead them to sabotage the war effort. The conditions in some camps were little better than the German concentration camps.

        The incident is regarded as something of a awkward moment in history now - the standard narrative of the mighty US defeating the evil of the Nazis and their Japanese allies is lessened by the idea that the US at the time not only had active eugenics programs but a policy of rounding up citizens of undesireable ethnicity and locking them into poorly-built concentration camps. People really don't like to face a history that isn't made of good-vs-evil.

    • by sumdumass (711423)

      Too many people who opposed the Iraq war believed there could have been WMDs and/or the ability to produce them in Iraq for it to just be a threat narrative. The UNSCOM and UNMOVIC quarterly reports discuss this quite well leading up to the war. The head of one of those organizations just before the war was one of the biggest and most cited anti-war critics around.

      Your claim that there was never the suspicion of WMDs in Iraq is just completely wrong. You can look up the reports, they are still online and op

  • by DigiShaman (671371) on Saturday August 03, 2013 @10:13PM (#44468065) Homepage

    The EFF is to computer and internet rights as what the NRA is to run rights and the defense of the 2nd amendment.

    I would love to see the EFF and NRA team up! *grin*

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @12:18AM (#44468407)
    "Luckily the Massachusetts Supreme Court tossed out the warrant after EFF got involved, but who knows what would have happened had we not been there."

    My irony meter is pegged. Now the EFF is using the same logic that the government is using. If we hadn't been watching out for your interests, who knows what bad things might have happened.

    Donations cheerfully accepted.

    • "Luckily the Massachusetts Supreme Court tossed out the warrant after EFF got involved, but who knows what would have happened had we not been there."

      My irony meter is pegged.
      Now the EFF is using the same logic that the government is using. If we hadn't been watching out for your interests, who knows what bad things might have happened.

      Donations cheerfully accepted.

      Everyone uses that line. It's hyperbole, but there's still some truth to it. Here are a few examples. Who knows what would have happened if we had not removed that cancer. Who knows what would have happened if we had not provided lawyers free of charge to someone who otherwise couldn't afford one. Who knows what would have happened if we had not illegally wiretapped everyone in the world.

      Here a little side note for the day. If you live above the poverty threshold then that whole "If you cannot afford

  • by FuzzNugget (2840687) on Sunday August 04, 2013 @11:21AM (#44470307)

    These thoughts have been bouncing around in my head for a while now. I've been following a steady stream of stories and reports chronicling the continual demonization of stigmatization of "hackers" and generally technologically proficient people in general.

    People misunderstand or refuse to understand at all. The negative perception caused partly by a few ne'er-do-wells and mostly by corporate propaganda paints us all with a thick coat of black. Misunderstanding transforms into mistrust, mistrust into fear, fear to indignant anger, anger to oppression; before you know it, we have a publically supported, government sanctioned witch hunt on our hands. We technology-savvy individuals are being singled out as the next great threat to the establishment.

    The FBI threw Sklyarov in the slammer for giving a security talk on flaws in Adobe's DRM. Russia -- Russia, people, not exactly known for a track record of upholding civil rights -- issued a statement for security researchers to stay the hell out of the US because it had become illegal to do some math.

    Auernheimer exposed a blatant security flaw, which only existed because of AT&T's utter laziness and indiscretion, and went to prison simply because the way he exposed it and pissed off AT&T.

    Swartz hanged himself after the full force of the federal government hounded him and drove him over the edge by threatening a 35-year prison term for what should have been a slap-on-the-wrist misdemeanor.

    An obviously technophobic judge ruled for an injunction against a UK security researcher to prevent him from publicizing an immobilizer security flaw that could be exploited by organized crime to steal millions of dollars worth of expensive sports cars. He is going ahead with it anyway [slashdot.org] because it's the responsable thing to do when affected parties refuse to address it, and I'm willing to bet the government is going to come down on him heavily for it.

    The incidents of tech-savvy people being vilified are too numerous to list, but I'm sure we're all aware of them. The establishment wants their culture of liability, where ordinary individuals are dragged into the big leagues and expected to perform at the same level as corporate and government giants, while our perspective demands greater personal freedoms to offset the goliathan advantage held over us.

    I think we're going to see a lot more of this until the societal shift is complete and the new generation becomes leadership, and that's a *very* optimistic view.

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