Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Commuter Outrage R.I.P.

My take on the sudden disappearance of the blog Commuter Outrage, that I posted to the comments section of the Streetsblog article at:
http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/12/21/what-the-heck-was-commuteroutrage-com/#comments


Douglas Willinger


"So, that's it. That's the end of our story and, apparently, the end of CO.com as well. Sadly, we were unable to cobble together enough evidence to convince ourselves that CO.com was the product of an unholy alliance between the highway lobby and military intelligence and propaganda professionals."




If so, they were strangely silent about the incompleteness of the Washington, D.C. freeway system, and that in other areas, such as the lack of highway-railway tunnel connecting LI with Westchester County and New Jersey:




http://cos-mobile.blogspot.com/2008/07/homeland-security-goal-would-be-better.html


http://cos-mobile.blogspot.com/2007/10/whatever-happened-to-idea-of-additional.html




But then again, perhaps not so strange:




"So, we started poking around the Internet for a xxx xxxxx and quickly found him. According to a LinkedIn account that has since been deleted, xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx graduated from Princeton in 200x. He studied at the University of Qatar and earned a master's degree from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He lived in a temporary corporate housing facility in Falls Church, Virginia and worked as a consultant for SAIC, Science Applications International Corporation. And in 2006, xxxxxx xxxxx was married in Loudon County, Virginia to xxxxxx xxxxx. "




Georgetown University through its law school (Georgetown Law Center) has been a prominent opponent of D.C.'s freeways for decades.




For instance see the story about D.C.'s most needed and least in displacement proposed freeway links -- the I-95 NE/NCF -- which was sabotaged politically with successive design additions to increase local opposition (most notably the 1964 NCF report's disregard of the 1962 JFK Administration proposal for the highway to strictly hug the existing B&O [Red Line] corridor; I have much at this on my blog "A Trip Within the Beltway" such as this:




http://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/2007/05/1964-north-central-freeway-routing_08.html


http://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/search/label/highway%20routing%20mysteries




As with anything, just connect the dots with the most influential property owners along a given route...


Your comment is awaiting moderation.


December 21, 2009 at 9:55 pm Link # 29






As of 2AM, December 22, 2009, Streetsblog has allowed the appearance of additional 2 posts to this comments area, both dated later, while my comment above does not appear at all.





UPDATE:

As of the following afternoon, my comment appeared in the proper order of its submission as #29, followed by the earlier approved subsequent two submissions, plus those made later- having grown at this writing on December 23, 2009 to 45 comments.

The article, which is certainly a landmark at Streetsblog -- which was the target of much criticism from Commuter Outrage, and is reproduced below.

It provides a good overview of detective work, though I could not find how they got the photo of
"xxxxxx xxxxxx: The face of CommuterOutrage"

Disturbingly, there is no word from xxxxxx xxxxx (the name in this Streetsblog article), or of Lewis Derkins, Judd Wiley and Alvin MacIntosh, the names that appeared in Commuter Outrage, nor from anyone knowing this individual or persons.

I thought the blog had great potential, but alas would veer off with silly things like attacking people for wearing tweeds while riding bicycles, while not dare to attack any of the lack of highway or railway links, nor any of the "chocks" of transportation corridors by misplaced, misguided 'new urbanist' real estate development.

Indeed, I left a comment at Commuter Outrage about the chocking of the N.Y. I-87 Major Deegan Expressway and of the Mott Have area in the South Bronx, by the thoughtless prioritization of a real estate development project to hem in the existing 6 lane elevated I-87 Major Deegan Expressway, placing some 10,000 new residents mere feet away from this exposed source of traffic pollution, and leaving less space to replace the freeway viaduct with a cut and cover tunnel equipped with exhaust filtration. There it remained, but I never saw any response. Should not a pro-highway entity care about such matters?

So "cute" how he Pentagon does not give a damn about improving our transportation network capacity, with "debate" crafted upon an axis of overly strict and hence socially destructive dogmas: aka we should ONLY build rail transit OR highways. It reflects for example from much of the "pro-highway" side of this "debate"
for instance are those who spend far more time opposing seemingly any and all major rail transportation projects as a waste of money, while decrying the basic concept of transit oriented development with little discussion of context and even less discussion of design, yet failing to make a single specific highway proposal. It simultaneously reflects in the forms of such reflexes as groups opposed to any major transit investments in cities with many highways, and with such in reverse such as apologists for stopping planning for PEPCO/B&O Route D.C. I-95.

But such a silence is totally consistent with anything connected to our [Jesuit Order] Georgetown University possessed government with its ominous combination of no new highways but lots and lots of domestic surveillance supposedly making us safer.

Note Georgetown University's support for domestic surveillance -- it's where the PATRIOT Act was crafted -- and their opposition to highways near to them or other such major Vatican properties as Catholic University of America, where the B&O Route I-95 would have passed alongside.

See some of the history how this highway was politically sabotaged:

http://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/2007/05/1964-north-central-freeway-routing_08.html

http://wwwtripwithinthebeltway.blogspot.com/search/label/highway%20routing%20mysteries

And note note the line of work of the person[s] reportedly behind Commuter Outrage:



(excerpt from the Streetsblog article- below)

SAIC is one of those gigantic federal government mega-contractors that you ought to know about but probably don't. With 44,000 employees and $8 billion a year in revenue, SAIC has more individual government contracts than any other private company in America. "No Washington contractor pursues government money with more ingenuity and perseverance than SAIC," investigative journalists Donald Bartlett and James Steele wrote in a 2007 Vanity Fair article. "SAIC currently holds some 9,000 active federal contracts in all. More than a hundred of them are worth upwards of $10 million apiece. Two of them are worth more than $1 billion."


SAIC offers its federal patrons a long list of products and services related to energy, infrastructure and national security. But its big specialty is intelligence. Boasting "information dominance" as one of its areas of expertise, SAIC is one of the major players in the brave new world of government intelligence out-sourcing (Yasmin's employers, CSC and Booz Allen, are two of the others). SAIC is the National Security Agency's largest contractor, and the NSA is SAIC's single largest customer. By 2007, SAIC had "virtually replaced the National Security Agency as the primary collector of signals intelligence for the government," according to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock.

In addition to the spy-for-hire work, the government also turns to SAIC to develop media and propaganda campaigns for the U.S. military. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon selected SAIC to run its Rapid Reaction Media Team. After the invasion, the Pentagon awarded SAIC an $82 million no-bid contract to establish the Iraqi Media Network, which "quickly devolved into a mouthpiece for the Pentagon," according to Bartlett and Steele.

It seemed completely far-fetched, but could it be that some member of the highway lobby had hired SAIC to run a domestic propaganda campaign around the upcoming federal transportation re-authorization and CO.com was the result? Was this what "information dominance" looked like when applied to domestic transportation policy? Preposterous! Yet CO.com's authors suggested that we sustainable transport "weenies" had merely glimpsed the tip of the CO.com iceberg. "Trust me," Judd Wiley wrote in a July 1 comment. "We've only just started. You clowns have no idea what's coming your way."



----
45 Comments



What the Heck Was CommuterOutrage.com?

by Aaron Naparstek on December 21, 2009

xxxxxxx xxxxxes: The face of CommuterOutrage.
Every rare once in a while we used to get e-mails from readers asking us if we saw what they're saying about Streetsblog over at CommuterOutrage.com. For the most part, we didn't. We had long since concluded that CO.com didn't have much of an agenda beyond trying to get Streetsblog's attention.

There was, however, a time in the summer of 2008 when these outraged commuters managed to do just that. That's when we noticed that a comment posted by one of their authors on Streetsblog originated from an IP address that traced back to the Pentagon's Office of the Secretary of Defense. We did a little bit of digging and, for a brief, thrilling moment we thought we might just have stumbled across a secretive new blogging division of the military-industrial-automobile-sprawl complex working down the hall from Donald Rumsfeld's old lair.


If you've never heard of CommuterOutrage.com then you probably want to go ahead and skip this story. But if you ever found your blood pressure rising as you slogged through a 3,000-word CO.com blog post filled with off-the-wall assumptions, cascading series of factual errors and childish personal attacks, then read on. The following 3,000 words were written for you.


* * * * *


CO.com popped up in the spring of 2008 pseudonymously authored by three guys calling themselves Lewis Derkins, Judd Wiley and Alvin MacIntosh. Their introductory "Rant" (still available in the purgatory of Google cache) announced that they were "fed up with the buffoonery" of the "lazy politicians and inept bureaucrats" who "say we should choose to live closer to the office or find alternative means of transportation." They were outraged over having to pay for tolls, gas taxes and short-term parking at the airport. They decried "entitlement spending" and "social engineering experiments" like congestion pricing and tax credits for hybrid vehicles (As for entitlements like free highways and social engineering experiments like exurban sprawl: No problem!) And they demanded that federal transportation dollars be spent on the "maintenance and expansion projects that benefit all of us."


If you've ever spent a bit of time in the right wing policy realm, a lot of that language will sound familiar. In the spring of 2008, lobbyists and advocates across the transportation policy realm were gearing up for the upcoming federal re-authorization. In transportation circles, the call to spend more on "maintenance and expansion" is often code for directing funds to roads and highways. You can't, after all, "expand and maintain" light rail and bus rapid systems, or walkable, bike-friendly communities or a national high speed rail system that don't yet exist.


CO.com was a little bit like Opposite Day Streetsblog. Day after day, its authors tried to make the case that Americans love and demand automobile sprawl, mass transit is filled with perverts and run by incompetent bureaucrats, and bike commuters are sociopathic anarchists who ought to be licensed. But more than anything, CO.com was about, well -- us. Lewis, Judd and Alvin were obsessed with Streetsblog, Transportation Alternatives and the livable streets movement. Though none of them seemed to live there, they were outraged by any effort to make New York City a more hospitable place for pedestrians, cyclists and transit riders. And they were intent on exposing livable streets advocates as frauds, liars and socialists.


While Streetsblog-types tend to argue in a wonky, policy-oriented style, Lewis, Judd and Alvin seemed to be schooled in the Karl Rovian Swift Boat style of political discourse. Calling themselves the "Streetsblog Truth Squad," they frequently called out individual advocates by name, published their photos online, and piled on the personal insults and schoolyard taunts. Referring to advocates as "weenies" was a favorite. Few Streetsblog items escaped their wrath. Even a funny, little throw-away Streetfilm on Portland, Oregon's new bike boxes merited a lengthy "debunking" by Lewis Derkins.


There were clearly some brains behind CO.com. The writing could be smart and funny. And they certainly knew how to get under the skin of livable streets advocates. Given the intensity and frequency that Lewis, Judd and Alvin were blogging when their site first launched, it seemed conceivable that CO.com was someone's day job. They aggressively promoted their links in the comments sections of other blogs and by May 2008 they started to get some traction in local New York City media, occasionally picking up links from blogs like Queens Crap, Village Voice, Gotham Gazette and even the New York Times' City Room.


For a time, Lewis, Judd and Alvin slugged it out in Streetsblog's comments section until they deemed our automated spam filter an infringement on their First Amendment rights. Likewise, Streetsblog readers did battle in the CO.com comments section until they realized that, aside from a renowned bike crank and the last of the urban highway advocates, Lewis and the gang didn't actually have much of a readership. Our server stats confirmed that. Despite the constant links, CO.com drove virtually zero traffic to Streetsblog.


Then it got interesting.


On July 22, 2008 we posted an item called "Highway Funding: The Last Bastion of Socialism in America." Not surprisingly, the article's hyperbolic title outraged Lewis and Alvin and they voiced their displeasure in the Streetsblog comments section. WordPress lets us see the IP addresses of our commenters and after Alvin MacIntosh published a comment during weekday work hours we clicked through to see if it might reveal his place of employment. It did. Alvin, apparently, worked here:


OrgName: The Pentagon


OrgID: THEPEN

Address: OPN-BM, Pentagon

Address: Rm BE884

City: Washington

StateProv: DC

PostalCode: 20310

Country: US


CO.com's "Alvin MacIntosh" was blogging out of The Pentagon!


Now, that was interesting. We already had this lurking, paranoid suspicion that CO.com was, perhaps, being funded by some highway lobby interest. Could it be that a top-secret section of the U.S. Department of Defense was publishing a pro-automobile, pro-suburban sprawl web site bent on the destruction of Streetsblog? In the waning days of the George W. Bush Administration did someone at The Pentagon consider the livable streets movement a threat to national security? How cool would that be?


Excited, we called a couple of our favorite tech geeks and asked if they might be able to help us dig up any more information on Lewis, Judd and Alvin. It was summer and work was kind of slow. So, a small group of us decided to spend some time taking a closer look at CO.com.


First, we looked at their domain name registration. It was purchased on April 4, 2008 by xxxxxx xxxxx. It looked like xxxxxx initially tried to register the web site address anonymously but somehow wound up with her name on it. Though Google turned up a few xxxxxx xxxxm's, the one that stood out was a public relations professional at Booz Allen Hamilton. She graduated from Princeton in 2002 then got a masters degree in "strategic public relations" from the USC Annenberg School for Communications in 2004. Prior to Booz Allen, she worked for CSC, Computer Sciences Corporation.


Next, we took a look at CO.com's source code. There we found "xxxuxes" listed as the Client I.D. on an advertising widget embedded in the web site's sidebar. That was the clue that opened the floodgates. A Google blog search for "pxxxxxx" uncovered a set of April 9, 2008 test blog posts on CO.com, one of them titled "Test xat." Though the test posts had been deleted from the live web site, they still showed up in Google's cache.


So, we started poking around the Internet for a xxx xxxxx and quickly found him. According to a LinkedIn account that has since been deleted, xxxxxx xxxxxx xxxxxx graduated from Princeton in 200x. He studied at the University of Qatar and earned a master's degree from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. He lived in a temporary corporate housing facility in Falls Church, Virginia and worked as a consultant for SAIC, Science Applications International Corporation. And in 2006, xxxxxx xxxxxx was married in Loudon County, Virginia to xxxxxx xxxxx.


CommuterOutrage.com, it seemed, was xxxxxx xxxxxs's web site. We had our man.


* * * * *


SAIC is one of those gigantic federal government mega-contractors that you ought to know about but probably don't. With 44,000 employees and $8 billion a year in revenue, SAIC has more individual government contracts than any other private company in America. "No Washington contractor pursues government money with more ingenuity and perseverance than SAIC," investigative journalists Donald Bartlett and James Steele wrote in a 2007 Vanity Fair article. "SAIC currently holds some 9,000 active federal contracts in all. More than a hundred of them are worth upwards of $10 million apiece. Two of them are worth more than $1 billion."


SAIC offers its federal patrons a long list of products and services related to energy, infrastructure and national security. But its big specialty is intelligence. Boasting "information dominance" as one of its areas of expertise, SAIC is one of the major players in the brave new world of government intelligence out-sourcing (xxxxxx's employers, CSC and Booz Allen, are two of the others). SAIC is the National Security Agency's largest contractor, and the NSA is SAIC's single largest customer. By 2007, SAIC had "virtually replaced the National Security Agency as the primary collector of signals intelligence for the government," according to investigative journalist Tim Shorrock.


In addition to the spy-for-hire work, the government also turns to SAIC to develop media and propaganda campaigns for the U.S. military. Prior to the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon selected SAIC to run its Rapid Reaction Media Team. After the invasion, the Pentagon awarded SAIC an $82 million no-bid contract to establish the Iraqi Media Network, which "quickly devolved into a mouthpiece for the Pentagon," according to Bartlett and Steele.


It seemed completely far-fetched, but could it be that some member of the highway lobby had hired SAIC to run a domestic propaganda campaign around the upcoming federal transportation re-authorization and CO.com was the result? Was this what "information dominance" looked like when applied to domestic transportation policy? Preposterous! Yet CO.com's authors suggested that we sustainable transport "weenies" had merely glimpsed the tip of the CO.com iceberg. "Trust me," Judd Wiley wrote in a July 1 comment. "We've only just started. You clowns have no idea what's coming your way."


So, we did some more digging.

* * * *


We found that in February 2008, xxxxxxx xxxxx took a course with SPS Training at EEI Communications in Alexandria, Virginia so he could learn how to use PD2, a software application used for Defense Department procurement. In his paperwork, xxxxxxx listed his organization as "the Office of the Secretary Defense" and his email address as xxxxxxx.xxxxes.ctr@osd.mil.


CO.com frequently pulled photos, links and text from Transportation Alternatives' web site, so we asked T.A.'s tech guys if we could take a closer look at their server logs. We quickly noticed that someone with a Defense Department IP address often rummaged around T.A's web site in the hours prior to CO.com blog posts that used T.A. material. For example, we found that someone using a computer at this IP address: 214.16.41.245, dns1.bta.mil, had been doing Google image searches for "Wiley Norvell" just hours before Lewis Derkins published a blog post featuring a photo of T.A.'s Wiley Norvell on July 16, 2008.


BTA.MIL is the domain name for the Pentagon's Business Transformation Agency and we found that, among its thousands of federal government contracts, SAIC had a consulting team working for the Pentagon's Business Transformation Agency in Virginia. We also noticed that people who worked for the BTA often had osd.mil e-mail addresses, just like xxxxxxx xxxxes.


Was "Lewis Derkins" actually xxxxxx xxxxxs? Lots of evidence seemed to point that way. But the big question was whether CO.com was official Pentagon product or merely xxxxxx's hobby. If a Defense Department contractor with a specialty in "information dominance" were producing a right-wing, pro-autosprawl, climate change-denying, attack-blog bent on "exposing" the New York City livable streets movement, that was a pretty good story. If CO.com was just some bored Pentagon contractor's side-project, well, that wasn't exactly "60 Minutes" material.


Still, it was nice just to know the name of at least one of the anonymous authors behind CO.com. Even if CO.com was xxxxick's hobby, it was notable that a guy who proclaimed himself to be a watchdog over waste, fraud and ineptitude was using the Defense Department's computer network and your federal tax dollars to produce his personal blog. Likewise, it was also somewhat incredible that a guy who worked for one the nation's preeminent contractors of outsourced spy services wasn't competent enough to maintain the anonymity that he so clearly desired. If this were a CO.com story, they would probably say that xxxxxx xxxxxx was just another inept, money-wasting private contractor leeching off the American taxpayer.


* * * * *


While it was fun to imagine that such a thing as the military-industrial-automobile-sprawl complex existed and that it members were sitting around the Pentagon thinking about ways to counter the growing influence of Streetsblog and the livable streets movement, a number of clues piled up during our brief investigation that led us to believe that CO.com was, in the end, nothing more than a hobby for xxxxxxx xxxxes and some pals.


The first most obvious clue was the quality of the blog itself. If someone had hired CO.com's authors to advocate for more highway spending -- or anything, for that matter -- they didn't seem to be getting their money's worth. If SAIC, the nation's premier provider of private spy services was running CO.com, how were they making mistakes like the one that allowed us to grab that photograph of xxxxxxx xxxxxx off their server? It didn't add up to a professional operation.


Lewis Derkins, in particular, came across as a desperate undergrad eager to show that he was the smartest kid in class by proving, quantitatively, how stupid everyone else was. Putting aside his inability to make an argument free of sophomoric personal attacks, Lewis's blog posts were so consistently filled with errors it would have taken a full-time fact-checker just to correct them.

We'll give you one example pulled randomly from the first post we chose. On July 2, 2008, Lewis Derkins wrote a 3,200-word term paper criticizing the "bizarre analysis" and "misinterpretation of facts" in Charles Komanoff's seminal work, "Killed by Automobile" [PDF]. Derkins wrote that from 1994 to 1997, "465 people were killed in fires in New York City. That's two and a half times more people killed in fires than all pedestrians and bicyclists killed in NYC by cars. Are we going to launch an initiative to ban ovens in kitchens to combat this menace next?"

As was often the case, if you were familiar with the subject matter that Lewis Derkins was writing about, then you noticed that his numbers were completely wrong. "Killed by Automobile" repeatedly states that 947 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed by cars between 1994 and 1997, nearly twice as many as the 465 that Derkins says were killed in fires. Lewis's assertion that fires killed two-and-a-half times more New Yorkers than cars was off by a factor of five. It's a small mistake. But CO.com blog posts were jam-packed with errors like these, one snowballing atop the next. Lewis Derkins often built entire arguments around these kinds of errors. CO.com was simply too amateurish to think that some corporate interest was paying for it.



There were other circumstantial clues suggesting that CO.com was probably just xxxrick's hobby. Our favorite was Hiss Kaag.


We noticed that, in the early days of CO.com, a character named "Hiss Kaag" often showed up in the blog's comments section. In his comments, Hiss came across as a kind of bureaucratic manager caricature, like the Pointy-Haired Boss in the Dilbert cartoon, but with an inexplicable obsession for the International House of Pancakes. A typical Hiss Kaag comment went like this:



Hiss Kaag May 15th, 2008, 8:55 am


Lewis,


Only one complaint about your posting: Too damn long! Who has time to read all this poo at work?


Myself, Hiss Kaag that is, will not allow any of my staff to experience joy, happiness or the general feeling that their work matters.


I like making them change charts for no g-d damn reason, and spend my whole day managing up and kicking down.


That's the Hiss Kaag philosophy my friends. Use it too and you'll end up a lonely shriveled up sad excuse for a man.


G-d Bless.


SEE YOU AT IHOP.


Mr. Kaag


As we were clicking around through xxxxxx xxxxxxs's LinkedIn profile we noticed that Pxxxxx was connected to a guy named Kris Haag working at the Pentagon's Business Transformation Agency. Haag's resume showed that he was older and more senior than Pxxxxx, he was a government employee, not a contractor or consultant, and he appeared to hold a management job at the BTA.


That's when it clicked: Maybe Haag was xxxxxxxx's boss at work. Perhaps this Hiss Kaag character was xxxxxxx-and-friends way of mocking the pancake-eating federal bureaucrat who tasked them with making charts all day. Or perhaps Haag was in on the joke and was one of CO.com's other authors. (Or maybe Kris Haag has nothing to do with any of this, in which case, we apologize for mentioning your name here, Kris.) Either way, would this Hiss Kaag character be making appearances in the CO.com comments section if it were an official Pentagon product?


All in all, it seemed a lot more likely that the blog was being produced by one or more SAIC consultants slogging away in obscurity at a boring, bureaucratic job in the Pentagon.


* * * * *


Unlike CO.com, if we're going to write about you on Streetsblog, we generally like to call you first, check our facts, understand where you're coming from and give you an opportunity to tell your side. So, last week we did quite a bit of reporting on this story.


Calls to SAIC's switchboard confirmed that xxxxxx xxxxxx works in the company's Intelligence Security and Technology Group. But Melissa Koskovich, an SAIC spokesperson, insisted that CO.com is not produced by the company. "I can tell you right off the bat this is nothing we'd be involved with," she said. "We might have an employee blogging during work time."


Likewise, the Department of Defense said it is not responsible for CO.com. "By definition there's nothing that we do that is 'dot com.' We are either 'dot gov' or 'dot mil,'" Pentagon spokesperson Darryn James said. "The Pentagon is a small city. There are 25,000 people working here. So, this could be some contractor working in his off time."


We reached out to Kris Haag and xxxxx xxxxx but never heard back from them. After a number of calls and e-mails, xxxxxx xxxxxs replied on Thursday to say that he had received our note and was open to a conversation. We have been unable to reach him for an interview since then. Also on Thursday, the CO.com web site was taken offline and obliterated.


So, that's it. That's the end of our story and, apparently, the end of CO.com as well. Sadly, we were unable to cobble together enough evidence to convince ourselves that CO.com was the product of an unholy alliance between the highway lobby and military intelligence and propaganda professionals. In the end, all we think we managed to do was put a name to CO.com. Though, after months of non-stop anonymous attacks, that's kind of satisfying. Commuter Outrage.com was xxxxxx xxxxxs's blog. If nothing else, xatrick is now free to come out of hiding and add his voice to the vigorous public debate over 21st century transportation policy and urban sustainability. May he now enjoy the same high standard of accountability that he seemed so eager to impose on others.



1 comment:

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