Category Archives: Academia

Chart of the day: Color lines of student debt


From Gallup:

BLOG Student debt

John Oliver tackles $1 trillion student loan debt


Yep, it now tops everything except mortgage debt, and lenders have more coercive power to collect it than do lenders of any other form of debt, while the parallel growth of for-profit colleges [like those owned by UC Regent Richard "Greasy Thumb" Blum, spouse of Sen. Dianne Feinstein] have fuekled the rapid growth of student loans. Blum also presided over the board of regents during the massive inflation in tuition that forced increasingly numbers of students to resort to borrowing to attend the University of California.

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Student Debt

Program note:

John Oliver discusses student debt, which is awful, as well as for-profit colleges, who are awfully good at inflicting debt upon us.

Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report


Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report

From The Real News Network, a Sharmini Peries interview with Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University who holds dual appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) as well a serving as director of the university’s Earth System Science Center (ESSC).

http://www.meteo.psu.edu/holocene/public_html/Mann/about/index.php

From The Real News Network:

Forthcoming IPCC Report Calls for Control of Fossil Fuel Consumption

From the transcript:

PERIES: So, Prof. Mann, this report is synthesizing the information already captured in previous IPCC reports. But can you break down the key findings that has been sent to governments?

MANN: Sure thing. So in a sense there are no surprises, because we know what material is in this report. It’s a summary of the three working group reports that have already appeared, the report on the basic science of climate change, which was followed by the Working Group II Report on climate change impacts, and then there was the Working Group III report, Mitigation, how we can solve this problem. This is the synthesis report. So it brings it all together. And if there is one word or one sort of assessment that I think summarizes what this report has to say, it’s that we really need to get working on this problem now. We don’t have time to waste. We really need to act now if we are going to protect ourselves against what can reasonably be described as truly dangerous and potentially irreversible changes in our climate.

PERIES: What do you think IPCC expects from the warning sent to the governments?

MANN: Well, what’s interesting is that the IPCC, it’s a very conservative organization, because it’s literally made up of hundreds and hundreds of scientists from around the world, experts in various aspects of the science of climate change. And because of that, it represents sort of a scientific lowest common denominator. The report reflects a very conservative viewpoint that can be shared by essentially all of the scientists contributing to the report, who have various views, various findings. So by their nature, the IPCC reports tend to be conservative. In many cases, the IPCC projections, for example, have actually underestimated the rate of climate change that has actually occurred subsequently. And we see that, for example, with the dramatic decrease in Arctic Sea ice. It’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should. The melting of the ice sheets, it’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should.

So what’s particularly interesting, I think, about this latest synthesis report is the stark terms in which the IPCC, a very conservative body, a very staid body, the very stark terms in which they lay out the problem, essentially saying, look, there’s no question the globe is warming, our climate is changing, it’s due to human activity, and if we don’t do something about it, it’s going to be a real problem. It’s already a problem. We are already seeing damages, in many cases way ahead of schedule.

What is interesting about the report as well is that it also makes it quite clear that it is still relatively inexpensive to solve this problem. If we act now, if we bring our fossil fuel emissions down by several percent a year, which is doable, if we scale up renewable green energy to the point where we can meet growing energy demand through less and less fossil fuel based energy, then we can stabilize global warming below levels that are truly dangerous and potentially irreversible. And it would be fairly inexpensive to do so, because we can actually undergo that transition, we can get that transition underway, we can scale up renewable energy, so that in a matter of decades it meets 80, 90, maybe close to 100 percent of our energy needs.

The problem is if we defer that, if we wait to lower our emissions. Then that means we are going to have to make far more austere cuts in carbon emissions in the future. And that’ll be much more expensive economically, and we will have basically entered into a regime where the cost of inaction, the deferred maintenance, the problems that we will begin to see because we didn’t act on the climate change problem in time, will become far more expensive than any measures necessary to mitigate the problem.

Academic research and U.S. drone kill lists


Living in Berkeley, we’re acutely aware of the deep connections between academic research and battlefield body counts, given that Cal played — asnd continues to play — a key role in nuclear weapons development.

But academic research body counts aren’t limited to those incinerated or lethally irradiated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki or other weapons developed at the national laboratories administered by the University of California for the Department of Energy [formerly the Atomic Energy Commission].

Killer tech can also emerge from social science and computer labs, where software evolves to monitor social currents and metadata, in search of patterns boffins declare are likely source of actual or potential threats to the Moloch of national security.

University of California faculty dominate the roster of the JASONS [previously], the battalion of academics recruited to tackle intellectual conundrums for the Department of Defense.

So we note with interest a fascinating segment from Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set featuring Nafeez Ahmed, political activist and Guardian columnist.

Here’s his bio from the Guardian website:

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. He is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization among other books. He writes for the Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises on his Earth insight blog.

Their focus of the segment is the role another Pentagon-funded academic research program, the Minerva Research Initiative, described thusly on the project’s website:

Just as our military forces could not effectively operate without understanding the physical terrain and environment, detection of radical actors and regime disruptions is limited by our understanding of the cultural and political environments where those threats develop. The Minerva Research Initiative, initiated by former Secretary Gates in 2008, seeks to build deeper understanding of the social, cultural, and political dynamics that shape regions of strategic interest around the world.

Deeper understanding of global populations and their variance as provided by Minerva-funded research will yield more effective strategic and operational policy decisions. Minerva scholars have already briefed valuable, warfighter-relevant insights to senior officials such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, decision makers in the defense policy community, and on the ground to our combatant commands.

As the nascent program continues to grow, university-driven Minerva research will further enable critical social and cultural understanding to help decision makers effectively address today’s known and tomorrow’s unknown challenges.

With that out of the way, from Breaking the Set:

How DoD Flawed Algorithms are Basis for Drone Kill List | Interview with Nafeez Ahmed

Program notes:

Abby Martin features an interview with author and journalist Nafeez Ahmed, discussing his four-part investigation into the Pentagon’s mass social science project called The Minerva Research Initiative, as well as his latest book ‘Zero Point’.

InSecurityWatch: War, spooks, hacks, zones


We begin today’s walk on the dark side with a story everyone knew was coming, via the New York Times:

U.S. Weighs Direct Military Action Against ISIS in Syria

The Obama administration is debating a more robust intervention in Syria, including possible American airstrikes, in a significant escalation of its weeks-long military assault on the Islamic extremist group that has destabilized neighboring Iraq and killed an American journalist, officials said Friday.

While President Obama has long resisted being drawn into Syria’s bloody civil war, officials said recent advances by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have made clear that it represents a threat to the interests of the United States and its allies. The beheading of James Foley, the American journalist, has contributed to what officials called a “new context” for a challenge that has long divided the president’s team.

Officials said the options include speeding up and intensifying limited American efforts to train and arm moderate Syrian rebel forces that have been fighting ISIS as well as fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Another option would be to bolster other partners on the ground to take on ISIS, including the Syrian Kurds.

But as Deutsche Welle notes, some things remain unsayable:

Germany ‘regrets’ comments on Qatar support for ‘IS’

  • Germany has upset Qatar, with one of Angela Merkel’s ministers saying the Gulf monarchy was funding the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” terror group, and another attempting some sensitive World Cup wordplay

The German government said on Friday that it had no direct evidence of Qatar funding the so-called “Islamic State” (“IS”) group active in Iraq and Syria.

“If there were misunderstandings, we regret these,” foreign ministry spokesman Martin Schäfer told reporters in Berlin, after Development Minister Gerd Müller told public broadcaster ZDF earlier in the week that efforts to cut off “IS” funding had the “keyword Qatar.”

Schäfer on Friday said that Qatar had contacted the government in Berlin over the comments, and called the Gulf monarchy an important partner for Germany. However, he said that there were several issues, “where we are not always of the same opinion.”

While the Independent notes that America’s closest Arab ally is still killing people for witchcraft:

Saudi Arabia executes 19 during one half of August in ‘disturbing surge of beheadings’

Saudi Arabia has beheaded at least 19 people since the beginning of August in a surge of executions, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has said. The deaths relate to the period from 4 to 20 August and are included in the 34 deaths ordered since the beginning of January.

According to HRW, international standards require that capital punishment should only be reserved for the “most serious crimes” in countries that still use it.

Offences that resulted in the Saudi Arabian death penalties in August ranged from drug smuggling and sorcery.

And closer to home, the latest GOP cross-border xenophobia alert, via Mother Jones:

Iowa GOP Official Warns That Child Migrants Might Be Highly Trained “Warriors”

Iowa Republican National Committee member Tamara Scott has a special theory about the flood of child migrants entering the United States: What if they’re secretly ninjas?

Republican congressmen have previously argued that the 70,000 youths who will come across the border in 2014 are being brought over to bolster Democratic voter rolls at some point in the distant future, or that they are carrying a deadly disease that does not actually exist in their home countries. Scott, in a Thursday radio segment flagged by Right Wing Watch, sought to outdo them all:

For us just to open our borders it’s chaos we don’t know orderly who’s coming in, who’s not. When we see these kids, you and I think young kids, we think maybe 12-year-olds, maybe even…middle-schoolers. But we know back in our revolution, we had 12-year-olds fighting in our revolution. And for many of these kids, depending on where they’re coming from, they could be coming from other countries and be highly trained as warriors who will meet up with their group here and actually rise up against us as Americans. We have no idea what’s coming through our borders, but I would say biblically it’s not a Christian nation when you entice people to do wrong.

Wired threat level totes up another tab:

Personal Privacy Is Only One of the Costs of NSA Surveillance

There is no doubt the integrity of our communications and the privacy of our online activities have been the biggest casualty of the NSA’s unfettered surveillance of our digital lives. But the ongoing revelations of government eavesdropping have had a profound impact on the economy, the security of the internet and the credibility of the U.S. government’s leadership when it comes to online governance.

These are among the many serious costs and consequences the NSA and those who sanctioned its activities—including the White House, the Justice Department and lawmakers like Sen. Dianne Feinstein—apparently have not considered, or acknowledged, according to a report by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

“Too often, we have discussed the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs through the distorting lens of a simplistic ‘security versus privacy’ narrative,” said Danielle Kehl, policy analyst at the Open Technology Institute and primary author of the report. “But if you look closer, the more accurate story is that in the name of security, we’re trading away not only privacy, but also the U.S. tech economy, internet openness, America’s foreign policy interests and cybersecurity.”

And the Guardian raises grounds for real domestic insecurity:

Ferguson: officer relieved of duty after ‘black little perverts’ video surfaces

  • Dan Page, among the police working at Ferguson protests, is relieved after video emerges of him saying ‘I’m into diversity, I kill everybody’

A police officer involved in the protests over Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, has been relieved of his duty after video surfaced of him describing black people as “little perverts” and Barack Obama as an illegal immigrant.

Dan Page – who was seen live on CNN earlier this week threatening to arrest the network’s anchor Don Lemon – was recorded in April giving a speech in which he railed against Muslims and gay people, saying: “I’m into diversity – I kill everybody.”

Page is the second St Louis county officer to have been stood down in controversial circumstances surrounding the Ferguson protests. Lieutenant Ray Albers was suspended on Wednesday after video emerged of him pointing his assault weapon at protestors and threatening to kill them.

And closer to Casa esnl, more grounds for insecurity from the Fairfield, California, Daily Republic:

Fairfield cops under investigation for possible database checks on potential dates

A pair of veteran Fairfield police officers are under investigation for possible felony conduct relating to their trolling of personals dating websites while on duty and possibly using confidential law enforcement databases repeatedly to screen women they found appealing.

The officers, Sgt. Stephen Ruiz and Detective Jacob Glashoff, had their desktop computers, their laptop computers, their duty cellphones and a Fairfield police iPad seized by an internal affairs investigator in June, according to court documents filed Thursday. The equipment was turned over to the Northern California Computer Crimes Task Force, which was joined in the investigation of the two officers by a data analyst with the California Department of Justice, Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Analysis.

The investigation began in June when another detective reported to his superiors that some of his peers in the Investigations Bureau office at 1100 Texas St. were misusing the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System database. It connects to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and state and federal law enforcement records.

The Miami Herald makes a point with which we agree:

Miami-Dade mayor: ‘I want a camera on every police officer’

In the wake of national outrage over alleged police misconduct in Ferguson, Mo., Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Thursday vowed to make “body cameras” mandatory for all county patrol officers.

His proposed budget calls for purchasing 500 of the mini cameras, enough to outfit about half of Miami-Dade’s patrol force. Made by Taser, they’re small enough to snap onto a pair of glasses or a hat in order to record everything an officer sees.

“I want a camera on every police officer,” Gimenez told the audience at a budget town hall meeting in Little Haiti.

From TechWeekEurope, friends in high places for a high-security service otherwise often decried by governments aplenty:

Tor Is Being Kept Safe By Dissenting GCHQ And NSA Agents, Claims Project Director

  • Apparently a few of the government spies want to keep Tor anonymous and secure

Employees of the UK and US intelligence services have been helping the Tor network maintain anonymity of its users, claims Andrew Lewman, executive director of the Tor Project.

Lewman told the BBC that his development team regularly gets ‘tipped off’ when the National Security Agency (NSA) or Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) find a vulnerability that could compromise the security of the network.

“There are plenty of people in both organisations who can anonymously leak data to us to say – maybe you should look here, maybe you should look at this to fix this,” he said. “And they have.”

From the Guardian, a spooky blast from the past:

Botched Nazi spy mission was act of sabotage, says historian

  • German intelligence officials opposed to Hitler’s plans chose agents with poor English for Operation Lena, book suggests

Of the 12 spies who landed in Britain as part of Operation Lena in September 1940, most were arrested without having come closing to fulfilling their mission, and “because of their own stupidity”, as British official records put it. Why Germany sent such inept agents on one of the most important missions of the second world war has remained an enduring mystery.

A book published in Germany this summer comes up with a new explanation. In Operation Sealion: Resistance inside the Secret Service, the historian Monika Siedentopf argues that the botched spying mission was not the result of German incompetence, but a deliberate act of sabotage by a cadre of intelligence officials opposed to Hitler’s plans.

Siedentopf first became interested in the story of Operation Sealion – the German plan to invade Britain – while researching a book on the role of female spies during the war. For many other missions, German spies had been meticulously well-prepared, she noticed, so why not in 1940?

From Techdirt, censorship on campus:

University Bans Social Media, Political Content and Wikipedia Pages On Dorm WiFi

My understanding is that there was once a theory that America’s public universities were havens of free speech, political thought, and a center for the exchange of ideas. I must admit that this seems foreign to me. I’ve always experienced universities primarily as a group-think center mostly centered around college athletics. That said, if universities want to still claim to be at the forefront of idea and thought, they probably shouldn’t be censoring the hell out of what their students can access on the internet.

Yet, as btr1701 writes in about, that’s exactly what Northern Illinois University appears to be doing.

Northern Illinois University enacted an Acceptable Use Policy that goes further than banning torrents, also denying students access to social media sites and other content the university considers “unethical” or “obscene.” A discussion on the ban was brought to Reddit by user darkf who discovered the new policy while trying to access the Wikipedia page for the Westboro Baptist Church from his personal computer in his dorm room. The student received a filter message categorizing the page as “illegal or unethical.” It seems possible to continue to the webpage, but the message warns that all violations will be reviewed.

While DutchNews.nl resists a similar measure on a national scale:

Dutch minister opposes new law to criminalise ‘glorifying violence’

Justice minister Ivo Opstelten has rejected calls for the government to bring in a new law making it a crime to glorify terrorist violence.

Christian Democrat MPs have called for a change in the law following the murder of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State. The government is currently not doing enough to tackle the problem, CDA leader Sybrand Buma said on Thursday.

Opstelten said in a reaction he is not in favour of the introduction of ‘thought police’. ‘There is freedom of expression,’ the minister is quoted as saying.

While the Mainichi covers a real domestic security threat:

Dominican Republic bans Miley Cyrus concert

The Dominican Republic government commission that oversees public performances is banning a Sept. 13 concert by Miley Cyrus on morality grounds.

The commission said in a statement Thursday that it took the action because Cyrus often “undertakes acts that go against morals and customs, which are punishable by Dominican law.”

Tickets ranging from $27 to $370 for the concert in the capital have been on sale since July.

PandoDaily covers a banner year:

Are the hackers winning? 2014 is shaping up as a record year in security breaches

Hackers have been busy in 2014. According to a Data Breach QuickView report by Risk Based Security (RBS), the first half of 2014 has already surpassed the record set across all of 2013 for the number of consumer records exposed.

The company writes, “Mid-year 2014 data breaches exposed over 502 million records far exceeding the mid-year point in 2013, the previous all-time record setting year… and the recently reported exposure of 1.2 billion email addresses and usernames has not been included.”

This news comes weeks after Target released an analysis of the cost of its 2013 breach which, at 110 million records exposed, was the seventh largest breach in history and and was surely among the most-widely publicized. The final tally: $148 million, plus an incalculable loss of consumer trust. The incident, and a confidence eroding response by management, also ended up cost the company its CEO and CIO.

More hackery news from RT:

User beware: Researchers have 92% success rate hacking into Gmail app

Your smartphone may be far less secure than you think. A group of computer scientists say they’ve found a way to hack into six out of seven popular apps like Gmail on Android, Windows and iOS platforms, with a success rate of up to 92 percent.

The weakness, which was discovered by researchers from the University of California Riverside, means they could get potentially sensitive information, such as looking at emails and changing passwords. Thankfully for unsuspecting citizens, the team says it has no interest in using any personal data, but will instead present its findings in a paper: “Peeking into Your App without Actually Seeing It: UI State Inference and Novel Android Attacks,” at the USENIX Security Symposium in San Diego on Friday.

The team believed they could find a fault in an app because so many are produced by so many different developers. Once a user downloads a number of apps to his or her smartphone they are all running on the same shared platform, or operating system. Therefore users leave themselves open to attacks as an Android phone allows itself to be hijacked or pre-empted.

Network World covers still more hackery:

US warns ‘significant number’ of major businesses hit by Backoff malware

Over a thousand major enterprise networks and small and medium businesses in the U.S. have been compromised by a recently discovered malware package called “Backoff” and are probably unaware of it, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said in a cybersecurity alert on Friday.

Backoff first appeared in October 2013 and is capable of scraping the memory contents of point of sales systems—industry speak for cash registers and other terminals used at store checkouts—for data swiped from credit cards, from monitoring the keyboard and logging keystrokes, from communicating with a remote server.

“Over the past year, the Secret Service has responded to network intrusions at numerous businesses throughout the United States that have been impacted by the “Backoff” malware,” the alert said. “Seven PoS system providers/vendors have confirmed that they have had multiple clients affected.”

Meanwhile, a privacy battle shapes up in Europe, via RT:

Facebook given deadline in ‘largest privacy class action in Europe’

Facebook has been given four weeks to respond to a class action, launched against it by an Austrian activist and supported by 60,000 users. The suit claims Facebook violated users’ privacy, by cooperating with the NSA’s PRISM program.

The class action initiated by Max Schrems, an Austrian lawyer, data privacy activist and founder of Europe vs. Facebook group has passed its first review in the Vienna Regional Court.

Facebook Ireland, which runs the social network’s activities outside the US and Canada, has been given four weeks to respond to the action.

BBC News covers a crackdown on aisle three:

Venezuela plans to introduce supermarket fingerprinting

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela has announced a mandatory fingerprinting system in supermarkets to combat food shortages and smuggling.

He said the system would stop people from buying too much of a single item.

But the opposition in Venezuela rejected the plan, saying the policy treated all Venezuelans as thieves.

And Factor has Robocop, Mark I:

Bots on patrol: Mobile security robot to be mass produced

In a move that will rock the job security of night watchmen everywhere, the world’s first commercially available security robot is set for mass production in the US.

Designed by Denver-based Gamma 2 Robotics, the robot will now be manufactured entirely in the States, with a process that can be scaled up to full mass production as demand grows.

The robot, which is known as the Vigilant MCP (mobile camera platform), features a digital camera and an array of sensors to detect the presence of unauthorised intruders, and will activate the alarm and send out an alert should it find someone where they shouldn’t be.

After the jump, the latest from the Asian Game of Zones, including a call for a cyberwar treaty, talks in Karachi, a nautical seizure, a Chinese question, a Sino/American aerial close encounter, North Korean missiles ahead, tensions on the high seas, an Obama administration thumbs up for Japanese militarism, an anti-propaganda call in Japan, posturing by exercise, and still more turmoil over Japanese ethnic intolerance towards Koreans and that the ongoing crisis over Japanese reluctance to fully acknowledge World War II sex slavery. . .   Continue reading

Chart of the day II: A textbook case of inflation


Because the inflationary costs are those of textbooks, which, according to this short video, are rising in price at three times the overall inflationary rate. And while The Economist seems to blame instructors for the phenomenon, we suspect that consolidation in the poublishing realm, acvompanied by rampant greed, plays a greater role..

One consequence of soaring prices had been the increasing refusal of students to pay for new textbooks, and a study of Connecticut college students reveals that two-thirds have simply opted out of buying at least one textbook, while others are buying used or sharing texts.

Overall, students pay an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks, a figure that is nothing less than obscene.

And three hundred dollars for one text? Really?

From The Economist:

Live chart: The price of textbooks

Program notes:

A textbook case of price-gouging: Why university books in America are so expensive.

The new America: College campus soup kitchens


From RT [yes, we know that stands from Russia Today], a telling example of the consequences of rigging the game.

Food for Thought: US students struggle with hunger as tuition skyrockets

Program notes:

Skyrocketing tuition fees in America are now forcing many students to struggle to find any food for thought. So some universities are now setting up soup kitchens, to make sure their pupils can make it through the day.