Category Archives: Global Corporate U.

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.

Berkeley’s benefactor and the Gulf oil tragedy


The explosion of the Deepwater Horison offshore drilling platform at BP’s Macondo Prospect in the Gulf of Mexico on 20 April 2010 killed ten oil workers and began a massive oil spill causing massive environmental damage and leading to last week’s jury verdict that will cost more billions than it’s already paid out.

BP [nee the Anglo Iranian Oil Company] is the same oil giant that gave a half-billion to bankroll the Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley, in partnership with the University of Illinois, following a heated debate and protests which we covered back when we were reporting for the late Berkeley Daily Planet print incarnation.

Illinois is, of course, the state that provided Barack Obama’s platform for his senatorial run, leading to his election. Obama appointed as Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, a physicist who served as head of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and who played a key role in landing Berkeley BP’s half-billion [for more, see here, and here].

With that out of the way, here’s a report from The Real News Network featuring a Jessica Desvarieux interview of Steve Murchie, campaign director for the Gulf Restoration Network, on lessons learned.

From The Real News Network:

Better Oversight and Less Drilling Needed to Protect the Gulf

From the transcript:

MURCHIE: BP has paid a substantial amount of money already and is lined up to pay substantially more. You know, we have to recognize that this is the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history and that BP is primarily responsible. So they’ve already pleaded guilty to criminal conduct. They paid $4 billion in fines for that. There’s a process underway through the Oil Pollution Act for them to pay additional compensation to people and the public who have been damaged by their actions. That’s everything from a bed-and-breakfast or a hotel that lost tourists, to companies that weren’t able to go out and catch fish, to state and local governments who lost tax revenue because they had to close their beaches and their fisheries. And so all of those entities, all of those people deserve to be compensated because of BP’s actions.

What Judge Barbier ruled on yesterday was the civil penalties under the Clean Water Act. And this is above and beyond compensation for the damage. It’s above and beyond criminal penalties. These are the civil penalties that for a corporation are really where the accountability comes in the American justice system. And so Judge Barbier, after sifting through the facts very carefully, came forth with a 153 page decision that proved that, to his satisfaction–and that’s the opinion that counts–that BP was grossly negligent, which allows for the largest possible fine under the Clean Water Act.

DESVARIEUX: Well, let’s go back. Why do you think this disaster was even able to happen? What role do regulations play in all this? Do you feel like there was enough of that to begin with?

MURCHIE: I think a lot of people would like to think of BP as some rogue oil company that was out of control. And that appears to be the case, according to the judge. But we have to remember that the regulators responsible for oversight of the offshore activities and the oil and gas industry in general in the Gulf were very lax, terrible practices happening with the federal agencies being way too cozy with the industry. And for observers like Gulf restoration network, we felt like the BP disaster was likely to happen at one point or another, and we and many other people had been pushing for reforms of the industry. And, unfortunately, it took a disaster to even get a bipartisan commission to come together to come up with recommendations. And while BP is being held accountable for their actions, many of the recommendations of that commission have yet to be implemented.

DESVARIEUX: So we’re talking essentially, just so I’m understand you correctly, Steve, is that there hasn’t been really any significant change in legislation to protect communities and the environment after such a disaster happened?

MURCHIE: There have been some reforms. The Obama administration made some changes to the federal agency that has provided some greater scrutiny, and that’s been helpful. I think the main thing that Congress has actually done, which is potentially going to have great benefit to the Gulf, is passing the Restore Act. And what that does is it dedicates those civil penalties under the Clean Water Act to come back to the Gulf states to be used for restoration. And that process is underway right now, to make sure that those billions of dollars that BP is going to pay will be put to use to bring back the Gulf.

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’.

America’s militarized police: Finally in the open


And it’s true both nationally, and in esnl’s own back yard.

First up, a pair of editorial cartoons from California papers, with the first from David Horsey, graphic commentator for the Los Angeles Times:

BLOG Horsey

And then there’s this, from Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee:

BLOG Ohman

Next, from RT America’s Breaking the Set, the Bay Area’s own Abby Martin weighs in on a program designed to turn beat cops into paramilitary troopers:

US Police Train with Foreign Militaries to Crackdown on Dissent

Program notes:

Abby Martin remarks on the growing militarization of America’s local police forces in the midst of the unrest in Ferguson, MO, highlighting a program known as Urban Shield, where US police forces train and learn military tactics together.

Here on the shores of San Francisco Bay, the region’s own Urban Shield copfest is scheduled for five days starting 4 September.

Here’s how the operation’s website describes the program:

Urban Shield has grown into a comprehensive, full-scale regional preparedness exercise assessing the overall Bay Area UASI Region’s response capabilities related to multi-discipline planning, policies, procedures, organization, equipment and training. Urban Shield continues to test regional integrated systems for prevention, protection, response and recovery in our high-threat, high-density urban area. The exercise evaluates our existing level of preparedness and capabilities, identifying not only what we do well, but areas in need of improvement. The previous years’ After Action Reports are referenced and used to assist in prioritizing upcoming expenditures possible for the region so we may become more prepared for any type of critical event or incident in our area.

And there’s even a video produced by Dolphin Graphics and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office [and featuring an assistant sheriff with an Orwellian name] designed to entice would-be participants into signing up:

Urban Shield, “First Responder Training” Short Documentary

Program notes:

Urban Shield Alameda County is a full-scale exercise, designed to assess and validate the speed, effectiveness and efficiency of response capabilities, as well as test the adequacy of regional policies, plans, procedures and protocols. The Urban Shield exercise incorporates regional critical infrastructure, emergency operation centers, regional communication systems, equipment and assets, new technologies, as well as personnel representing all aspects of emergency response teams including intelligence, law enforcement, Explosive Ordinance Disposal Units, Fire, EMS, etc.

And guess what Bay Area city won top SWAT team honors in last year’s competition?

We have the picture:

BLOG Berkeley SSWAT

On a more permanent basis, militarization of Bay Area police has been enhanced by another program from the Department of Homeland Security, the Bay Area UASI, a ten-county regional government managed by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

From the program’s website:

The Bay Area UASI is a regional program that provides financial assistance to improve the Bay Area’s capacity to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist incidents or related catastrophic events. Projects facilitated by the program enhance regional capability through regional collaboration and efficient allocation of funds available.

>snip<

The UASI program is the only federal homeland security grant program that requires regional governance, strategic planning and investing involving all disciplines (law enforcement, fire service, public health and medical, public works, critical infrastructure owners and operators, and emergency management) in order to acquire the necessary plans, organization, equipment, training and exercises. In 2006, DHS combined the three previously independent jurisdictions of San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose into the current Bay Area UASI. The Bay Area UASI is located in northern California and is comprised of twelve counties and three core cities. The twelve counties are inclusive of over 100 incorporated cities and a combined total population exceeding 7.5 million people.

BLOG Urban shielding

On a final note, and as we’ve reported previously, as part of Urban Shield, UC Berkeley’s own campus police held a training session with Israeli border police before applying their newly won skills in cracking heads whilst dispersing student Occupy protesters. And the Minister, er, Secretary of Homeland Security back in those days is now president of the entire University of California system.

InSecurityWatch: Taps, hacks, zones, bluster


Today’s headlines from the world of spies, deep politics, hackery, state violence, and the ongoing Asian Games of Zones is agenda’s so full we opted to switch the order of our compendia today, and we’ll get straight to it, first with a pair of stories about prominent conversations overheard.

We open with this from International Business Times:

Germany Recorded Hillary Clinton When She Was Secretary Of State, German Media Says

Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND) recorded a conversation of Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state, three German media outlets reported on Friday. Clinton was recorded while flying in a U.S. government aircraft. Reports did not specify the exact date of the recording.

Germany’s largest daily newspaper and two public broadcasting services broke the story on the alleged incident and cited anonymous government sources that said the recording was by accident. One source said the recordings should have been destroyed immediately and it was “idiocy” that they weren’t. The report also mentions the BND recorded other “American politicians and other friendly countries,” but did not specify which politicians or what countries.

The disclosure came after last year’s revelation by Edward Snowden that the U.S. ran an espionage operation on Germany, one of America’s closest allies. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was bugged and recorded by the U.S., was highly critical of the surveillance, saying there must not be “spying among friends.” More recently, German officials revealed in July that the U.S had been working with a spy in Germany for more than two years.

And the other eavesdropping saga, via News Corp Australia:

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s phone was hacked at the height of the MH17 crisis

FOREIGN Affairs Minister Julie Bishop’s mobile phone was compromised while she was overseas leading tense negotiations to win access to the MH17 crash site in Ukraine.

Australian intelligence officials seized Ms Bishop’s phone on her return from a two-week trip to the United States, Ukraine and Holland, having secured a deal to get Australian police into the crash area.

Russian-backed rebels shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight with a surface-to-air missile on July 17, killing 298 passengers and crew, including 38 Australians.

It is thought that our intelligence agencies know which country those responsible for compromising Ms Bishop’s phone were operating from.

American accessory convicted, via Al Jazeera:

Court: Poland culpable for CIA secret prisons

  • The European Court of Human Rights has ordered Poland to pay reparations to two Saudis being held in Guantanamo Bay

On July 24, seven judges on the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled against Poland in a landmark case, making it the first European Union country to be held accountable for its involvement in the United States’ systematic, extrajudicial detention of suspects, known as the “extraordinary rendition” programme. Established by the George W Bush administration in the aftermath of September 11 attacks, the programme was run by the CIA, and designed to detain suspects deemed to be of “high value”.

In the unanimous ruling, the judges stated that “Poland had cooperated in the preparation and execution of the CIA rendition, secret detention, and interrogation operations on its territory” and that it had failed in its duty under the European Convention on Human Rights to “ensure that individuals within its jurisdiction were not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The ECHR ordered Poland to pay $175,000 to Saudi-born Palestinian Abu Zubaydah and $135,000 to Saudi national Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Both applicants are currently being held in US custody in Guantanamo Bay, isolated from the outside world.

From the Daily Californian, an alarm sounds in Berkeley:

UC to evacuate affiliates in Pakistan after bombing this week

The university is initiating evacuation of UC affiliates in Pakistan after a bombing in the city of Quetta on Tuesday.

Two UC Berkeley faculty members are currently in Pakistan on UC-related business, according to campus risk manager Andy Goldblatt. No students or staff have been reported to be in the country, although an email was sent Wednesday to campus deans, directors and chairs asking for help identifying other UC faculty, staff and students in Pakistan.

Campus professor Ron Gronsky, special faculty assistant to the chancellor for international relations, said in the email that not all UC affiliates take the recommendation that they register their international travel with the university.

The Los Angeles Times plays the overture for the next act:

Nouri Maliki’s departure sets stage for deeper U.S. role in Iraq

The resignation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki after a bitter final power struggle sets the stage for increasing U.S. arms shipments and military advisors, deepening America’s role in a conflict President Obama had sought to avoid.

White House officials, who had urged Maliki to step down, praised him for agreeing Thursday to back Haider Abadi, a less divisive successor who they hope can unite Iraq’s political and religious factions against the Islamic State militants who control or threaten much of the country.

“Iraqis took another major step forward in uniting their country,” national security advisor Susan Rice said in a statement. “These are encouraging developments that we hope can set Iraq on a new path.”

And from the Associated Press, hints of Perry-less times ahead for the Lone Star State:

Texas’ Perry indicted for coercion for veto threat

A grand jury indicted Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Friday for abusing the powers of his office by carrying out a threat to veto funding for state prosecutors investigating public corruption — making the possible 2016 presidential hopeful his state’s first indicted governor in nearly a century.

A special prosecutor spent months calling witnesses and presenting evidence that Perry broke the law when he promised publicly to nix $7.5 million over two years for the public integrity unit, which is run by Travis County District Rosemary Lehmberg’s office. Several top aides to the Republican governor appeared before grand jurors in Austin, including his deputy chief of staff, legislative director and general counsel. Perry himself wasn’t called to testify.

He was indicted by an Austin grand jury on felony counts of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Maximum punishment on the first charge is five to 99 years in prison. The second is two to 10 years.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press challenges First Amendment insecurity:

Media coalition protests police treatment of reporters during Ferguson events

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press led a coalition of 48 national media organizations that sent a protest letter [PDF] objecting to the treatment of reporters during the recent events in Ferguson, Mo., that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown.

The letter was sent to the heads of the city and county police, as well as the state highway patrol.

“Officers on the ground must understand that gathering news and recording police activities are not crimes,” the letter states. “The actions in Ferguson demonstrate a lack of training among local law enforcement in the protections required by the First Amendment as well as the absence of respect for the role of newsgatherers. We implore police leadership to rectify this failing to ensure that these incidents do not occur again.”

From the Washington Post, another source of insecurity:

Ex-cop who burned body again gets 17 years

For a second time, a former New Orleans police officer has been sentenced to more than 17 years in prison for burning the body of a man shot to death by another New Orleans police officer in the chaotic days following Hurricane Katrina.

Gregory McRae, 53, already is imprisoned for burning Henry Glover’s body. However, an appeals court had ordered a recalculation of his original 17-year sentence after one of his original convictions was thrown out.

In giving the same 17-year, 3-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk said Friday that McRae was guilty of covering up an unlawful killing by fellow Officer David Warren. Africk’s assertion comes despite a jury’s earlier acquittal of Warren.

The Center for Investigative Reporting covers another insecurity on the borders:

Ousted chief accuses border agency of shooting cover-ups, corruption

More than two dozen people have died in violent clashes with U.S. Customs and Border Protection since 2010. Despite public outrage over some of the killings, no agent or officer has faced criminal charges – or public reprimand – to date.

Yet at least a quarter of the 28 deaths were “highly suspect,” said James F. Tomsheck, the agency’s recently removed head of internal affairs. In a sweeping and unauthorized interview with The Center for Investigative Reporting, he said the deaths raised serious questions about whether the use of lethal force was appropriate.

Instead, Tomsheck said, Border Patrol officials have consistently tried to change or distort facts to make fatal shootings by agents appear to be “a good shoot” and cover up any wrongdoing.

The Oakland Tribune covers questionable consistency:

Judge orders investigation into Oakland’s police arbitration losses

A federal judge with sweeping power over Oakland’s police department ordered an investigation Thursday into why the city consistently loses arbitration cases with officers who are appealing discipline.

U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson wrote that an arbitrator’s recent decision overturning the termination of an officer videotaped tossing a tear gas grenade into a crowd of Occupy Oakland protesters struck at the heart of a reform drive that he has overseen for more than a decade.

“Just like any failure to impose appropriate discipline by the (police) chief or city administrator, any reversal of appropriate discipline at arbitration undermines the very objectives of the (reform program),” Henderson wrote.

From the London Daily Mail, yet another way to bug you:

Are apps secretly listening to your calls? Security experts discover gyroscopes can identify voices from VIBRATIONS

  • Computer scientists from Stanford University and Israeli defence research group Rafael have turned a phone gyroscope into a crude microphone
  • Smartphones contain the sensors which are used for games and orientation
  • They found gyroscopes can pick up frequency of soundwaves around them
  • Vibrations are then decoded by software, making it possible for experts to eavesdrop on phone conversations – with 65 per cent accuracy
  • No permission is needed from third parties to access gyroscopes

Many people are careful to protect their pin numbers, and are vigilant about giving smartphone apps access to their microphone in case they could be listened in on.

But now there’s a new snooping threat, and it comes from a smartphone’s gyroscope.

From the Guardian, security questions:

Australian intelligence watchdog wants clarification on national security plan

  • Inspector General of Intelligence and Security also wants increased budget for effective oversight of expanded surveillance

Australia’s intelligence watchdog has called on the Abbott government to clarify various elements of its national security reforms – and also increase its budget so that it is in a position to carry out effective oversight in an environment where the surveillance footprint is being significantly expanded.

In a public hearing in parliament on Friday, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) said the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) should be required to report more extensively on the use of new powers proposed in the Coalition’s national security reforms.

IGIS said the government should consider adding a requirement to the first tranche of its security legislation requiring Asio to report on instances where it used force in operations, where it accessed third party property, or where it disrupted computers.

From the Guardian, those with info want others to have less info:

CIA security luminary: ‘Right to be forgotten is not enough’

  • Leading security expert Dan Geer says the EU ruling does not go far enough in protecting users’ privacy

The EU’s so-called “right to be forgotten” laws have not gone far enough to protect citizens’ privacy, according to Dan Geer, one of the world’s best-known security experts.

Geer, currently chief information security officer at the CIA’s venture capital arm, told delegates at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas that he was confused by the Guardian’s coverage of the issue. The so called “right to be forgotten” issue stemmed from a European court of justice ruling, forcing Google to remove a link relating to a 1998 newspaper article from its search results after a complaint from the person named in the article.

Geer described it as “notably ironic” that the Guardian had championed Edward Snowden’s revelations about intrusion by government agencies into civilians’ privacy, while also claiming in one editorial (though he did not specify which) that nobody has a right to be forgotten.

From the Washington Post, why are not surprised?:

U.S. firm helped the spyware industry build a potent digital weapon for sale overseas

CloudShield Technologies, a California defense contractor, dispatched a senior engineer to Munich in the early fall of 2009. His instructions were unusually opaque.

As he boarded the flight, the engineer told confidants later, he knew only that he should visit a German national who awaited him with an off-the-books assignment. There would be no written contract, and on no account was the engineer to send reports back to CloudShield headquarters.

His contact, Martin J. Muench, turned out to be a former developer of computer security tools who had long since turned to the darkest side of their profession. Gamma Group, the British conglomerate for which Muench was a managing director, built and sold systems to break into computers, seize control clandestinely, and then copy files, listen to Skype calls, record every keystroke and switch on Web cameras and microphones at will.

According to accounts the engineer gave later and contemporary records obtained by The Washington Post, he soon fell into a shadowy world of lucrative spyware tools for sale to foreign security services, some of them with records of human rights abuse.

More of the same from The Verge:

Hacking Team is spreading government malware through YouTube and Microsoft Live

You don’t have to click on a sketchy link to end up downloading malware. A new report from Citizen Lab’s Morgan Marquis-Boire shows how companies can spread targeted malware by intercepting web traffic en route, sending malicious traffic from an otherwise friendly link. A company called Hacking Team has been using the tactics on traffic from YouTube and Microsoft’s login.live.com servers, seeding innocent videos with surveillance software designed to track the target’s activities online.

The attacks are more targeted than traditional malware, usually targeting a single person at a time, and relying on access to government internet infrastructure to intercept the traffic. Hacking Team typically works with governments like Morocco and the United Arab Emirates, but Marquis-Boire says similar capabilities have been used by intelligence agencies in the US, Britain, Russia, China and Israel. Snowden documents released in The Washington Post have identified NSA malware injection attacks that infected more than 80,000 different devices.

Since the attacks are injected into everyday web traffic, defending against them is difficult, but many companies have already adopted HTTPS encryption as a possible defense. HTTPS would encrypt the connection between the user and the server, preventing injection attacks. At the moment, only a small fraction of web traffic is encrypted, but Google is offering incentives to sites that switch over, including a small boost in search rankings. It’s unclear whether login.live or YouTube will switch to default HTTPS, but Marquis-Boire says both Microsoft and Google “have taken steps to close the vulnerability by encrypting all targeted traffic.”

intelNews lays blame:

Malware targeting ex-Soviet states has Russian hallmarks

A malicious software that has infiltrated the computer systems of dozens of embassies belonging to former Eastern Bloc nations “has all the hallmarks of a nation-state” cyberespionage operation, according to researchers.

Security firm Symantec said last week that the malware appears to be specifically targeting embassies of former communist nations located in China, Jordan, as well as in locations across Western Europe.

In a report published on its website, Symantec said “only a nation state” was likely to have the funds and technical resources to create a malware of such complexity. Additionally, the malware seems to be designed “to go after explicit government networks that are not easy to find”, according to Symantec senior security researcher Vikram Thakur.

Big Brother still seduces, via Nextgov:

The Snowden Effect

Revelations last year that the National Security Agency is collecting Americans’ telephone metadata soured some people’s opinions about the U.S. intelligence community, but they apparently haven’t affected the views of many computer security professionals.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that leaks by Edward Snowden, the former systems administrator and contractor with the National Security Agency, have not hindered efforts to recruit or retain cyber staff at the three-letter agencies. Instead, the disclosures actually might have helped intelligence agencies attract computer aficionados by spotlighting the agencies’ bleeding edge technology.

“We have had no indication that cyber pros have any reticence about working for the government,” says Mark Aiello, president of Massachusetts-based Cyber 360 Solutions, a staffing firm. “It is probably the opposite, and mostly for the opportunity to work with some advanced tools or techniques. The Big Brother aspect is appealing if you are the watcher, not the watched.”

From Motherboard, young accomplices:

DARPA Uses Preteen Gamers to Beta Test Tomorrow’s Military Software

Sieg Hall doesn’t look like much from the outside. Located at the University of Washington, the building was constructed in the 1960s, when it was  a focal point for Vietnam-era antiwar protests. Before renovations were carried out it had become so dilapidated that students had a tradition of taking home chunks of rock off its façade. If I didn’t know better, Sieg is just another nondescript computer science building, not a front line in military research and development.

But it’s here, tucked away on the third floor, that you’ll find precisely that: the Center for Game Science, a research lab that makes educational video games for children, and that received the bulk of its funding from the  Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the wing of the US Department of Defense that supports research into experimental military technology.

Why is DARPA the original primary funder of the CGS? According to written and recorded statements from current and former DARPA program managers, as well as other government documents, the DARPA-funded educational video games developed at the CGS have a purpose beyond the pretense of teaching elementary school children STEM skills.

Instead, the games developed at CGS have had the primary purpose of using grade-school children as test subjects to develop and improve “adaptive learning” training technology for the military.

From MercoPress, invoking the T-word in a curious context:

Cristina Fernandez will use anti-terrorism law against US company that closed its Argentine plant

Argentina’s government will use an anti-terrorism law for the first time to seek criminal charges against a U.S.-based international printing firm which closed its Argentine plant without warning, president Cristina Fernández said on Thursday. She linked the company to some of the hedge funds in litigation with Argentina over defaulted bonds.

Several hundred workers were left jobless when RR Donnelly abruptly filed for bankruptcy and shut down its printing presses on the outskirts of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires.

“We are facing a real case of fraudulent behavior and an attempt to intimidate the population,” said Cristina Fernandez in a speech at Government House.

“We will apply the anti-terrorist law. We filled a motion under charges of altering the economic and financial order and terrorizing of people,” the head of state expressed after blaming Donnelly with tax fraud and evasion.

On to other attempts to suppress information, first from the Latin American Herald Tribune:

Sexism of Authorities Aggravates Violence Against Women Journalists in Mexico

The sexism of Mexican authorities generates impunity and has led to a 300 percent increase in violence against women journalists in just a decade, according to a report presented by an NGO.

In the last few years 86 cases of violence against women journalists were reported, of which 54 percent occurred in 2013, the study by the Communication and Information for Women organization (CIMAC) revealed.

It added that Mexico City reported 35 percent of the total number of cases, thus making the capital “the most dangerous place for women in this profession.”

GlobalPost sends up a rocket:

Hamas says it has deported foreign journalists for reporting on missile launches

  • The group that runs Gaza says foreign media coverage of this latest conflict with Israel was skewed against the Palestinians.

Did Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza, intimidate, harass or even deport journalists trying their damnedest to cover a dangerous war with Israel?

If you take Hamas’ word for it, the answer appears to be yes.

In an interview with the Lebanese-based Al Mayadeen TV, Hamas spokeswoman Isra Almodallal said that foreign journalists have been deported from Gaza for filming Hamas rocket launches.

Why? According to Almodallal, they “were fixated on the notion of peace and on the Israeli narrative. So when they were conducting interviews or when they went on location to report they would focus on filming the places from where the missiles were launched. Thus, they were collaborating with the occupation.”

From the Associated Press, many questions remain:

Liberian police seal newspaper office

Dozens of riot police have sealed the offices of a newspaper critical of the Liberian government and officers attempted to detain its publisher. Police spokesman Sam Collins says the paper’s criticisms could “plunge the country into confusion” when the government is struggling to contain an Ebola outbreak.

Philibert Brown’s National Chronicle has often accused President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government of corruption and on Wednesday it called for the government to step down.

Brown has been ordered to report for questioning Friday.

Sirleaf’s government has come under stiff criticism for its record on press freedoms. Sirleaf has signed the Declaration of Table Mountain, which calls for the Africa-wide repeal of defamation and “insult” laws, but multiple libel convictions have been handed down since she came to power in 2006.

From International Business Times, more media under fire:

China’s Anti-Corruption Crackdown Increasingly Targets CCTV, Flagship Network

In the latest sign that China Central Television, the country’s state-run television giant, is in political trouble,  the government announced Friday that one of the network’s top officials is under detention.

China arrested Huang Haitao, deputy director of CCTV 8, a channel devoted to scripted dramas, according to 163.com, a popular news portal. His arrest is in connection with a wide-ranging government audit of CCTV, which claims an audience of more than 1 billion viewers.

Huang is only the latest prominent CCTV personality to run afoul of Chinese authorities since the December 2013 arrest of Li Dongsheng, a former vice president of the network. In late May, authorities arrested Guo Zhenxi, the head of CCTV’s financial news network, while high-profile anchor Rui Chenggang, whose “Economic News” program has an estimated 10 million viewers, was detained on July 11.

After the jump, more tensions in the Asian Games of Zones, including Pakistani protests and violence, a resounding chorus of moans from the ghosts of history, claims and counterclaims, U.S. marines of a Japanese island, and as story that really is too good to be true. . . Continue reading

Berkeley’s billionaire Asian patron assailed


Li Ka-shing, the billionaire who paid millions to replace an illustrious Chief Justice on the university’s public health building, is drawing considerable fire back home in his native China.

Li is one of those nouveaux riche who gets his kicks by throwing around cash to place his brand on campuses around the globe.

Asia’s richest man and a real estate tycoon [as well as a tar sands oil baron], Li bought the naming rights for the new edifice built to replace the campus’s ailing Earl Warren Hall, a gift he made even though he’d never even been in Berkeley [he did finally make it to town for the dedication].

But now he’s drawing considerable fire in his native China, as Want China Times reports:

Li Ka-shing attacked for hoarding land with impunity

Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings, both chaired by Hong Kong business tycoon Li Ka-shing, have recently been blamed for hoarding land as the development of several of their projects has made slow progress.

Chinese media criticized the conglomerates headed by Li and alleged they had hoarded land in over ten mainland cities, including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Zhongshan, Nanjing, Changchun, Dalian and Wuhan.

Authorities have reportedly started investigating developers who acquire large pieces of land without doing much to develop them.

Local governments have also been accused of turning a blind eye to land hoarding on the part of Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings. The former is an investment holding company owned by the Cheung Kong Group and the latter is the group’s flagship firm and one of the largest real estate developers in Hong Kong.

Unlike Earl Warren Jr., Li didn’t graduate from Cal, now did he rise from the matrix of GOP politics to preside over the nation’s highest court and steer its policies to the most comprehensive expansion of civil rights in the nation’s history.

No, he’s notable for two things: Getting rich and as global branding effort of the likes not seen since the days of Andrew Carnegie.

And now, apparently, he’s adding to his pile by driving up real estate prices in his homeland.

Organic kitty blamed in nuke waste debacle


The explosive release of plutonium from the underground tunnels of the Waste Isolation Pilot Project created to store nuclear waste from national laboratories long associated with UC Berkeley has raised a host of questions, many unanswered.

The Valentine’s Day “incident” at the underground facility near New Mexico’s famous Carlsbad Caverns has closed the country’s only nuclear waste storage facility for up to three years and raised fears among New Mexico resident.

The Department of Energy has downplayed concerns, saying the release poses no more danger than a chest X-ray, but statements that plutonium had been detected in the air at some distance from the facility cast doubts on that claim, given that even a microscopic particle of the man-made nuclear isotope can be fatal.

Now comes word that the trouble may have resulted from the switch from a mineral-based cat litter used as an absorbent filler in drums and other storage containers of waste to one made from wheat may have precipitated the “event.”

First up, a report from SimplyInfo:

WIPP Officials Unable To Answer Questions About Incident

Officials from WIPP and DOE were in attendance at a weekly town hall meeting on the series of incidents at the WIPP nuclear site. A rather long list of blunt questions came from the local audience, online audience and the press. The official from the WIPP contractor and DOE were unable to answer many of the questions asked. There was no one from Los Alamos (the source of the exploding barrels) or NMED (New Mexico Environmental Department) in attendance at the meeting.

What they were able to tell people was that the entry on May 15th did give them some new information. The barrels in question were in row 16, column 4 towards the top of the stack. The two drums that failed contained “organic material”. They further clarified it to be nitrate salts with organic absorbents. We were able to confirm through other channels that the organic material was a wheat based cat litter. They confirmed that 55 of the barrels in panel 7, room 7 were the same barrel type from Los Alamos that contain nitrate salts and organic absorbent. The nitrate salts were a byproduct of plutonium processing at Los Alamos and were described as a sludge from evaporators.

More from the Carlsbad Current-Argus:

Next WIPP entry will seek samples; new photos and video upcoming

Investigators are readying for the next step in the tedious process of finding the cause of the February radiation leak at WIPP.

Two entries were made by investigators underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, and the next entry planned for the near future will focus “less on photographic evidence and more on samples,” according to WIPP Recovery Manager Jim Blankenhorn.

Crews entered the salt mine twice this week, including once on Thursday and the new photographs and video are expected to be processed and ready to view by Friday. Previous entries on May 15 and May 19 showed photographic evidence that a hole was blown into the upper-lid of one waste drum that originated from Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as discoloration on the side of the panel according to Blankenhorn.

DOE investigators checked about four or five of the rows looking for further evidence of either heat damage or any breaches in the transuranic nuclear waste containers, and no additional drums showed signs of breaches according to Blankenhorn. He added that a lot of heat damage was apparent on the top of the room, while a little heat damage was visible on the middle slip sheets of the drums.

And still more from the Associated Press via the Minneapolis Star Tribune on that wheat-based kitty litter:

Has cat litter turned barrels of New Mexico nuclear waste into ticking time bombs?

The cat litter was used to absorb moisture in sealed barrels of nuclear waste at Los Alamos, home to the some of the world’s finest scientists. Officials have said cat litter has long been used to pack waste because of its absorption and neutralizing qualities. It’s commonly used, for example, by people to soak up oil spills in driveways. But Los Alamos switched from nonorganic to organic litter for packing waste in 2013, and the theory is that some kind of chemical reaction occurred between waste containing nitrate salts and the new litter. Officials said they are investigating who made the decision to make the switch and what process was followed.

Investigators have said the litter theory is just one possible cause being explored, but it is being studied seriously enough to prompt New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn this week to order Los Alamos and the underground nuclear dump to put together plans for immediately isolating all 500-plus barrels of waste known to contain nitrate salts and organic cat litter. Based on evidence from crews that have been down in the mine since the release, a barrel of waste from Los Alamos experienced some type of “heat event” that burned the exterior and popped the waste container’s lid.

Finally, this from the Verge:

There are no indications that anyone has been injured from the radiation leak. (All employees went through examinations for radiation exposure; a DOE press release says most workers were not affected, and those who were “received less exposure than a person receives from a chest X-ray.”) But for months, nothing has changed. The standstill remains. WIPP’s 850 or so employees are mainly sitting around, waiting (or “performing surface facilities maintenance or assisting with procedure reviews and revisions”) while investigators from the US Department of Energy (DOE), the New Mexico Environment Department and elsewhere attempt to figure out what happened.

Initially, there were two hypotheses. The first was that something had gone wrong with the supports inside the cavern where waste was being stored. If that were the case, it meant a piece of salt rock or a steel support had fallen into one of the sealed barrels, puncturing it and releasing radiation into the air.

“That was an unlikely possibility,” says Norbert T. Rempe, PhD, a retired geologist who spent decades as a principal engineer at WIPP. The cavern where the radiation monitor went off had been dug only recently, so the chances that supports had eroded or collapsed were probably slim.

The shutdown of the New Mexico facility will leave the bay Area’s nuclear weapons development facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory without a place to store all that hot stuff created as a by-product of crafting next generation nuclear weapons.