Archive for September, 2011

US justice department paid $16 for muffins

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

– I wrote just the other day about U.S. spending waste and how little it inspires U.S. citizens to pay their taxes just so the government can waste them.

– dennis

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Muffins costing $16 (£10) and biscuits at $10 were among the “extravagant and wasteful” conference spending by the US justice department, a report has found.

Critics voiced outrage at the spending shown in the internal audit, including $8 coffees and $32-per-person snacks.

The justice department said it accepted the findings, adding that it had taken steps since 2009 “to ensure that these problems do not occur again”.

The US owes more than $14tn and has an annual budget deficit topping $1.4tn.

The report found that the justice department had spent $4,200 on 250 muffins at an August 2009 legal conference at a hotel near the White House.

A justice department spokeswoman told reporters that took place at a time when there were no strict limits on food and beverage spending.

The department spent $121m on more than 1,800 conferences in 2008 and 2009 – exceeding its own spending limits, according to the audit.

It spent $600,000 just on planning for five conferences.

The department said it had already taken action to reduce conference spending, which it said had fallen the first six months of this year.

But Republican Senate Judiciary Committee member Chuck Grassley said in a statement: “People are outraged, and rightly so.”

He said the report showed a congressional “super committee”, charged with cutting at least $1.2tn in federal spending, where the axe should fall.

– To the original…

Economy enters ‘dangerous phase’

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

The global economy has entered a “dangerous new phase” of sharply lower growth, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The organisation warned that continuing political and economic woes in the US and eurozone could force them back into recession.

The IMF says the prognosis for economies in the developed world is “weak and bumpy expansion”.

It predicts their GDP will expand “at an anaemic pace of 1.5% in 2011”.

The IMF believes global growth will shrink to 4% in 2012, from 5% last year, on factors such as “major financial turbulence in the eurozone”.

It slashed its growth projections for the 17-nation eurozone to 1.6% in 2011, down from 2% predicted in June. Next year growth will be 1.1%, down from 1.7%, it forecast.

The US – the world’s largest economy – is likely to have weak growth “for years to come”.

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Russian hacker sells home and cars to pay RBS

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

A Russian hacker who breached the security of RBS’ WorldPay service and stole $9m (£6m) has had his property sold to compensate the bank.

Viktor Pleshchuk’s two flats and two cars, a BMW and a Lada, were auctioned off in Saint Petersburg on Monday.

According to a Russian news portal RIA Novosti, the sale raised 10m roubles (£200,000).

It reported that the money had been transferred to RBS, something the bank was unable to confirm.

Mr Pleshchuk and seven other Eastern European hackers managed to get their hands on the personal data of thousands of RBS customers in 2008.

They used the information to create fake debit cards and withdraw huge amounts of cash from ATMs in as many as 280 cities around the world.

The money was taken from 2,100 bank cash machines within 12 hours in the US, Russia, Estonia, Italy, Hong Kong, Japan and Canada.

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Hacked security firm closes its doors

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Dutch security firm DigiNotar has filed for voluntary bankruptcy following a series of attacks by a hacker.

The attackers penetrated DigiNotar’s internal systems and then issued fake security certificates so they could impersonate web firms.

The certificates are believed to have been used to eavesdrop on the Google email accounts of about 300,000 people.

The hacker behind the attacks claims to have penetrated four other firms that issue security certificates.

No tears

DigiNotar’s parent company Vasco Data Security said the firm had been put into voluntary bankruptcy. A trustee for the business has been appointed who will oversee the winding up of DigiNotar.

The scale of the attack on DigiNotar began to be uncovered on 19 July when the firm said it first found evidence of an intrusion. It started to revoke certificates and an investigation was carried out to find out how much damage had been done.

An initial report found that hundreds of fake certificates had been issued and hackers had almost total access to DigiNotar’s network.

The security certificates it and many other firms issue act as a guarantee of identity so people can be sure they are connecting to the site they think they are.

The fake certificates DigiNotar revoked were for some of the biggest net firms including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Skype.

It is thought the fake certificates for Google were used in Iran to peep at the email accounts of about 300,000 people.

Soon after discovering the attack, DigiNotar stopped issuing certificates altogether. Once wound up, its business and assets will be folded into Vasco.

“We are working to quantify the damages caused by the hacker’s intrusion into DigiNotar’s system and will provide an estimate of the range of losses as soon as possible, ” said Vasco in a statement.

It added that its network and systems remained separate from DigiNotar and, as a result, “there is no risk for infection of Vasco’s strong authentication business”.

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$30B wasted in Iraq, Afghanistan?

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

– And people wonder why some of us American citizens resent our taxes?

– They collect all these taxes and gift them to the big Wall Street firms that caused the current financial mess and they spend it on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan….   And they waste HUGE amounts of it like we have an endless supply.

– But just let the average citizen get behind on his annual Federal Income Taxes and the entire might of the government comes down on that citizen.

– Well I, for one, have small patience with their desire to collect my taxes when I know that the main thing that is going to be done with them is to make the rich richer and to waste them on foreign adventures.   While in the American homeland the highways and bridges deteriorate, social programs are being cut, unemployment is growing, wages are shrinking and things are generally going to HELL.

– And they really need my taxes.   Yeah, I bet they do.


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More than $30 billion — one in every six dollars of U.S. spending in Iraq and Afghanistan — has been wasted, according to a bipartisan commission on wartime contracting.

“Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars have been wasted through poor planning, vague and shifting requirements, inadequate competition, substandard contract management and oversight, lax accountability, weak interagency coordination, and subpar performance or outright misconduct by some contractors and federal employees,” the report’s co-authors wrote in a Washington Post editorial on Sunday.

The full findings of the bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan will be submitted to Congress on Wednesday. The report was written by Christopher Shays, a former Republican congressman from Connecticut, and Mark Thibault, a former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

Examples of wasteful projects abound: the authors note that U.S. taxpayers spent $40 million on a prison that the Iraqi government did not want, and in any case was never finished. Another $300 million was spent on a power plant in Afghanistan that requires technical expertise beyond the Afghan government’s capabilities.

The number of contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq has sometimes exceeded the number of U.S. military forces on the ground, with the ratio usually being held at roughly one to one over the years according to the report.

The report will include 15 recommendations on how to reduce waste, including the recommendation that there be an official that can serve in both the Office of Management and Budget and the National Security Council in order to coordinate the many agencies involved in contracts.

– To the original…


Arctic sea ice melts at fastest rate for 40 years

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

The area covered by Arctic sea ice reached its lowest point this week since the start of satellite observations in 1972.

“On September 8, the extent of the Arctic sea ice was 4.240 million square kilometres (1.637 million square miles). This is a new historic minimum,” said Georg Heygster, head of the Physical Analysis of Remote Sensing Images unit at the University of Bremen’s Institute of Environmental Physics in Germany.

The new mark is about half-a-per cent under his team’s measurements of the previous record, which occurred on September 16, 2007, he said.

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Hackers attack high-tech military contractor, break into submarine manufacturing plant

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Japan’s biggest defense contractor, has revealed that it suffered a hacker attack in August that caused some of its networks to be infected by malware.

The firm – which is involved in a wide range of activities including space rockets, the production of jet fighters, shipbuilding, and running nuclear power plants – said that 45 network servers and 38 PCs became infected with malware at ten facilities across Japan.

The infected sites included its submarine manufacturing plant in Kobe and the Nagoya Guidance & Propulsion System Works, which makes engine parts for missiles.

The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri claimed that at least eight different pieces of malware, including some which stole data, were discovered at Mitsubishi sites.

A Mitsubishi spokesperson, however, was quoted as saying that “there is no possibility of any leakage of defense-related information at this point.”

The company first noticed the attack on August 11th, and expects to have the results of an investigation into the security breach by the end of September.

If Mitsubishi Heavy Industries was targeted by hackers, the obvious question to ask is who was behind the attack and what was the motive?

Earlier this year we saw a series of cyber attacks against US military contractors, including Lockheed MartinL-3 Communications and Northrop Grumman, and US Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn publicly claimed that a foreign intelligence agency was behind a hack attack that stole classified information about a top secret weapons system.

– more…


Could world social unrest come to America’s streets?

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

– It’s not hard to imagine that it could with the ongoing deconstruction of the place.   Unemployment rising, political dialogue deteriorating, wages buying less and less, the rich getting richer, taxes being poured into the desert sands on the other side of the planet and into the pocket of the already fabulously wealthy defense contractors (make that war contractors).

– Yeah, it’s not hard to imagine.   I think it’s just a matter of time.

– dennis

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It was a long, hot spring and summer on the streets of Greece, England and Madrid, as protesters and rioters vented their fury at high unemployment, painful austerity measures and following a fatal police shooting in London.

The US, meanwhile, has been virtually free of rioting and even of widespread peaceful political protest.

This is despite some of the highest unemployment in decades, growing income inequality, dissatisfaction with the nation’s direction, frustration with its dysfunctional government and the threat of drastic cuts to social programmes.

On Friday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg raised the spectre of social unrest amid high unemployment among young Americans.

“You have a lot of kids graduating college, can’t find jobs,” he said on a radio show.

“That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid. You don’t want those kind of riots here. The damage to a generation that can’t find jobs will go on for many many years.”

In the past century, the US has experienced its share of political tumult and unrest, from the destitute “Bonus Army” veterans of World War I who clashed with federal troops in Washington in 1932, to the urban race riots in the 1960s and the Rodney King riots in 1992.

And in interviews with the BBC, analysts, writers and historians feared the US was ripe for some sort of social upheaval, but said a lack of social organisation and a sense of despair had prevented social movements from coalescing.

“It’s amazing to me that Americans are so slow to rise collectively… not only against unemployment but against the quite identifiable forces that are responsible for it,” said sociologist Prof Todd Gitlin of the Columbia University journalism school.

“I’m not predicting that such a thing will happen, but it would not in the slightest surprise me if there were some burst of street expression, some street rage.”

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Number of Americans in poverty hits record high

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

The number of Americans living in poverty rose to 46.2 million last year, nearly one in six people, according to the US Census Bureau’s annual report.

The 2010 data shows the poverty rate at 15.1%, from 14.3% in 2009. The number of Americans without health insurance also rose slightly to 49.9 million.

The poverty rate was the highest since 1983, and tied with the level in 1993.

The number of Americans living below the poverty line has now risen for four years in a row.

The US definition of poverty is an annual income of $22,314 (£14,129), or less for a family of four, and $11,139 for a single person.

More poor children

The Census Bureau data also showed that poverty among black and Hispanic people was much higher than for the overall US population last year – at 27.4% and 26.6% respectively.

Outside of the poverty line, the average annual US household income fell 2.3% in 2010 to $49,445 (£31,228).

Even younger Americans were also strongly affected. Twenty-two percent of those under 18 were living under the poverty line – up from from 20.7% in 2009.

Reacting to the data, the Children’s Leadership Council, an advocacy group, said: “The rising numbers of children living in poverty is a direct result of the choices made by political leaders who put billionaires before kids. America’s children should be our top priority.”

Among regions, the South had the highest poverty rate at 16.9% and the highest percentage without health insurance, 19.1%.

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Rare elements … and yours truly

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

– Not many people, other than my close friends, know that I’ve been putting together a collection of the elements of the Periodic Table for a long time.  

– Hence, my interest in the British Geological Survey Risk List 2011 of the world’s rare and expensive elements in the original article.  

– This next table, however, is about my personal collection and indicates which elements I’ve got in my collection now. 

– Key:

Red       – I’ve got it
White   – I don’t 
Blue      – It’s a gas
Yellow – Radioactive 

– dennis

– And now to the original article…

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A new supply risk index for chemical elements or element groups which are of economic value

The risk list gives a quick indication of the relative risk in 2011 to the supply of the chemical elements or element groups which we need to maintain our economy and lifestyle. The position of an element on this list is determined by a number of factors which might impact on supply. These include the abundance of elements in the Earth’s crust, the location of current production and reserves, and the political stability of those locations.

The risk list highlights a group of elements where global production is concentrated in a few countries. The restricted supply base combined with the relatively low political stability ratings for some major producing countries significantly increase risk to supply. The list highlights economically important metals which are at risk of supply disruption including rare earths, platinum group metals, niobium and tungsten. The list also shows the current importance of China in production of many metals and minerals.

As demand for metals and minerals increases, driven by relentless growth in the emerging economies in Asia and South America, competition for resources is growing. Human factors such as geopolitics , resource nationalism, along with events such as strikes and accidents are the most likely to disrupt supply. Policy-makers, industry and consumers should be concerned about supply risk and the need to diversify supply from Earth resources, from recycling more and doing more with less, and also about the environmental implications of burgeoning consumption.

The list focuses on risks to supply and does not include any assessment of factors that influence demand, such as criticality of an element to a particular technology or how easy it is to substitute that element with another.

Download the Risk list 2011 publication.

– To the Original…