Hardship on Mexico’s Farms, a Bounty for U.S. Tables

December 21st, 2014

This Los Angeles Times series looks and reads like distopian sci-fi. High tech green houses stretch across the land to the horizon. Workers exist in abject squalor. Or are they slaves? It depends on the the facility and the arbitrary whims of the crooks in charge. (View the image galleries, if you dare.)

And when you think you’ve seen it all, wait for the coup de grâce: Some workers wind up in debt to the company store.

This is a bad one; definitely among the worst I’ve ever posted here. And Americans are filling their bellies with it.

There are four parts to the series. The link below is to part one.

Via: Los Angeles Times:

The tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers arrive year-round by the ton, with peel-off stickers proclaiming “Product of Mexico.”

Farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, enriching agribusinesses, distributors and retailers.

American consumers get all the salsa, squash and melons they can eat at affordable prices. And top U.S. brands — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Subway and Safeway, among many others — profit from produce they have come to depend on.

These corporations say their Mexican suppliers have committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers.

But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the export boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.

Research Credit: ottilie


CIA Travel Advice to Operatives

December 21st, 2014

Via: Wikileaks:

The highlighted box titled “The Importance of Maintaining Cover––No Matter What” at the end of the document provides an example of an occasion when a CIA officer was selected for secondary screening at an EU airport. During the screening his baggage was swiped and traces of explosives found. The officer “gave the cover story” to explain the explosives; that he had been in counterterrorism training in Washington, DC. Although he was eventually allowed to continue, this example begs the question: if the training that supposedly explained the explosives was only a cover story, what was a CIA officer really doing passing through an EU airport with traces of explosives on him, and why was he allowed to continue?


Tech Investors Plowing Money Into Future Farms

December 19th, 2014

Via: The Seattle Times:

Investors and entrepreneurs behind some of the world’s newest industries have started to put their money and tech talents into farming — the world’s oldest industry — with an audacious agenda: to make sure there is enough food for the 10 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2100, do it without destroying the world and make a pretty penny along the way.

Silicon Valley is pushing its way into every stage of the food-growing process, from tech tycoons buying up farmland to startups selling robots that work the fields to hackathons dedicated to building the next farming app.

“The food sector is wasteful and inefficient,” said Ali Partovi, a Bay Area investor with large stakes in sustainable agriculture startups. “Silicon Valley has a hubris that says, ‘That’s stupid. Let’s change it.’?”

Research Credit: ottilie


Major Flaws in Mobile Communications Routing System

December 19th, 2014

Bugs or features?

Via: Washington Post:

German researchers have discovered security flaws that could let hackers, spies and criminals listen to private phone calls and intercept text messages on a potentially massive scale – even when cellular networks are using the most advanced encryption now available.

The flaws, to be reported at a hacker conference in Hamburg this month, are the latest evidence of widespread insecurity on SS7, the global network that allows the world’s cellular carriers to route calls, texts and other services to each other. Experts say it’s increasingly clear that SS7, first designed in the 1980s, is riddled with serious vulnerabilities that undermine the privacy of the world’s billions of cellular customers.

The flaws discovered by the German researchers are actually functions built into SS7 for other purposes – such as keeping calls connected as users speed down highways, switching from cell tower to cell tower – that hackers can repurpose for surveillance because of the lax security on the network.

Those skilled at the myriad functions built into SS7 can locate callers anywhere in the world, listen to calls as they happen or record hundreds of encrypted calls and texts at a time for later decryption. There also is potential to defraud users and cellular carriers by using SS7 functions, the researchers say.

These vulnerabilities continue to exist even as cellular carriers invest billions of dollars to upgrade to advanced 3G technology aimed, in part, at securing communications against unauthorized eavesdropping. But even as individual carriers harden their systems, they still must communicate with each other over SS7, leaving them open to any of thousands of companies worldwide with access to the network. That means that a single carrier in Congo or Kazakhstan, for example, could be used to hack into cellular networks in the United States, Europe or anywhere else.

“It’s like you secure the front door of the house, but the back door is wide open,” said Tobias Engel, one of the German researchers.


Did CIA Torture Violate Nuremberg Ban on Human Experimentation?

December 18th, 2014

Via: McClatchyDC:

CIA health professionals may have committed war crimes by collecting and analyzing data on brutally interrogated detainees in potential violation of U.S. and international bans on research on human subjects without their consent, a human rights organization said Tuesday.

Physicians for Human Rights called on President Barack Obama and Congress to establish a commission of inquiry to examine the participation of CIA and private medical personnel in the interrogation program, including possible breaches of domestic and international laws.

“The CIA relied upon health professionals at every step to commit and conceal the brutal and systematic torture of national security detainees,” the organization said in an analysis of a four-year study of the agency’s interrogation program released last week by the Senate Intelligence Committee. “While most of the acts detailed . . . violate international human rights and domestic laws prohibiting torture, several of these alleged violations can also constitute war crimes.”

In raising possible war crimes by medical personnel, the analysis cited bans on experimentation on prisoners that grew out of the trials of Nazi officials and doctors held in Nuremberg, Germany, after World War II.


EFF in Court to Argue NSA Data Collection from Internet Backbone Is Unconstitutional

December 18th, 2014

Via: Electronic Frontier Foundation:

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will argue on Friday before a federal court that the National Security Agency (NSA) is violating the Fourth Amendment by copying and searching data that it collects by tapping into the Internet backbone. The hearing on a motion for partial summary judgment in Jewel v. NSA will be at 9 am on Dec. 19 before Judge Jeffrey White at the federal courthouse in Oakland.

Jewel was filed in 2008 on behalf of San Francisco Bay Area resident Carolyn Jewel and other AT&T customers. EFF has amassed a mountain of evidence to support the case, including documents provided by former AT&T technician Mark Klein, which show that the company has routed copies of Internet traffic to a secret room in San Francisco controlled by the NSA. Other whistleblowers—including Thomas Drake, Bill Binney and Edward Snowden—have revealed more detail about how this technique feeds data into the NSA’s massive databases of communications. Since June 2013, the government has confirmed that it searches much of the content it collects as part of its “upstream” collection without a warrant. The government claims the content searches are justified under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and do not violate the Fourth Amendment.

Under the government’s legal theory, it can copy virtually all Internet communications and then search them from top to bottom for specific “identifiers”—all without a warrant or individualized suspicion—as long as it does so quickly using only automated processes.


Russians Flock to Stores to Pre-Empt Price Rises

December 17th, 2014

Via: AP:

Russian consumers flocked to the stores Wednesday, frantically buying a range of big-ticket items to pre-empt the price rises kicked off by the staggering fall in the value of the ruble in recent days.

As the Russian authorities announced a series of measures to ease the pressure on the ruble, which slid 15 percent in the previous two days and raised fears of a bank run, many Russians were buying cars and home appliances — in some cases in record numbers — before prices for these imported goods shoot higher.

The Swedish furniture giant IKEA already warned Russian consumers that its prices will rise Thursday, which resulted in weekend-like crowds at a Moscow store on a Wednesday afternoon.

Shops selling a broad range of items were reporting record sales — some have even suspended operations, unsure of how far the ruble will sink. Apple, for one, has halted all online sales in Russia.

“This is a very dangerous situation. We are just a few days away from a full-blown run on the banks,” Russia’s leading business daily Vedomosti said in an editorial Wednesday. “If one does not calm down the currency market right now, the banking system will need robust emergency care.”

More: Bank Run Possible


Sony Loses Cyberwar, Cancels Theatrical Release for ‘The Interview’ on Christmas

December 17th, 2014

Via: Variety:

With theater chains defecting en masse, Sony Pictures Entertainment has pulled the planned Christmas Day release of “The Interview.”

In announcing the decision to cancel the holiday debut, Sony hit back at the hackers who threatened movie theaters and moviegoers and who have terrorized the studio and its employees for weeks.

“Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like,” the statement reads.

“We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public,” it continues. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

The studio did not say it would never release the picture theatrically. Insiders tell Variety that Sony is exploring all options, including offering the picture on premium video-on-demand as a way to recoup at least some of its investment.

The comedy centers on a hapless television host who is recruited to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The country has condemned the film and some cyber-security experts believe that it played a role in the hacking attack on the studio. North Korea has denied involvement in the attacks.

Seth Rogen and James Franco star in the picture, which cost $42 million to produce.


Obama to Announce Easing in U.S.-Cuba Relations

December 17th, 2014

Via: Bloomberg:

President Barack Obama will end the U.S. isolation of Cuba that has persisted for more than a half century, initiating talks to resume diplomatic relations, opening a U.S. embassy in Havana and loosening trade and travel restrictions on the nation.

The steps effectively end an embargo that has been one of the most durable elements of U.S. foreign policy. Travelers will be able to use credit cards in Cuba and Americans will be able to legally bring home up to $100 in previously illegal Cuban cigars treasured by aficionados.

Obama is scheduled to deliver remarks from the White House at 12:01 p.m. Washington time, about the same time that Raul Castro is set to speak in Cuba. The two spoke yesterday about the deal, an administration official said.


Most Politically Active Corporations Receive $760 from U.S. Government for Every Dollar Spent on Influencing Politics

December 17th, 2014

Via: Sunlight Foundation:

Between 2007 and 2012, 200 of America’s most politically active corporations spent a combined $5.8 billion on federal lobbying and campaign contributions. A year-long analysis by the Sunlight Foundation suggests, however, that what they gave pales compared to what those same corporations got: $4.4 trillion in federal business and support.

That figure, more than the $4.3 trillion the federal government paid the nation’s 50 million Social Security recipients over the same period, is the result of an unprecedented effort to quantify the less-examined side of the campaign finance equation: Do political donors get something in return for what they give?

Four years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court suggested the answer to that question was no. Corporate spending to influence federal elections would not “give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” the majority wrote in the landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision.

Sunlight decided to test that premise by examining influence and its potential results on federal decision makers over six years, three before the 2010 Citizens United decision and three after.

We focused on the records of 200 for-profit corporations, all of which had active political action committees and lobbyists in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 election cycles — and were among the top donors to campaign committees registered with the Federal Election Commission. Their investment in politics was enormous. There were 20,500 paying lobbying clients over the six years we examined; the 200 companies we tracked accounted for a whopping 26 percent of the total spent. On average, their PACs, employees and their family members made campaign contributions to 144 sitting members of Congress each cycle.

After examining 14 million records, including data on campaign contributions, lobbying expenditures, federal budget allocations and spending, we found that, on average, for every dollar spent on influencing politics, the nation’s most politically active corporations received $760 from the government. The $4.4 trillion total represents two-thirds of the $6.5 trillion that individual taxpayers paid into the federal treasury.

Welcome to the world of “Fixed Fortunes,” a seemingly closed universe where the most persistent and savvy political players not so mysteriously have the ability to attract federal dollars regardless of who is running Washington.


Next Page »