Daily Archives: December 1, 2012

WikiLeaks founder Assange: ‘All the infrastructure has been built for absolute totalitarianism’

wikileaks-founder-julian-assange
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange talking to RT’s Laura Smith at the embassy of Ecuador in London, UK (video still)

Assange to RT: Entire nations intercepted online, key turned to totalitarian rule

RT | Nov 30, 2012

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says all the necessary physical infrastructure for absolute totalitarianism through the internet is ready. He told RT that the question now is whether the turnkey process that already started will go all the way.

­RT: So you’ve written this book ‘Cypherpunks. Freedom and the Future of the Internet’ based on one of the programs that you’ve made for RT. In it, you say that the internet can enslave us. I don’t really get that, because the internet it’s a thing, it’s a soulless thing. Who are the actual enslavers behind it?

Julian Assange: The people who control the interception of the internet and, to some degree also, physically control the big data warehouses and the international fiber-optic lines. We all think of the internet as some kind of Platonic Realm where we can throw out ideas and communications and web pages and books and they exist somewhere out there. Actually, they exist on web servers in New York or Nairobi or Beijing, and information comes to us through satellite connections or through fiber-optic cables.

So whoever physically controls this controls the realm of our ideas and communications. And whoever is able to sit on those communications channels, can intercept entire nations, and that’s the new game in town, as far as state spying is concerned – intercepting entire nations, not individuals.

‘intercepting entire nations, not individuals’

RT: This sounds like a futuristic scenario, but you are saying that the future is already here.

JA: The US National Security Agency has been doing this for some 20-30 years. But it has now spread to mid-size nations, even Gaddafi’s Libya was employing the EAGLE system, which is produced by French company AMESYS, pushed there in 2009, advertised in its international documentation as a nationwide interception system.

So what’s happened over the last 10 years is the ever-decreasing cost of intercepting each individual now to the degree where it is cheaper to intercept every individual rather that it is to pick particular people to spy upon.

‘it is cheaper to intercept every individual rather that it is to pick particular people to spy upon’

RT: And what’s the alternative, the sort of utopian alternative that you would put forward?

JA: The utopian alternative is to try and gain independence for the internet, for it to sort of declare independence versus the rest of the world. And that’s really quite important because if you think what is human civilization, what is it that makes it quintessentially human and civilized, it is our shared knowledge about how the world works, how we deal with each other, how we deal with the environment, which institutions are corrupt, which ones are good, what are the least dumb ways of doing things. And that intellectual knowledge is something that we are all putting on to the internet – and so if we can try and decouple that from the brute nature of states and their cronies, then I think we really have hope for a global civilization.

If, on the other hand, the mere security guards, you know, the people who control the guns, are able to take control of our intellectual life, take control of all the ways in which we communicate to each other, then of course you can see how dreadful the outcome will be. Because it won’t happen to just one nation, it will happen to every nation at once. It is happening to every nation at once as far as spying is concerned, because now every nation is merging its society with internet infrastructure.

RT: And in what way are we, as sort of naïve internet users, if you like (and I exclude you from that, obviously), kind of willingly collaborating with these collectors of personal data? You know, we all have a Facebook account, we all have telephones which can be tracked.

JA: Right. People think, well, yeah, I use Facebook, and maybe the FBI if they made a request, could come and get it, and everyone is much more aware of that because of Petraeus. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that all the time nearly everything people do on the internet is permanently recorded, every web search.

Do you know what you were thinking one year, two days, three months ago? No, you don’t know, but Google knows, it remembers.

‘Google knows, it remembers’

The National Security Agency who intercepts the request if it flowed over the US border, it knows.

So by just communicating to our friends, by emailing each other, by updating Facebook profiles, we are informing on our friends.

‘by updating Facebook profiles, we are informing on our friends’

And friends don’t inform on friends. You know, the Stasi had a 10 per cent penetration of East German society, with up to 1 in 10 people being informants at some time in their life.

Now in countries that have the highest internet penetration, like Iceland, more than 80 per cent of people are on Facebook, informing about their friends. That information doesn’t [simply] go nowhere. It’s not kept in Iceland, it’s sent back into the US where it IS accessed by US intelligence and where it is given out to any friends or cronies of US intelligence – hundreds of national security letters every day publicly declared and being issued by the US government.

RT: So do we risk kind of entering a scenario where there are almost two castes of people: a safe minority who are very savvy about the workings of the internet and the things that you described, and just people who go online for kicks?

JA: We have this position where as we know knowledge is power, and there’s a mass transfer as a result of literally billions of interceptions per day going from everyone, the average person, into the data vaults of state spying agencies for the big countries, and their cronies – the corporations that help build them that infrastructure. Those groups are already powerful, that’s why they are able to build this infrastructure to intercept on everyone. So they are growing more powerful, concentrating the power in the hands of smaller and smaller groups of people at once, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s extremely dangerous once there is any sort of corruption occurring in the power. Because absolute power corrupts, and when it becomes corrupt, it can affect a lot of people very quickly.

Bill Binney, National Security Agency whistleblower, who was the research head of the National Security Agency’s Signals Intelligence Division, describes this as a ‘turnkey totalitarianism’, that all the infrastructure has been built for absolute totalitarianism.

‘all the infrastructure has been built for absolute totalitarianism’

It’s just the matter of turning the key. And actually the key has already been turned a little bit, and it is now affecting people who are targeted for US drone strikes, organizations like WikiLeaks, national security reporters who are having their sources investigated. It is already partly turned, and the question is, will it go all the way?

RT: But has it been built really by corporations and kind of unwittingly subscribed to by people, in order to advertise products to make money, or has it been built deliberately by governments for the sole purpose of surveillance?

JA: It’s both. I mean the surveillance infrastructure, the bulk surveillance infrastructure – there are hundreds of companies involved in that business. They have secret international conferences, they have prospectuses that they give to intelligence agencies that we have obtained and published this year together with Privacy International and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Also, The Wall Street Journal has done some good work on this. They are building devices that they advertise to intercept entire nations, to install the data from those intercepts permanently – strategic interception, because it’s cheaper.

So it’s a combined corporate/government amalgam. That’s one of the problems, one of the reasons it’s so unaccountable is that it crosses boundaries. Companies don’t just sell to their home country, they sell to companies overseas. There are shareholdings held in BVI, and the company might be British-registered, like BIA, but actually a lot of research and development is done in Sweden, etc.

And then you also have Google and Facebook, who started up predominantly serving the public, but also have developed side projects to service the US intelligence complex. And individuals are constantly pushing their thoughts into Google as each thing that they want to research; it is pushed via emails, and on Facebook, through their social relationships. That’s an undreamt of spy database.

‘That’s an undreamt of spy database’

Facebook is completely undreamt of even by the worst spying nation, given the richness and sophistication of relationships expressed.

RT: And willingly contributed to.

JA: Well, no. But not with informed consent. People don’t actually know. When on Facebook it says “share this to your friends,” that’s what it says. It doesn’t say “share this to state agencies,” it doesn’t say “share this to friends and cronies of state agencies.”

RT: Who do you think has the organized power to stop these things that you are talking about?

JA: If there is political will, everything is possible. So if we get the political will, then of course those agencies can be dismantled. Very aggressive legislation, policing can be pushed upon them. In some regions of the world, such as Latin America, perhaps that’s a possibility. There is a certain democratic tendency, which Ecuador is part of that might do that. But in general I think the prognosis is very grim. And we really are at this moment where it can go one way or the other way.

To a degree, perhaps the best we can be sure, if we work, of achieving is that some of us are protected. It may only be a high-tech elite, hopefully expanded a bit more – people who can produce tools and information for others that they can use to protect themselves. It is not necessary that all of society is covered, all of society is protected. What’s necessary is that the critical accountability components of society that stop it from going down the tubes entirely, that those people are protected. Those include corruption investigators, journalists, activists, and political parties. These have got to be protected. If they are not protected, then it’s all lost.

RT: Is there a way that I can protect myself without knowing all about computers?

JA: Well, a little bit. But the first thing to be aware of is how much you are giving away. The first way to protect yourself is to go, “OK, I’ll discuss that in person, and not over Facebook chat,” or, “OK, I will discuss this using some forms of encrypted chat, like OTR, and not on a Facebook chat.” You can go to torproject.org and download encrypted anonymizing software. It is slower than normal, but for things like internet chat it’s fine, because you are not downloading very much at once. So there are ways of doing this.

What is really necessary, however, for those to be properly developed, there needs to be enough market demand. It’s the same situation as soap and washing your hands. Once upon a time, before the bacterial theory of disease, before we understood that out there invisibly was all this bacteria that was trying to cause us harm – just like mass state surveillance is out there invisible and trying to cause society a large harm.

‘mass state surveillance is out there invisible and trying to cause society a large harm’

– no one bothered to wash their hands. First process was discovery; second process, education; third process, a market demand is created as a result of education, which means that experts can start to manufacture soap, and then people can buy and use it.

So this is where we are at now, which is we’ve got to create education amongst people, so there can be a market demand, so that others can be encouraged to produce easy-to-use cryptographic technology that is capable of protecting not everyone, but a significant number of people from mass state spying. And if we are not able to protect a significant number of people from mass state spying, then the basic democratic and civilian institutions that we are used to – not in the West, I am no glorifier of the West, but in all societies – are going to crumble away. They will crumble away, and they will do so all at once. And that’s an extremely dangerous phenomenon.

It’s not often where all the world goes down the tube all at once. Usually you have a few countries that are OK, and you can bootstrap civilization again from there.

RT: We just passed the second anniversary of Cablegate, and since then this war on whistleblowers and this state surveillance seems to have got worse. Do you think something as large as Cablegate could ever happen again and it would have a similar impact?

JA: Yes, yes. Hopefully next year.

RT: What sort of time next year?

JA: I won’t go into it, but hopefully earlier rather than later.

RT: Do you feel that when WikiLeaks is making these releases you’re having as large an impact as you’ve had before?

JA: Well, Cablegate was extraordinary. It was published over a period of 12 months. It’s the most significant leak. Our previous leak, on the Iraq war, was also 400,000 documents, showing precisely how over 100,000 people were killed. That was also very significant. But yes, no one has done anything as significant as that since, but yes, hopefully, that will continue.

The successes of WikiLeaks shouldn’t be viewed merely as a demonstration of our organization’s virility or the virility of the activist community on the internet. They are also a function of this hoarding of information by these national security [agencies]. The reason there was so much information to leak, the reason it could be leaked all at once is because they had hoarded so much. Why had they hoarded so much? Well, to gain extra power through knowledge. They wanted their own knowledge internally to be easily accessible to their people, to be searchable, so as much power could be extracted from it as possible. WikiLeaks attempts to redress the imbalance of power.

 

‘CIA favors Brotherhood as Egypt dictatorship benefits US’

RussiaToday | Nov 30, 2012

Geopolitical analyst and author, William Engdahl, says its only now, that the Muslim Brotherhood is revealing its true intentions.

Nalco’s Corexit Dispersant Makes Oil 52 Times More Toxic

corexit spraying

LiveScience | Nov 30, 2012

by Douglas Main

For microscopic animals living in the Gulf, even worse than the toxic oil released during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster may be the very oil dispersants used to clean it up, a new study finds.

More than 2 million gallons (7.5 million liters) of oil dispersants called Corexit 9527A and 9500A were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico in an effort to prevent oil from reaching shore and to help it degrade more quickly.

However, when oil and Corexit are combined, the mixture becomes up to 52 times more toxic than oil alone, according to a study published online this week in the journal Environmental Pollution.

“There is a synergistic interaction between crude oil and the dispersant that makes it more toxic,” said Terry Snell, a study co-author and biologist at Georgia Tech. Using dispersants breaks up the oil into small droplets and makes it less visible, but,  “on the other hand, makes it more toxic to the planktonic food chain,” Snell told LiveScience.

Toxic mixture

That mixture of dispersant and oil in the Gulf would’ve wreaked havoc on rotifers, which form the base of the marine food web, and their eggs in seafloor sediments, Snell said.

In the study, Snell and colleagues tested ratios of oil and dispersant found in the Gulf in 2010, using actual oil from the well that leaked in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the dispersant. The mixture was similarly toxic at the various ratios tested, the study found. His group exposed several varieties of rotifers to concentrations of the oil-dispersant mixture likely seen over a large area of the Gulf.

“The levels in the Gulf were toxic, and seriously toxic,” Snell said. “That probably put a big dent in the planktonic food web for some extended period of time, but nobody really made the measurements to figure out the impact.”

The dispersant makes the oil more deadly by decreasing the size of the droplets, making it more “bio-available” to small organisms, said Ian MacDonald, a researcher at Florida State University. “The effect is specifically a toxic synergy — the sum is worse than the parts,” said MacDonald, who was not involved in the research.

A cautionary tale

This is one of the first studies to look at the impact of the oil-dispersant mixture on plankton. A decline in populations of plankton could impact larger animals all the way up to whales, he said. In general, plankton can rebound quickly, although the toxicity to larvae in sediments is concerning, since it reduces the size of the next generation. This ocean-bottom oil slurry could have also impacted other species that spend part of their life cycles here like algae and crustaceans.

“This is an important study that adds badly needed data to help us better understand the effects of oil spills and oil spill remediation strategies, such as the use of dispersants,” said Stephen Klaine, an environmental toxicologist at Clemson University who wasn’t involved in the research. “Species’ differences in the sensitivity to any toxic compounds, including the ones in this discussion, can be huge.”

The results contrast with those released by the Environmental Protection Agency in August 2010. That study found that a mixture of oil and Corexit isn’t more toxic than oil alone to both a species of shrimp and species of fish. However, several studies have found the mixture is more toxic than oil to the embryos of several fish species. The EPA could not immediately be reached for comment.

“To date, EPA has done nothing but congratulate itself on how Corexit was used and avow they would do it the same way again,” MacDonald said.

However, Snell said the dispersant should not be used. It would be better to let the oil disperse on its own to minimize ecological damage, he said.

“This is a cautionary tale that we need to do the science before the emergency happens so we can make decisions that are fully informed,” Snell said. “In this case, the Corexit is simply there to make the oil disperse and go out of sight. But out of sight doesn’t mean it’s safe in regard to the food web.”

“It’s hard to sit by and not do something,” Snell said.”But in this case, doing something actually made it more toxic.”

Toxic Corexit Producer Nalco Dismissed From Lawsuits Over 2010 BP Spill

corexit

Nalco said the claims for exposure-related injuries were preempted by federal law

bloomberg.com | Nov 28, 2012

By Margaret Cronin Fisk

Ecolab Inc. (ECL)’s Nalco Holding Co. unit, which provided a chemical dispersant used to deal with the 2010 BP Plc (BP/) Gulf of Mexico oil spill, has been dismissed from lawsuits over the incident.

BP used the Nalco dispersant to break up oil and reduce the harm to the Gulf Coast following the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April 2010. Plaintiffs sued Nalco, claiming the dispersant, called Corexit, was defective and more toxic than the oil itself.

Nalco said the claims for exposure-related injuries were preempted by federal law giving the government authority to direct all actions to remove a substantial spill. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans agreed, finding today that the claims were preempted by the U.S. Clean Water Act and the National Contingency Plan, which put the government in charge of the response.

“Nalco did not decide whether, when, where, how or in what quantities Corexit was applied in response to the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo Well oil spill,” Barbier said in a 36-page opinion today.

Barbier also said allowing such claims might harm an all- out response to future spills.

“If the court were to permit” the claims against Corexit, even if the product was found to be defective or dangerous, “then during the next substantial spill or ‘spill of national significance,’ the threat of liability might cause the manufacturer of dispersant X to refuse to provide its product,” Barbier said.
‘We’re Ecstatic’

Barbier said he wasn’t considering whether Corexit was toxic or defective, just that the claims against Nalco had to be dismissed as a matter of law.

“We’re ecstatic,” Michael J. Monahan, spokesman for St. Paul, Minnesota-based Ecolab, said today. “Its a vindication of the position we’ve had all along,” he said in a phone interview.

Steve Herman, an attorney for the plaintiffs, didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail for comment on the dismissal.

The lawsuit is part of In re Oil Spill by the Oil Rig Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, MDL-2179, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

Births in U.S. Drop to Record Low as Recession Hits Immigrants

newsmax.com | Nov 30, 2012

The U.S. birth rate fell to a record low last year, driven by a decline in the number of babies born to immigrant women, who have led the growth in the nation’s population for at least two decades.

The country’s birth rate fell 8 percent from 2007 to 2010, according to a Pew Research Center report. The rate dropped 6 percent for U.S.-born women and plummeted 14 percent for foreign-born females since 2007, the onset of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The decline continued last year to the lowest point since records began in 1920.

The study, released yesterday, underlines the vulnerability of Medicare and Social Security, the two largest social- insurance programs for the elderly. Both are funded by payroll taxes on working-age adults, and both are expected to fuel the U.S. budget deficit as baby boomers retire and fewer workers replace them.

“When families are small, people rely more heavily on these programs,” said Ted Fishman, author of “Shock of Gray,” a 2010 book about the world’s aging population. “A low birth rate could be a recipe for mass poverty and isolation.”

The Pew study, based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census, found that the 14 percent decline in the birthrate for foreign-born women was greater than in the entire period between 1990 and 2007. The birthrate among Mexican women in the U.S., the nation’s largest immigrant group, fell 23 percent. The birth rate is defined as the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15-44.

Economic Distress

The report doesn’t try to explain why births among Hispanic and other immigrant women fell so much, though the study’s author said it’s linked to economic distress.

“Immigrants were particularly hard hit” by the recession, Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at Washington-based Pew who co-wrote the study, said in an interview. “Hispanics were hardest hit by a loss of wealth, loss of jobs and increase in poverty.”

The U.S. birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, according to preliminary numbers. That’s down by almost half from a peak of 122.7 in 1957 during the postwar baby boom. The rate steadily fell before stabilizing at 65-70 births per 1,000 since the 1970s.

White, non-Hispanic women made up two-thirds of U.S. births in 2010, a drop from 72 percent in 1990. Eleven percent of births among U.S.-born women were to teen mothers; about 5 percent of foreign-born mothers were teens.

Women older than 35 were responsible for 21 percent of births by immigrant mothers, and the older mothers made up 13 percent of births among U.S.-born women. Immigrants accounted for 33 percent of all births to women over 35, the study found.

Swelling Ranks

The ranks of Social Security recipients are swelling as baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, begin to leave the workplace. About 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day, according to a 2010 Pew study. Some 32.6 million U.S. households, or 28 percent, reported Social Security income in 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The $773 billion program’s coffers have been depleted by a payroll tax cut in effect for the past two years. Social Security trustees estimated in their annual report released in April that the cut, which reduced the payroll tax to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent, cost taxpayers about $112 billion this year. The tax break for 163 million workers is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

The trust funds used to pay retirement, disability and survivor benefits “will be exhausted” in 2033, the program administrators said in their report.

Ominous Trend

The demographic trends aren’t promising, trustees said. In 1965, 81 million workers paid for benefits to 20 million people, a 4-1 ratio. The ratio has fallen to 2.8 workers per retiree and is expected to drop to two workers for every beneficiary by 2035, with 186 million workers paying for 91 million retirees.

Medicare, the nation’s health-insurance program for about 50 million elderly and disabled people, is in worse shape. The trust fund for that program is slated to run dry in 2024, its trustees said in an April report.

The size of the two programs makes them potential targets for any deficit-reduction agreement designed to avert the fiscal cliff, the more than $600 billion in tax increases and automatic spending cuts set to start in January.

In its 2010 draft report, the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, led by former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, a Wyoming Republican, and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, urged Congress to reform Social Security by raising retirement ages and Medicare by capping costs to make them sustainable.

‘Temporary Blip’?

Fertility rates affect both Social Security and Medicare funding, Charles Blahous, one of two public trustees for Social Security and Medicare, said in an e-mail, though he added “it is fairly typical for birth rates to drop during a recession.”

“It affects our starting data for projections going forward, but it wouldn’t affect ultimate assumptions unless it is indicative of a permanent level shift in fertility,” said Blahous, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “And it’s far too soon to anticipate that.”

Even with a decline in the birth rate, Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, said “a temporary blip wouldn’t be an enormous difficulty.

‘Big Deal’

“A more permanent decline in the birth rate, however, would be a very big deal for both Social Security and Medicare,” he said in an e-mail. “The beneficiary populations are rising; to the degree that populations of workers don’t keep pace, costs per workers will rise. We know that’s already taking place, but an even lower birth rate could cause serious problems.”

The increasing number of women who have become primary breadwinners for U.S. households has risen because of the recession, Fishman said, and has meant more women are deferring having children. Even so, he said, a healthy economy doesn’t guarantee high birth rates. In Japan, where one in four people will be 65 or older by 2015, birth rates began dropping when the economy began booming in the 1970s.

Livingston, the Pew study’s author, said the decline in fertility probably will slow as the economy rebounds, though rates won’t climb back to the historic highs of the middle 20th century.

“Are we going to return to those levels of fertility?” she said. “Um, no.”

Recession Left Baby Bust as U.S. Births Lowest Since 1920

baby
The U.S. birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, according to preliminary numbers. That’s down by almost half from a peak of 122.7 in 1957 during the postwar baby boom. Photographer: Getty Images

Bloomberg News | Nov 30, 2012

by Frank Bass

The U.S. birth rate fell to a record low last year, driven by a decline in the number of babies born to immigrant women, who have led the growth in the nation’s population for at least two decades.

The country’s birth rate fell 8 percent from 2007 to 2010, according to a Pew Research Center report. The rate dropped 6 percent for U.S.-born women and plummeted 14 percent for foreign-born females since 2007, the onset of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The decline continued last year to the lowest point since records began in 1920.

The study, released yesterday, underlines the vulnerability of Medicare and Social Security, the two largest social- insurance programs for the elderly. Both are funded by payroll taxes on working-age adults, and both are expected to fuel the U.S. budget deficit as baby boomers retire and fewer workers replace them.

“When families are small, people rely more heavily on these programs,” said Ted Fishman, author of “Shock of Gray,” a 2010 book about the world’s aging population. “A low birth rate could be a recipe for mass poverty and isolation.”

The Pew study, based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census, found that the 14 percent decline in the birthrate for foreign-born women was greater than in the entire period between 1990 and 2007. The birthrate among Mexican women in the U.S., the nation’s largest immigrant group, fell 23 percent. The birth rate is defined as the number of births per 1,000 women ages 15-44.
Economic Distress

The report doesn’t try to explain why births among Hispanic and other immigrant women fell so much, though the study’s author said it’s linked to economic distress.

“Immigrants were particularly hard hit” by the recession, Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at Washington-based Pew who co-wrote the study, said in an interview. “Hispanics were hardest hit by a loss of wealth, loss of jobs and increase in poverty.”

The U.S. birth rate in 2011 was 63.2 per 1,000 women of childbearing age, according to preliminary numbers. That’s down by almost half from a peak of 122.7 in 1957 during the postwar baby boom. The rate steadily fell before stabilizing at 65-70 births per 1,000 since the 1970s.

White, non-Hispanic women made up two-thirds of U.S. births in 2010, a drop from 72 percent in 1990. Eleven percent of births among U.S.-born women were to teen mothers; about 5 percent of foreign-born mothers were teens.

Women older than 35 were responsible for 21 percent of births by immigrant mothers, and the older mothers made up 13 percent of births among U.S.-born women. Immigrants accounted for 33 percent of all births to women over 35, the study found.
Swelling Ranks

The ranks of Social Security recipients are swelling as baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, begin to leave the workplace. About 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day, according to a 2010 Pew study. Some 32.6 million U.S. households, or 28 percent, reported Social Security income in 2011, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

The $773 billion program’s coffers have been depleted by a payroll tax cut in effect for the past two years. Social Security trustees estimated in their annual report released in April that the cut, which reduced the payroll tax to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent, cost taxpayers about $112 billion this year. The tax break for 163 million workers is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

The trust funds used to pay retirement, disability and survivor benefits “will be exhausted” in 2033, the program administrators said in their report.
Ominous Trend

The demographic trends aren’t promising, trustees said. In 1965, 81 million workers paid for benefits to 20 million people, a 4-1 ratio. The ratio has fallen to 2.8 workers per retiree and is expected to drop to two workers for every beneficiary by 2035, with 186 million workers paying for 91 million retirees.

Medicare, the nation’s health-insurance program for about 50 million elderly and disabled people, is in worse shape. The trust fund for that program is slated to run dry in 2024, its trustees said in an April report.

US birth rate falls to record low

Preliminary data from 2011 shows the lowest birth rate in 90 years

BBC | Nov 29, 2012

The US birth rate hit a record low last year, led by the decline in child-bearing among foreign-born women, according to a Pew study.

The overall US birth rate decreased by 8% between 2007-10, and by 6% among US-born women, found the data.

The rate fell sharpest for those hardest hit by the recession: 14% among foreign-born women and 23% among Mexican immigrant women in particular.

The 2011 rate was the lowest since 1920, when such records began.

Previous research by Pew concluded that states with the largest economic downturn from 2007-08, were most likely to have experienced fertility declines.

The decline of the macho man among New York’s Dominican community

Foreign and US-born Hispanic women have experienced the largest fall in household wealth since 2007.

But increased access to contraception for Latino women may also be playing a part in the falling birth rate, according to the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

Foreign-born mothers continue to give birth to a disproportionate share of the nation’s newborns.

Last year there were 3.95 million total US births, according to the preliminary data from Pew Research Center.

The overall US birth rate was 63.2 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age.

It peaked in 1957 during the Baby Boom years, reaching 122.7 per 1,000 women.

Teen fights back against GPS tracking chips in school ID cards

student

Are your child’s civil rights being bashed because your school needs more cash?

examiner.com | Nov 29, 2012

By HM Epstein

In the battle between school districts’ squeezed budgets and your child’s civil rights, including religious freedom and privacy, the only winners are the corporations that sell school districts the expensive, invasive technology. They may also be the sole non-combatants in lawsuits that are starting to reach the courts.

On Wednesday, November 28, a motion filed by a super-sized Texas school district fighting the refusal of a lone high school student to submit to its surveillance technology may take the issue into the federal court system. More legal actions are being planned in other states where parents and students believe their school district’s high-tech security or cost-saving measures are infringing on their rights.

Surveillance cameras, biometric palm readers, RFID chips, GPS tracking scanners

Surveillance cameras, biometric palm readers, RFID chips, GPS tracking scanners. Each of these are employed by public schools, grades K through 12, in California, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland and more to track students in an effort to improve attendance.

San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District (NISD), which bills itself as “San Antonio’s Premier School District”, consists of 112 schools and almost 100,000 students. The “Student Locator Project” is a pilot program for two of the schools with the lowest attendance records, John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School. It requires all students to wear a personal tracking device. Using radio frequency identification technology (RFID) embedded in student identification cards means the school can track the exact location of every student on the school grounds, excluding bathrooms. According to the district’s website, this is in addition to the recent “massive technology project that installed digital cameras in all high schools and middle schools” and is currently being installed in the 71 elementary schools.

That seems like a lot of security. So, why has the district invested over a quarter of a million dollars more in an RFID pilot program? The district’s FAQ page on the Student Locator Project says it may yield up to “$2 million in additional revenues”. Like many school systems, NISD’s funding is attendance-based rather than enrollment-based. Regardless of the number of students enrolled at the school, if students are absent due to illness or cutting, the district loses revenue.

Constitutional attorney and founder of the Rutherford Institute, John W. Whitehead, says “it’s a money-making venture. It’s all based on money.” There is money to be made by the “mega-corporations” who pitch the school boards and money to be made by the school districts who see missing students as missing dollars. Whitehead notes that there are already “290 surveillance cameras” watching students in the Northside district. In 2006, Whitehead served on a “national committee with the Constitution Project” (a non-profit, bi-partisan think tank addressing serious constitutional and legal questions) studying the effectiveness of surveillance cameras. His, and their, conclusions? “They don’t work; they don’t prevent crime; they record it.”

Hernandez told school officials she refused to wear the RFID embedded tag because she equates it with the mark of the devil.

Andrea Hernandez, a sophomore at John Jay High School’s Science and Engineering Academy, and her family are religious Christians. Hernandez told school officials she refused to wear the RFID embedded tag because she equates it with the mark of the devil, based on certain Scriptures in the book of Revelation. NISD officials warned her she would be unable to access the school’s library or cafeteria, or even vote for Homecoming King and Queen, which seems silly in the face of Hernandez’s beliefs. She didn’t relent. The district offered to remove her chip as long as she wore the tags and appeared to participate. She refused. So the district sent a letter to her father, Steve Hernandez, which said her refusal to wear the embedded ID meant she would be withdrawn from the highly competitive magnet school program by November 26.

Whitehead represents Hernandez in her efforts to stay at the magnet school. On November 21, he won a temporary restraining order preventing the school district from removing Hernandez from the science and engineering program. He believes there are three constitutional amendments getting trampled by NISD in this case, the 1st, the 4th and the 14th. The 1st amendment guarantees include freedom of religion and speech. The 4th amendment deals with privacy issues; it’s the one that protects us from unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as the need to establish probable cause to get a warrant. The 14th amendment includes a procedural due process clause, which the Supreme Court interpreted to include the necessity of a hearing before a student may be expelled from public school.

Whitehead said he understands that the Hernandez family’s action has “brought the issue to the forefront” and inspired “quite a few people” in San Antonio to object to their children wearing the tags. One of the goals of the suit is to provide “those who object to it based on religion, conscience or just basic privacy rights” to opt-out of the program, something the district doesn’t permit now.

While 81 percent of parents of “online teens” are concerned with advertisers’ financial incentives and access into their child’s activities online, according to the November 20, 2012 study by Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, how many parents are aware of the daily high-tech intrusions by their public schools, into the non-academic actions of students as young as kindergartners?

What do the schools gain? Shorter lunch lines.

Some schools in Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland and Florida now identify students, even elementary school students, with palm scanners using near-infrared light just to pay for lunch. Infrared palm scans show a vein pattern that is as unique as a fingertip pattern and can be matched instantly to a record of your palm stored in a central computer. What do the schools gain by using these ink-free fingerprint-like scans? Shorter lunch lines.

However, in Carroll County, Maryland, elementary students in a pilot program were scanned before the school notified the parents they could opt-out. Some parents protested and, according to an article in The Baltimore Sun, 20 percent of the parents have now opted-out. Yet, Carroll County is still planning to roll-out the program into the rest of the 43 schools in their district. Total cost for software and hardware to the district? $300 thousand plus maintenance contracts with PalmSecure, a product of the only company to manufacture the scanners to date, Fujitsu.

Other companies in the student tracking business include Dallas, Texas-based AimTruancy Solutions and Austin, Texas-based Radiant RFID . Aim Truancy’s controversial approach to solving serious truancy cases is to force the student to carry a mandatory GPS tracker for six weeks and check in frequently each day with a mentor or coach…or “parole officer.” AimTruancy claims stellar results, not just in improved attendance numbers but in the quality of students’ lives “on the path to productive citizenship.” However, the results chart displays their main sales point, “The AimTruancy program is a net revenue generator for schools.” One of their early clients was the San Antonio Independent School District. Radiant RFID began in 2004 tracking packages and now runs a program for schools promoted with the tagline, “Our Student Accountability Solution keeps track of your most important assets.”

The hubris displayed by school district’s assurances that the data is safe is astonishing.

The hubris displayed by school district’s assurances that the data is safe is astonishing. DCist.com reported several Washington D.C. public schools were robbed over the Thanksgiving holiday, windows smashed and more than 10 computers stolen. WMCTV, a Memphis, Tennessee station, reported $58 thousand of computers were stolen from four public schools over the course of the February 2012 holiday. Public schools are not high-security institutions and even those are subject to human error and opportunistic theft. On November 13, NASA headquarters informed their employees that a unencrypted laptop and NASA documents were stolen from an employee’s car on October 31, 2012. The information on the laptop could be accessible to unauthorized individuals and personal data of a “large number” of NASA employees and contractors might have been compromised.

Whitehead believes the pace of technology is outstripping most people’s ability to “understand the ramifications”, comparing our society to “the movie Minority Report which is supposedly taking place in 2050; but everything in that movie has come to pass, now.”

Whitehead is not exaggerating. The Tom Cruise movie Minority Report (2002) was about a government program, Precrime, that arrests and convicts citizens for crimes they are about to commit. The technology for that is coming FAST, or as Homeland Security calls it, Future Attribute Screening Technology, to “rapidly identify suspicious behavior indicators,” which was green-lighted last year for further development.

To learn more abut how to protect yourself and your family online and off, visit the website for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC.org). EPIC is a non-profit research center in Washington, D.C. that focuses “public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues.” Their website is a terrific clearinghouse and resource about the potential dangers of technology to privacy. To learn more about student privacy issues and children’s online privacy issues, click the links.
Teen fights back against tracking chips in school ID cards

Fairbanks: This November and last will be the coldest back-to-back Novembers on record

extreme-cold-thermometer

Think it’s cold now? Winter’s first cold snap hits Fairbanks

News-Miner | Nov 30, 2012

by Tim Mowry

FAIRBANKS — Does 30 degrees below zero qualify as a cold snap, or does it have to hit 40 below? It may be a moot point by the time you read this.

The mercury hit 30 below for the first time this winter at Fairbanks International Airport on Thursday morning, and the National Weather Service says it probably will drop to 40 below in Fairbanks by the weekend, if it hasn’t already.

“The usual places … North Pole, the Goldstream Valley … will probably hit 40 below (Thursday) night,” meteorologist Rick Thoman with the National Weather Service in Fairbanks said on Thursday.

“If it doesn’t cloud up over the weekend, we’ve certainly got a decent shot of 40 below at the airport.”

As for the chance of clouds moving into the central Interior, Thoman said it doesn’t look likely. A low-pressure system moving west from Canada might bring some clouds to the eastern Interior, but they probably won’t reach as far as Fairbanks, he said.

“They may get some clouds down around Tok, but getting them this far northwest does not look likely,” Thoman said.

Which means it’s probably going to remain cold for the foreseeable future.

“We’re cold for some time to come; it’s just a question of how cold,” Thoman said.

Consider it the season’s first cold snap. Thursday marked the sixth day in a row the temperature at the airport didn’t climb above 10 below. Wednesday was the first day with a high temperature of 20 below or colder — it was 21 below — at the airport.

It was even colder in the eastern Interior, where a low of 52 below was recorded in Chicken on the Taylor Highway. A low of 44 below was reported in Eagle and Dry Creek. It was 43 below at Circle Hot Springs.

The weekend forecast calls for lows in Fairbanks down to 45 below and highs in the 20 to 30 below range through at least Monday.

“It does look pretty likely over the weekend that the air mass is going to get colder,” Thoman said.

It will get colder in the hills, too, he said. The inversion that people living at higher elevations have enjoyed the past few days is expected to dissipate by Saturday.

“Temperatures in the hills are definitely going to go down,” Thoman said, noting that it was 1 degree above zero at his house on top of 3,000-foot Murphy Dome on Thursday morning when the temperature at the airport was in the high 20s below at the airport.

The cold snap is a fitting end to what will be one of the coldest Novembers on record. Through Wednesday, the average temperature for the month was minus 7.5 degrees, which is 11 degrees below normal, Thoman said. Thursday marked the 16th day of the month the temperature hit 20 below or colder.

“This month is going to be in the top few coldest Novembers of record,” Thoman said. “It’s not going to be the coldest, but it might be the fourth or fifth.”

That would put it just ahead of November 2011, which ranked as the sixth-coldest November on record with an average temperature of minus 8.2, in large part because of a pre-Thanksgiving cold snap that resulted in the coldest week — average temperature of 30.1 below — ever recorded in Fairbanks before Thanksgiving.

Thoman said this November and last will be the coldest back-to-back Novembers on record.

Whistleblower targeted by TSA for “revealing too much information”

TSA

presstv.com | Nov 29, 2012

A former TSA supervisor who alerted a news team to potentially dangerous security lapses at Nashville International Airport is now officially “under investigation” by the federal agency, which has accused him of revealing too much information.

As reported by WSMV news, Gerald Smith supplied the Channel 4 I-Team with information detailing how TSA screeners were routinely bypassing security checkpoints throughout the airport, and rarely having bags checked when passing into secure areas.

Smith also alerted the news team to the fact that TSA employees at the airport have continuously failed tests on identifying suspicious items in luggage.

Following WSMV’s expose, in which Smith appeared on camera, the former supervisor received a letter from the TSA warning him that he is now under investigation for supplying the news station with details on TSA training materials and other information pertaining to security screenings and personnel.

The letter identified several “violations” and warned Smith that he could face an $11,000 fine for each one.

In response to the threat, Smith told the news station “I guess if you’re the government and have unlimited resources, you can go after whoever you want to, but that doesn’t make it right.”

“When I was contacted about coming forward, I did it for one sole purpose. The question I was asked was, ‘Do you have any security concerns at the airport?’ And my answer was yes,” Smith said, adding that he felt it was his duty as an American citizen to speak out. Prison Planet

HIGHLIGHTS

The video showed the employees flashed badges and entered a secure hallway. Without a guard looking to verify who was carrying the badges, the employees punch in a code and are allowed access into the concourses of the airport where the planes take off.

Emily Richard, spokeswoman for Nashville International Airport, confirmed 5,500 employees are granted the badges and allowed to enter through the doorway. wsmv.com

The Whistleblower Protection Act permits federal employees to provide the office with any communications, including confidential business information, that disclose government waste, fraud, abuse, gross mismanagement or health and safety issues, according to special counsel officials. nextgov.com

The Transportation Security Administration ordered for a computer program to snoop into the online activities of agency employees, including their keystrokes and emails, for signs of potential leaks, procurement documents reveal. TSA issued a solicitation for an “enterprise insider threat software package” in June. nextgov.com