35 Percent in U.S. Facing Debt Collectors

July 29th, 2014

Via: AP:

More than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, according to a study released Tuesday by the Urban Institute.

The study found that 35.1 percent of people with credit records had been reported to collections for debt that averaged $5,178, based on September 2013 records. The study points to a disturbing trend: The share of Americans in collections has remained relatively constant, even as the country as a whole has whittled down the size of its credit card debt since the official end of the Great Recession in the middle of 2009.

The delinquent debt is overwhelmingly concentrated in Southern and Western states. Texas cities have a large share of their populations being reported to collection agencies: Dallas (44.3 percent); El Paso (44.4 percent), Houston (43.7 percent), McAllen (51.7 percent) and San Antonio (44.5 percent).

Almost half of Las Vegas residents— many of whom bore the brunt of the housing bust that sparked the recession— have debt in collections. Other Southern cities have a disproportionate number of their people facing debt collectors, including Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Columbia, South Carolina; and Jackson, Mississippi.


Russia Offers $111,000 to Crack Tor

July 28th, 2014

Starting to get interesting

Via: Ars Technica:

The Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) has offered a 3.9 million ruble (approximately $111,000) contract for technology that can identify the users of Tor, the encrypted anonymizing network used by Internet users seeking to hide their activities from monitoring by law enforcement, government censors, and others.

In a notice on the Russian government’s procurement portal under the title “Perform research, code ‘TOR’ (Navy),” originally posted on July 11, the MVD announced it was seeking proposals for researchers to ”study the possibility of obtaining technical information about users and users equipment on the Tor anonymous network.” The competition, which is open only to Russian citizens and companies, requires entrants to pay a 195,000 ruble (approximately $5,555) application fee. Proposals are due by August 13, and a winner of the contract will be chosen by August 20.

The MVD had previously sought to ban the use of any anonymizing software. That proposal was dropped last year. However, a new “blogger law” passed in April, which goes into effect in August, requires all bloggers with an audience of over 3,000 readers to register their identity with the government—and enforcement of the law could be made difficult if bloggers use the Tor network to retain their anonymity.


Only U.S. Votes Against Resolution to Investigate Latest Round of Israeli Atrocities

July 28th, 2014

Via: AP:

The U.N.’s top human rights official demanded Wednesday that all sides in the two-week war in the Gaza Strip refrain from indiscriminate attacks on civilians, warning that violations may amount to war crimes.

The warning by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay came at a special meeting of the U.N.’s top human rights body, which voted 29-1 to authorize an international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged abuses since mid-June in the Gaza Strip.

Only the United States voted against the resolution championed by Arab nations. Another 17 of the Human Rights Council’s 47 member-states abstained.

Israel said that the council’s decision to investigate Israel’s role in the conflict sent a message to extremist groups around the world that using human shields — which it accuses Hamas of doing — was an “effective strategy.”


U.S. Congress Banned from Editing Wikipedia After Staff Caught Trolling

July 28th, 2014

If I had a Humor category…

Via: Guardian:

Wikipedia has been forced to ban users inside the US Congress building from making edits to the collaborative encyclopaedia, after at least one member of staff began trolling the site.

A number of edits, apparently made in jest, have been picked up by the automatic twitter bot Congress Edits, which monitors Wikipedia for changes to the site made by accounts with IP addresses coming from inside the US legislature.

For instance, one such edit changed the Wikipedia page for Reptilians, the lizard people who are the subject of numerous conspiracy theories which say that they control everything from the British monarchy to the American government.

The wag added the line “these allegations are completely unsubstantiated and have no basis in reality,” which was duly tweeted out by the account.

Other edits accused the Cuban government of faking the moon landings, and named the former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld as an alien wizard.

It seems that those edits were the final straw for Wikipedia’s administrators, who implemented a 10-day ban on any changes coming from one particular IP address within the US Congress, “due to disruptive editing originating from that address”.


The French City of Toulouse Saved 1 Million Euro by Migrating Desktops to LibreOffice

July 28th, 2014

Via: European Commission:

Toulouse in south-west France is one of the successes of the free software movement, having replaced Microsoft solutions with LibreOffice. Free software and open source in general is now an established part of the city’s comprehensive digital policy, and the open model promotes economic development and employment in the region.


U.S. Can’t Account for 40% of Firearms Sent to Afghan Security Forces

July 28th, 2014

Via: Washington Times:

A government oversight agency says the Pentagon has lost track of more than 40 percent of the $626 million in firearms it has provided to Afghanistan’s security forces, prompting officials to contemplate a “carrot and stick” approach to arming the fledgling military.

A Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction report scheduled to be made public Monday says the Pentagon’s two primary information systems that track weapons sent to Afghanistan — the Operational Verification of Reliable Logistics Oversight Database and the Security Cooperation Information Portal — are rife with errors.


U.S. Scientist Finds 300 More Vials After Smallpox Discovery

July 27th, 2014

8-O

Via: AP:

The same federal scientist who found forgotten vials of smallpox at a federal lab earlier this month also uncovered over 300 additional vials, many bearing the names of highly contagious viruses and bacteria.

Food and Drug Administration officials said Wednesday the undocumented collection contained 327 carefully packaged vials, listing various pathogens, including dengue, influenza and rickettsia. Last week the government only announced that it had recovered six glass vials of smallpox dating from the 1950s.

“The fact that these materials were not discovered until now is unacceptable,” said Karen Midthun, of FDA’s centre for biologics. “However, upon finding these materials our staff did the right thing — they immediately notified the appropriate authorities who secured the materials and determined there was no exposure.”


Britain: Government Accused of Dishonesty Over GM Babies

July 27th, 2014

Via: Independent:

The Government has been accused of misleading the public over the introduction of a new in vitro fertilisation (IVF) technique that some experts believe will result in the birth of “genetically modified babies”.

Leading scientists, including Lord Winston, an early pioneer of fertility treatment, have criticised the Department of Health for trying to play down a process that will for the first time allow the alteration of the DNA of future generations.

They argue that the Government has redefined the term “genetic modification” (GM) to exclude specifically a controversial technique that will result in babies inheriting genetic material from three individuals.

The move, buried within a Department of Health document published last week, is designed to take the sting out of hostility towards mitochondrial donation – a process that aims to avoid the certain inherited diseases being passed on by using healthy mitochondria (microscopic structures in the cell) taken from a donor egg or embryo. Opponents believe that using the healthy donor mitochondria will result in “three-parent embryos” and could usher in an era of “designer babies” and “genetically modified children”.


Fox Warner?

July 27th, 2014

Via: New York Times:

The much-admired Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black may be rolling in his grave at the prospect of a merger between 21st Century Fox and Time Warner Inc., which would reduce control of the major Hollywood studios to five owners, from six, and major television producers to four, from five.


Government Surveillance and Internet Search Behavior

July 27th, 2014

Via: SSRN:

This paper uses data from Google Trends on search terms from before and after the surveillance revelations of June 2013 to analyze whether Google users’ search behavior shifted as a result of an exogenous shock in information about how closely their internet searches were being monitored by the U.S. government. We use data from Google Trends on search volume for 282 search terms across eleven different countries. These search terms were independently rated for their degree of privacy-sensitivity along multiple dimensions. Using panel data, our result suggest that cross-nationally, users were less likely to search using search terms that they believed might get them in trouble with the U. S. government. In the U. S., this was the main subset of search terms that were affected. However, internationally there was also a drop in traffic for search terms that were rated as personally sensitive.


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