TBR News October 25, 2017

Oct 25 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., October 25, 2017: “’The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.’”

Washington’s Farewell Address 1796


Table of Contents

  • Two Republican senators blast Trump as party feud deepens
  • The researcher who loved rats and fueled our doomsday fears
  • Are Our Mideast Wars Forever?
  • Russia’s alternative gas transit route will shave 3% off Ukraine’s GDP – US Ambassador
  • Education Agency Blasted Amid Student Loan Scam Crackdown
  • Can We Modernize Our Education System?
  • The economics of peace (and war)
  • ‘Cyber hurricane’ poised to strike as malware infects millions of devices worldwide
  • NSA Worker’s Software Piracy May Have Exposed Him To Russian Spies

 Two Republican senators blast Trump as party feud deepens

October 24, 2017

by  Amanda Becker and Richard Cowan


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Tensions among Republicans about President Donald Trump boiled over on Tuesday as two senators accused Trump of debasing U.S. politics and the country’s standing abroad, a rebellion that could portend trouble for his legislative agenda.

The extraordinary public criticism of the president from Jeff Flake and Bob Corker further strained what had already been a fraught relationship between Trump and fellow Republicans as they try to enact tax reform and other policy items.

In an emotional speech on the Senate floor, Flake repeatedly targeted Trump’s style of governing, saying American politics had become “inured” to ”reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior from the White House.

“The instinct to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people,” said the Arizona lawmaker, who announced he would not run for re-election next year.

“I will not be complicit or silent,” Flake said.

Trump, via Twitter, has been unrelenting in his criticism of Corker and Flake, accusing them of supporting Democratic priorities, and using sometimes slashing language, such as his dismissal of Corker as “liddle Bob Corker.”

By announcing he will be leaving when his term ends in early 2019, Flake effectively freed himself up to speak his mind, without having one eye on voter reactions in his home state.

A Morning Consult survey conducted Sept. 24 to Oct. 24 said Flake had an approval rating in Arizona of 30 percent.

Corker, who has also said he is not running for re-election in Tennessee, accused Trump of telling falsehoods that could be easily proven wrong and willfully damaging the country’s standing in the world, eviscerating the president with comments that stirred deepening divisions in the Republican Party.

“You would think he would aspire to be the president of the United States and act like a president of the United States, but that’s not going to be the case apparently,” Corker told reporters. “I’ve seen no evolution in an upward way. In fact, I would say, he’s almost devolved.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders dismissed the comments from Flake and Corker and said Trump wanted senators who could make progress on his policy goals.

“He wants people to be in the Senate that are committed to actually moving the ball down the field, and I don’t think these two individuals necessarily have been as focused on that,” she told reporters.


Republican congressional leaders who have learned to tread carefully amid controversies surrounding Trump, largely stayed on the sidelines of the latest fight.

“We’re going to concentrate on what our agenda is and not any of these other distractions that you all may be interested in,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.

Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan played down Corker’s criticism of Trump, urging reporters to “put this Twitter dispute aside.”

Great American Pac, a pro-Trump political group, declared victory over Flake and sent out a fund-raising appeal

“Senator Flake wisely decided to give up on his own terms rather than fight a losing battle for re-election and have the voters retire him at the ballot box next year,” said the group’s top strategist, Ed Rollins.

The president is seeking to build consensus around proposed tax cuts. Republicans control both chambers of Congress, but hold just a 52-48 majority in the Senate.

Securing passage of his tax-cut plan is critically important to Trump, who has yet to get major legislation through Congress since taking office in January.

Trump visited the Capitol on Tuesday for a policy lunch that was described by participants as productive.

Over the summer, Trump pilloried Senate Republicans – as a group and some by name – after they failed to generate sufficient votes to repeal and replace the 2010 Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, one of his top presidential campaign promises.

The dollar lost ground on news that Flake would not seek re-election because it added to investor worries about the fate of the tax plan, which has widely been seen as a potential boost to American companies.

It recovered after a Bloomberg report that Trump asked senators at a closed-door lunch whom they would support to become the next Federal Reserve chairman. Bloomberg quoted one senator as saying that John Taylor, viewed in the markets as an inflation hawk, got the most votes.

Trump has also provoked the ire of another respected senior Republican, Senator John McCain, whose war record he mocked during last year’s campaign.

Last week, former Republican President George W. Bush, who has kept a low profile since leaving office in January 2009, took a thinly veiled swipe at Trump in a speech in which he decried “bullying and prejudice” and denounced anti-immigrant sentiment.

Additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle, Susan Cornwell and Jeff Mason; Writing by Caren Bohan and Steve Holland; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney


The researcher who loved rats and fueled our doomsday fears

June 19, 2017

by Fredrick Kunkle

The Washington Post

John B. Calhoun loved rats. He designed elaborate colonies for the creatures that became a kind of paradise, free of predators and disease, with an unlimited supply of food.

But paradise soon became a crowded hell, and that’s why his work half a century ago has had such a profound impact on our understanding of humans.

Calhoun, a research psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health for 40 years, discovered that severe crowding produced horrific behavioral changes among animals. The changes were so profound that social order broke down, and ultimately the entire rodent population collapsed.

His findings led to the concept of the “behavioral sink” and suggested that evolution had given animals, perhaps including humans, an innate and irreversible self-destruct button to prevent a species from overpopulating its habitat. He created a doomsday model of what might happen if human beings failed to slow their population growth.

Calhoun’s work captured the public’s imagination in the mid-1960s, just as awareness was growing of the population explosion and the destruction people had already done to their environment. A 1962 edition of Scientific American on the early results of his experiments became one of the most widely cited papers in psychology, included in anthologies such as “Forty Studies That Changed Psychology.”  Calhoun and his rodents also became the stuff of dystopian fantasy and popular culture, inspiring books, comic books and movies from “Logan’s Run” to “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH.” Calhoun wasn’t shy about publicizing his findings or their ominous parallels to human behavior — a practice that created plenty of critics in the scientific community. But Calhoun felt the implications of his work required a wide audience and a sense of urgency.“Rats and mice, of course, are not perfect models of humans,” he told The Washington Post in a 1971 profile. “But the disaster they represent is so compelling that the world cannot wait for proof of every step in the equation.”

Calhoun, who died in 1995 at the age of 78, left NIMH in less than happy circumstances in the 1980s, about the time the agency’s focus was shifting from animal studies to pharmacology. But he had also achieved the recognition attained by only handful of other social scientists, such as Pavlov and Skinner. His work caught on just as a generation was extolling the virtues of suburbs and fleeing the perceived depravity of the cities, and it propelled the movement for zero population growth and informed our understanding of how people behave in dorms, prisons and other crowded spaces. It can still be felt in architectural and urban design.

“The significance of Calhoun’s work for social thought was unquestionable,” Edmund Ramsden wrote in 2011 for the History of Science Society in the University of Chicago Press.

It all started in 1947 when Calhoun asked a neighbor if he could build a rat colony on a quarter acre of vacant land behind his house in Towson, Md., according to an 2009 report in the Journal of Social History. Calhoun, who was then at Johns Hopkins University studying ways to control rodent populations, calculated that his “rat city” could have accommodated as many as 5,000 rats, but instead had leveled off at about 150 for reasons that were not obvious.

So Calhoun decided to tweak these colonies to create a rat utopia or a mouse paradise. In an experiment that lasted from 1965 until 1973, he built a mouse colony with 256 “apartments” in towers that resembled high-rises. Ample feeding stations became gathering points for socializing. Steps were taken to improve the colony’s hygiene and reduce disease. Mice that exhibited unusual behavior were marked with paint. Data was collected and coded onto 750,000 punch cards for computers to analyze.

From eight original pairs of mice, the population skyrocketed, until the colony became choked with animals and dysfunctional behaviors appeared.

Dozens of young male mice, unable to find a place in groups dominated by others, became marauding gangs that attacked female and young mice. Sexual and maternal behaviors also underwent dramatic change. Some male mice became exclusively homosexual or hypersexual. Mothers abandoned their pups or sometimes attacked them. Infant mortality soared to as high as 96 percent.

Other behaviors seemed even more bizarre. Groups of female mice — “Pied Pipers,” Calhoun called them — blindly followed foreign objects, such as his shoes, no matter how many times the mice had encountered them; it was as if they were unable to learn. Other mice became inert lumps of fur, “dropouts” that withdrew from society altogether. Oddest of all perhaps were those Calhoun called “the beautiful ones” that spent their days obsessively grooming. Violence and agitation became commonplace, until hardly a mouse could be found that wasn’t speckled with blood, its tail bitten and chewed.

Amid such profound squalor and chaos, the mice forgot how to be mice. They ceased to breed, and their population collapsed.

It was a disturbing vision that seemed to echo the experience of millions in America’s cities. Calhoun fanned the pessimism, making specific predictions that if humans failed to slow their exponential rate of population growth, a similar extinction could befall them by the year 2027.

But what was lost among some was also Calhoun’s optimism, and his belief in the resiliency of human beings. He discovered that some deviant behaviors, in a different light, could be seen as creative activity: One group of submissive males began to dig burrows in a way that reduced social contact but also became more efficient.

And just as Calhoun had altered the animals’ behavior by tinkering with the colony’s physical design, he believed that humans could counter the effects of overcrowding by modifying their environment. Through technology and culture, people could enlarge the “conceptual space” that allows them to live in peace among a multitude. By the late 20th century, he prophesied, the world would be knit together into a single network, and scientists would have unprecedented means to collaborate, perhaps using interconnected computers to form a “World Brain.” New concepts and smarter design would not only allow people to live in proximity but to thrive.

“It was with through this growth in conceptual space — enabled by the design of new buildings, new technologies, new social and intellectual networks — that humanity was presented with a more desirable future,” the Journal of Social History authors said.

And that, according to Calhoun, would be “Dawnsday.”


Are Our Mideast Wars Forever?

October 24, 2017

by Patrick J. Buchanan


“The Kurds have no friends but the mountains,” is an old lament. Last week, it must have been very much on Kurdish minds.

As their U.S. allies watched, the Kurdish peshmerga fighters were run out of Kirkuk and all the territory they had captured fighting ISIS alongside the Americans. The Iraqi army that ran them out was trained and armed by the United States.

The U.S. had warned the Kurds against holding the referendum on independence on Sept. 25, which carried with 92 percent. Iran and Turkey had warned against an independent Kurdistan that could be a magnet for Kurdish minorities in their own countries.

But the Iraqi Kurds went ahead. Now they have lost Kirkuk and its oil, and their dream of independence is all but dead.

More troubling for America is the new reality revealed by the rout of the peshmerga. Iraq, which George W. Bush and the neocons were going to fashion into a pro-Western democracy and American ally, appears to be as close to Iran as it is to the United States.

After 4,500 U.S. dead, scores of thousands wounded and a trillion dollars sunk, our 15-year war in Iraq could end with a Shiite-dominated Baghdad aligned with Tehran.

With that grim prospect in mind, Secretary Rex Tillerson said Sunday, “Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against … ISIS is coming to a close … need to go home. Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home.”

Tillerson meant Iran’s Quds Force in Iraq should go home, and the Shiite militia in Iraq should be conscripted into the army.

But what if the Baghdad regime of Haider al-Abadi does not agree? What if the Quds Force does not go home to Iran and the Shiite militias that helped retake Kirkuk refuse to enlist in the Iraqi army?

Who then enforces Tillerson’s demands?

Consider what is happening in Syria.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, largely Kurdish, just annihilated ISIS in Raqqa and drove 60 miles to seize Syria’s largest oil field, al-Omar, from ISIS. The race is now on between the SDF and Bashar Assad’s army to secure the border with Iraq.

Bottom line: The U.S. goal of crushing the ISIS caliphate is almost attained. But if our victory in the war against ISIS leaves Iran in the catbird seat in Baghdad and Damascus, and its corridor from Tehran to Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut secure, is that really a victory?

Do we accept that outcome, pack up and go home? Or do we leave our forces in Syria and Iraq and defy any demand from Assad to vacate his country?

Sunday’s editorial in The Washington Post, “The Next Mideast Wars,” raises the crucial questions now before us.

Would President Trump be willing to fight a new war to keep Iran from consolidating its position in Iraq and Syria? Would the American people support such a war with U.S. troops?

Would Congress, apparently clueless to the presence of 800 U.S. troops in Niger, authorize a new U.S. war in Syria or Iraq?

If Trump and his generals felt our vital interests could not allow Syria and Iraq to drift into the orbit of Iran, where would we find allies for such a fight?

If we rely on the Kurds in Syria, we lose NATO ally Turkey, which regards Syria’s Kurds as collaborators of the PKK in Turkey, which even the U.S. designates a terrorist organization.

The decision as to whether this country should engage in new post-ISIS wars in the Mideast, however, may be taken out of our hands.

Saturday, Israel launched new air strikes against gun positions in Syria in retaliation for shells fired into the Golan Heights.

Damascus claims that Israel’s “terrorist” allies inside Syria fired the shells, to give the IDF an excuse to attack.

Why would Israel wish to provoke a war with Syria?

Because the Israelis see the outcome of the six-year Syrian civil war as a strategic disaster.

Hezbollah, stronger than ever, was part of Assad’s victorious coalition. Iran may have secured its land corridor from Tehran to Beirut. Its presence in Syria could now be permanent.

And only one force in the region has the power to reverse the present outcome of Syria’s civil war – the United States.

Bibi Netanyahu knows that if war with Syria breaks out, a clamor will arise in Congress to have the U.S. rush to Israel’s aid.

Closing its Sunday editorial the Post instructed the president:

“A failure by the United States to defend its allies or promote new political arrangements for (Syria and Iraq) will lead only to more war, the rise of new terrorist threats, and, ultimately, the necessity of more U.S. intervention.”

The interventionist Post is saying: The situation is intolerable. Confront Assad and Iran now, or fight them later.

Trump is being led to the Rubicon. If he crosses, he joins Bush II in the history books.


Russia’s alternative gas transit route will shave 3% off Ukraine’s GDP – US Ambassador

October 24, 2017


The launch of the second thread of the Nord Stream pipeline will significantly impact Ukraine’s economy by cutting the transit of natural gas through the country, according to the US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

“This may lead to losses of up to three percent of the country’s GDP,” the ambassador said at the international conference on reforming Ukraine’s energy sector.

According to Yovanovitch, Ukraine’s state energy company Naftogaz is key to improving the energy sector, which in turn is crucial to national reforms.

“Everyone watches closely what is going to happen to Naftogaz,” she said, commenting on the company’s post-reform potential.

The reforms must provide Ukraine with a new gas market open to both domestic and outside investors, according to the ambassador.

She stressed the US is ready to aid Ukraine to adopt new technology in its energy sector.

The 1,200-kilometer Nord Stream 2 pipeline will bypass Ukraine and double the delivery capacity of the existing Nord Stream pipeline from the current 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The pipeline will go under the Baltic Sea to the German coast near Greifswald, to connect with the European gas transport networks.

The project has faced fierce opposition from the Baltic States, Poland, and Ukraine. Critics claim the Gazprom-led project will make Europe more dependent on Russian gas as it bypasses Ukraine as a transit country. Proponents argue it will bring gas prices in Europe down.

Earlier this week, Ukrainian officials said the country could restart buying Russian natural gas after nearly a two-year break.

However, Kiev is insisting Russia moves the entry point for the fuel to Ukraine’s eastern border. The Kremlin called the measure unviable.

Ukraine stopped buying gas from Russia in November 2015. The country opted to purchase ‘reverse’ gas supplies from European countries with almost all of its imported gas coming from Slovakia.



Education Agency Blasted Amid Student Loan Scam Crackdown

October 20, 2017


Federal and state agencies are cracking down nationally for the first time on scams that gouge student loan borrowers, but critics say the U.S. Department of Education isn’t helping.

Prosecutors at the Federal Trade Commission, 11 states and the District of Columbia have filed 36 lawsuits and other legal actions against companies they say falsely promise debt relief, charging more than $95 million in illegal fees in recent years.

Consumer advocates and members of Congress welcome the ongoing crackdown announced Oct. 13. But they say the Education Department and its contracted loan servicing companies fail to steer borrowers toward appropriate repayment plans, exposing them to fraud.

“It’s encouraging to see such a strong action by the Federal Trade Commission and the 11 states attorneys general,” said Persis Yu, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s student loan borrower assistance project.

But, she said, “the Department of Education needs to be doing a much better job at ensuring that borrowers are able to access their rights through their servicers.”

Despite multiple requests for comment, Education officials were not available to respond, agency spokesman Alberto Betancourt said this week.


A NerdWallet investigation four months ago found that student debt relief schemes were thriving in the absence of a systematic national approach to policing the industry.

With the federal government acting against just a handful of companies nationwide, states were thrust to the front line of enforcement — with limited effect — NerdWallet reported. States closed down rackets within their borders but couldn’t protect borrowers in the rest of the country.

The new crackdown includes lawsuits against companies that promise debt relief or forgiveness, but pocket borrowers’ payments and do little, if anything, in return. Borrowers often know nothing of the scams until it’s too late and the government garnishes their wages or seizes tax refunds to collect debt.

The operation announced by FTC Acting Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen includes law enforcement actions by states that have been aggressive in the past, such as Illinois, Washington, Florida and Oregon. Others taking part in the sweep are Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas and the District of Columbia.

“Winter is coming for debt relief scams that prey on hardworking Americans struggling to pay back their student loans,” Ohlhausen said in a news release . Officials call the crackdown “Operation Game of Loans,” a play on HBO’s hit show “Game of Thrones,” which made the phrase “winter is coming” famous.


Suzanne Martindale, a senior attorney at Consumers Union, an advocacy organization, said that enforcement helps. But, she said, “we still have a really complex and broken system. This is the time for regulators who have any piece of the jurisdiction here to step up and stand up for student borrowers.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is pushing the Education Department and its student loan servicers to help thwart outfits that victimize some of the 42 million Americans who’ve borrowed a total of more than $1.4 trillion.

Warren and nine other senators wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Sept. 8, saying “the prevalence of debt relief scams can be traced directly to the failure of the department to ensure effective and streamlined student loan servicing.”

The senators called on the department to push loan servicers to track scams, alert potential victims and tip off law enforcement officials. They asked for the formation of a task force to coordinate federal agencies, and to notify search engine and social media companies of potentially fraudulent advertisers.

U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the House Oversight Committee ranking member, blames DeVos, saying that failing to do more to protect borrowers from scams is just one way her administration harms them. The congressman also said DeVos has distanced the department from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — a watchdog agency that holds businesses accountable for illegal practices — and has sided with student debt collectors that have provided inaccurate information to borrowers in default.

“She seems to have her own agenda to help the profits of loan companies instead of protecting students who are being victimized,” Cummings said Thursday in a written statement to NerdWallet.


Companies use search engines to reel in borrowers such as Jackie Hampe, 55, of Iowa, who owes about $21,000 in loans from her son’s education at a motorcycle mechanics school.

Hampe said she Googled “Great Lakes” in September, seeking a phone number for Great Lakes Higher Education Corp., her federal student loan servicing company.

When she dialed a number that popped up high in the search results, Hampe said, she reached a company called Student Debt Doctor LLC. The company told her that for $200 it could eliminate her monthly payment, Hampe said.

Student Debt Doctor is one of the companies facing legal actions in the federal-state sweep. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, company and its owner, Gary Brent White Jr., collected at least $7 million from struggling borrowers, charging illegal upfront fees of $750 or more, according to the FTC.

A federal judge issued a temporary restraining order Oct. 3, effectively closing the company and placing it in receivership pending further investigation. Justin Infurna, White’s attorney, said he could not comment on an ongoing federal investigation.


Hampe is one of many borrowers who shared their stories with NerdWallet after the personal finance website’s investigative stories were first published in June.

This week, NerdWallet added more than a dozen companies targeted by the sweep to its Student Loan Watch List , which profiles 155 businesses for consumers to avoid.

In Washington state, officials have led the nation in shutting down student loan rackets. The state filed 13 more lawsuits in conjunction with the latest national sweep.

“We’re doing everything we can to stop those that are violating our state law,” said Shannon Smith, Washington state consumer protection division chief.

The state is going after companies for violating state debt adjustment laws, accusing them of charging illegal upfront fees and collecting payments above lawful limits. Most of the companies sued by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson are out-of-state businesses that target borrowers in the state.

But swindlers persist, drawn by easy money. “It’s the motivation of a fairly quick profit at the expense of these student borrowers,” Smith said.

Borrowers who say they’ve been scammed welcomed the federal-state sweep.

“It’s really awesome that the FTC is getting involved and that some of these companies are going to be held accountable,” said borrower Tara McFarland. The Missoula, Montana, resident said she almost fell for a scheme that would have hijacked her $100,000 student loan serviced by Navient.

“We’re already in these desperate situations with student loan debt,” she said, “and they’re making the process even harder.”

This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Richard Read and Teddy Nykiel are writers at NerdWallet. Email: rread@nerdwallet.com and tnykiel@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @RichReadReports and @teddynykiel.

NerdWallet writers Brad Wolverton and Alex Richards contributed to this story.


NerdWallet: Feds point fingers as ‘debt relief’ companies prey on student loan borrowers


NerdWallet: States play Whac-A-Mole with student loan relief scams


NerdWallet: Don’t trust these companies with your student debt


FTC, state law enforcement partners announce nationwide crackdown on student loan debt relief scams


Can We Modernize Our Education System?

October 25, 2017

by Kyle M


There is a lot of concern today for people that the education system in the United States is not producing positive results. A Pew Research report states that the United States lags behind other developed countries in areas such as reading, science, and math.(1) People are graduating from our school system lacking basic and useful skills. Part of the discussion today has centered around whether we should make free higher education available to all students. It may be a good idea in principle to do so, but before we subsidize higher education, shouldn’t we take a closer look at our K-12 system?

Education is a complex subject, one with lots of different moving parts. The issues that crop up are numerous, ranging from funding to the benefits of standardized tests. Historically, it has also been a contentious subject. I am not a professional educator nor a psychologist, so I may lack the expertise to offer concrete solutions to our current woes. I did however attend the K-12 system like most people, and feel that the system is severely lacking in that it does not inspire students. Many students do not look forward to the daily tedium of boring schoolwork, assignments, and tests. They will welcome any breaks away from it, whether because of a snow day, illness, or family trip to Disneyland. Consequently, they will learn at a slower rate.

I recall elementary school to have been a dull experience, one that required me to focus and “get busy” on assignments that had little relevance to me. However, I did not dislike learning. I often read books on my own time about various subjects, took trips to the museum with my family, and so on. In trying to pinpoint exactly where the disconnect was, I think the main problem was that the curriculum was too impersonal. Students were more or less treated the same and expected to learn the same material in the same way, and within the same scope of time. Because of this it was easy for particularly bright students with high potential in certain areas to fall through the cracks. If a student had an aptitude for reading or math, this did not seem to mean anything to the teachers.

As an example, I was particularly strong in reading and could read much faster than my peers. But I found that when we did group reading assignments, I had to go at the same pace as everyone else or I would get lost. Would it not have been more productive to let me read at my own pace and let everyone else read at theirs? If a student is performing well in a particular area, why not help them advance in that area, and deemphasize some of the other areas they may not have the same aptitude in?

That’s an entitled, special snowflake kind of thing to say, isn’t it? That the curriculum needs to fit the student, not the other way around? Well, sure. What’s wrong with that? A little personalization may be a good thing. After all, we are supposedly gifting children with this knowledge to better prepare them for their futures.

The purpose of our current educational system is ostensibly to make sure that students can read, write, do mathematics, and have a basic understanding of the world around them. I doubt however that in practice, our system encourages students to do much more than whatever is necessary to get the material over with so they can move on to something more interesting. It also teaches them that their objective is to please the teachers and parents.

Besides, in the pursuit of academic results, we may be neglecting other important life skills in the process. Cornell University psychologist Robert Sternberg argues that our overreliance on narrow academic skills could be doing more harm than good. He says that in doing so, “we may be developing an incomplete set of skills—and we need to look at things that will make the world a better place.”(2)

We may be a long way off from establishing an educational utopia replete with early childcare programs and high teacher salaries. But it may not be necessary to completely turn our system onto its head. There may be some small changes that could be made to our existing system that would still yield a noticeable difference.

First, kids should move around more. It is uncomfortable for a child to sit still for long periods. Schools have traditionally incorporated recess and physical education classes to accomplish these goals. But could more be done? Teachers in Oklahoma invented a swinging footrest they called a “busy bar,” which helps kids focus by allowing them to be active while sitting.(3) This very simple, cost-effective device led to marked improvement in student performance and less classroom disruption.

Second, why not remove the stigma surrounding failing grades? Most kids have a memory or two of bringing home a report card with a failing grade and dreading telling their parents. This is often followed by punitive action. Does this really serve any purpose in the student’s learning? If anything, it could turn the kid off to the subject entirely. We could instead reframe our approach to failing grades. A failing grade could be seen as an indicator that the student simply needs to get caught up in that subject. Or it could be viewed as an indication that that is the wrong subject for the student to spend too much time on.

We know that many of our most successful people failed countless times before they found that one thing that worked. Imagine the kind of world we might live in today if each time Thomas Edison failed at inventing the light bulb, he thought, “Boy, mom and dad are gonna kill me.” Does this serve any purpose at all? Let’s reframe failure in the broader context of a process of trial and error. Without that fear, students may be more engaged and opening to learning the material.

Third, how about reevaluating our relationship with homework? The debate over whether homework should be assigned and how much is ongoing, but a case could be made for reducing or doing away with it entirely. Children should grow up with a healthy set of boundaries and know how to leave work at the workplace. Why should the same not be true of school? Also when homework is assigned, the parents often have to get involved, which means added stress and difficulty for them.

Stanford University researcher Denise Pope argued that homework increases stress and sleep deprivation, and leaves less time for other activities. She argues that homework should not be assigned as a routine practice but that assignments should have a purpose and benefit.(4) Vicki Abeles, former Wall Street attorney and creator of the documentary “Race to Nowhere,” described at length how schools often overassign homework and the negative repercussions of doing so. She states that, “I can’t count the number of shared evenings, weekend outings and dinners that our family has missed and will never get back. “(5)

Fourth, we could utilize the unprecedented access to information we currently enjoy to deliver better results with education. Some online initiatives such as the Khan Academy are now educating people across the globe for pennies on the dollar. Also, our current system of lectures and textbooks may be obsolete in the face of changing technology and different teaching methodologies. Professor Carl Wieman, a Nobel Prize winner in physics, feels that talking at students and expecting them to absorb knowledge is not helping them learn. What he now does is a system of “active learning,” in which he establishes a problem at the beginning of a lecture and guides students during their discussions.(6) Some research has also indicated that students remember as little as 10 percent of their lectures just days afterwards.(7)

Wherever the solutions may lie, the important issue is that in the face of an underperforming educational system, it will be critical to rethink how we educate our youth and ask ourselves if our current methods are really serving their intended purpose. We must build a bridge between the students and the material they are expected to learn, make learning a friendly process, and help students reach their potential. Otherwise we risk stagnating and subjecting students to an outdated mechanism while other systems of learning and even other countries move on ahead of them.

Endnotes: 1. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/02/15/u-s-students-internationally-math-science/ Pew Research Center. “U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries.” Feb. 15, 2017

  1. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-the-u-s-education-system-producing-a-society-of-ldquo-smart-fools-rdquo/ Scientific American. Claudia Wallace. “Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of ‘Smart Fools’?” May 31, 2017.
  2. http://sde.ok.gov/sde/documents/2016-03-02/claremore-teachers-invent-busy-bar-help-students-focus-classroom Oklahoma State Dept. of Education. “Claremore teachers invent a busy bar to help students focus in classroom.” Mar. 3, 2016
  3. http://neatoday.org/2014/05/13/should-schools-be-done-with-homework/ NEA Today. Edward Graham. “Should Schools Be Done With Homework?” May 13th, 2014 5. http://motto.time.com/4740297/homework-should-be-banned-from-schools/ Time Magazine. Vicki Abeles. “Homework Should be Banned from Schools.” Apr. 14, 2017 6. http://www.bbc.com/news/business-38058477 BBC News. Matt Pickles. “Shouldn’t lectures be obsolete by now?” Nov. 23, 2016
  4. Ibid

The economics of peace (and war)

How much better off would the world be if it stopped preparing for war, and invested in peace instead? We asked a researcher with the Institute for Economics and Peace. The answer, expressed in dollars, is staggering

October 24, 2017

by Nils Zimmermann


DW: How much does war and armed violence cost per year?

Talia Hagerty: We’ve quantified the economic impact of violence on the global economy. What we found is that in 2016, the direct and indirect costs of violence amounted to about $14.3 trillion (12.2 trillion euros) in purchasing power parity (PPP), including multiplier effects.

This number includes not only the costs of war, but also of other forms of violence, like terrorism, homicides and violent crimes.

How do you calculate the costs of war?

When a soldier is injured in war, there are direct costs, such as his or her medical care, and indirect costs like lost lifetime wages if he or she is disabled. But there’s more. Suppose it cost $100,000 to treat a wounded soldier, who loses five years of wages from inability to work, amounting to another $250,000. That’s not the whole cost because that money could have been spent on something productive, something that adds value.

When you manufacture a bomb, in the best-case scenario, it never gets used. In the worst-case scenario, the bomb gets used, and destroys value human lives or physical capital, or most likely both.

So let’s compare manufacturing computers and manufacturing guns, and ask which makes more economic sense.

But isn’t war, or the threat of war, good for the economy of nations like the US, Russia, Great Britain, France, or other countries who have big militaries and export a lot of weapons?

Is it good for these nations? No. Might it be profitable for a certain number of firms? Sure. But that’s not the whole picture. These national economies you’ve mentioned prosper in a context of globalized trade. The economic impact of violence on the global economy far exceeds that of the 2008 global financial crisis, for example.

So if we want to have prosperous nations in a globalized world, that means we have to measure every country’s economy and look at the total picture — not just measure the prosperity of single nations or individual sectors, like weapons-manufacturing companies.

OK, but doesn’t military spending also generate a great deal of hugely valuable technological innovation? For example, transistors and the internet are both the results of funding from DARPA, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. And the Germans made amazing progress on everything from jet engines to rockets during the six years of their rampage from 1939 to 1945. The urgency of war, or war-like competition, seems to stimulate high creativity and performance in technological terms and thereby also in economic terms.

Of course. It’s undeniable that a great number of technological advances have come from military pressures. But what I think you’re observing here is that organizing human beings in support of a common goal can achieve amazing things. So should we invest money in research? Of course we should. But does it have to be military research?

And in fact, those advancements actually came about because of high levels of positive peace, not in spite of them.

Positive peace? What’s that?

Positive peace is the attitudes, institutions and structures that sustain internally peaceful societies and create optimal environments for human potential to flourish.

We’ve identified eight major factors that are statistically associated with the absence of violence and high levels of internal peace within a country.

  1. Well-functioning government
  2. Equitable distribution of resources
  3. Free flow of information
  4. Good relations with neighbors
  5. High levels of human capital which increases life expectancy and increases literacy
  6. Acceptance of the rights of others
  7. Low levels of corruption
  8. Sound business environment

What these reduce to is a combination of factors that contribute to basic human security, productive diversity, and fairness. By productive diversity, I mean we’re not “tolerating” diversity, we’re embracing it, and engaging it to bring together diverse perspectives and generate productive outcomes.

How does this all relate to the Cold War and the amazing technologies it gave rise to?

You didn’t see the technological advancements, which gave rise to the internet, come about without high levels of human capital, for example.

But you did see the pressure of the Cold War, and the threat of mutual annihilation between the US and Soviet Union.

Yes. But the mistakes of the past don’t have to define the future. In a generous interpretation, people during the Cold War did the best they could with the information and narratives they had at the time. But the study of the economics of peace is really just getting started.

If we look at the question differently, we can certainly achieve these types of amazing advances in the context of mobilizing for peace and prosperity instead of mobilizing for war.

Cyber hurricane’ poised to strike as malware infects millions of devices worldwide

October 26, 2017


Cybersecurity experts warn “the next cyber hurricane is about to come” as millions of Internet of Things devices have been infected with Reaper malware that could take down the internet.

“Our research suggests we are now experiencing the calm before an even more powerful storm,” Check Point Software said, adding that it doesn’t know how the code will be employed or the extent of the damage it could cause.

Reaper, or IoTrooper, is a massive zombie robotic network, or botnet, that is rapidly infecting millions of Internet of Things devices, including webcams, video recorders and security cameras.

Netlab 360 warned Reaper is “actively expanding” and that there are “millions of potential vulnerable device IPs being queued” into the system which will be injected with the malicious code.


The botnet was first discovered in mid-September, and is based on the source code for the Mirai botnet that attacked websites with denial-of-distribution (DDoS) attacks last October. The attack spread to more than 164 countries and companies affected included Netflix, Twitter, Amazon, CNN and Spotify.

The source of the code remains unknown but Reaper has improved on Mirai as “about 100 different functions” have been added to the code. “It has the potential to reach many, many more devices,” Check Point’s Maya Horowitz said.


Reaper works by exploiting existing vulnerabilities in devices and injecting them with malicious code that can be used at a later stage to carry out an attack. By taking advantage of vulnerabilities, the device can be infiltrated without raising any alarms. The malware then spreads from infected devices to others, like a worm.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of Reaper is that no-one can figure out what the botnet will be used for, as it has the ability to run complex attacks.

“It could be something that’s meant to create global chaos,” Horowitz said. “But it could be something that’s more targeted.”


Comment: From Wikipedia

The Internet of things (IoT) is the network of physical devices, vehicles, and other items embedded with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects to collect and exchange data. Each thing is uniquely identifiable through its embedded computing system but is able to interoperate within the existing Internet infrastructure. Experts estimate that the IoT will consist of about 30 billion objects by 2020.

The IoT allows objects to be sensed or controlled remotely across existing network infrastructure, creating opportunities for more direct integration of the physical world into computer-based systems, and resulting in improved efficiency, accuracy and economic benefit in addition to reduced human intervention. When IoT is augmented with sensors and actuators, the technology becomes an instance of the more general class of cyber-physical systems, which also encompasses technologies such as smart grids, virtual power plants, smart homes, intelligent transportation and smart cities.

“Things”, in the IoT sense, can refer to a wide variety of devices such as heart monitoring implants, biochip transponders on farm animals, cameras streaming live feeds of wild animals in coastal waters, automobiles with built-in sensors, DNA analysis devices for environmental/food/pathogen monitoring, or field operation devices that assist firefighters in search and rescue operations. Legal scholars suggest regarding “things” as an “inextricable mixture of hardware, software, data and service”.

These devices collect useful data with the help of various existing technologies and then autonomously flow the data between other devices. The quick expansion of Internet-connected objects is also expected to generate large amounts of data from diverse locations, with the consequent necessity for quick aggregation of the data, and an increase in the need to index, store, and process such data more effectively.

The term “the Internet of things” was coined by Kevin Ashton of Procter & Gamble, later MIT’s Auto-ID Center, in 1999.


NSA Worker’s Software Piracy May Have Exposed Him To Russian Spies

October 25 2017

by Kim Zetter

The Intercept

Kaspersky Lab said an individual, believed to be one identified as an NSA worker in news accounts, triggered the company’s antivirus software and paved the way for it to upload classified NSA files from his computer when he tried to pirate Microsoft Office and ended up infecting himself with malicious software.

The piracy claim is included in a set of preliminary findings released by the Moscow-based company from an internal investigation into a byzantine spying scandal that didn’t seem like it could get any more bizarre. A series of news reports this month, citing U.S. intelligence sources, asserted that the files on the workers computer, which included source code for sensitive hacking tools he was developing for the spy agency, were uploaded by Kaspersky security software and then collected by Russian government hackers, possibly with the company’s knowledge or help. Kaspersky has denied that it colluded with Russian authorities or knew about the worker incident as it was described in the press.

Details from the investigation, including the assertion that Kaspersky’s CEO ordered the files deleted after they were recognized as potential classified NSA material, could help absolve the antivirus firm of allegations that it intentionally searched the worker’s computer for classified files that did not contain malware. But they also raise new questions about the company’s actions, the NSA worker, and the spying narrative that anonymous government sources have been leaking to news media over the last two weeks.

After facing increasingly serious allegations of spying, Kaspersky provided The Intercept with a summary of preliminary findings of an internal investigation the company said it conducted in the wake of the news reports.

In its statement of findings, the company acknowledged that it detected and uploaded a compressed file container, specifically a 7zip archive, that had been flagged by Kaspersky’s software as suspicious and which turned out to contain malware samples and source code for what appeared to be components related to the NSA’s so-called Equation Group spykit. But the company said it collected the files in the normal course of its operations, and that once an analyst realized what they were, he deleted them upon the orders of CEO Eugene Kaspersky. The company also insists it never provided the files to anyone else.

Kaspersky doesn’t say the computer belonged to the NSA worker in question and says the incident it recounts in the report occurred in 2014, not 2015 as news reports state. But the details of the incident appear to match what recent news reports say occurred on the worker’s computer.

NSA could not be reached for comment.

According to Kaspersky, the incident began when the company was in the midst of an initial investigation into the so-called Equation Group set of tools. In March 2014, Kaspersky discovered a suspicious driver file on a machine in the Middle East that didn’t appear to belong to any attack group Kaspersky had seen before. After adding search commands known as “signatures” to its scanner to detect the driver, the company found numerous samples of it, as well as other components that were related to it, on machines of customers in more than 40 countries, including the U.S. Kaspersky spent about a year collecting samples until it had amassed an expansive and sophisticated toolkit, which it dubbed the Equation Group, and that had been used by the NSA since 2001, and possibly even 1996.

In the case of one infected computer in the U.S., the company said it discovered what appeared to be new and unknown “debug” variants of Equation Group malware on the machine. “Debug” generally refers to code or a program that is still under development and not yet complete, which fits with news accounts of the tools that were taken from the NSA worker’s computer. In one recent Washington Post story, the NSA worker was reportedly a member of the Tailored Access Operations, the NSA’s elite hacking team, who was helping to develop new tools that were likely slated to replace the Equation Group tools.

The computer on which the Kaspersky software detected the debug variants had the Kaspersky Security Network enabled. KSN is a cloud platform that allows Kaspersky to automatically collect samples of new and unknown malware from machines where a customer has enabled this feature (other antivirus products, including those made by U.S.-based Symantec, offer similar cloud collection).

Kaspersky said that after it detected these debug variants, the customer apparently disabled the antivirus scanner in order to run software that would generate software keys and allow him to run pirated Microsoft Office software on his machine. The key-generation software turned out to be infected with known backdoor trojan malware called Mokes that had been created in 2008 and was already being detected by antivirus scanners in November 2013.

Kaspersky doesn’t know when the customer disabled their scanner, but at some point he re-enabled it, upon which it detected the Mokes backdoor on his computer. Kaspersky didn’t respond to questions asking when the file infected his computer or when its scanner detected the file but notes in its statement that the malware was already on his system when the scanner was re-enabled. The company knows this because the malware would not have been able to install itself when the antivirus scanner was running.

Kaspersky describes the Mokes malware as a “full-blown backdoor which may have allowed third parties access to the user’s machine” — further underscoring the worker’s recklessness in installing the pirated software, if in fact he did so.

“There’s a whole litany of problems with this,” said Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec and a former NSA employee. “If this guy is a TAO developer — these guys don’t grow on trees, they’re fairly skilled — he has to know the dangers of downloading pirated software. Taking the [classified] tools out of the [NSA] building in the first place [and putting them on his home computer] is a tremendous operational security lapse in judgement. But combining that with pirated software is mind-blowing.”

When the customer re-enabled the Kaspersky software, he “scanned the computer multiple times,” as Kaspersky writes in its statement, and the scanner detected not only the Mokes backdoor but also what appeared to be new and unknown variants of the Equation Group tools Kaspersky was already investigating. One of the files it flagged and uploaded to the Kaspersky network was the 7zip archive containing multiple malware samples and what appeared to be source code related to the NSA’s Equation Group malware.

“After discovering the suspected Equation malware source code, the analyst reported the incident to [CEO Eugene Kaspersky],” the company said in its summary of findings. “Following a request from the CEO, the archive was deleted from all our systems. The archive was not shared with any third parties.”

The company said it detected no other malicious files on the customer’s machine after this. But it noted that after the company went public in February 2015 with its initial Equation Group findings — findings that did not encompass the 7zip archive — it detected several other computers that appeared to be in the same IP range as the customer. These computers also had KSN enabled on them and had Equation-related files on them. Kaspersky said the computers appeared to be “honeypots” — decoy systems set up to trick hackers into believing they’re legitimate systems. This would seem to corroborate a recent Wall Street Journal story, which said that after the NSA discovered that classified tools had been taken by Kaspersky from a worker’s computer, the agency set up a test to see if Kaspersky would do the same to other computers.

Williams said it’s perfectly logical that if Kaspersky found debug files during its initial scan for Equation Group files, it would have created signatures, or search parameters, that ultimately led it to detect the 7zip archive when the customer turned the scanner back on. “The idea that they would pull the source code with it, is completely viable,” he said, even if this was not yet executable malware.

He also doesn’t find anything suspicious about the company saying it then deleted those files upon the CEO’s orders if the files contained classification markings that identified them as belonging to the U.S.

“[I]f there were actually classification markings in that zip file, at that point that’s so toxic, there’s not a question as to whether or not [you delete it]. Because if you knowingly hold that classified data and you have employees in the U.S. [and are trying to sell your product to the U.S. government] …

“If somebody sent that to me … and if it’s [source code] for a country that I’m doing business in, I’m immediately deleting that off of my machine and, honestly, I would contact legal counsel… because I don’t want to get arrested the next time I land someplace.”

But Williams said that’s the case only if the files contained classification markings that identified them as belonging to the U.S. “If there’s no classification marking then I don’t know why they would get rid of it,” he said, and the explanation becomes more doubtful.

Rob Graham, founder of Erratasec, agreed with Williams about Kaspersky deleting “toxic” files that bear classification markings.

“Even contacting the U.S. government and telling them what they accidentally found, while in theory a sound idea, is fraught with peril,” he said. “I’ve been there — it rarely turns out well.”

All of this, however, raises questions about the stories that have been leaked to various news outlets in recent weeks suggesting Kaspersky colluded with the Russian government to get the files. The New York Times reported that Israeli hackers who breached Kaspersky’s network in 2014 found evidence that Russian government hackers had somehow used Kaspersky’s software to obtain classified tools from the NSA worker’s computer, and the Wall Street Journal reported that Kaspersky had to know what the hackers were doing when they took the files.

The Intercept already called into question the narrative of those stories in a piece published last week showing how it would have been possible for Kaspersky to obtain the classified files in an innocent manner. If Kaspersky’s version of events in the preliminary findings are true, then the only question remaining is if, and how, those files then got into the hands of the Russian government.

Williams said that Kaspersky should release logs showing the precise dates when it uploaded the zip file and deleted it.

“I would say that if all that checks out, that this absolves Kaspersky of wrongdoing,” with regard to taking the files.

But then he said the ball is in the U.S. government’s court to prove that Kaspersky colluded with the government.

“This assertion that the code made it in to the hands of the Russian government … I don’t know that that’s been substantiated, and it’s on [the U.S.] now to come back and say something about that.”

The so-called “honeypot” computers Kaspersky said were set up after the incident with the NSA worker, presumably by the NSA, were in a position to collect evidence that Kaspersky was intentionally hunting down top-secret documents using its software, instead of malware, if that’s what occurred. The Journal wrote that it was through this “controlled experiments… on a computer being monitored by U.S. spies” — a seeming allusion to honeypots — that the NSA became convinced Kaspersky software had been used for a spy operation and not for hunting malware.

Graham said that if the signatures that found the NSA worker’s files were designed to forage for intelligence secrets rather than malware, that should be easy to prove, “either by putting documents on the system that only have classified top-secret markings on them and see if those files get copied by Kaspersky, or by reverse-engineering the signatures to see what they were looking for.”

Kaspersky said in its findings statement that its scanner didn’t retrieve anything from the honeypot computers that wasn’t a suspicious executable file, meaning it did not collect documents that would have had only an intelligence value.

Graham said it’s now up to the anonymous sources who have been feeding the media allegations about Kaspersky to provide “actual confirmation that a data file rather than an executable was retrieved from [the honeypots].… Either proof of the signatures themselves or proof of the documents leaving the machines [is what they need to produce].”

Kaspersky said its investigation is still ongoing and that it will provide additional technical information as it becomes available. The company also said in a statement that it plans to share all of its findings, including technical details, with a trusted third party as part of a new transparency initiative it announced this week.




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