Thursday, December 20, 2012

Criminals use Facebook and Tumblr to push Chrome extensions that can access all your website data

TNW - The Next Web
19 December 2012

A Facebook user by the name of Philippe Harewood on Wednesday spotted a rather interesting scam that leverages Facebook, Tumblr, and Google Chrome to spy on its victims. The privacy-violating campaign was later detailed further by security firm Webroot.

The whole campaign is based on the hopes that Facebook users want to change the theme of the site to another color, such as red. It can be of course adjusted to target other users as well.

 Harewood explains how it works. A Facebook user is invited to a fake event on the social network. He or she then clicks on a Tumblr link, which redirects to another page (typically hosted on Amazon Web Services) that prompts the user to install a Chrome extension.

The extension then executes a JavaScript file (also hosted on Amazon) when it detects an open Facebook page, which creates a new Tumblr page and a new Facebook event. Finally, the script invites all your friends and pushes the Tumblr link, and the scam starts again.

As Webroot notes, the real danger is the malicious Chrome extension, which once installed, has access to all your data on all websites, as well as access to your tabs and browsing history. The Facebook event and Tumblr links are merely used to trick users into thinking the extension will do what they want; all the URLs in question look legitimate since they are hosted on the aforementioned sites.

Here’s the page that entices users into changing their Facebook color theme:

As you can see, there’s even an accompanying EULA and privacy policy, in an attempt to further improve the scam’s legitimacy. If the user chooses not to accept the agreements, the cybercriminals behind the campaign try to monetize the hijacked Facebook traffic by asking the victims to participate in surveys full of ads to generate revenue for them anyway.

Protecting yourself is very easy: don’t click on random links on Facebook, even if they are hosted on Tumblr. Being invited to a Facebook event does not suddenly make them safe.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Crazy Weather Sports

The infamous Mud Bowl

The even more infamous Fog Bowl

Hocky in the Snow-2008 Winter Classic

Foul Weather Football

1993 Dallas-Miami Thanksgiving Game

Monday, December 17, 2012

You Can Kiss Public Education (and the Middle Class) Goodbye

December 14, 2012  |  Alternet  | By Thom Hartmann, Sam Sacks

Quick - when you hear "public housing," what picture jumps into your mind? Or "public hospital"?

All around us, our public institutions are disintegrating, and the most important public institution of all – our public education system – is the next to be ghettoized.

Despite several progressive victories this Election Day, there was one significant defeat in Georgia, as voters approved of Constitutional Amendment 1 [3], which changes Georgia’s Constitution to give Republicans in that state the power to create charter schools as part of Georgia’s public education system. The result will be crucial taxpayer dollars being funneled away from free public schools and directed toward brand new, sometimes for-profit, privately-run charter schools.

Even though studies show [4] that costly private schools don’t produce any better educational results than free public schools, for-profit schools have popped up all around the nation in recent years because of how valuable they are to corporate America. In fact, the historic Chicago Teachers Union strike earlier this year was largely in response to the city’s push to open up more charter schools to replace traditional public schools.

Education is a recession-proof industry that will always be in high demand. The corporate money-changers know if they can get their hands on this industry, "reform" it to replace decently-paid teachers and faculty with McTeachers, and then get taxpayers to foot the bill, quarterly profits and lavish bonuses for CEOs can explode. Even in so-called "non-profit" charter schools, management can make big bucks.

And that’s exactly what Georgia’s Constitutional Amendment 1 accomplishes. Expect similar amendments to pop up in other state elections in the near future.

This is a major shot in the multigenerational war on public education part of our commons.

Ultimately, as more states pass charter school amendments like Georgia, and money is sucked out of public schools, then public schools will meet the same fate as the rest of the ghettoized public institutions in America.

Public education will be just like public housing, which most Americans think of as low-income, crime-ridden neighborhoods. Or it will be like public hospitals, which most Americans see as disease-ridden institutions filled with impoverished, sick people. Because, in both cases, these institutions principally serve the very poor, there’s little sympathy for Americans stuck in public housing or public hospitals. Little sympathy also translates into little funding, which perpetuates the cycle of poverty and the disintegration of our public institutions.

But up until the Reagan "reforms," public education had avoided this same ghettoizing fate. Historically, our public education system was a marvel for the rest of the world, producing generations of scientists, doctors, and engineers from all races and socio-economic classes. Whether you came from a wealthy family or a poor family, the American public education system didn’t discriminate. As much as possible, it was a multi-racial, multi-cultural, and multi-class public institution that produced great results.

But as state governments embrace for-profit charter schools, traditional public schools will be neglected and see their funding cut until eventually they, too, will suffer the same fate that ghettoized public housing and public hospitals.

Even prominent Republicans are owning up to this. After passage of Georgia’s Constitutional Amendment 1, Lee Raudonis, the former executive director of the Georgia Republican Party, penned an op-ed [5] for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution warning that passage of the amendment was, “an endorsement for a drastically altering public education as most Americans define it.”

Raudonis foresees a future in which there’s a “new type of public school” as a result of this move toward charter schools. He describes this new public school as, “one for those children whose parents were not motivated enough to move them into a charter or private school or for whom there were none available.”

After all, there will be a lot of low-income parents who simply can't afford to pay a bit more for a private education for their child or whose low-income neighborhood wasn’t chosen for a new charter school location. And, tragically, there's no shortage of poor parents who are dysfunctional because of the poverty-associated diseases of drug addiction and mental illness. The kids of these parents will be forced to into cash-strapped, forgotten public schools. As Raudonis concludes, “public schools will come to be viewed similarly to public housing and public hospitals, as places for children whose parents, for whatever reasons, cannot find a better alternative.”

This will mark the beginning of the end for not just public education in America, but also for the American middle class itself, which is shrinking faster and faster each day. Public schools will be the new dumping ground for the poor and the working poor. And just as public housing provides the bare minimum for its inhabitants, and just as public hospitals provide the bare minimum for their patients, the new ghettoized public schools will provide a bare minimum of education for low-income students.

The public education system itself will no longer be America's great equalizer, churning out successful students from all cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. Instead, it will shackle the poor, keeping them from learning the essentials needed to find that great job for the 21st century and move up the economic ladder into the middle class – to achieve the American Dream.

America needs to "just say no" to public funding of private schools.

The Fiscal Cliff Is A Diversion

The Derivatives Tsunami and the Dollar Bubble

December 17, 2012 | Paul Craig Roberts

The “fiscal cliff” is another hoax designed to shift the attention of policymakers, the media, and the attentive public, if any, from huge problems to small ones.

The fiscal cliff is automatic spending cuts and tax increases in order to reduce the deficit by an insignificant amount over ten years if Congress takes no action itself to cut spending and to raise taxes. In other words, the “fiscal cliff” is going to happen either way.
The problem from the standpoint of conventional economics with the fiscal cliff is that it amounts to a double-barrel dose of austerity delivered to a faltering and recessionary economy. Ever since John Maynard Keynes, most economists have understood that austerity is not the answer to recession or depression.
Regardless, the fiscal cliff is about small numbers compared to the Derivatives Tsunami or to bond market and dollar market bubbles.

The fiscal cliff requires that the federal government cut spending by $1.3 trillion over ten years. The Guardian reports that means the federal deficit has to be reduced about $109 billion per year or 3 percent of the current budget.

More simply, just divide $1.3 trillion by ten and it comes to $130 billion per year. This can be done by simply taking a three month vacation each year from Washington’s wars.
The Derivatives Tsunami and the bond and dollar bubbles are of a different magnitude.
Last June 5 in “Collapse At Hand” I pointed out that according to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency’s fourth quarter report for 2011, about 95% of the $230 trillion in US derivative exposure was held by four US financial institutions: JP Morgan Chase Bank, Bank of America, Citibank, and Goldman Sachs.
Prior to financial deregulation, essentially the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act and the non-regulation of derivatives–a joint achievement of the Clinton administration and the Republican Party–Chase, Bank of America, and Citibank were commercial banks that took depositors’ deposits and made loans to businesses and consumers and purchased Treasury bonds with any extra reserves.

With the repeal of Glass-Steagall these honest commercial banks became gambling casinos, like the investment bank, Goldman Sachs, betting not only their own money but also depositors money on uncovered bets on interest rates, currency exchange rates, mortgages, and prices of commodities and equities.

These bets soon exceeded many times not only US GDP but world GDP. Indeed, the gambling bets of JP Morgan Chase Bank alone are equal to world Gross Domestic Product.

According to the first quarter 2012 report from the Comptroller of the Currency, total derivative exposure of US banks has fallen insignificantly from the previous quarter to $227 trillion. The exposure of the 4 US banks accounts for almost of all of the exposure and is many multiples of their assets or of their risk capital.

The Derivatives Tsunami is the result of the handful of fools and corrupt public officials who deregulated the US financial system. Today merely four US banks have derivative exposure equal to 3.3 times world Gross Domestic Product. When I was a US Treasury official, such a possibility would have been considered beyond science fiction.

Hopefully, much of the derivative exposure somehow nets out so that the net exposure, while still larger than many countries’ GDPs, is not in the hundreds of trillions of dollars. Still, the situation is so worrying to the Federal Reserve that after announcing a third round of quantitative easing, that is, printing money to buy bonds–both US Treasuries and the banks’ bad assets–the Fed has just announced that it is doubling its QE 3 purchases.

In other words, the entire economic policy of the United States is dedicated to saving four banks that are too large to fail. The banks are too large to fail only because deregulation permitted financial concentration, as if the Anti-Trust Act did not exist.

The purpose of QE is to keep the prices of debt, which supports the banks’ bets, high. The Federal Reserve claims that the purpose of its massive monetization of debt is to help the economy with low interest rates and increased home sales. But the Fed’s policy is hurting the economy by depriving savers, especially the retired, of interest income, forcing them to draw down their savings. Real interest rates paid on CDs, money market funds, and bonds are lower than the rate of inflation.

Moreover, the money that the Fed is creating in order to bail out the four banks is making holders of dollars, both at home and abroad, nervous. If investors desert the dollar and its exchange value falls, the price of the financial instruments that the Fed’s purchases are supporting will also fall, and interest rates will rise. The only way the Fed could support the dollar would be to raise interest rates. In that event, bond holders would be wiped out, and the interest charges on the government’s debt would explode.

With such a catastrophe following the previous stock and real estate collapses, the remains of people’s wealth would be wiped out. Investors have been deserting equities for “safe” US Treasuries. This is why the Fed can keep bond prices so high that the real interest rate is negative.

The hyped threat of the fiscal cliff is immaterial compared to the threat of the derivatives overhang and the threat to the US dollar and bond market of the Federal Reserve’s commitment to save four US banks.

Once again, the media and its master, the US government, hide the real issues behind a fake one. The fiscal cliff has become the way for the Republicans to save the country from bankruptcy by destroying the social safety net put in place during the 1930s, supplemented by Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” in the mid-1960s.

Now that there are no jobs, now that real family incomes have been stagnant or declining for decades, and now that wealth and income have been concentrated in few hands is the time, Republicans say, to destroy the social safety net so that we don’t fall over the fiscal cliff.

In human history, such a policy usually produces revolt and revolution, which is what the US so desperately needs.

Perhaps our stupid and corrupt policymakers are doing us a favor after all.