Study Finds That 100 Largest US Public Pensions Underfunded By About $1.2 TRILLION

October 15, 2012

US – The largest 100 public pension funds have around $1.2 trillion of unfunded liabilities, about $300 billion above the nearly $900 billion they reported themselves, according to a new actuarial study to be released on Monday.

The pension systems reported a median funding level of 75.1 percent. The study by the actuarial firm Milliman, which used different ways to value assets and measure liabilities, finds an aggregate level of funding of 67.8 percent.

But Milliman, one of the world largest actuarial firms took a close look at U.S. public pension funding for the first time, and said the multibillion-dollar difference was good news.

Rebecca Sielman, the report’s author, said results should reassure the public that America’s public pensions in general are accurately reporting their funding shortfalls.

The difference between what public pensions across the United States have reported and what Milliman found wasn’t significant, Sielman said. She noted that a relatively small change in the way the figures are calculated could lead to seemingly outsized results because the funds are so large.

“The numbers really didn’t change that much,” she said. “It really didn’t move the needle.”

Both the pension funds’ reported results and Milliman’s findings fell within the range of previous estimates from other studies of the total size of the public pension shortfall in the United States.

With the study, Milliman, stepped into the debate about whether public pensions are underreporting the size of their liabilities.

That hot-button issue revolves around how much money public employers – and, by extension, taxpayers – will have to contribute to cover future payouts for member benefits. It is a key issue at a time of dwindling revenues and tighter budgets for states and local governments.

Pension funds get money from the returns on their assets and from members’ contributions. States and cities also pay into the funds, but their contributions are discounted based on how much money they think their investments will make over time.

The 100 funds Milliman studied used a median rate of return for their investments of 8 percent. But the recession slashed into the market, dropping actual median returns to just 3.2 percent for the last five years, according to data from Callan Associates.

The difference has prompted critics to claim that the funds are underreporting their unfunded liabilities, or the gap between what they’ve promised to pay retirees in the future and what they’ll actually have on hand to cover the benefits.

Critics have called for public pensions to reduce their assumed rates of return to as little as 5 percent or less, which would cause unfunded liabilities to soar and likely leave taxpayers having to cover the difference.

But without the change, critics say, future generations will be left to deal with a financial bomb.

FINDINGS WITHIN RANGE OF SIMILAR STUDIES

Other studies have tried to measure the overall size of the problem. The Pew Center on the States found that the shortfall is about $766 billion. Moody’s Investors Service said in July that the collective gap would be $2.2 trillion if funds used a 5.5 percent discount rate.

Milliman has studied the health of the 100 largest private pension funds for about a decade. But this is its first study of public plans, conducted specifically to determine whether the systems were using unrealistically high return-rate assumptions as the critics claimed.

“I thought that we would find fairly pervasive use of interest rates that are high relative to current market consensus about future investment returns, and we didn’t find that,” Sielman said.

The firm, which has done actuarial work for nearly all of the U.S. states in the past, examined each individual fund in the study, using market valuations instead of smoothed valuations to measure assets and recalibrating liabilities based on Milliman’s own benchmarks of expected long-term returns.

The firm found that the median discount rate should actually be 7.65 percent, rather than the 8 percent median rate the funds used in aggregate.

A third of the plans were using lower rates than they needed to, Milliman found, according to Sielman.

A small number of plans seriously underreported their liabilities because they use rates that are too high, Milliman found.

Milliman’s study did not name the specific plans that underreported their liabilities. Sielman said the firm was not releasing its results for individual plans.

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Former TSA Agent John W. Irwin Admits Stealing Over $500 In Cash – Says Theft Was Punishment For Man’s Lack Of Obedience After He Complained About Invasive Pat-Down

October 4, 2012

A former TSA worker has pleaded guilty to stealing over $500 in cash from a man who complained about the TSA’s invasive pat down procedure, with the TSA agent admitting the theft was a punishment for the man’s lack of obedience.

60-year-old John W. Irwin pleaded guilty to one count of grand larceny following an incident in November 2011, during which a man asked that he be given a pat down rather than face a body scanner due to a medical condition.

When TSA agents ordered the man undergo the pat down in a private room, he complained but agreed to do so.

The man placed $520 in cash in a gray plastic bin before accompanying the TSA agents to the private room. When he returned, the money was gone, with Irwin having hidden it in a TSA supervisor’s draw.

When the man asked Irwin where the cash had gone, Irwin claimed ignorance and the incident was subsequently reported to the police.

After first denying to police that he had stolen the money, Irwin later admitted he had put the cash in his locker as a form of punishment in retaliation for the man complaining over his treatment. Prison Planet

FACTS & FIGURES

Last month, a TSA screener admitted to a woman traveling through Houston Airport that she was prevented from boarding her flight for retaliatory reasons as punishment for a bad attitude rather than any genuine security threat, after the woman refused to allow TSA agents to test her drink for explosives. Prison Planet

The TSA, in October 2010, directed the use of the scanners, sometimes known as advanced imaging technology, which some critics fear could emit too much radiation. Reuters

In addition, the TSA authorized enhanced pat-downs, which could include the touching of genitals, buttocks and breasts, for passengers unwilling to go through the scanners. Passengers who rejected both procedures would not be allowed to fly. Reuters

Critics maintain the scanners, which use radiation to peer through clothes, are threats to Americans’ privacy and health. wired.com

The effectiveness of pat-downs does not matter very much, because the obvious goal of the TSA is to make the pat-down embarrassing enough for the average passenger that the vast majority of people will choose high-tech humiliation.

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Three Generations Ago Children Roamed Free Until Dark, But Now Are Kept With Sight, Or An Arms Reach, And Spend Only A Few Minutes A Week Outdoors

October 1, 2012

There was a time — and it wasn’t that long ago — when kids would leave home on a summer morning and roam free. “I knew kids who were pushed out the door at eight in the morning,” writes Bill Bryson of his childhood in the 1950s, “and not allowed back until five unless they were on fire or actively bleeding.” That’s what kids did. They went out. Parents let them, and everybody did it. “If you stood on any corner with a bike — any corner anywhere — more than a hundred children, many of whom you had never seen before, would appear and ask you where you were going,” Bryson writes. That was then.

But it’s not now. Look at what’s been happening all over the developed world. The Thomas family has been living in Sheffield, a town toward the north of England, for at least four generations. When great-grandpa George Thomas turned 8 in 1919, he was allowed to walk six miles — by himself — to go fishing. But each generation after has been given less and less room to roam.

In 1950, when Jack, the grandfather, turned 8, he was allowed to go just a mile on his own to visit the woods.

In 1979, when Vicky, the mom, turned 8, she was allowed to ride her bike around the immediate neighborhood, walk by herself to school, and could visit a swimming pool on her own. Her zone of play was a half-mile wide.

And then we have the current generation, Ed.

His freedom to roam is drastically different from his great-granddad’s. In an interview with the Daily Mail in 2007, Vicky said her son, then 8, was “driven the few minutes to school, is taken by car to a safe place to ride his bike and can roam no more than 300 yards from home.” Basically, he stays on the block.

In fact, she says, he prefers the family yard to the street outside. “He doesn’t tend to go out because the other children don’t,” she said.

The Thomases are not unusual. A 1990 study called “One False Move” tracked the unsupervised play spaces of British children across generations and found the newest 8-year-olds have 1/9th the roaming territory of their parents. That’s a one-generation change. Back in the 1970s, 80 percent of British 7- and 8-year-olds were allowed to go to school unsupervised. By 1990, the percentage was 10 percent.

These days in the United States, writes scholar Chelsea Benson, “children spend an average of 30 minutes per week engaged in free play outdoors.” Their parents won’t let them out alone. “Children do not have the time or parental permission to explore natural areas and create their own special places,” she says. “Unstructured time outdoors is becoming a thing of the past.”

What’s happened? Back in the 1950s in Des Moines, parents must have known their kids would do stupid things, like jump off trestle bridges into filthy rivers. Bill Bryson regularly leaped into the Raccoon River, which was a watery soup of “dead fish, old tires, oil drums, algal slime, heavy metal effluents and uncategorizable goo.” He describes sneaking to the top of a shopping center past “a vicious, eagle-eyed stick of a woman named Mrs. Musgrove who hated little boys,” to get to a perch eight floors directly above a lobby restaurant onto which he would drop peanut M&Ms.

“A peanut M&M that falls seventy feet into a bowl of tomato soup makes one heck of a splash, I can tell you,” he says.

Are modern parents trying to protect innocent soup eaters from their 8-year-olds?

No, say the studies. Parents today are afraid that their children will be hurt, bullied or even abducted close to home. And they worry longer. In Italy, reports Chelsea Benson, “71 percent of 7- to 12-year-olds are always accompanied by adults on journeys to and from school.” (12-year-olds? Really?)

Are These Fears Real?

Maybe parents have good reason to fear strangers, predators or heavy traffic. Maybe they think their friends will think them irresponsible to let their kids go unsupervised. Maybe media horror stories are more horrible these days. Or more accurate.

Whatever is causing this, children don’t seem to be objecting. In this, too, the Thomas family in Britain is typical. Eight-year-olds these days seem content to stay close to home, plugged in to Playstations, iPads, their phones, texting away. Richard Louv, a columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, worries that bugs and creepy crawly things may become more alien, more “other,” if kids stay out of the woods. All over the world, children may not be getting to explore plants and animals in natural settings on their own. That’s a loss, he thinks. Will they know what they’re missing? In 2005, Louv asked a fourth-grader in San Diego where he liked to play, indoors or out? The kid said, “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where the electric outlets are.”

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Boy Scout Officials Hid Child Molesters For Decades, Didn’t Report Pedophiles To Parents Or Police, Frequently Urging Them To Quietly Resign, And Often Helped Them Cover Their Tracks

September 17, 2012

US – Over two decades, the Boy Scouts of America failed to report hundreds of alleged child molesters to police and often hid the allegations from parents and the public.

A Los Angeles Times review of 1,600 confidential files dating from 1970 to 1991 has found that Scouting officials frequently urged admitted offenders to quietly resign — and helped many cover their tracks.

Volunteers and employees suspected of abuse were allowed to leave citing bogus reasons such as business demands, “chronic brain dysfunction” and duties at a Shakespeare festival.

Documents: A paper trail of abuse

The details are contained in the organization’s confidential “perversion files,” a blacklist of alleged molesters, that the Scouts have used internally since 1919. Scouts’ lawyers around the country have been fighting in court to keep the files from public view.

As The Times reported in August, the blacklist often didn’t work: Men expelled for alleged abuses slipped back into the program, only to be accused of molesting again. Now, a more extensive review has shown that Scouts sometimes abetted molesters by keeping allegations under wraps.

In the majority of cases, the Scouts learned of alleged abuse after it had been reported to authorities. But in more than 500 instances, the Scouts learned about it from boys, parents, staff members or anonymous tips.
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City And County Attorneys Receive Kickbacks For Teaming Up With Private Company In Debt Collection Scheme That Threatened Victims With Jail

September 17, 2012

US – The letters are sent by the thousands to people across the country who have written bad checks, threatening them with jail if they do not pay up.

They bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office. But there is a catch: the letters are from debt-collection companies, which the prosecutors allow to use their letterhead. In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys’ offices.

The practice, which has spread to more than 300 district attorneys’ offices in recent years, shocked Angela Yartz when she was threatened with conviction over a $47.95 check to Walmart. A single mother in San Mateo, Calif., Ms. Yartz said she learned the check had bounced only when she opened a letter in February, signed by the Alameda County district attorney, informing her that unless she paid $280.05 — including $180 for a “financial accountability” class — she could be jailed for up to one year.

“I was so worried driving my kid to and from school that if I failed to signal, they would cart me off to jail,” Ms. Yartz said.

Debt collectors have come under fire for illegally menacing people behind on their bills with threats of jail. What makes this approach unusual is that the ultimatum comes with the imprimatur of law enforcement itself — though it is made before any prosecutor has determined a crime has been committed.

Prosecutors say that the partnerships allow them to focus on more serious crimes, and that the letters are sent only to check writers who ignore merchants’ demands for payment. The district attorneys receive a payment from the firms or a small part of the fees collected.
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Society Now Criminalizing Parents Who Allow Children To Play Outside In The Yard

September 17, 2012

US – A Virginia mother was recently interrogated four times by police, and visited twice by social services, after neighbors spotted the mother’s children playing in their own yard unsupervised, and decided to report the non-incident to local authorities. According to Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids, such hysteria and Stasi-style paranoia are becoming the norm in America, where children are being excessively coddled, overprotected, and treated as though they are always in grave danger of being kidnapped or harmed.

During a recent interview with Alex Jones on The Alex Jones Show, Skenazy reflects on how the days when society’s youth could simply ride their bicycles to school or into the woods, climb their neighbors’ trees, or play at the local park by themselves without adult supervision are essentially gone. Today, it is practically considered abnormal in many areas for young children to even be outside at all, let alone to be exploring on their own or with their friends.

“What’s happening … is parents who let their children play outside, walk to school, or go to the grocery (store) for them often have neighbors who turn them in, supposedly out of concern … and what happens is Child Protective Services (CPS) is obligated to come and check out whether or not these parents are being negligent, or worse abusive,” says Skenazy, who receives calls all the time from parents that are being persecuted by law enforcement for allowing their kids to play outside.

“What has happened is that the parents are found wrong by the police or CPS for leaving their children in what CPS calls ‘a dangerous situation,’ which I would call a ‘normal, nice situation.’ In fact, less dangerous than just letting your kids sit inside all day getting fat and diabetic, you let your kids run outside or have some independent adventures, that’s considered bad parenting now.”

Texas woman forced to spend night in jail for supervising kids’ outdoor playtime

Just a few days ago, for instance, Tammy Cooper of La Porte, Texas, was actually handcuffed and arrested for allowing her children to play outside on their motorized scooters in the family’s cul-de-sac. Cooper was forced to spend the night in jail for this non-crime, despite the fact that she had been outside with her two children watching them the entire time. (http://thestir.cafemom.com/big_kid/143276/mom_arrested_sent_to_jail)

“It is so unusual for parents to let their children play outside, or climb a tree, that they are being turned in as negligent,” adds Skenazy. “The immediate assumption is that something’s wrong, they escaped, maybe they’ve been kidnapped by somebody, or could be kidnapped, that’s the big fear.”

On her blog, Skenazy documents all sorts of wild cases involving the disturbing societal trend of people calling the police and CPS on neighbors that allow their children to play outside, as if letting kids be kids was some sort of crime (http://www.freerangekids.com/).

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“Urban-Based” (Codeword For Non-White) Severe And Lethal Violence In New American “Youth Crime Wave”

September 15, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Over the past few months, headlines describing crimes perpetrated by children and teenagers have been splashed atop stories all over the Internet.

In mid-July, the Chicago Tribune reported about several teenagers who fatally assaulted a 62-year-old man on camera. Malik Jones, 16, Nicholas Ayala, 17, and Anthony Malcolm, 18, then posted the cell phone video of their crime to Facebook.

Earlier that month, a 12-year-old boy from Fort Washington, Md., was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in a juvenile court for beating a 2-year-old foster child to death. The infant, Aniyah Batchelor, was reportedly living with the boy’s family at the time of the murder, according to The Washington Post.

In fact, accounts of child-perpetrated depravity seem to be as numerous as they are shocking – from the 10-year-old girl in Maine charged with murdering 3-month-old Brooklyn Foss-Greenaway, to the 12-year-old boy accused of raping a 5-year-old girl in an Ohio McDonald’s Playland.

And incidents of crimes perpetrated by children and teenagers will always garner the continued attention of news outlets the world over. Proof of that fact lies in the high-profile nature of criminal cases such as Erik and Lyle Menendez, Eric Smith, Joshua Phillips or Robert Thompson and Jon Venables.
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Change: Government Statistics Show That Gas Prices Have More Than Doubled Since President Obama Took Office

September 14, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Average retail gasoline prices have more than doubled under President Obama, according to government statistics, rising from $1.84 per gallon to $3.85 per gallon.

The average gasoline price is calculated by the Energy Information Agency, and shows that over the past 43 months of President Obama’s term retail gasoline prices have more than doubled, rising from an average of $1.84 per gallon to $3.85 per gallon.

Rising gasoline prices were particularly prevalent in August, which saw a 9.0 percent rise in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for gasoline, a rise that almost entirely accounts for the general increase in prices seen by families across the country over the past month.

In other words, the recent spike in prices for all goods – tracked by the government’s Consumer Price Index – can be almost entirely accounted for by the rise in gasoline prices. Prices in the economy rose by 0.6 percent overall in August.

“The seasonally adjusted increase in the all items index was the largest since June 2009. About 80 percent of the increase was accounted for by the gasoline index, which rose 9.0 percent and was the major factor in the energy index rising sharply in August after declining in each of the four previous months,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in a press release announcing the new CPI figures for August.

Over the past twelve months, general prices have risen 1.7 percent, BLS reported.

CPI is a measure of the average change in prices for goods and services in the economy seen by consumers – making it the leading indicator of the inflation experienced directly by consumers throughout the country.

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Man Pays $137 Red Light Camera Ticket Ticket By Giving Police 137 Dollar Bills Folded Into Origami Pigs – Town’s Cameras Are Money Trap For Motorists

September 13, 2012

US – Here’s a guy who really wanted to stick it to the man.

The man, who goes by the apt YouTube moniker “Bacon Moose,” explains his actions in the video description:

I got this ticket in a town where the cops (and absurd redlight cameras) are pretty much a money trap and that’s it. I decided to pay in an appropriate manner — 137 origami pig $1 bills, put in a pair of dozen-donut dunkin donut boxes.

The $1 piggies took around six hours to prepare. But “Bacon Moose” said he believes it was well worth it. “[I] paid in style,” he said.

As might be expected, the cashier at the police station was not too happy at the boxed surprise.

“What’s that?” the cashier asks, nonplussed. “I am not going to take them like that. The way that you have it folded…I’m not going to sit here and unfold all of that.”

After a bit of awkward back-and-forth, the man is finally asked by a police officer to unfold all the dollar bills.

“That’s pretty cool and that took a lot of time. Little piggies in a donut box. I got it, I got it,” said the police officer, as he snapped a shot of the boxes with his phone.

Even the cashier eventually came around to the idea.

“You made me laugh. I’ll give you mad props,” he said. “You have made my day sir, I’ll give you that.”

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117,000 Americans Collected Unemployment AND Social Security Disability Checks Amid Ongoing Jobs Crisis, Costing Taxpayers Nearly A Billion Dollars In 2010 – SSDI Trust Fund Headed For The Skids After Just 4 More Years

September 12, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – Roughly 117,000 Americans double-dipped by cashing unemployment and Social Security disability checks during the height of the jobs crisis, costing taxpayers a combined $856 million in fiscal 2010 according to a government watchdog agency. The additional strain on the system will make the SSDI trust fund insolvent in four short years. With most eyes fixed on the election battle between President Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, it was easy to miss the alarming report by the Government Accountability Office that was initially released this summer.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Ok., announced at the end of last month, “This report shows that Congress has failed to hold agencies accountable.” The lawmaker has yet to outline legislation for greater oversight, but on Wednesday afternoon he will discuss the results of an 18-month investigation into the approval process for Social Security Disability Insurance.

Coburn, a critic of government waste, famously demanded an inquiry in May of last year after the television show “Taboo” on the National Geographic Channel featured a 350-pound, 29-year old man who lives as an “adult baby” and gets by on disability benefits. The Social Security Disability Insurance trust fund is slated to be insolvent in just four years – as both Democrats and Republicans increasingly recognize that millions who can’t find work after exhausting their unemployment benefits have turned to the $128 billion a year program for income. Meanwhile, the protracted consequences of the recession have drastically reduced the balances in most state unemployment insurance trust funds.

But the data unearthed by the GAO shows that many Americans have simultaneously relied on disability and unemployment insurance – and that overlapping payments are allowed under the programs’ different eligibility requirements. Disability insurance is intended for those whose medical conditions prevent them from working, while unemployment provides a cushion for job seekers who were laid-off.

Because the two programs are meant to address separate needs, lobbying groups for the disabled see no cause for a congressional crackdown. “The mere fact that you received unemployment benefits isn’t determinative of whether you’re ‘disabled,’” said Ethel Zelenske, director of governmental affairs for the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives. “It’s comparing apples and oranges when you look at the two schemes.”

Instead of setting sweeping regulations about who can receive unemployment and disability, Zelenske said that decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.

The Social Security Administration stressed a similar perspective in a 2010 memo to the administrative law judges who determine eligibility for disability benefits.

“It is often uncertain whether we will find a person who applies for unemployment benefits ultimately to be disabled under our rules, and our decision-making process can be quite lengthy,” the memo said. “Therefore, it is SSA’s position that individuals need not choose between applying for unemployment insurance and Social Security disability benefits.”

Under the rules for disability, recipients must have a condition that prevents them from participating in “substantial gainful activity,” or work that generated more than $12,000 of income in 2010. But some states allow workers with earnings below that level to qualify for unemployment benefits as well.

“The GAO accurately described the legal situation, which is really complex,” said David Heymsfeld, policy adviser for the American Association of People with Disabilities. “If you can qualify for both programs, we don’t see a basis for objecting. Heymsfeld noted that stopping the overlap wouldn’t save “big bucks,” either $281 million a year on Social Security Disability or $575 million from unemployment based on the GAO breakdown.

No current federal law authorizes a reduction or elimination of benefits in the case of double-dipping. And neither the Social Security Administration nor the Labor Department has “a process to indentify these overlapping benefit payments” being provided in part through state governments, the GAO said. The GAO rejected the “apples and oranges” argument by pointing out both programs replace lost earnings and therefore have similar goals and engage in similar activities that occasionally overlap.

The average double-dipper collected $7,316 in fiscal 2010. About 1,500 reaped more than $40,000 a year. One individual highlighted in the report got $62,000 during that period, and having since maxed out 99 weeks of unemployment in the middle of 2011 was still collecting $2,377 a month in disability as of April.

In order to determine possible fraud, the GAO will further investigate payments to eight recipients. One suffering from back pain collected $107,000 over the course of 36 months while also working construction jobs in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Kansas and Montana. The GAO concludes that both programs “face serious fiscal sustainability challenges, promoting the need to examine opportunities for potential cost savings.”

But in a bureaucratic paradox, Assistant Labor Secretary Jane Oates responded to the report in a letter noting that her agency – which requested $12 billion for fiscal 2013 – lacks the budget and manpower to identify these possible savings.

“Assessing overlapping benefit payments and determining appropriate recommendations and course of action based on this assessment,” Oates wrote, “will require significant time, effort and resources that may exceed those currently available.”

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Anonymous Takes Out GoDaddy Web Hosting/Domain Registration Company

September 10, 2012

US – GoDaddy, the domain registrar and Web hosting company, is down, perhaps taking millions of websites down as a result.

“Status Alert: Hey, all. We’re aware of the trouble people are having with our site. We’re working on it,” @GoDaddy tweeted Monday.

A quick call to the company’s customer service line resulted in this voice message:

“If you are having a problem with your email, we are aware of the problem.”

TechCrunch reports that GoDaddy email addresses are down, as well. The blog suggests customers concerned with that their site has been affected can check online status at Down For Everyone Or Just Me.

Twitter accounts claiming to be associated with the hacking group Anonymous claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Basically, every GoDaddy site on the planet just crashed,” @TibitXimer tweeted.

“#TangoDown – godaddy.com,” @AnonOpsLegion tweeted Monday, claiming that the Twitter account @AnonymousOwn3r was responsible for the breach. “TangoDown” is the term that Anonymous generally uses to signify that a website is down.

“By using / supporting Godaddy, you are supporting censorship of the Internet,” @AnonOpsLegion tweeted again later.

GoDaddy was the target of protests after it was discovered that the company supported unpopular bills the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA).

GoDaddy did not immediately respond to CBS News’ request for comment.

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50 US States In Debt For Over 4 TRILLION Dollars

August 28, 2012

US – America’s 50 states are collectively over $4 trillion in debt according to a new study by an independent, non-partisan think tank.

State Budget Solutions‘ third annual State Debt Report shows that aggregate state debt fell from $.24 trillion last year to $4.19 trillion this year. State Budget Solutions’ debt calculations include a state’s regular debt, the fiscal year 2013 budget gap, outstanding unemployment trust fund loans, unfunded other post employment benefit liabilities, and the state’s unfunded pension liabilities.

California, again, led all states in total debt weighing in at $617 billion in unfunded liabilities. On a per capita basis, each Californian faces $16,386 in state debt compared to just $11,117 owed by each Texan. The top five states in total debt burden where California, New York ($300 billion), Texas ($286 billion), New Jersey ($282 billion), and New Jersey ($271 billion). The same five states led the ranking last year.

Unfunded public pension liabilities are the main drivers of state fiscal woes, accounting for $2.8 trillion of the shortfall. Other post employment benefits, including health care, account for another $627 billion in debt. California faces $398 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and alone.

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British Police Plan Exposed By Officer Surrounding Ecuadorian Embassy – Julian “Assange To Be Arrested Under All Circumstances”

August 25, 2012

UK – A fairly basic security slip has showed just how far the British police are preparing to go to make sure Julian Assange doesn’t leaving the UK without getting his collar felt.

“Action required – Assange to be arrested under all circumstances,” reads a handwritten briefing note photographed in the hands of one of the officers surrounding the Ecuadorian embassy. The note says Assange is to be arrested if he leaves the embassy in the company of another diplomat or if the Ecuadorians try and smuggle him out in the diplomatic bag.

The police briefing note also warns that there may be an attempt at disruption to aid Assange’s escape, possibly by the protestors who are at the embassy. The note references SS10, which may be a misspelling of SO10, the Metropolitan Police’s covert operations group, and SS20, the forces’ counter-terrorism protective security command.

Checking the diplomatic bag to the embassy might seem nonsensical, summoning up images of Assange contorting himself into a piece of luggage, but diplomatically protected luggage can be anything up to and including a shipping container and they’ve carried people before.

In 1985 relations between the Nigerian government and the British were strained when the former Nigerian transport minister Umaru Dikko was abducted in London, drugged and found in diplomatic freight by police. In that case the authorities were able to inspect the crate Dikko had been stuffed into because the diplomatic paperwork on the flight had been incorrectly filed.

When it comes to its own diplomatic materials, however, the British government takes a harder line. It issued a strong protest when the sanctity of its own diplomatic bag was violated by Zimbabwean authorities in 2000.

The Ecuadorian government has also had its own problems in this area. In February the Italian authorities found 40kg of cocaine in diplomatic mail. The Ecuadorians allowed the search that discovered the drugs and announced a full investigation.

So for the moment the stand-off continues. Assange seems safe from extradition within the embassy grounds and has a long time to go before he becomes a long-standing occupant. The all-time winner of the embassy house-guest award is still held by Catholic cardinal József Mindszenty, who lived at the US Embassy in Budapest from 1956 to 1971.

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Nike Tries To Dictate How, When, And Where Private Retailers Will Sell Their Sneakers

August 21, 2012

US – Nike Inc has come up with new rules for retailers, prompted by unruly crowds outside stores selling its shoes, the Wall Street Journal reported.

According to a company memo reviewed by the paper, the world’s largest sportswear maker told sporting-goods stores that they will not be allowed to pre-sell or take reservations for new shoes.

The retailers, which include Foot Locker Inc and Dick’s Sporting Goods Inc , will also have to give up midnight releases of shoes that had prompted customers to camp outside and stampede stores, the paper reported.

“Retailers should assess what measures are necessary to secure the store and ensure the safety of personnel and consumers,” the Nike memo said, according to the Journal.

Nike representatives were not immediately available for comment outside regular business hours.

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Batman Movie Shooting Hysteria Sucks In Moviegoers And Law Enforcement From Coast To Coast

July 24, 2012

US – At least 3 men accused of making threats during or after watching the new Batman movie have been arrested in separate incidents, underscoring moviegoers’ anxieties and heightened security in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at a Colorado theater showing the film.

A Maine man was arrested when he told authorities that he was on his way to shoot a former employer a day after watching “The Dark Knight Rises,” Maine state police said Monday.

Timothy Courtois of Biddeford, Maine, had been stopped for speeding, and a police search of his car found an AK-47 assault weapon, four handguns, ammunition and news clippings about the mass shooting that left 12 people dead early Friday, authorities said.

Former graduate student James Holmes, 24, is accused of opening fire in a theater in a Denver suburb. The shooting also injured 58 people.

Courtois said he had attended the Batman movie on Saturday, although police have not confirmed whether he actually saw the film.

“I guess we’re taking everything at face value,” State Police Lt. Kevin Donovan said. “It’s very scary.”

Police searched Courtois’ home later Sunday and found a machine gun, several other guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

“We don’t know what his true intentions were,” said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. “Based on the arsenal that was confiscated, we brought in our counterparts from the FBI and ATF to assist with the investigation.”

Courtois was charged with speeding and possession of a concealed weapon.

In Southern California, a man at a Sunday afternoon showing of the film was arrested after witnesses said he made threats and alluded to the Aurora shooting when the movie didn’t start.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were called to a cinema complex in Norwalk after moviegoers said 52-year-old Clark Tabor shouted: “I should go off like in Colorado.” They said he then asked: “Does anybody have a gun?”

A security guard saw Tabor with a backpack on his knees in the second row, but deputies who searched the bag, the theater and its surrounding area did not find any weapon.

Separately, moviegoers in Sierra Visa, Ariz., panicked when a man who appeared intoxicated was confronted during a showing of the movie. The Cochise County Sheriff’s office said it caused “mass hysteria” and about 50 people fled the theater.

Off-duty Border Patrol agents tackled Michael William Borboa, 27, who had a backpack with him, according to The Arizona Daily Star. Authorities said it contained an empty alcohol container and a half-empty moonshine bottle.

Borboa was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, and threatening and intimidating.

Despite some jitters over the horrific shooting, moviegoers around the country still flocked to theaters to see the film, which was the final installment of the phenomenally successful Batman trilogy. Warner Bros. reported that it brought in $160.9 million over the weekend, making it the third highest opening weekend ever, after “The Avengers” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2.”

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Facebook And Other Social Networks Monitoring Users Chats For Police – Use Wrong Combination Of Words, They Report You, And Police Come Knocking On (Down) Your Door

July 13, 2012

US – Facebook and other social platforms are watching users’ chats for criminal activity and notifying police if any suspicious behavior is detected, according to a report.

The screening process begins with scanning software that monitors chats for words or phrases that signal something might be amiss, such as an exchange of personal information or vulgar language.

The software pays more attention to chats between users who don’t already have a well-established connection on the site and whose profile data indicate something may be wrong, such as a wide age gap. The scanning program is also “smart” — it’s taught to keep an eye out for certain phrases found in the previously obtained chat records from criminals including sexual predators.

If the scanning software flags a suspicious chat exchange, it notifies Facebook security employees, who can then determine if police should be notified.

Keeping most of the scanned chats out of the eyes of Facebook employees may help Facebook deflect criticism from privacy advocates, but whether the scanned chats are deleted or stored permanently is yet unknown.

The new details about Facebook’s monitoring system came from an interview which the company’s Chief Security Officer Joe Sullivan gave to Reuters. At least one alleged child predator has been brought to trial directly as a result of Facebook’s chat scanning, according to Reuters’ report.

When asked for a comment, Facebook only repeated the remarks given by Sullivan to Reuters: “We’ve never wanted to set up an environment where we have employees looking at private communications, so it’s really important that we use technology that has a very low false-positive rate.”

SEE ALSO: State Law Requires Sex Offenders to List Status on Facebook

Facebook works with law enforcement “where appropriate and to the extent required by law to ensure the safety of the people who use Facebook,” according to a page on its site.

“We may disclose information pursuant to subpoenas, court orders, or other requests (including criminal and civil matters) if we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law. This may include respecting requests from jurisdictions outside of the United States where we have a good faith belief that the response is required by law under the local laws in that jurisdiction, apply to users from that jurisdiction, and are consistent with generally accepted international standards.

“We may also share information when we have a good faith belief it is necessary to prevent fraud or other illegal activity, to prevent imminent bodily harm, or to protect ourselves and you from people violating our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. This may include sharing information with other companies, lawyers, courts or other government entities.”

Indeed, Facebook has cooperated with police investigations in the past. In April, it complied with a police subpoena from the Boston Police Department by sending printouts of wall posts, photos and login/IP data of a murder suspect.

Is Facebook doing a public service by monitoring chats for criminal behavior? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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Victims With Obama-Mentality Think President Is Going To Pay Their Utilities, Phone Service, And Loans – Just Another Identity Theft Scam/Hoax Targeting Those With Tiny IQ’s

July 11, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – A myth that President Obama is giving people money to pay their bills has prompted thousands of people across the country to try to pay for utilities, phone service and loans using bogus bank routing numbers.

United Way of Cleveland’s 2-1-1 changed its answering machine Monday to say rumors of the Obama program were false after fielding dozens of calls.

Later that day, a United Way employee was on an RTA bus when a rider stood up and announced to fellow passengers that Obama was paying people’s bills. The rider told people they could use the red numbers on the backs of their Social Security cards to tap into the government money. Steve Wertheim of United Way said the woman claimed she had successfully paid her electric bill using the technique.

Such unprompted testimonials are spreading the hoax through entire communities, putting consumers, at minimum, at risk of late payment penalties and service disruptions.

In some iterations, the bogus “Obama program” appears to be an identity theft scam. According to news reports, uniformed con men with clipboards went door to door in a handful of states, signing people up by collecting Social Security numbers and then giving them phony bank routing numbers to use to pay their bills.

But here, it seems less scam than hoax.

People aren’t asking for anyone’s Social Security numbers. They’re passing along bogus routing numbers, apparently in the belief they’re real.
What victims should do

The bill-paying myth poses several distinct dangers for consumers:

• If they’re using bogus routing numbers, their payments will eventually bounce, leaving them with late payment or other penalty fees.

• People who were already behind on payments could face serious consequences, including insurance lapses, repossessions or service terminations.

• If they gave their Social Security number to someone purporting to sign them up either in person or by phone, they run the risk of identity theft.

Consumers who fell for the hoax should contact the companies they paid with bogus numbers to arrange for genuine payments as soon as possible.

Those who need utilities or other assistance should contact United Way at 2-1-1 or 216-436-2100 to be connected to legitimate nonprofits who can help.

Anyone who gave a scammer a Social Security number should contact the Federal Trade Commission for ID theft information at 1-877-438-4338.

Jeanette Lee, who works in billing for a Cleveland hospital, said she heard about the program over the weekend from friends and relatives who swore it worked. “They were calling me to tell me to do it,” she said.

An aunt, Lee said, insisted that she paid her insurance and cell phone bills with one of the routing numbers she received through the grapevine.

A nephew used the system to make a car payment.

“The president didn’t announce that when he was in town,” Lee told them, but family members would not be dissuaded that citizens could tap into government funds to pay up to $1,000 in household bills.

“I guess because everybody needs some type of help,” Lee said. “It’s really bad out there.”

One version of the hoax involves using the series of red numbers on the back of a Social Security cards as a bank routing number.

The red numbers actually are a security feature added to cards in 1996 to prevent counterfeiting, a Social Security spokesman said.

FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Meyers said the utility, which operates across 12 states, spotted the trend in May when its payment systems began jettisoning large numbers of phony routing numbers. The company issued a warning that the government program wasn’t real, and the Better Business Bureau followed suit.

But tall tales have spread.

A Florida electric company posted an alert to its customers last week after as many as 2,000 customers tried to use bogus routing numbers to pay bills in a 24-hour-period.

Feeding the hoax — and the testimonials — is that some bill payment systems may give consumers may confirmation numbers when they pay by phone. The confirmation doesn’t always mean the payment was successful – it may only confirm the bank information was logged into the call center, said Lou Tekavcic, a trade specialist for the Better Business Bureau.

“Anybody can call and give you a bogus routing number,” Tekavcic said. “It doesn’t mean it will go through.”

When the bogus numbers weren’t immediately rejected, some victims apparently believed the program was real and spread the word.

One caller told the BBB her friends were trying to make mortgage payments through the bogus program, Tekavcic said.

As Meyers of FirstEnergy points out, consumers struggling to pay bills are particularly at risk. They may believe the government covered their payment; but when that payment is ultimately rejected, their utilities could be shut off or they could be dropped from heating assistance programs that require them to keep up with payments.

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Anonymous Vows To “Diminish If Not Eradicate” Child Pornography Sites From The Internet – Expose Pedophiles Accounts And Identity

July 10, 2012

US – Sections of Anonymous have once again turned their ire towards online sites frequented by child abusers.

OpPedoChat follows earlier campaigns by sections of the hacktivist groups that subjected websites linked to the distribution of paedophile material with denial of service attacks and membership exposure. For example, Operation Darknet in October 2011 targeted hidden child abuse hubs on .onion domains, only accessible to Tor users or through Tor gateways.

This time around the hacktivist group has set its sights on 100 domains that host forums allegedly used by child abusers for chat and picture sharing.

Anonymous has promised to deface or hijack targeted domains as well as tracing and exposing the personal details of (ie. doxing) their members. A number of data dumps have already appeared on Pastebin related to OpPedoChat, featuring emails and addresses purportedly taken from users of the targeted forums.

In a YouTube video, Anonymous sets out a manifesto for the operation and calls for public support, including lobbying of politicians and the media, to “create political and social pressure on these paedophile sites”.

Recently it has come to our attention that there has been a surge of websites dedicated to pedophiles for chat and picture sharing …

Anonymous aim to diminish if not eradicate this plague from the internet. For the good of our followers, for the good of mankind, and for our own enjoyment we shall expel from the internet and systematically destroy any such boards that continue to operate.

Anonymous recognises this as a serious undertaking and do not expect it to be completed in a short period of time. Factions of Anonymous from all over the globe are participating in sub-operations. Information on pedophiles is being gathered and released.

Anonymous prides itself on championing free speech, a stance somewhat at odds with denial of service attacks elements of the group frequently engage in. In this case the need to protect the innocence of children that might be abused takes precedence, the group argues

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Nigerian Style e-Mail Scams Earned $9.3 BILLION Worldwide In 2009, And Gross Increases By 5 Percent A Year As More Morons Are Getting Internet Connections

June 23, 2012

WORLD – You open your inbox, and a familiar message pops up:

DEAR SIR, I am Prince Kufour Otumfuo the elder son of the late King Otumfuo Opoku ware II whose demise occur following a brief illness. Before the death of my father, King Otumfuo Opoku ware II, I was authorised and officially known as the next successor and beneficiary of my father’s property according to African Traditional rite. …

“Seriously?,” you mutter. Since you are not (presumably!) a total idiot, you immediately recognize this for what it is — an Internet scam. Someone’s claiming to have untold riches and they just need you to wire them some money so that they can airlift said riches your way. It’s the most crudely obvious Internet hustle in the history of Internet hustles.

So why don’t Internet scammers try to change up their tactics? Everyone knows about the Nigerian prince. It’s tired and cliched. Why don’t more scammers try to dupe us with the fake inheritances of a Kazakh prince instead, or with Greek bonds or fancy credit default swaps or something clever like that? Something we haven’t seen before?

A fascinating new paper (pdf) from Microsoft researcher Cormac Herley actually tries to answer this question. He notes that 51 percent of all e-mail scams still originate from Nigeria, even though this is the most obvious scam known to mankind. And Corley argues (with math and graphs) that it’s not because scammers are stupid. Most of them are actually quite clever. Rather, they’re explicitly trying to weed out everyone but the most gullible respondents:

Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. Since his attack has a low density of victims the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce false positives. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor.

Scamming people, after all, costs time and money. Herley notes that everyone who responds to a scamming ploy “requires a large amount of interaction.” The worst thing that can happen, from the scammer’s point of view, is that a savvy person starts responding and toying with the scammer. (Teddy Wayne, a writer for The Awl, recently conducted an amusing three-month Facebook correspondence with a man from Malaysia pretending to be a beautiful woman — this is a nightmare for scammers!) Better to keep the e-mails predictable and tired. That way only the most unsuspecting suckers respond.

At any rate, the scammers must be doing something right. In 2009, these “advanced-fee fraud” efforts managed to pry $9.3 billion out of unwitting victims around the world. And the business is growing at a 5 percent rate each year — especially as more people in developing countries get connected to the Internet.

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“Zombie” Specific Bullet Sales Soar After Recent String Of Cannibal Attacks

June 7, 2012

US – So, will this ammunition actually defend against the things that go bump in the night?

Deger said company president Steve Hornady came up with the idea for Zombie Max bullets because of his love for zombie movies and shows.

“After it gained some acceptance among some of us here in the company got on board with the idea we decided just to have some fun with a marketing plan that would allow us to create some ammunition designed for that … fictional world,” Deger said.

He said the Zombie Max and Z-Max bullets are Hornady’s most successful products.

“This is probably one of the only (product) launches that we’ve seen when people who are not in the hunting and shooting industry will go out and they will purchase this,” Deger said.

“I mean, I’ve heard of guys who buy it just because they think the packaging is cool and they set it on their cube and they don’t even own a gun,” he said. ”It has that sort of cross-market appeal, which I think is rare to find these days, where you can actually sell something that will transcend not just one market but go into several.”

In Michigan, the bullets are available at Cabela’s. You can find other retailers selling Zombie bullets at this link.

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