State Department pulls out diplomats, families in wake of Cuba sonic attacks – CNNPolitics

So … who would most benefit from a breakdown in US-Cuba relations? Anyone know? Anyone?

If you said Vladimir Putin, you might be on your way to solving this mystery!

In November, following the US presidential election, American diplomats began to experience a series of strange incidents. As CNN first reported in August, diplomats were awoken late at night in their homes feeling unwell and hearing sounds that resembled insects or metal dragging across the floor.

They were unable to determine the source of the sound, but when they left the room or area they were in the incidents stopped immediately, two US government officials said.

By February, the State Department had concluded their diplomats were the targets of a campaign of harassment and they needed to raise the issue with Cuban officials.

The devices used in the incidents have never been found, two US officials said, but appeared to be a type of sonic weapon that emitted sound waves capable of inflicting physical harm.

But the physical symptoms that people exhibited varied greatly, preventing doctors consulted in the United States from reaching a conclusion about what caused the trauma, two US officials said.

US government technical experts were also baffled. Some affected diplomats had lines of sight to the street in their homes, while others had shrubbery and walls that blocked views of their homes. Some heard loud sounds when the incidents took place, while others heard nothing.

Source: State Department pulls out diplomats, families in wake of Cuba sonic attacks – CNNPolitics

Running pays off


I took my “biometric health screening” this week so I could get my 20% discount off of next year’s health insurance (a “workplace wellness” program that is, in fact, a sham) and I’m happy to say I crushed it. HDL Cholesterol up four points since last August, Triglycerides down 12 points. Total cholesterol the same.

What really surprised me were my vital signs. My blood pressure was so good the phlebotomist opted to check it again. I recorded 119/59. My resting heart rate was an astounding 42 BPM! All my life I’ve had good heart rates, sometimes dipping into the 40s when I was a healthy teenager, but I’d never seen one as low as 42 before.

All told, I would say my renewed exercise is paying off. 🙂

Workplace wellness programs are a sham.

Throughout the 1990s, federal regulations kept workplace wellness programs in check. Companies were allowed to offer modest financial incentives, but the rewards could be tied only to participation, not to outcomes. In other words, companies could offer workers cash or a discount on their insurance premiums for completing an HRA or a biometric screening, but they had to give all participants the same reward regardless of their health status.

That changed during the George W. Bush administration. In December 2006, Bush’s regulators in the departments of Labor, Treasury, and Health and Human Services—the three agencies that regulate group health plans and enforce HIPAA—finalized a new rule establishing that companies could tie financial rewards to health outcomes. Not only that, they could increase the size of the financial rewards up to 20 percent of the total cost of the health plan.

Put another way, this meant that companies could shift up to 20 percent of the total cost of premiums onto unhealthy employees. Business leaders had told administrators that they’d have “a greater opportunity to encourage healthy behaviors through programs of health promotion and disease prevention if they are allowed flexibility in designing such programs,” as Bush’s staff wrote in the rule.

Source: Workplace wellness programs are a sham.

Four college basketball assistant coaches hit with federal fraud, corruption charges – CBSSports.com

Acting US Attorney of New York, Joon H. Kim.

While the FBI’s charges of bribery and fraud are concerning, I am not at all shocked. In fact, I hope this leads to much-needed reform of college basketball – and why not all of college athletics, while we’re at it? Overlooked in this story is the fact that universities, cable TV networks (and, yes, shoe companies) are literally making billions of dollars off the labor of unpaid “student-athletes.”

College athletics is big business, undeniably. It’s all about the money now, the quaint idea of a “student-athlete” be damned. We shouldn’t be so shocked at the flow of money as we are that none of it flows to those who deserve it most: the athletes. It’s time to stop this farce once and for all.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced early Tuesday that charges of fraud and corruption have been brought against four current college basketball assistant coaches — namely Arizona’s Emanuel “Book” Richardson, Auburn’s Chuck Person, Oklahoma State’s Lamont Evans and USC’s Tony Bland. Managers, financial advisers and representatives of a major sportswear company have also been charged with federal crimes in a scandal that has rocked the sport.”

The picture of college basketball painted by the charges is not a pretty one,” Joon H. Kim, the acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference. “Coaches at some of the nation’s top programs taking cash bribes, managers and advisers circling blue-chip prospects like coyotes, and employees of a global sportswear company funneling cash to families of high school recruits. … For the 10 charged men, the madness of college basketball went well beyond the Big Dance in March. Month after month, the defendants exploited the hoop dreams of student-athletes around the country, allegedly treating them as little more than opportunities to enrich themselves through bribery and fraud schemes.”

Source: Four college basketball assistant coaches hit with federal fraud, corruption charges – CBSSports.com

Why didn’t Equifax protect your data? Because corporations have all the power. – The Washington Post

My coworker and I were musing about the huge Equifax breach, where 143 million Americans had their personal data exposed to hackers. We wondered if Equifax would pay a price for this loss. Then we wondered who could punish Equifax.

It’s not us, we concluded. We’re not Equifax’s customers, we’re their product!

Here’s a great perspective piece in the Washington Post which discusses how lopsided the tables are towards large corporations and against the little guys like you and me.

No wonder. To be an American consumer these days is to have become numb to signing away your rights so you can buy products and services. If you want to use a smartphone, you have to agree to give your privacy to the company that makes it, and to your Internet provider, which can see every website you visit. If you want to use email, you agree that the provider can scan your messages for certain words to sell ads. And when you sign up for financial services, you give away your rights to negotiate how your money is used or how your information is protected. The people whose Social Security numbers Equifax lost had no say in how the company acquired, uses or guards their financial information.

Source: Why didn’t Equifax protect your data? Because corporations have all the power. – The Washington Post

Experian Site Can Give Anyone Your Credit Freeze PIN — Krebs on Security

What good does it do to lock down your credit with a credit freeze if Experian will hand over your PIN to anyone who asks?

An alert reader recently pointed my attention to a free online service offered by big-three credit bureau Experian that allows anyone to request the personal identification number (PIN) needed to unlock a consumer credit file that was previously frozen at Experian.

The first hurdle for instantly revealing anyone’s freeze PIN is to provide the person’s name, address, date of birth and Social Security number (all data that has been jeopardized in breaches 100 times over — including in the recent Equifax breach — and that is broadly for sale in the cybercrime underground).

After that, one just needs to input an email address to receive the PIN and swear that the information is true and belongs to the submitter. I’m certain this warning would deter all but the bravest of identity thieves!

Source: Experian Site Can Give Anyone Your Credit Freeze PIN — Krebs on Security

Dubai: The Vegas of the Middle East, with a catch

Johnny Walker Red

A recent story about a Brit who inadvertently ran afoul of the law in Dubai reminded me of the first (and last) time I visited Dubai.

When I was in the US Navy in the early 1990s my ship made a stop in Dubai. A group of my fellow sailors and I booked rooms at (what was at the time) a fairly high-end hotel to relax. I was astonished when entering my room to find a thank you card and a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, a gift for our protecting the Gulf. Being gifted a bottle of fine scotch in a Muslim country was a taste of the odd juxtaposition and tension in Dubai, where east meets west and tries to offer something for everyone.

In the days I wandered around Dubai seemed clear to me what the cultural expectations were. Back then it was a few hotels and mostly sand but now Dubai advertises itself as an exotic playground, the Las Vegas of the Middle East. It seems to me it’s easier now to cross a line one didn’t mean to cross, though I have not been back since. I was planning a trip to Dubai with my wife around Sept 11, 2001 but .. .uh, soon scuttled it :-(.

(Wikimedia Commons photo by Mohylek)