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The US has some catching up to do

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 July 2016 at 7:45 pm

If Russian Intelligence Did Hack the DNC, the NSA Would Know, Snowden Says

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Robert Mackey has an interesting report in The Intercept:

As my colleague Glenn Greenwald told WNYC on Monday, while there may never be conclusive evidence that the Democratic National Committee was hacked by Russian intelligence operatives to extract the trove of embarrassing emails published by WikiLeaks, it would hardly be shocking if that was what happened.

“Governments do spy on each other and do try to influence events in other countries,” Glenn noted. “Certainly the U.S. government has a very long and successful history of doing exactly that.”

Even so, he added, given the ease with which we were misled into war in Iraq by false claims about weapons of mass destruction — and the long history of Russophobia in American politics — it is vital to cast a skeptical eye over whatever evidence is presented to support the claim, made by Hillary Clinton’s aide Robby Mook, that this is all part of a Russian plot to sabotage the Democrats and help Donald Trump win the election.

The theory gained some traction, particularly among Trump’s detractors, in part because the candidate has seemed obsessed at times with reminding crowds that Russian President Vladimir Putin once said something sort of nice about him (though not, as Trump falsely claims, that the American is “a genius”). Then last week, Trump’s campaign staff watered down a pledge to help Ukraine defend its territory from Russian-backed rebels and the candidate told the New York Times he would not necessarily honor the NATO treaty commitment that requires the United States military to defend other member states from a direct attack by Russia.

Since Trump has refused to release his tax returns, there are also questions about whether or not his businesses might depend to some extent on Russian investors. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son Donald Jr. told a real estate conference in 2008, the Washington Post reported last month. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Paul Manafort, who is directing Trump’s campaign and was for years a close adviser of a Putin ally, former President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine,called the theory that Trump’s campaign had ties to the Russian government “absurd.” (On Monday, Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News reported that a DNC researcher looking into Manafort’s ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine in May had been warned that her personal Yahoo email account was under attack. “We strongly suspect that your account has been the target of state-sponsored actors,” the warning from the email service security team read.)

Unhelpfully for Trump, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2016 at 1:59 pm

Anything for profits: Olympus told U.S. executives no broad scope warning needed despite superbug outbreaks

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Chad Terhune reports in the LA Times:

Faced with superbug outbreaks in three countries by early 2013, Japanese device giant Olympus Corp. told U.S. executives not to issue a broad warning to American hospitals about potentially deadly infections from tainted medical scopes, internal emails show.

After two dozen infections were reported in French and Dutch hospitals, the company alerted European customers in January 2013 that a scope it manufactured could become contaminated.

A top Olympus executive in the U.S. grew concerned because the company was investigating a similar outbreak at a Pittsburgh hospital.

“Should [we] also be communicating to our users the information that [Olympus Europe] is communicating to their European users?” Laura Storms, vice president of regulatory and clinical affairs in Center Valley, Pa., asked in an email to Tokyoheadquarters on Jan. 31, 2013.

No, that’s not necessary, said Susumu Nishina, the company’s chief manager for market quality administration in Tokyo in a Feb. 6, 2013, reply.

It is “not need[ed] to communicate to all the users actively,” Nishina wrote, because a company assessment of the risk to patients found it to be “acceptable.”  However, he added that Storms should respond to questions from a customer.

Outbreaks of infection at hospitals in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Denver and other cities followed over the next three years. All told, at least 35 people at U.S. hospitals have died since 2013 – three of them at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center – after suffering infections from contaminated gastrointestinal scopes manufactured by Olympus, according to hospitals and public health officials.

Olympus’ actions – and inaction – are being closely examined in lawsuits by American patients and their families who contend that the manufacturer was negligent and might have prevented the outbreaks and deaths had it been more forthcoming. In addition, federal prosecutors are investigating Olympus’ handling of the infections – and the emails could become crucial evidence in any future case.

The company’s internal emails reveal conflicts inside Olympus over how to respond to a growing threat to patient safety, pitting U.S. executives against their superiors in Japan who had the final say. The emails were filed in a Pennsylvania court this month as part of a patient lawsuit and obtained by Kaiser Health News working in collaboration with the Los Angeles Times. . .

Continue reading.

This is very reminiscent of the Tanaka airbag cover up.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 July 2016 at 10:34 am

Oil Lobby Paid Washington Post and Atlantic to Host Climate-Change Deniers at RNC

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Corporate control of US government is moving to corporate control of media messaging. Alex Emmons reports in The Intercept:

AT THE AWARD-WINNING seafood restaurant in downtown Cleveland thatThe Atlantic rented out for the entire four-day Republican National Convention, GOP Rep. Bill Johnson turned to me and explained that solar panels are not a viable energy source because “the sun goes down.”

Johnson had just stepped off the stage where he was one the two featured guests speaking at The Atlantic’scocktail caucus,” where restaurant staff served complimentary wine, cocktails, and “seafood towers” of shrimp, crab cakes, oysters, and mussels to delegates, guests, reporters and, of course, the people paying the bills.

The event was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying arm of fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and ConocoPhilips.

Johnson, a climate denier and influential member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, spoke of a future when American scientists “solve these big problems” and “figure out how to harness the sun’s energy, and store it up, so that we can put it out over time.” His hypothetical invention, of course, is called a battery, and was invented over 200 years ago.

Instead of balancing Johnson with an environmentalist or a climate scientist,The Atlantic paired Johnson with another notorious climate denier: Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who is an energy adviser to Donald Trump. Cramer hascalled global warming “fraudulent science by the EPA,” and once told a radio audience in 2012 that “we know the globe is cooling.”

Both congressmen went nearly unchallenged by the moderator, The Atlantic’sWashington Editor Steve Clemons, who said he wasn’t able to find an opposing speaker, but went ahead with the event anyway.

Lewis Finkel, a top lobbyist for the American Petroleum Institute gave the opening remarks. “We are pushing forward for a robust energy discussion during this election cycle,” he said.

Evidence of human-made climate change is so conclusive that it’s wrong for journalists to treat its denial like a reasonable point of view. But it is a new low for major media groups to sell their brand to lobbyists and let climate truthers go unchallenged.

And The Atlantic was hardly alone. At the Republican National Convention, the American Petroleum Institute also paid the Washington Post and Politico to host panel conversations where API literature was distributed, API representatives gave opening remarks, and not one speaker was an environmentalist, climate expert, scientists, or Democrat.

At The Atlantic‘s event, Cramer and Johnson both downplayed concerns about climate science. “The 97 percent of the scientists who believe its real, don’t all believe the exact same level,” said Cramer. “Whose fault it is, what’s going to stop it, … there’s a wide range in that spectrum.”

Johnson told the audience “climate change is probably not in most American’s top 10, top 20 issues.”

Clemons offered only limited pushback. When Johnson argued that alternative energy should not receive federal subsidies, Clemons pointed out that “the natural gas and the oil industry and the fossil fuel sector also have massive subsidies built into them,” and asked Johnson, “Would you remove all of those? How do you have that discussion?”

Johnson replied with a non-answer: “You let the energy market drive the innovation. I am not against incentives … for companies trying to pursue energy-efficient projects.” Clemons did not press him on the point. . .

Continue reading. Video at the link.

It will be interesting to see what, if anything, James Fallows has to say about this.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2016 at 6:35 pm

Would Fortune 500 companies use ransomware against their competitors? if it increased profits?

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We are familiar with the way corporate executives are perfectly willing to break the law (and pay a fine: no on ever goes to jail, and the company pays for the fines) if it increases profits, particularly if the fines (if any) are but a fraction of the profit realized. (See earlier post today and Jamie Dimon’s secret meetings)

So why would a corporation hesitate to use ransomware against its competitors? … [crickets] …

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai reports in Motherboard:

Ransomware—computer viruses that lock a victim’s files and demand a payment to get them back—has become so common that experts believe it’s now an “epidemic.”

Security experts have always assumed that ransomware hackers are in it for the ransom. But a shocking claim made by one ransomware agent suggests there may be another motive: corporate sabotage.

In an exchange with a security researcher pretending to be a victim, one ransomware agent claimed they were working for a Fortune 500 company.

“We are hired by [a] corporation to cyber disrupt day-to-day business of their competition,” the customer support agent of a ransomware known as Jigsaw said, according to a new report by security firm F-Secure.

Ransomware is an attractive endeavor for cybercriminals. By asking for relatively low amounts of money from victims—as low as $150 or $400—it has a high rate of success. And by targeting thousands of internet users indiscriminately, it scales really well. But if this operator’s statements are true, it seems like a gang of cybercriminals has found a new way to get paid twice: once by ransom, and once by companies to disrupt their competitors.

The operator thought they were talking to just another ransomware victim, but it was actually an F-Secure researcher posing as “Christine Walters,” a fake persona of a 40-year-old from Finland who knows little about computers and nothing about ransomware.

F-Secure researchers used “her” to contact the operators and support agents of several ransomware families. (Ransomware operations now commonly have “support portals” where victims can get help to understand how to unlock files or use bitcoin to pay for the ransom).

In their exchanges, the ransomware agent told “Christine,” that they were surprised she got infected because their operation was targeting specific victims chosen by a corporate client.

“I don’t even know how you got it,” the agent said. “Never have we done anything in Finland.”

The agent never gives too many details, just tantalizing hints. At one point, they say that “the purpose was just to lock files to delay a corporation’s production time to allow our clients to introduce a similar product into the market first.”

“Yes, big name corporation. Fortune 500 company. What I still don’t understand is that the target is in the USA and you and another person in Finland got the email and the client always gives us the contact emails so you are on someone’s mailing list,” the agent told “Christine,” according to F-Secure.

I tried reaching out to the agent via email, but didn’t get an answer for days. When I prodded them again for an interview, I simply got a short response: “I decline. Thank you.”

The agent’s claim that the gang was getting paid by a corporate client to target a specific organization is unprecedented, according to F-Secure.

“If this indeed was a case where ransomware was used on purpose to disrupt a competitor’s operation, it’s the only case we know of,” Mikko Hypponen, the chief research officer at F-secure, told me in an email.

In their last message with “Christine,” the agent says . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2016 at 4:28 pm

Club Date Musicians, by Bruce MacLeod

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I wracked my brain to remember this—I recalled a long article in the New Yorker about club date musicians, but then I remembered Google.

Amazon has the book (also available here), though it seems to be out of print. Google Books provides a summary:

New York-area club date musicians play from memory, often drawing on repertoires spanning fifty years of popular music to produce arrangements on the spot. Impressive as their skills are, though, they occupy an ambivalent position: their art must be background, never overshadowing the event, whether a wedding, a bar mitzvah, or a debutante ball. Their artistic and musical skills, finely tuned for club date gigs, are rarely even noticed, much less remarked upon, by their audiences.

Club Date Musicians is a pioneering ethnomusicological portrait focusing on the three hundred to five hundred New York musicians whose primary income is derived from playing private parties. Interviewing more than a hundred musicians and observing more than forty performances, Bruce MacLeod lets the musicians speak for themselves.

MacLeod examines the relation of audience to performer, the ensembles’ social and musical organization, the musicians’ economic and social status, and the process of change within the musical culture. The reader will discover why New York club date musicians don’t use written music, how rock and roll has affected the occupation, and why the stereotypical picture of the bored, inept club date performer is unfair.

It was fascinating reading.

Somehow I’m reminded of the scene of the comics sitting around a diner table in Carnegie Delicatessen, their stories acting as the frame for one of Woody Allen’s good movies, Broadway Danny Rose, talking about the old days, how many venues were available in New York and just over the river in New Jersey. They were bemoaning how many had closed, and one said his last dates had been in Philadelphia and then in Baltimore. “To be a comic today,” he said, “you have to have a good set of tires.”

I wonder what the club date scene is like today.

Broadway Danny Rose is, I think, a movie about forgiveness.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2016 at 4:16 pm

Did Jamie Dimon’s Secret Meetings With Competitors Violate Antitrust Laws?

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I do not agree with Tim Kaine, possibly our next VP, that banks should be even less regulated than they are now. Even with the current levels of regulation, we see much criminal activity on Wall Street. Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

A mere three months after JPMorgan Chase and three of its competitors (Citicorp, Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland) pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to rig foreign currency trading and paid criminal fines totaling over $2.5 billion, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, began meeting in secret with his competitors in the asset management field.

On February 1 of this year, the Financial Times reported that “secret summits” had been held beginning in August 2015 between “asset management bosses” including Jamie Dimon, Abby Johnson of Fidelity, Larry Fink of BlackRock, and Tim Armour of Capital Group. The article went on to report that Dimon and Warren Buffett had convened the sessions at JPMorgan’s headquarters in New York to discuss “a statement of best practice on corporate governance.”

Secret meetings between competitors, regardless of what they are said to be discussing, is a serious no-no under U.S. antitrust law. A company like JPMorgan Chase, that was charged by the U.S. Justice Department in 2014 with two deferred prosecution felony counts for its egregious conduct in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme and hit again the next year with the felony count in the foreign currency conspiracy is skating on very thin ice. (It should be noted that under Jamie Dimon’s leadership, JPMorgan Chase received its only felony counts in the bank’s century old history. That should tell the public something about how things have changed in American banking culture.)

Two trial lawyers, Helen Davis Chaitman and Lance Gotthoffer, have written a book and set up a web site to call the public’s attention to JPMorgan’s mob-like activity. The lawyers write: “In the past four years alone, JPMorgan Chase has paid out $35,735,254,670 in fines and settlements for fraudulent and illegal practices.” In one chapter of the book, they compare JPMorgan Chase to the Gambino crime family and recommend that it be prosecuted under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).

If these meetings were genuinely about crafting “best practice on corporate governance” why did they commence in secret? Why were they not commenced at one of the official financial industry trade associations like the Financial Services Forum or the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), which says it is “the voice of the nation’s securities industry.”

According to guidelines published by various trade associations and law firms, the following rules must be followed when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 July 2016 at 3:26 pm

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