Samsung bribery case getting tacky

A South Korean court has reassigned the Samsung Group chief Jay Lee’s bribery trial to another judge.

Apparently, the judge had a connection to a woman Lee is accused of bribing.

To be fair to the judge, Lee Young-hoon, who presided over the March 9 pre-trial hearing for Jay Lee and four former and current Samsung Group executives alerted the authorities about his own connection.

But the decision comes a day after an opposition lawmaker accused Lee Young-hoon’s father-in-law of being a financial sponsor for Choi Soon-sil, a confidant of former president Park Geun-hye and a central figure in the graft scandal that led to Park’s removal from office and the Samsung chief’s indictment.

For those who came in late, Park was dismissed as president by the Constitutional Court on Friday last week and has been summoned by prosecution for questioning as a suspect in the bribery investigation.

The special prosecution team that indicted the Samsung chief accused Park of colluding with Choi to pressure big businesses to contribute to non-profit foundations backing her administration’s initiatives.

The court said in a statement that Lee Young-hoon’s father-in-law had denied the allegations and had not met or contacted Choi or her family since the assassination of Park’s father, former president Park Chung-hee, in 1979.

But the case is starting to look even messier than it was when Jay Lee was indicted by a special prosecution team on several charges including pledging $38.03 million in bribes to a company and foundations backed by Choi.

 

Trump slashes US science funding

The US government has cut funding to science as part of its cunning plan to return to a nice biblical view of things.

Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump has decided that there is far too much science which assumes really weird things, like the earth is older than six thousand years, and that everything is going to be wiped out by a giant flood. All of this is impossible according to the Bible, so he does not see why the US is funding it.

Instead Trump’s first budget plan wants to invest piles of cash in the military. The plan, released on 16 March, calls for double-digit cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health. It also lays the foundation for a broad shift in the United States’ research priorities, including a retreat from environmental and climate programmes.

Boffins are worried that the Trump administration’s stance will jeopardise US leadership in fields ranging from climate science to cancer biology. The US has only started to recover from President George Bush’s veto on the use of stem cells which were made for similar reasons. But these cuts are more sweeping.

Jason Rao, director of international affairs at the American Society for Microbiology in Washington DC. The greatest threats to the United States, he says, are those presented by infectious diseases, climate change, and energy production — which cannot be addressed effectively without scientific research.

The Trump budget will cut funding for the NIH by 18 percent , to $25.9 billion, making it one of the hardest-hit research agencies. The document also calls for a reorganisation of the NIH’s 27 institutes — including the elimination of the smallest, the Fogarty International Centre — but offers no further detail beyond a pledge to “rebalance Federal contributions to research funding”.

It appears that the move is based on a paranoia in the Bush camp that the NIH is overstepping its powers.

On the plus side Trump would also create a fund within the Department of Health and Human Services, the NIH’s parent, to respond to public health emergencies such as the spread of the Zika virus.

Scientists and public health experts have called for such a fund for years, but advocates say that starting one while cutting research and prevention programmes is pointless. It is cheaper to prevent a crisis than mop one up afterwards.

But the Environmental Protection Agency is going to lose a third of its $8.2-billion budget and 3,200 its 15,000 staff. The EPA’s Office of Research and Development would see its funding reduced by half, from $483 million to $250 million.

All this is because Trump does not believe in climate and environmental regulations. One biologist, who studies chemicals that affect the endocrine system in fish and potentially people, is part of a programme that Trump wants to eliminate. She said that the reason is that if there’s no science to point out potential problems, there won’t be any more regulations.

The White House wants to cut 5.6 percent, or $1.7 billion, from the Department of Energy (DOE). The plan would eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, which funds ‘high-risk, high-reward’ research. And it would slash $900 million, or about 20 percent, from the DOE’s Office of Science, which supports research on topics such as high-energy physics, energy, climate change and biology.

The Trump plan does not include an overall funding target for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But it would eliminate the agency’s long-running, $73-million Sea Grant programme, which supports 33 US colleges and universities that conduct research, education and training about ocean and coastal topics.

Still this is good news for the rest of the world as it will mean that while the US is dumbing down, it can take control of scientific developments without much in the way of competition. The UK did rather well when George Bush dropped the ball on stem cell research so it is likely that European research will do well.

What should be more worrying for Trump is that his moves will give more power to the Chinese and Russian governments who will also have time to catch up.

Judge nixes Google email scanning “settlement”

A federal judge  has thrown out a legal settlement which would have only paid lawyers but nothing to consumers who had the contents of their email scanned by Google without their knowledge or permission.

In a six page order, Judge Lucy Koh told Google and class action attorneys the proposed settlement was insufficient. Not just because it failed to clearly tell consumers what the search giant had done.

“This notice is difficult to understand and does not clearly disclose the fact that Google intercepts, scans and analyses the content of emails sent by non-Gmail users to Gmail users for the purpose of creating user profiles of the Gmail users to create targeted advertising for the Gmail users,” Koh wrote.

The case is mostly over whether Google’s email scanning practices amount to illegal wiretaps and a violation of California privacy laws. Google won a related lawsuit several years ago involving Gmail users.  This case is different, however, because it involves people who use other email providers—such as Microsoft, or Yahoo but whose messages are scanned without their permission when they send an email to a Gmail customer.

Google agreed to change the way it scans incoming messages so that it no longer reads emails while they are in transit, but only when they are in someone’s inbox. This is mostly a technicality but the company and the class action lawyers agree it puts Google in the clear as far as wiretap laws and they get a lot of money out it.

Judge Koh said the settlement does not provide an adequate technical explanation of Google’s workaround, which involves scanning in-transit emails for security purposes, and then later parsing them for advertising data.

“It does not disclose that Google will scan the email of non-Gmail users while the emails are in transit for the “dual purpose” of creating user profiles and targeted advertising and for detecting spam and malware,” Koh wrote.

The judge also added that another settlement last year, involving Yahoo’s scanning of emails, did not reflect the facts of the Google case.

Koh wants the case to proceed further and for the class action lawyers to push Google for recent documents about how the email scanning process really works. As the judge notes, the current settlement relies on documents that are three to six years old.

Any future settlement will presumably also have to do more to inform email users about Google’s scanning practices and, possibly, direct some of the settlement money to consumers instead of only the lawyers. Under the deal Koh rejected, Google would have paid $2.2 million to the attorneys, plus up to $140,000 in online ads to publicise the agreement.

Koh’s concerns reflect a sore point among many, including judges, who feel a long string of privacy settlements with big tech companies have done little to compensate consumers or improve privacy.

Trump insists that Obama was listening through his microwave

 

Donald (Prince of Orange) Trump is standing by his bizarre claim that former president Barrack Obama was listening into his election conversations through his microwave.

While every other member of the US Senate Intelligence Committee rejected Trump’s bizarre claim that the Obama administration wire-tapped him during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump is sticking to his guns, or rather his nukes.

The top Republican in Congress, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, added his voice to a growing chorus of lawmakers saying there was no sign of a wiretap.

But White House spokesman Sean Spicer forcefully defended the president, citing news reports of intelligence collection on possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia in the presidential campaign.

“There is no question that there were surveillance techniques used throughout this,” Spicer said.

The Republican president has accused his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, of wiretapping him near the end of the campaign. An Obama spokesman said that was “simply false”.

“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Mark Warner, the committee’s Democratic vice chairman, said in a statement.

Ryan also said there was no evidence of surveillance.

“The point is, the intelligence committees in their continuing, widening, ongoing investigation of all things Russia, got to the bottom – at least so far – with respect to our intelligence community that – that no such wiretap existed,” the House speaker told reporters.

Pressed at the White House briefing on whether Trump would back down from his wiretap accusations, Spicer said: “He stands by it”.

Spicer also chastised the media for focusing so much attention on comments disparaging Trump’s claim about surveillance. He said reporters had not focused enough on comments from officials denying evidence of any collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

But that might have been because the news is really about Trump’s allegations that his associates had ties to Russian officials and the White House wants that buried. Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, last month after he failed to disclose contacts with Russia’s ambassador before Trump took office on January 20.

An official familiar with the investigations by Congress and intelligence and law enforcement agencies said investigators had looked as aggressively and thoroughly as they could for evidence of any spying on Trump or his associates but had found none.

At least four congressional committees included the startling accusation in their investigations of possible Russian meddling in the election campaign and Russian ties to Trump and his associates.

Oracle’s increased cloud profits are cool for Catz

Database outfit Oracle reported better than expected quarterly profit and adjusted revenue as the business software maker benefits from its transition to cloud-based products.

Sales of the company’s cloud-computing software and platform service rose nearly 62 percent to $1.19 billion.

However, it was not all plain sailing because its software licensing business fell nearly 16 percent. This is being seen by some analysts that Oracle has managed to move to the cloud to tackle the shrinking licensing business.

Safra Catz, Oracle chief executive, said during the earnings call that growth in revenue from its cloud business has overtaken new software licenses.

She said adjusted revenue from its Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) unit rose 86 percent to $1.1 billion on a constant currency basis, which was at the high end of its previous guidance.

Oracle’s net income rose to $2.24 billion in the third quarter ended 28 February, from $2.14 billion last year.

Oracle’s total adjusted revenue rose nearly three percent to $9.27 billion, marginally beating estimates.
The company revenue to grow between negative one percent and positive two percent.

North Korea turns to robbing banks

When he is not lobbing missiles into the Sea of Japan, shooting his rivals with anti-aircraft guns or having his brother poisoned, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is taking time out to rob Western banks.

Cyber security outfit Symantec said that a North Korean hacking group known as Lazarus was likely behind a recent cyber campaign targeting organizations in 31 countries, following high-profile attacks on Bangladesh Bank, Sony and South Korea.

Writing in its corporate bog Symantec said researchers have uncovered four pieces of digital evidence suggesting the Lazarus group was behind the campaign that sought to infect victims with “loader” software used to stage attacks by installing other malicious programs.

Symantec researcher Eric Chien said that it was reasonably certain Lazarus was responsible.

The North Korean government has denied allegations it was involved in the hacks, and said its glorious leader was at a wine and cheese evening when the attacks happened and there were nearly a dozen generals who can give him an alibi.

Symantec said it did not know if any money had been stolen. Nonetheless, Symantec said the claim was significant because the group used a more sophisticated targeting approach than in previous campaigns.

Lazarus has already been blamed for a string of hacks dating back to at least 2009, including last year’s $81 million heist from Bangladesh’s central bank, the 2014 hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment that crippled its network for weeks and a long-running campaign against organizations in South Korea.

Symantec has one of the world’s largest teams of malware researchers, regularly analyses emerging cyber threats to help can defend businesses, governments and consumers that use its security products.

The firm analyzed the hacking campaign last month when news surfaced that Polish banks had been infected with malware. At the time, Symantec said it had “weak evidence” to blame Lazarus.

Symantec said the latest campaign was launched by infecting websites that intended victims were likely to visit, which is known as a “watering hole” attack.

US addiction to outsourcing might cost it the Robot revolution

Pepper the Robot, courtesy Xavier CareThe US’s addiction to off-shoring might cost it a seat in the next revolution of manufacturing.

As robots are rushing to take over human jobs, the US is finding that its own manufacturing base is not taking advantage – mostly because it off-shored its manufacturing ages ago.

Roboticist Matt Rendall said that robotic job displacement will reshape global manufacturing and since America, which has outsourced much of its manufacturing and lacks serious investment in industrial robotics, it will be relegated to a third world country.

In the future, it will be the robot makers which will have the key role in determining how automation expands across the globe.

As the CEO of manufacturing robotics company Otto Motors, Rendall is building fleets of warehouse bots that could eventually replace the many fulfilment workers who are hired by companies like Amazon.  He said that the robots were coming.

“After the Great Recession, there was a fundamental change in people’s interest in automation. People started feeling the pain of high-cost labour and there’s an appetite for automation that we haven’t seen before.”

Rendall believes automation will, in the long-term, improve society and help humans live better lives, but there are changes afoot in the global manufacturing scene that could leave American industries in the dust.

“China is tracking to be the No. 1 user in robots used in industrial manufacturing and the country is driving “an overwhelming amount” of growth.

But China is responding to automation by embracing it instead of shying away from it. This is in stark contrast to industrial advances of the previous century, like Ford’s assembly line, that helped transform American industries into the most powerful on the planet.

The risk is of course is that if the US does not do something fast then that crown will leave it being a nuclear powered also ran on the world stage, dreaming of days when it used to be great.

 

IT security is still a man’s world darling

A new survey shows that while the IT world is pretty sexist, no part of it is worse than the IT Security industry, which is so backward it makes Neanderthals look like Homo Superior.

A report from the Centre for Cyber Safety and Education and the Executive Women’s Forum (EWF) said that not only do women make up one in ten of the cyber security workforce, they are paid much less despite having a better education than their sexist male colleagues.

The survey of more than 19,000 participants around the world finds that women have higher levels of education than men, with 51 percent holding a master’s degree or higher, compared to 45 percent of men.

Yet despite out qualifying them, women in cybersecurity earned less than men at every level and the wage gap shows very little signs of improvement. Men are four times more likely to hold C and executive level positions, and nine times more likely to hold managerial positions than women, globally.

More worrying is that 51 percent of women report encountering one or more forms of discrimination in the cybersecurity workforce. In the Western world, discrimination becomes far more prevalent the higher a woman rises in an organisation.

Lynn Terwoerds, executive director of the EWF said that companies who under-represent and under-use female talent were facing both a critical business issue.

They were also hindering the development of world class cybersecurity organizations and resilient companies, as well as the nation’s safety and protection.

Women who feel valued in their position are in organisations which provide training and leadership development resources.

Robot kills fellow worker

In what could be a first, a robot is being sued for killing a human colleague.

In July 2015, Wanda Holbrook, “a maintenance technician performing routine duties on an assembly line” at an auto-parts maker in Ionia, Michigan, called Ventra Ionia Main, “was ‘trapped by robotic machinery’ and crushed to death”.

On March 7, her husband, William Holbrook, filed a wrongful death complaint in Michigan federal court, naming five North American robotics companies involved in engineering and integrating the machines and parts used at the plant. These included Prodomax, Flex-N-Gate, FANUC, Nachi, and Lincoln Electric.

Holbrook’s job involved keeping robots in working order. She routinely inspected and adjusted processes on the assembly line at Ventra, which makes bumpers.

Holbrook was performing her regular duties when a machine acted very irregularly, according to the lawsuit reported in Courthouse News.

Holbrook was in the plant’s six-cell “100 section” when a robot unexpectedly activated, taking her by surprise. The cells are separated by safety doors and the robot should not have been able to move. But it somehow reached Holbrook, and was intent on loading a trailer-hitch assembly part right where she stood over a similar part in another cell.

The machine loaded the hardware onto Holbrook’s head. She was unable to escape, and her skull was crushed. Co-workers who eventually noticed that something seemed amiss found Holbrook dead.

William Holbrook seeks an unspecified amount of damages, arguing that before her gruesome death, his wife “suffered tremendous fright, shock and conscious pain and suffering”.

He also names three of the defendants — FANUC, Nachi, and Lincoln Electric — in two additional claims of product liability and breach of implied warranty.

The case argues that the robots, tools, controllers, and associated parts were not properly designed, manufactured or tested, and not fit for use.

“The robot from section 130 should have never entered section 140, and should have never attempted to load a hitch assembly within a fixture that was already loaded with a hitch assembly. A failure of one or more of defendants’ safety systems or devices had taken place, causing Wanda’s death,” the lawsuit alleges.

US secretary of state catches a bad case of the Hillaries

The US Secretary of State has been caught doing the sort of thing that cost Hillary Clinton the election.

According to New York attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Rex Tillerson used an email alias of “Wayne Tracker” to secretly communicate with other Exxon executives about climate change while serving as CEO of Exxon Mobil.

New York attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been leading an investigation of Exxon Mobil cased on whether the company misled investors by publicly arguing against the reality of climate change even though its executives knew the science was accurate.

The investigation was triggered by news reports describing climate research the company undertook in the 1970s and 1980s, which affirmed the work of other climate scientists and showed that greenhouse gas emissions were causing climate change.

Exxon buried that work and spent the next couple of decades claiming that the science was unclear, although it has recently publicly acknowledged reality,it said.

The e-mails that were provided allowed the Attorney General to figure out that Tillerson used the account between 2008 and 2015 at least, but it didn’t appear on Exxon’s list of accounts for which records were preserved.

The letter also mentions 34 other e-mail accounts “specifically assigned to top executives, board members, or assistants” that the Attorney General thinks should have been included.

An Exxon spinner said that the e-mail address, Wayne.Tracker@exxonmobil.com, is part of the company’s e-mail system and was “put in place for secure and expedited communications between select senior company officials and the former chairman for a broad range of business-related topics”.

The Office of the Attorney General claims that Exxon has continuously delayed and obstructed the production of documents from its top executives and board members, which are crucial to OAG’s investigation into Exxon’s touted risk-management practices regarding climate change.