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Opinion: A Fight For Us All-We Want More!

By Jordan Lewis | Counterpoint | September 15th, 2013 |

This Thursday, workers at the Hecht-Stanford dining hall worked out of the job. It was an affirmative statement that they want higher wages, better benefits, and more respect in the workplace. They stood up for themselves and other working people, and for that we should be extremely grateful.

The walkout took place at about noon. I was there, waiting with fellow Counterpoint co-hosts, ready to observe the proceedings. The workers were jubilant, happy to defy the wills of their overbearing bosses, if just temporarily. The workers marched along Ponce De Leon Boulevard and generally were well received by passers-by and motorists. The students that came by were supportive of the effort, though most students were not immediately aware of the walkout or the circumstances that preceded it.

The plight of the Chartwell’s workers is a rallying point in the local community. The crowd at the rally was a diverse set of individuals, from local activists, to Democratic Party leaders, to students, and supporters of labor. Father Corbishley, the chaplain of the St. Bede’s Episcopal Church at UM, was quick to mention that the prophets in the Old and New Testament made eradicating poverty a priority. UNICCO workers who recently received a new contract joined in support of the Chartwell’s employees.

The battle for better wages is not isolated to Chartwell’s. One leader wore a shirt that urged for justice at Wal-Mart, another retailer that pays poverty wages. . The societal costs of low wages and mediocre health care coverage are significant. In one such example, a 300-employee Wal-Mart store could cost $1.75 million per year

in taxpayer subsidies. On a similar note, McDonald’s and Visa put together a budget for somebody making $1,105 a month at McDonald’s (and $955 at a second job, because everybody has the ability to work 2 jobs at the same time). They also budgeted no money for gas to heat homes, and $20 for health insurance (basically acknowledging that one can’t afford health insurance under this budget). The situation at Chartwell’s is not too different; workers are forced to choose between important priorities. They live in some of the worst neighborhoods in Miami—and many make less than the medium income in these neighborhoods. Chartwell’s recently raised the cost of a meal at the dining hall by $1.75 but did not pass on any of those proceeds to its workers, many of whom have been there for over 10 years.

As students, we come to learn important skills such as problem solving and critical analysis; we also should learn how to be proper citizens. A good citizen lifts others in need. The Chartwells workers took a chance to fight for the rights of working people. According to Miss Betty, victory belonged to the Chartwells workers on Thursday. A fair contract isn’t just a victory for Chartwells employees; it’s a victory for the community, for the students, and for millions of Americans who work towards their American Dream every day.

Click the hyperlink below to listen to our interview with Miss Betty
Miss Betty Interview

From Under the Bridge to Into Our Hard Drives: Patent Trolls

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 13th, 2013 |

(Image credit: iDownloadBlog)

 

You might be wondering “what on Earth is a patent troll?”, so I’ll tell you– “patent troll” is a label for any person/company/firm/etc. that makes a business of threatening to people for alleged patent infringement: almost homogeneously, these people buy patents from other companies/inventors with absolutely zero intention of using the patents for anything other than ammunition for litigation (not to be confused with the MPAA, the RIAA, or the copyright system in general). Rather than using patents in their intended manner– to ensure an inventor has time to complete his/her invention– the patent troll uses the temporary legal monopoly granted with a patent as a means to extort money from inventors who come up with new ideas/inventions or extensions on previous ideas/inventions that may at first glance seem similar to the patents which the patent trolls hold. It is estimated that any actual litigation that is brought by patent trolls and does not get settled before a court battle leads to the patent trolls losing over 75% of the time.

The patent trolls are not a new phenomenon, but they certainly have grown to prominence since the rise of big software. Software development is unique in that software’s “life” goes by considerably faster than most physical items and it is often the case that something becomes standardized in a fraction of the time of physical items. This creates the opportunity for mass patent trolling: if someone obtains a patent for a piece of software that has become a standard before the patent has expired, it is incredibly likely that someone somewhere has made an improvement on that standard, and since this improvement was not done by the patent holder, the patent troll has a prime opportunity to launch a legal missile. Another litigation-mongering opportunity occurs when a piece of closed-sourced software (not free for everyone to tinker with) resembling an open-sourced software (free for everyone to tinker with) that is not well known gets a patent, and since the open-sourced software wasn’t patented, the new patent owner can try to sue, even if the closed-source software was developed after the invention or even adoption as a standard.

These scenarios sound perfectly viable for patent trolls, but in reality, the “perfect patent troll situation” rarely occurs. Most often, the later example– of closed-source software patents being used to attack open-sourced software– is the case. Or not at all; sometimes the patent trolls simply choose someone who has just enough money to pay a settlement, but not enough to want to go to war with the patent trolls, which can get pretty costly, easily reaching the millions mark for a regular patent case. This is where the problem lies: the immoral patent trolls lose over 75% of the time, but simply by bringing a suit, they are almost guaranteed a settlement because the target often won’t be able to afford a lawsuit, even if they are innocent.

The solution? Make it so that it’s in the patent trolls best interest to be actually right about bringing a suit. Make it so that the plaintiff pays the fees if the case is found to be a pile of garbage. This would make it so that the average target of the patent trolls would be able to go to court and win ~75% of the time. This isn’t a fix in itself, but it’s a start. To be honest, I think the entire patent system is far outdated and needs to be updated from scratch to the modern world. Somewhere in that reform, I think the best way to stop wrong patent lawsuits is to place risk on the accuser as opposed to how it is now where the risk is all on the defendant. As a side note, it would be nice if there were no software patents, given the building-block nature of software itself, but I seriously doubt that a majority would go along with removing patents for software.

 

A discussion on the sex trafficking industry

By Shelly Lynn | NFP | September 8th, 2013 |

Victoria Morales and Barbara Padron lead outreach teams in Hialeah, Biscayne Blvd and Miami Beach. This is part of Sharing One Love Outreach program. http://sharingonelove.org/  They’ve been conducting outreaches for the entire year and have repeatedly come across locations and information about the possible sex trafficking of local runaway children. They also connect with local groups, law enforcement and business owners to increase awareness and the identification and rescue of children that are at-risk of being commercially sexually exploited.

A typical outreach includes the following activities:

  • All first time volunteers receive street outreach training.
  • Volunteers form into small groups and identify local businesses to share information on Human Trafficking and the vulnerability of runaway children to being commercially sexually exploited.
  • Volunteers also handout flyers with red flags on on how employees can identify and report suspected human trafficking.
  • Groups also show pictures of missing children from the community to employees and record and report and possible sightings and relevant information.
  • Participants also complete surveys of areas that show signs of suspected commercial sexual activity. This data is used to identify areas that benefit or profit in facilitating human trafficking and other forms of commercial sexual abuse and exploitation.

A discussion on the sex trafficking industry by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

NSA Took a “Look-See” at Al Jazeera’s Internal Communications

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | September 1st, 2013 |

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Digital-surveillance-image-via-Shutterstock.jpg

(Image Credit: The Raw Story)

Since all the headlines are being dominated by the Syria situation, there isn’t a lot of current material for me to write about in my column, so this week, I’ll quickly touch on the favorite punching bag for the tech world at the moment: the NSA. A while ago, it was revealed by some of the documents Edward Snowden obtained and then released that the agency had hacked into Al Jazeera’s internal correspondences. The information comes a week after the revelations that the NSA had hacked into UN video calls.

I understand that “Al Jazeera” and “Al Qaeda” share an “Al” prefix, but seriously? It’s a news network, not a terrorism organization. The report cited communications sent to the network by “interesting targets” as the reason for the hacking. Even if the so-called “interesting targets” were anything/anyone that should be on the U.S.’s radar, it is unacceptable that the government is/was able to tap into a news source’s communications, no matter how “anti-American” their bias may be.

While anyone could probably guess what I think about this from the above paragraph, I think it’s worth mentioning that this seems to be part of a bigger pattern recently: as we learn more about the PRISM program and the NSA in general, the doomsayers’ predictions are starting to come true. As I said earlier, a while back it was revealed that the NSA spied on the UN video conferences, which is worthy on an article itself, but I’ll only invoke the fact that we are friendly and cooperative with the UN for now; the news that the PRISM program was used by low-level NSA employees; and also that NSA employees had regularly used the program to spy on their love interests, among other notable pieces of Snowden’s leaks. Taken separately, these are “only” egregious, but taken together, the chilling effects on personal liberties are potentially massive.

Personally, I think it’s time for another Amash Amendment to go up for a vote; this needs to stop.

Guitars Over Guns

By Shelly Lynn | NFP | August 25th, 2013 |

Shelly Lynn speaks with the mentors at Guitars Over Guns Organization along with alumnus, Rody Lafrance. Rody, who takes guitar and piano lessons through the program offered by GOGO, plays two of his own arrangements of pop songs.

Guitars Over Guns provides mentoring to at-risk youth through music education and performance as an alternative to the negative and harmful influences that typically dominate their environments. Their after school program pairs these adolescents with professional musicians who use contemporary music to reach these young people and teach them the skills they need to be successful in and out of school.

Guitars Over Guns by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

Counterpoint Recap 08/16: What To Do With Egypt

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | August 18th, 2013 |
Counterpoint's Meg McGee has "the last word" after every new edition of Counterpoint.  After reading her latest recap, hear audio of the discussion she's referencing embedded below the post:

On last Friday’s show, our panelists William Ng, Matt De La Fe, and I discussed the US policy towards Egypt and the regional implications if it becomes a failed state. President Obama’s decision to cancel the semi-annual military exercises came as no surprise, as Egypt’s military is a little pre-occupied right now. However, there was no talk of cutting the $1.3bn in aid just yet. Even though the US talks about its commitment to democracy and human rights, it continues to bankroll countries that have a questionable human rights record.

De Le Fe wanted to draw comparisons between Egypt and Syria AND Iran. I don’t think making generalizations about three different Middle Eastern states is very educated. Egypt and Syria are not the same. In Syria, the military is punishing every Syrian not just a select few. In Egypt, the government crackdown is against the pro-Morsi supporters. Egypt is certainly not Iran, either. Egypt is majority Sunni, Iran (and Syria) are majority Shia. Iran is not a failed state and the revolution in 1979 was against a US-backed shah. Anyone with a history book can figure that out. One similarity I did find between Egypt and Syria is this: they are both backed by superpowers. People complain about Putin supporting the Syrian regime while they commit mass murder but one could argue Obama is doing the same by not cutting aid with Egypt. But I digress.

The US may not have that much influence within Egypt’s internal politics. As IR theorist Stephen Walt stated recently in Foreign Policy Magazine, “Aid to Egypt’s military isn’t buying the United States any leverage and U.S. aid is dwarfed by the funds that the Gulf Arab states are pouring in.” And to those that say Egypt is an “existential threat” to Israel’s security, when the first Egyptian revolution happened, some American military officials feared that with the Muslim Brotherhood in charge in Egypt, they would not uphold the peace treaty with Israel. However, the Muslim Brotherhood had every intention on keeping a close relationship with the US because they received $1.3 billion in aid from them yearly. The Brotherhood’s Islamic politics did not hamper its foreign policy especially towards Israel and the US because of the amount of influence it had.

But now that the Muslim Brotherhood is being ousted from Egyptian politics, the US can’t be sure how far their money will go. My policy recommendation would be to significantly reduce or cut completely the amount of aid Egypt gets. We don’t know how the Egyptian coup will play out, but one thing is for sure: there will be blood. So the US should decide now if they want blood on their hands through the continued support of the military, or do they want to do stay out of another country’s internal politics. (The latter would be a surprise)

 

Below is audio of the discussion on the crisis in Egypt and the options available to the U.S. government.  Counterpoint airs live Fridays at 1p.m. EST

Counterpoint Clip: Clashes in Egypt and Foreign Aid by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

Attack on Tor

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | August 8th, 2013 |

(Image Credit: Tor Project)

 

Before I start, here’s a reference for those who aren’t totally sure about what Tor is or how it works–

(Image Credit: EFF)

 

Near the end of the weekend, somebody (I’ll get to who later) compromised Freedom Hosting, a hosting service that was heavily invested in Tor (The Onion Router). The company was responsible for a huge chunk (about half) of the hidden network’s sites and many of the more well-known ones including Tor Mail, a completely anonymous email service. The details of the attack are starting to be sorted out, but a few facts have already been nailed down. The move comes after Freedom Hosting’s founder, Eric Eoin Marques, was arrested on suspicion of child pornography, so many are speculating that the two events are related.

 

Tor network was originally conceived by the Navy as a way of anonymizing communications between correspondents, but was abandoned mid-way through development. It was later picked up by DIY-ers and completed into what we see today. Due to the nature of the network, any one user cannot identify another, even for server-client interactions, making a breach of anonymity from the inside near-impossible. The exploit in question was placed on Freedom Hosting’s sites after the company was either seized or otherwise compelled to do so (details unconfirmed at time of writing) and injected a JavaScript executable that made the target send an unencrypted request over HTTP to a specified server in Virginia, exposing the IP address of the user that normally would be impossible to find. Therefore, I’ll admit that the title of this piece is somewhat misleading: the network itself has not been compromised, but the company that hosted a majority of it has.

 

So: who did it? Many (myself included) initially speculated that the exploit was the work of the FBI, citing the arrest of Eric Marques, and the fact that it’s the FBI’s job (more or less) to take down child pornographers. As the matter was looked into it became apparent that the server receiving the non-encrypted IP addresses was owned by a corporation in Virginia that routinely leases server space to agencies like the FBI and NSA, prompting more speculation. However, at time of writing, nobody has stepped forth to claim credit for the exploit, leading some to wonder if it was a non-official entity. The latest evidence in the exploit points toward its purpose to be solely identifying and not actually hacking, so at this point, it’s anyone’s guess. Hopefully more will become known later this week.

 

If a state actor is responsible, I seriously question the motives. We can all agree that child pornography and abuse is bad by any measure, but taking down essential services that people the world over use to keep safe from tyranny or even just to keep private is not the way to go about removing it. Take Tor Mail mentioned earlier: with the recent revelation that the NSA is monitoring literally everything on the Internet, is it not reasonable that there was a push towards anonymous encrypted email? Heck, I myself have/had (depending on the outcome of this situation) a Tor Mail for the simple reason that I don’t like being spied on. Even if Eric Marques is guilty of hosting and distributing child pornography, I believe a more effective and efficient way to go after those responsible would have been to target the specific websites which are accused of doing so rather than the entire company that may or may not have hosted them. The FBI has previously been allowed to run a child pornography site before, and doing so in this instance would have made for a much shorter list of names than half of Tor network.

 

While this story is still developing, I want to end on a slightly inquisitive note: this happened during DEF CON (a hacker’s convention), meaning a good number of the people who bother to look into this kind of thing were busy out of town, and also on the heels of the NSA’s XKeyscore revelation, which “collects nearly everything a user does on the Internet.” These combined make me somewhat suspicious of this incident; more so than I normally would be for a compromise of a major anonymity service.

Not Aiding the Enemy, But Still Found Guilty

By Mike Kanoff | Counterpoint | July 31st, 2013 |

Image Source: (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Unsurprisingly, I’m writing about Bradley Manning this week. In case you missed it, Bradley Manning has finally been given a verdict: guilty of more than a handful of crimes, but not guilty of one very important charge– aiding the enemy. I’ll get more into the specifics of that charge later, but the remaining 20 charges carry a combined maximum of 136 years in prison, so PFC Manning is anything but in the clear. The sentencing has already begun, and could last into the last days of August.

I’ve written on Manning before, so I won’t go into the back-story again, but I think it’s worth mentioning that he has already spent three years in prison before his trial, so it has been agreed upon that his sentence should be reduced by 1,274 days. Anyway, time to move onto the big charge: aiding the enemy and why even though he has been found guilty of other crimes, this one is a win for whistleblowers. Most of the logic behind going after Manning as harshly as the military did was something along the lines of “if it’s available for everyone in the world to see, then that includes our enemies, so therefore public disclosures are equal to giving the information directly to the enemy.” As I’ve argued before, this is not the case here, even though that line of reasoning may seem valid, one must take intent into account: if one’s intention is to truly “aid the enemy,” then it follows that one would not inform one’s own side of such aid, as making information public would. Instead, by releasing information publicly, it allows both sides to see it, giving a “heads-up” to both parties: the “enemy” side gets information X and the “non-enemy” side gains the information that the “enemy” side has information X, which could be useful to the “non-enemy” side.

Further to that point, Manning’s information was not immediately disclosed; it was given to Wikileaks, providing a window of time in which the military could have changed tactics, had any even been compromised in the first place. Given those two points, I believe Manning when he says that he was merely a whistleblower rather than a traitor.

As for the other charges: any wrongdoing Manning may have done is far outweighed by the benefit to the public’s right to know. This should be true of all whistleblowers: exposing something that needs to be exposed should not come with a life imprisonment threat.

More on the PFC Manning case this Friday during the show [1pm EST].

Counterpoint Recap 7/26: The Value of Higher Education

By Meg McGee | Counterpoint | July 29th, 2013 |
Counterpoint's Meg McGee has "the last word" after every new edition of Counterpoint.  After reading her latest recap, hear audio of the discussion she's referencing embedded below the post:

On Friday’s show, we covered a slue of topics, the smoking ban on campus, the Miami-Dade county’s decision to take funding out of libraries, Detroit’s bankruptcy, and the passing of a student loan deal in Congress.

Our entire panel agreed that the cost of college/university is skyrocketing and something should be done to change it. However, our topic grew into a larger discussion over if college is valuable in order to succeed. Matt De La Fe, our conservative contributor, argued that college degrees aren’t necessary for success and that there are plenty of jobs one can go into without a degree. While I think this argument is valid (to an extent), it is far from the reality we live in these days. Yes, there are celebrities, athletes, musicians, artists, and other innovative people in our society that make millions of dollars without having finished college. But the chances of that happening to an average Joe are not that high and if nothing else, a Bachelor’s degree is a safety net in case your multi-million dollar idea goes awry.

Everyone knows the economy and job market is bad, especially for young Americans and post-grads. So naturally, having a college degree gives you a slight advantage over someone who only has a high school diploma. The days of skipping out on college are over, there is no Woodstock, there are no protest movements, millennials have to get to work. We have to go to college and college is not cheap. So while there is no one putting a gun to our heads forcing us to take out enormous loans for college, our society leaves us with few other choices. For me, I have to go to school for what I want to do and not just undergrad but grad school and PhD. program. I think a lot of young Americans are taking huge risks by having $100k in loans but it certainly beats the alternative to working at McDonald’s with no degree. A college degree is the new high school diploma.

Until our country is able to get the costs of education down across the board, we will see more students not being able to go to a 4-year institution and instead having a high-unemployment rate for young adults. Though Congress passed this deal, there are still provisions in it to keep interest rates rising on student loans. I think student loan debt is a problem that Wall Street is cashing in on and once the “bubble” explodes, we could see another financial crisis affecting the next generation of Americans.

Below is audio of the discussion on student loans and the value of a college degree.  Counterpoint airs live Fridays at 1p.m. EST

Counterpoint Clip: Student Loans and the Costs of College by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

 

Interview: Phillip Agnew of the Dream Defenders and #TakeOverFL [Audio]

By Hyan Freitas | News Director | July 26th, 2013 |

Phillip B. Agnew is executive director of the Dream Defenders.  The organization, made up mainly of young people and college students, is getting a lot of attention for their efforts to “take over Florida”. They’re literally making Florida’s state capital building their home for now as they push for Florida’s state legislature to, via a special session, pass something they’re calling “Trayvon’s Law” which they say would  address issues like the racial profiling, zero tolerance policies which create school-to-prison pipelines, and the Stand Your Ground.

They’ve already gotten  Governor Rick Scott’s attention, and other lawmakers in Tallahassee are starting to listen in as well.  Even celebrities and national media outlets are paying attention and helping spread their message.  In an interview with ‘The Weekly Voice’ live from the capital via phone, Agnew  discussed his organization, their efforts at the state capital and some of the roadblocks and successes that have come their way leading up to their 11th day of “occupation”.

Interview: Phillip Agnew | the Dream Defenders #TakeOverFL by Wvumnews on Mixcloud

The Weekly Voice airs Fridays at 10a.m. EST and is hosted by Hyan Freitas on WVUM 90.5FM | WVUM.org