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Thursday, December 18, 2014

In case you were wondering...

A few days ago, we posted an email from R. Michael Rich to Faculty Center president Claudia Mitchell-Kernan dealing with concerns over the finances of the Center and the possibility the Center could run out of money in a few years.*  Here is the response of the same date:

Dear Michael

Thanks very much for your continuing concern about and commitment to the Faculty Center. Since we will not have a Board meeting in December, I will bring your suggestions to the attention of the Executive Board.  

The Board has been working diligently on a plan to put the Center on a firm financial foundation and will update the membership on our work  at the January 8 meeting.  I hope you will be able to attend. 

Best and Happy Holidays,

No hacker needed to get your emails or pay records

There is lots of talk about the "stolen" Sony emails and employee records.  Just a reminder that since UCLA faculty members and staff work for a "public" university, no mysterious hacker is needed - let alone some sophisticated cyberattack from North Korea - to obtain their emails and records.

From a weekly blog by yours truly that appeared ten days ago: There is lots of talk about the "stolen" Sony emails and employee records.  Just a reminder that since UCLA faculty members and staff work for a "public" university, no mysterious hacker is needed - let alone some sophisticated cyberattack from North Korea - to obtain their emails and records.

From a weekly blog by yours truly that appeared ten days ago: 

Mitchell’s Musings 12-8-14: A Walk on the Sony Side of the Street for Some Private Employees

Daniel J.B. Mitchell


You have by now heard about the hacking into Sony’s computer systems, essentially shutting down those systems and stealing data including video of new and unreleased movies.  Some of the stolen information has been put online.

In the wake of the Sony attack, the FBI issued a private warning to companies… to be on the lookout for a certain type of destructive malware that can make data on hard drives inaccessible, according to someone who had seen it. Retrieving any data from an affected hard drive can be quite difficult and costly, according to the FBI warning…

Employees at the Sony Corp.-owned studio behind “The Amazing Spider-Man” and hit TV show “The Blacklist,” have been forced to work with cellphones and personal email accounts since images of a skull appeared on company computers last week along with the message “Hacked by #GOP.” Employees were warned by Sony not to use any digital devices connected to its internal networks. The hacker group, known as “Guardians of Peace,” hasn't revealed any details about its identity or provided Sony with a list of demands…

There is speculation in the article cited above that the attack came from North Korea, possibly because its leader was insulted in a Sony movie.[1]  I have no idea if that suspicion is true, others have raised doubts, but the focus in the news media has been on videos that were pirated and now are being circulated on the web and on the North Korean angle.  Secondarily, there has been concern about cyber security in general.  And finally, there is interest in the idea of Sony employees having to revert to non-Internet technology and, presumably, the lost productivity therefrom.

At the bottom of the list of interests is the information on employees that appears to have been stolen:

Several files being traded on torrent networks seen by this author include a global Sony employee list, a Microsoft Excel file that includes the name, location, employee ID, network username, base salary and date of birth for more than 6,800 individuals.[2] [Underline added]

The public radio program “Marketplace” did report on the employee data aspect and a cyber-security expert who was interviewed said in passing on the broadcast, “You know, what employee wants their salary leaked out to the world like that?[3] In general, however, the employee angle was not a central focus of the media coverage of the Sony hacking and the (self-evident) idea that employees might not like to have their salaries made public seems confined to the Marketplace interviewee.[4]  Of course, not only would employees not want to have their salaries made public, you can bet that Sony doesn’t want its salary data out there.  Such data are competitive information and could lead to raiding by other firms and internal demands to remedy perceived salary inequities.  Indeed, many private employers have (legally suspect) personnel policies barring employees from discussing their salaries.[5]

What’s interesting about the comment said in passing on Marketplace is that no distinction was made between types of employees.  In particular, the comment is equally applicable to private sector employees – such as those of Sony – and to public sector employees.  Public sector employees don’t want their salaries leaked out to the world any more than private.  Public sector employers have the same concerns as private, although they are less likely to have personnel policies banning employees from discussing their pay among themselves.  

The difference between public and private is that thanks to court decisions, public sector salaries aren’t leaked out by hackers.  No hackers, whether North Korean or other, are needed.  Instead, government employees’ salaries are deemed to be public information and not just for top officials and executives.  All public employees and their salaries down to the lowest paid and those employees otherwise not key to any public policy debate are included on open Internet sources run by various sources including newspapers.  No newspapers, however, put their own payrolls online even though, of course, they have the data.

As pointed out in earlier musings, making such information available by name risks ID theft for the individuals included.  While there is an argument to be made for providing such data for top government executives and officials, there is little that can be learned from the data for others that couldn’t be learned by simply reporting pay by job title without the name.  If, for example, you wanted to compare public vs. private pay, you don’t need the name.  Yes, in theory, one could always have gone to city hall and requested to see what John Doe or Jane Doe was being paid.  But it was a bother and the information by name was thus not available at the click of a keystroke.  

Courts seem not to understand that the degree of availability matters and that rules about what is public were made at a time when ease of availability online didn’t exist.  If for some reason there was a real public interest in a specific employee’s pay – say John Doe or Jane Doe had been involved in a crime – a news reporter could obtain the information.  Most people were not about to make a trip to city hall to peruse salary information.  They were not about to write a letter to city hall requesting the information.  

Privacy advocates ought to be raising a fuss about this issue.  The rules could be different; they could be updated for the reality of the Internet.  Indeed, even under current rules, not everything that could be made available is made available.  For example, you could argue in theory that public employees’ health records should be available on the Internet.  Someone might be interested in whether John Doe or Jane Doe was driving up health insurance costs for his/her government employer because of some medical condition.  But no one makes that argument in practice and in fact health records are protected on privacy grounds.

There are numerous other examples in which the Internet has developed faster than the law and a review is warranted.  What’s not good for Sony is not good for other employers and employees, private or public.

[3] The comment is not in the written transcript – perhaps not considered important enough - but you can hear the full broadcast at http://www.marketplace.org/topics/tech/no-north-korea-probably-not-behind-sony-hack and find the comment at around minute 2:20.
[4] As in much of the reporting on the Sony incident, it is unclear which employees had their information stolen.  Some reports suggest it was managerial employees.  Others don’t specify.
[5] Such policies tend to violate the protections of “concerted activity” by employees found in the National Labor Relations Act, as amended. (Supervisors and managers are not protected by the Act.)
--
UPDATE: Since the piece above was written, some Sony employees have sued the firm because it did not protect their private information.


Diversity Course Requirement Opponents Say Hold Your Horses

It may be the result of end-of-quarter limits on the flow of information, but yours truly missed the story below from radio station KPCC that was posted today. A quick check of the search engine of the Daily Bruin produced no references to this development.  Similarly, yours truly could find nothing about it on the website of the UCLA Academic Senate (as of this date).

A diversity class approved by UCLA's Academic Senate is now on hold after dozens of professors signed and submitted a petition on Dec. 11 calling for a campus vote of all faculty members... Opposition came from 59 UCLA professors who signed a petition asking for another vote that would be open to faculty outside the College of Letters and Sciences whose faculty had proposed the class and won its approval from the Academic Senate. "Diversity is code for a certain set of politically correct or left leaning attitudes on college campuses. There’s enough of that here,” UCLA political science professor Thomas Schwartz said... The online vote of faculty would start on Feb. 25 and end March 10. It would be open to members who didn’t vote on the requirement before, such as professors in UCLA’s medical school and engineering school...

Full story at http://www.scpr.org/blogs/education/2014/12/18/17694/ucla-professors-force-vote-on-diversity-class-requ/

We'll follow up on this issue, but it appears likely that there won't be more info on it available until the winter quarter begins.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Governor to target retiree health care

There is a tradition in December for bits and pieces of the governor's fiscal agenda to be leaked ahead of the formal budget and state of the state addresses.  News reports suggest this December is no exception and that specifically the governor will announce a policy about retiree health care.  Most state and local retiree health plans are not pre-funded; they are pay as you go.  In particular, UC's plan is not pre-funded (and the university is quick to say that unlike the pension, it is not guaranteed). 

...H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for Brown's Department of Finance... didn't provide specifics for how the governor would tackle the issue, saying only that his plan would reduce the unfunded liability and "sustain health benefits for retirees for the long term." ...

Jerry & retired parents in 1978
Full article at http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-jerry-brown-california-retirement-20141216-story.html

It's not clear whether the governor's plan - whatever it is - will include UC.

Jerry's dad, Pat Brown, was governor in 1965 when Medicare (a purely federal program) and Medi-Cal/Medicaid (a federal and state program) came into being.  Maybe he'll be thinking kindly of dad when he proposes his plan:



That's the Ticket!

It appears that "smart" parking meters are coming to Westwood, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.  The meters adjust the price (upwards) as spaces become scarce during peak periods.

The technology tracks the use of parking spaces, where open spots are available and periodically adjusts rates based on demand. Real-time data is uploaded to ExpressPark's website and free cellphone apps — Parker and ParkMe — which motorists can use to find parking and prices, both curbside and in off-street lots...
One of ExpressPark's main goals is to price spots so that several spaces always remain available on each block to reduce traffic congestion caused by motorists hunting for parking... A UCLA study of a 15-block area of Westwood Village determined that the search for parking resulted in motorists traveling almost a million extra miles a year. The average hunt took about 3.3 minutes, but in the late afternoon and evening the typical search lasted up to 12 minutes. Other research shows hunting for parking accounts for up to 30% of urban traffic...

Full story at http://www.latimes.com/local/cityhall/la-me-express-park-20141216-story.html 

Despite the automation, there will still be someone there to hang a ticket on your car:

V may be for Victory but VA is for Vamoose

Vamoose

verb (used without object), vamoosed, vamoosing.
1. to leave hurriedly or quickly; decamp.
verb (used with object), vamoosed, vamoosing.
2. to leave hurriedly or quickly from; decamp from.

Remember that ongoing lawsuit to evict non-veteran activities from the VA property - including the baseball stadium used by UCLA?

A federal appeals court on Monday ordered the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to halt construction of an amphitheater on its West Los Angeles campus. A two-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the veterans agency should maintain the “status quo" while it appeals a lower court ruling striking down numerous leases, including those authorizing UCLA’s baseball stadium, a hotel laundry and television studio storage on the sprawling property...

Maybe it's no surprise that we're being evicted. It appears, after all these years, that the boom-boom-boom in the box was UCLA's lease for the ballpark:
 

Anyone responsible? Anyone accountable?

UCOP and the Regents are in conflict with the governor and the legislature over the tuition/state funding proposal approved by the Regents at their November meeting.  The essence of the proposal is that UC needs more money and either the added funding comes from tuition or a state allocation.  As a result, UC is especially vulnerable to any hint that money is not being spent appropriately.  UC, as it happens, is also under a legislative mandate to produce more detailed data on how it spends its funding.  Any slip-up in responding tends to undermine the tuition/state funding proposal. 

It appears there has been a slip-up (actually a repeat slip-up), Big Time:

Missing its own deadlines, the University of California is now more than two months behind in disclosing to the state Legislature and the Department of Finance details of its expenses.  The 10-campus university system first failed to meet an Oct. 1 deadline. It then submitted a seven-page preliminary account on Oct. 31 while requesting an additional six weeks to complete a final report. Those six weeks expired on Dec. 11... UC spokesperson Dianne Klein didn’t say whether the  report would be completed this week, but said the university is “in close contact with [the Dept. of Finance] and we’re all on the same page …  we’re doing it as quickly as we can, and of course accuracy is key here.”  State law requires California’s two public university systems, UC and the California State University, to biennially report on “the total costs of education at the university on a system-wide and campus-by-campus basis,” according to a 2013 bill, AB 94...

Full story at http://capitolweekly.net/uc-boots-deadlines-spending-details/

So, will anyone at UCOP be held accountable for the double slip-up? For undermining UC prez Napolitano's negotiation with the powers-that-be in the state?  Yours truly has doubts.  But, on the positive side, he does have a modest proposal for dance music at the UCOP Christmas party:
video