The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Nation & World Sat, 22 Oct 2016 23:22:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Where the bison roam in Utah, it’s the annual roundup Sat, 22 Oct 2016 23:00:00 +0000 SALT LAKE CITY – Riders on horseback are nudging bison on Utah’s Antelope Island in an annual roundup of one of the country’s largest and oldest public herds.

Utah State Parks workers kicked off the roundup, now in its 30th year, Saturday morning.

Hundreds of bison are being pushed into corrals near Whiterock Bay so they can eventually be given health checkups, vaccinations and even a small external computer chip to store health information.

The roundup continues to draw spectators ever year.

Park staff brought in bleachers for observers, live music and food for purchase.

Excess bison will be sold to make sure the available food resources can support the population.

Antelope Island is in the Great Salt Lake, about 50 miles north of Salt Lake City.


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British debating which refugees to accept Sat, 22 Oct 2016 22:53:21 +0000 CALAIS, France — When France begins demolition of the “Jungle” migrant camp here on Monday, the fate of some 1,300 children will remain largely unanswered.

After a long, heated campaign led by humanitarian organizations, the British government began accepting a small number of unaccompanied child refugees from Calais this week. But hundreds more may not qualify for asylum before the Jungle is destroyed, and time is running out. On Friday, Interior Ministry officials said more than 7,500 places have been made available for the refugees living in the camp and that the minors remaining in France will be dispersed in special centers for teenagers where they won’t mingle with adults.

For the few children who are allowed to cross the 20 short miles of English Channel – more than 40, as of Friday – there is neither certainty nor peace, as a number of lawmakers have demanded mandatory dental checks to ensure that the incoming migrants are, in fact, minors.

“I’m not pandering to hysteria,” David Davies, a Conservative lawmaker, told the BBC on Wednesday. “If we want to help children, that’s great, I’m all in favor of that. But I’m not in favor of allowing people in their 20s to say, ‘I’m a child,’ and then to come into the U.K. and make a mockery of our rules.”

His comments followed the publication of a Home Office document obtained by the Daily Telegraph newspaper, in which 65 percent of refugees whose ages were disputed by British officials were found to be adults. The figures come from asylum applications made in 2015.

Meanwhile, as the first convoys of Calais children arrived in London this week, family members and locals with banners and balloons were on hand to greet the refugees. But British tabloids splashed pictures of the newcomers on their front pages.

Britain’s Home Office has dismissed the idea of screening by dental examination. “We do not use dental X-rays to confirm the ages of those seeking asylum in the UK,” it said in a statement. The office defended its process of assessing the age of the refugees, saying it works with French authorities and also that the office interviews candidates if there is uncertainty.

Inside of the Jungle, a swarm of children and teenagers crowded outside the camp’s makeshift youth center late Wednesday afternoon, seeking information from French and British volunteers about their chances for asylum in Britain. As young as 12 and as old as 18, those with shoes kicked soccer balls while they waited.

Amid the typical sounds of children at play, there was a palpable frustration as many were told they did not qualify, either because they have no immediate family in Britain or are over age 18.

Another boy, Sharif Sarfari, 17, said he has lived in the Jungle for 10 months now, having arrived alone from Afghanistan. He said he has tried every legal means of claiming asylum in Britain, where he hopes to finish his studies in engineering. Although in theory he would qualify, he said he has no proof that his age is 17, and thus no means of crossing the channel.

“If the legal way is not supporting me,” he said, “then I must go in the lorries. I told them I have friends there who will support me, but they are not accepting. So where do we go?”

By “lorries,” he meant the large freight trucks smugglers typically use for the illegal transport of migrants through the channel tunnel, often at great expense to migrants and usually without the drivers even knowing. It is not a safe passage: Throughout the past year, migrants have repeatedly died en route, mostly from suffocation.

Sarfari said he would continue trying to stowaway on one of those trucks, as he has nearly every night since his arrival. Well aware of the dangers involved, he said he had watched friends from the Jungle make the journey safely.

In theory, there are two categories of children eligible for asylum in Britain. The first are the “Dublin” children, who come under the Dublin III Regulation, a European Union law permitting the resettlement of refugee children under 18 in member states where they have family. The second are “Dubs” children, named for Alf Dubs, a Kindertransport survivor and House of Lords member who successfully pushed for an amendment earlier this year permitting migrant children without family to resettle in Britain.

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More than 80 arrested at North Dakota pipeline protest Sat, 22 Oct 2016 22:49:40 +0000 MANDAN, N.D — More than 80 people protesting the Dakota Access pipeline were arrested Saturday during a demonstration that gathered about 300 people at a construction site in North Dakota and prompted law enforcement officers to use pepper spray.

Morton County sheriff’s office spokesman Rob Keller said authorities were called at 5:20 a.m. Saturday to a pipeline construction site located about five miles from an area where protesters have been camping out for weeks near the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers.

The confrontation between officers and protesters lasted five hours.

The sheriff’s office released a statement saying officers used pepper spray when some protesters tried to breach a line that officers had formed between demonstrators and construction equipment.

The statement said one protester tried to grab an officer’s pepper spray canister, spraying the officer in the face and blinding him for five minutes.

Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier said Saturday’s incident showed that “this protest is not peaceful or lawful.”

“It was obvious to our officers who responded that the protesters engaged in escalated unlawful tactics and behavior during this event,” he said.

“This protest was intentionally coordinated and planned by agitators with the specific intent to engage in illegal activities.”

Protests have drawn thousands of people to the area where Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners is trying to finish building the 1,200-mile pipeline. More than 220 people have been arrested since demonstrations began in August.

The sheriff’s office said four people who attached themselves to a sport utility vehicle parked on private property near construction equipment were among those arrested Saturday. Two of the individuals attached themselves to the outside of the vehicle, one person was attached to the steering wheel, and another had his body outside of the vehicle with his arm fed through a hole in the door and his hand in a bucket of hardened concrete.

Those arrested Saturday are facing charges including assault on a peace officer, engaging in a riot and criminal trespass.

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Rolling Stone reporter testifies about rape story source Sat, 22 Oct 2016 22:49:40 +0000 CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. —In emotional testimony in the federal courthouse here Saturday, former Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely told the jury about the phone call that led her to realize that the story she had written about a horrific sexual assault at a University of Virginia fraternity was falling apart at the seams.

The story Erdely wrote for the magazine in November 2014, “A Rape on Campus,” created shockwaves across the country with its description of a brutal gang rape of a freshman identified in the story only as “Jackie.”

Erdely, who is being sued along with the magazine for defamation by U-Va. administrator Nicole Eramo, had interviewed Jackie many times and believed her story. And she had interviewed friends of Jackie’s whom she also found believable.

On Saturday, she testified that on a reporting trip to the university, she and Jackie had walked by the fraternity house where the rape allegedly took place and that Jackie had visibly recoiled when they neared it.

“Her face had this look of, it was like terror and anger and fear.” Erdely said. “It was like she was frozen in this terrified masque.”

Erdely also interviewed friends, experts on sexual assault and university administrators for her story, but did not reach out to the alleged attacker because, she said Saturday, Jackie had expressed so much fear for her safety and worried about what might happen to her or what he might do.

Soon after the story published, a number of Jackie’s claims were being called into question, Erdely said, and she and the editors at Rolling Stone were preparing a statement that said they stood by their article and the reporting.

Erdely reached out again to Jackie and spoke with her early in the morning of December 5, 2014. She said she asked Jackie if she had gone to the police now that the story had come out to report the crime and that Jackie responded that it was not the right time.

“I was a little surprised,” Erdely told the court. “A couple of other things struck me as odd. . .I was getting a little hinky feeling.”

Erdely says that for the first time, Jackie expressed doubt about whether her alleged assailant was in the fraternity she had said he belonged to.

“I was just so startled. . .Here she was saying in such a casual way, ‘Oh yeah, maybe he wasn’t in Phi Psi’.”

Worried about the doubts Jackie was expressing, Erdely posed direct questions to her. The reporter’s notes from that phone call were shown to the jury.

“Did he rape you at the Phi Psi house?


“Did he orchestrate your rape?


“Did it happen the way you told me it did?


Erdeley says she then told Jackie on the phone that she wanted to work with her to look up additional information about her alleged attacker online. They searched but were unable to find anything. For Erdely, the doubts quickly mushroomed.

“When I got off the phone, I felt like the ground had shifted from under my feet,” Erdely said. “The person I had talked to was not the person I was familiar with from my story. I felt that she didn’t have credibility anymore, which meant that we couldn’t stand behind anything that she had given me.”

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In Florida city, clay busts put faces on cold cases Sat, 22 Oct 2016 22:10:44 +0000 TAMPA, Fla. — The faces are haunting.

They stare, straight ahead, unblinking and made of malleable clay. There are 14 total, all busts of the missing, the unidentified, the murdered.

The forgotten.

These faces appeared before law enforcement, University of South Florida experts and the public for the first time on Friday. The clay busts were the effort of University of South Florida forensic anthropologists and forensic artists who pulled images of unidentified bodies from cold case files, printed their skulls in 3D plastic, then molded heads and faces that someone might recognize.

They’re hoping to solve 20 cases, comprising 13 from Florida, four from Pennsylvania, and one each from Kentucky, Missouri, and Tennessee.

Some are decades old. Investigators hope that updated DNA procedures and chemical isotope testing will help them identify the bodies and ultimately, learn what happened to them.

“Time stands still for these victims,” said Cpl. Tom McAndrew of the Pennsylvania State Police.

This is the second year of the Art of Forensics event. It was conceived by Joe Mullins, a forensic artist for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

While most of this year’s 20 cold cases are of adults who were found dead, one was a baby. In August 2003, an infant’s body was found in a pond in Gainesville. They think the remains are that of a girl. That’s all investigators know; it’s unclear how the baby died, and the artists did only a computer sketch of the baby.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell talked about the case, and said there is a “tsunami” of missing and unidentified cases in Florida, partially because of the state’s transient population.

“Every single person represented here today was somebody’s baby,” she said. “This is the why of what we do in our work.”

For Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a USF anthropologist and director of the school’s Institute for Forensic Anthropology & Applied Science, it’s about justice for the families, especially in cases of homicides.

“There’s a reason there are no statutes of limitations on murder,” she said. “Stripping someone of their life is the ultimate crime.”

Investigators acknowledge it’s a long shot to crack these cases, but say it’s worth the effort. After last year’s Art of Forensics event, one cold case victim was identified.

This year’s event also has raised hopes. Two sisters showed up, and intensely compared one of the clay faces to a picture they carried of their older sister, missing since the late 1970s. They teared up at the resemblance, and a detective whisked them away to collect information, possibly generating a lead.

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Kremlin: Assad stands between Syria and jihadists Sat, 22 Oct 2016 20:54:47 +0000 MOSCOW — The entire territory of Syria must be “liberated,” Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said in remarks televised Saturday, dismissing demands for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s departure as “thoughtless.”

The Russian statement came as intense clashes were reported in northern Syria between Turkish troops and Turkey-backed opposition fighters with Kurdish-led forces. The Syrian army command condemned the fresh offensive by Turkish troops inside Syria, describing it as “an occupation that will be dealt with by all available means.”

The Turkish military intervened in the Syrian war in August this year under orders from Ankara to clear the border area of Islamic State fighters and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces linked to Turkey’s own outlawed Kurdish insurgency. The Turkish government considers both to be terrorist groups.

Russia’s Dmitry Peskov said Assad needs to stay in power to prevent Syria from falling into the hands of jihadis.

“There are just two options: Assad sitting in Damascus or the Nusra sitting in Damascus,” Peskov said in a reference to the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s branch in Syria. “And Assad must sit in Damascus to ensure a political settlement.”

Peskov’s statement comes as the break in the fighting Russia has declared in the besieged city of Aleppo entered its third day. He said Russia’s decision to extend the break, which was initially declared for just one day Thursday, wasn’t a concession to Western pressure.

The U.N. greeted the lull intended to allow the evacuation of wounded civilians and fighters from the rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo that had been devastated by airstrikes, but the rebels have rejected the offer to evacuate.

A U.N. official told The Associated Press that Syrian opposition fighters were blocking the evacuations because the Syrian government and Russia were not holding up their end of the deal and were impeding deliveries of medical and humanitarian supplies into Aleppo.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the West was turning a blind eye to the al-Qaida militants blocking humanitarian aid deliveries to Aleppo and trying to shift the blame onto Moscow.

“It’s mean and cynical to … watch the Nusra block the delivery of food and medicines to civilians while blaming Russia for the humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo,” she said.

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Typhoon Haima hammers northern Philippines, hits China Sat, 22 Oct 2016 20:46:13 +0000 BEIJING — Typhoon Haima forced the evacuations of more than 50,000 people in southern China after hammering the northern Philippines with ferocious wind and rain, triggering flooding, landslides and power outages and killing at least 13 people.

No deaths were immediately reported Saturday in China from the typhoon. Residents in the cities of Shanwei and Shantou, in China’s Guangdong province, were forced to move to safer ground as the storm hit, local authorities and state media reported. Some villages experienced power outages and authorities remained on the lookout for possible landslides.

Chinese meteorological services said the typhoon made landfall shortly after noon Friday in Shanwei in Guangdong province, packing winds of up to 103 miles per hour before weakening to a tropical storm.

China suspended dozens of flights and rail services in several southern provinces. In the city of Shenzhen, authorities ordered schools, markets and factories to close, halted public transportation and evacuated some areas.

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European Mars probe likely crash-landed Sat, 22 Oct 2016 20:38:26 +0000 BERLIN — Scientists say Europe’s experimental Mars probe has hit the right spot but may have been destroyed in a fiery ball of rocket fuel because it was traveling too fast.

Pictures taken by a NASA satellite show a black spot where the Schiaparelli lander was meant to touch down Wednesday, the European Space Agency said. The images end days of speculation over the probe’s likely fate following unexpected radio silence less than a minute before the planned landing.

The agency said in a statement that the probe dropped from a height of 1.4 miles to 2.4 miles and struck the surface at a speed exceeding 186 mph, “therefore impacting at a considerable speed.”

It said the large disturbance captured in the NASA photographs may have been caused by the probe’s steep crash-landing, which would have sprayed matter around like a blast site.

“It is also possible that the lander exploded on impact, as its thruster propellant tanks were likely still full,” the agency said.

Schiaparelli was designed to test technology for a more ambitious European Mars landing in 2020. The European Space Agency said the probe’s mother ship was successfully placed into orbit Wednesday and soon will begin analyzing the Martian atmosphere in search for evidence of life.

“In my heart, of course I’m sad that we couldn’t land softly on the surface of Mars,” agency chief Jan Woerner told The Associated Press. “But the main part of the mission is the science that will be done by the orbiter.”

Woerner said engineers received a wealth of data from the lander before the crash that will prove valuable for the next attempt in four years. He described the mission as “a 96 percent success.”

There have been only seven successful robotic landings on Mars, all by NASA.

With the loss of Schiaparelli, only two spacecraft are currently roaming te Martian surface: Curiosity and Opportunity, which landed in 2004.

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In ‘seismic shift,’ AT&T to buy Time Warner for more than $80 billion Sat, 22 Oct 2016 18:34:18 +0000 AT&T has reached a deal to buy Time Warner for more than $80 billion in what would become a colossal corporate merger, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

In what some analysts are calling an unprecedented “seismic shift” for the media and technology world, the deal could turn the legacy telecom carrier into a media titan the likes of which America has rarely seen.

A combination between the two companies could rival some of the biggest mergers in history, with AT&T potentially gaining control over hugely valuable brands spanning television, film, sports, news, video games and mobile and residential Internet service.

The tie-up could see AT&T gain ownership over a dizzying array of household names. Time Warner – not to be confused with Time Warner Cable, which sold itself to Charter Communications earlier this year – owns HBO, CNN, Warner Bros movie studio, the D.C. comics brand, a highly profitable video game studio, among many other properties.

The Journal reported that the boards of the two companies were meeting Saturday, and a deal could be announced as soon as Saturday evening. The companies did not respond to requests for comment.

Time Warner, whose roots date back to a 1920s magazine and film studio, for about $86 billion and that a deal could finalize over the weekend. Time Warner stock jumped nearly 8 percent in regular trading and another 5 percent after hours.

The potential merger highlights one of the most definitive trends of the modern media business: the push from tech and telecommunications giants to control the lucrative, popular content they once passively supplied.

It follows a wave of dealmaking and consolidation that could radically transform viewers’ leisure time and media spending, including Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal, Google’s push into live-TV streaming, and the original-programming investments of Amazon and Netflix.

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Attacks on the internet keep getting bigger and nastier Sat, 22 Oct 2016 17:35:46 +0000 NEW YORK — Could millions of connected cameras, thermostats and kids’ toys bring the internet to its knees? It’s beginning to look that way.

On Friday, epic cyberattacks crippled a major internet firm, repeatedly disrupting the availability of popular websites across the United States. The hacker group claiming responsibility says that the day’s antics were just a dry run and that it has its sights set on a much bigger target. And the attackers now have a secret weapon in the increasing array of internet-enabled household devices they can subvert and use to wreak havoc.


Manchester, New Hampshire-based Dyn Inc. said its server infrastructure was hit by distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attacks. These work by overwhelming targeted machines with junk data traffic – sort of like knocking someone over by blasting them with a fire hose. The attack temporarily blocked some access to popular websites from across America and Europe such as Twitter, Netflix and PayPal.

Jason Read, founder of the internet performance monitoring firm CloudHarmony, owned by Gartner Inc., said his company tracked a half-hour-long disruption early Friday affecting access to many sites from the East Coast. A second attack later in the day spread disruption to the West Coast as well as some users in Europe.

Members of a shadowy hacker group that calls itself New World Hackers claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter, though that claim could not be verified. They said they organized networks of connected devices to create a massive botnet that threw a monstrous 1.2 trillion bits of data every second at Dyn’s servers. Dyn officials wouldn’t confirm the figure during a conference call later Friday with reporters.


DDoS attacks have been growing in frequency and size in recent months. But if the hackers’ claims are true, Friday’s attacks take DDoS to a new level. According to a report from the cybersecurity firm Verisign, the largest DDoS attack perpetrated during that second quarter of this year peaked at just 256 billion bits per second.

A huge September attack that shut down of security journalist Brian Krebs’ website clocked in at 620 million bits per second. Research from the cybersecurity firm Flashpoint said Friday that the same kind of malware was used in the attacks against both Krebs and Dyn.

Lance Cottrell, chief scientist for the cybersecurity firm Ntrepid, said while DDoS attacks have been used for years, they’ve become very popular in recent months, thanks to the proliferation of “internet of things” devices ranging from connected thermostats to security cameras and smart TVs. Many of those devices feature little in the way of security, making them easy targets for hackers.

The power of this kind of cyberattack is limited by the number of devices an attacker can connect to. Just a few years ago, most attackers were limited to infecting and recruiting “zombie” home PCs. But the popularity of new internet-connected gadgets has vastly increased the pool of potential devices they can weaponize. The average North American home contains 13 internet-connected devices , according to the research firm IHS Markit.

Since the attacks usually don’t harm the consumer electronics companies that build the devices, or the consumers that unwittingly use them, companies have little incentive to boost security, Cottrell said.


Like with other online attacks, the motivation behind DDoS attacks is usually mischief or money. Attackers have shut down websites in the past to make political statements. DDoS attacks have also been used in extortion attempts, something that’s been made easier by the advent of Bitcoin.

For its part, a member of New World Hackers who identified themselves as “Prophet” told an AP reporter via Twitter direct message exchange that collective isn’t motivated by money and doesn’t have anything personal against Dyn, Twitter or any of the other sites affected by the attacks. Instead, the hacker said, the attacks were merely a test, and claimed that the next target will be the Russian government for committing alleged cyberattacks against the U.S. earlier this year.

“Twitter was kind of the main target. It showed people who doubted us what we were capable of doing, plus we got the chance to see our capability,” said “Prophet.” The claims couldn’t be verified.

The collective has in the past claimed responsibility for similar attacks against sites including in September and the BBC on Dec. 31. The attack on the BBC marshalled half the computing power of Friday’s attacks.


Dyn said it first became aware of an attack around 7:00 a.m. local time, focused on data centers on the East Coast of the U.S. Services were restored about two hours later. But then attackers shifted to offshore data centers, and the latest wave of problems continued until Friday evening Eastern time.

“Prophet” told the AP that his group actually had stopped its attacks by Friday afternoon, but that others, including members of the hacker collective known as Anonymous, had picked up where they left off. Anonymous didn’t respond to a request for comment via Twitter.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is monitoring the situation, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. He said he had no information about who may be behind the disruption.

Cottrell noted that there are several firms that offer protection against DDoS attacks, by giving companies a way to divert the bad traffic and remain online in case of an attack. But monthly subscription fees for these services are generally equal to a typical DDoS extortion payment, giving companies little incentive to pay for them.

Meanwhile not much is required in the way of resources or skill to mount a botnet attack, he said, adding that would-be attackers can rent botnets for as little as $100. Cottrell said the long-term solution lies in improving the security of all internet-connected devices.

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New York slaps new rules on Airbnb, with fines up to $7,500 Sat, 22 Oct 2016 15:23:18 +0000 ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state enacted one of the nation’s toughest restrictions on Airbnb on Friday with a new law authorizing fines of up to $7,500 for many short-term rentals.

The measure signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo applies to rentals of fewer than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not present.

Supporters of the measure say many property owners use sites like Airbnb to offer residential apartments as short-term rentals to visitors, hurting existing hotels while taking residential units off the already expensive housing market in New York City.

“Today is a great day for tenants, seniors, and anyone who values the safe and quiet enjoyment of their homes and neighborhoods,” said Manhattan Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger, a co-sponsor of the bill. “For too long companies like Airbnb have encouraged illegal activity that takes housing off the market and makes our affordability crisis worse.”

Airbnb said it would immediately file a lawsuit challenging the law.

“In typical fashion, Albany backroom dealing rewarded a special interest – the price-gouging hotel industry – and ignored the voices of tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” said Josh Meltzer, Airbnb’s head of public policy in New York.

Enforcement of the new laws will be a challenge. Thousands of short-term apartment rentals are listed for New York City despite a 2010 law that prohibits rentals of fewer than 30 days when the owner or tenant is not present.

The new law won’t apply to rentals in single-family homes, row houses or apartment spare rooms if the resident is present.

The complicated rules mean many New Yorkers may not know whether they can legally rent out their homes – and Airbnb says it does not have the ability to remove listings that violate the 2010 law.

Supporters say the imposition of fines will likely be driven by complaints from neighbors. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal said the intention is to go after commercial operators who rent large numbers of vacant units in multi-apartment buildings.

“That’s who we’re targeting,” said the Manhattan Democrat, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly.

Airbnb mounted a last-minute campaign to kill the measure and this week proposed alternative regulations that the company argued would address concerns about short-term rentals without onerous fines.

Most people who list a rental on Airbnb are looking to make a little money while they’re out of town, according to Chris Lehane, head of global policy for San Francisco-based Airbnb. The company says the 46,000 Airbnb hosts in New York City have generated more than $2 billion in economic activity.

“It’s baffling to us in this time of economic inequality that folks would be looking to impose fines of as much as $7,500 on a middle-class person looking to use the home that they live in to help make ends meet,” Lehane said before the bill was signed.

A spokesman for Cuomo said the administration gave the bill careful consideration.

“Ultimately, these activities are already expressly prohibited by law,” said spokesman Rich Azzopardi.

An investigation of Airbnb rentals from 2010 to 2014 by the office of state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman found that 72 percent of the units in New York City were illegal, with commercial operators constituting 6 percent of the hosts and supplying 36 percent of the rentals.

Schneiderman vowed to fight any legal challenge to the new law.

“The law signed today will provide vital protections for New York tenants and help prevent the continued proliferation of illegal, unregulated hotels, and we will defend it,” he said in a statement.

As of August, Airbnb had 45,000 city listings and 13,000 others across the state.

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Boston water main floods trench, killing 2 workers Sat, 22 Oct 2016 15:14:29 +0000 BOSTON — Two workers in Boston were killed when a water main gave way and flooded a deep trench where they were working.

The Boston Fire Department recovered the bodies Friday night in the South End neighborhood after several hours of painstaking work. In Twitter messages, the department said its technical rescue crew had to work in a trench box. The firefighters were on their knees gently removing dirt with their hands to reach the dead workers.

“Very difficult operation on Dartmouth St. 1st responders trying to respect the deceased while continuing the recovery,” read one tweet.

The first body was recovered around 6:30 p.m. and the second shortly after 8 p.m. The fire department then tweeted the recovery operation was over. It urged people to “remember their families/friends.”

The two workers were not publicly identified.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh expressed his condolences Friday night, adding “Today is a difficult day for the entire City of Boston, and especially those who go to work at construction sites everyday to make our city better.”

Boston Police Commissioner William B. Evans told The Boston Globe that it appears “somehow a pipe must have broke and unfortunately they weren’t able to get themselves out of a hole.” He said it appeared other workers were able to escape from the trench.

When fire crews arrived on the scene, fire department spokesman Steve MacDonald said they found “workers trapped in a trench in the ground that was filling rapidly with water.”

The trench was estimated to be about 12- to 15-feet deep.

Boston police, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office will be investigating the cause of the deadly incident, MacDonald said. The workers were employed by a private contractor. Neighbors told The Boston Globe that trucks with the name Atlantic Drain Service Co. Inc. had been parked in the area for most of the week.

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Montana man who raped daughter spared prison time by judge Sat, 22 Oct 2016 15:03:23 +0000 HELENA, Mont. — A judge’s decision not to order prison time for a Montana man who raped his 12-year-old daughter has sparked outrage from afar and calls closer to home to toughen the state’s law, which allows such lenience in certain circumstances.

Enacted in a wave of similar legislation around the country after the killing of a 9-year-old Florida girl in 2005, the Montana statute requires a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for anyone convicted of rape, incest or sexual abuse of a child 12 or younger.

But unlike many of those other laws, Montana’s also allows judges to dole out far less severe punishment in a case where a court-appointed evaluator determines that ordering treatment outside prison “affords a better opportunity for rehabilitation of the offender and for the ultimate protection of the victim and society.”

District Judge John McKeon, who oversees a three-county area of eastern Montana, cited that exception this month when he gave the father a 30-year suspended sentence after his guilty plea to incest and ordered him to spend 60 days in jail over the next six months, giving him credit for the 17 days already served. His sentence requires him to undergo sex offender treatment and includes many other restrictions.

Court records said the mother walked in on the father raping the child. The Associated Press is not identifying the man to avoid identifying the victim of a sexual assault.

McKeon took the rare step of issuing a statement a day after news of the Oct. 4 sentencing was widely published. In that statement and in his sentencing order, issued Monday, the longtime judge listed the factors that weighed into sparing the man prison time, including that:

• An evaluator found the defendant could be treated and supervised in the community;

• The man did not have a felony record, had a job and community support;

• The victim’s mother and grandmother wrote letters to the court supporting community-based treatment, saying it would keep the man in the lives of his two sons s and offered the family the opportunity to heal.

• Prosecutors did not challenge the results of the man’s psychosexual evaluation;

• There was a “lack of input directly from the victim” or from an advocate for the victim.

“The sentence may not be a popular decision by certain members of the general public, but it is a just and proper decision given the record before the Court and the law the Court is sworn to uphold,” McKeon wrote in the sentencing order.

An online petition arguing McKeon should be impeached has gathered more than 82,000 signatures in just over a week, from Montana, outside the state, Canada and elsewhere. McKeon had previously announced his intention to retire next month after 22 years as a state judge.

District Judge Blair Jones, the chairman of the Montana Judicial Standards Commission, said Friday that he could not disclose whether any complaints had been made against McKeon. Such complaints aren’t made public until the commission decides whether they have merit.

Nearly every state has enacted mandatory prison terms for child sex offenders, commonly referred to as “Jessica’s laws” after Jessica Lunsford, the Florida girl kidnapped and killed by a neighbor with a history of crimes against children who had failed to register as a sex offender. Many of the measures also severely restrict where such offenders can live and work, impose GPS monitoring and other conditions once they are released.

It’s not clear whether any of those laws contains an exception along the lines of Montana’s, which itself may not be on the books much longer. This week, a commission studying Montana’s sentencing laws recommended that lawmakers eliminate the exception to the 25-year minimum term, in the interest of more consistent sentencing.

Assistant Attorney General Dan Guzynski contrasted the case McKeon handled with that of a man he prosecuted last year, who received the mandatory minimum after being convicted of raping his 10-year-old daughter.

“Both (sex offender) evaluators said (the fathers) were treatable in their community, both were sentenced under the very same law, both raped their children,” Guzynski told members of the Commission on Sentencing on Wednesday. “One is going to spend the next 25 years in prison and one is out on probation.”


]]> 2, 22 Oct 2016 15:28:34 +0000
Clinton unveils powerful TV ad; Trump promises an all-out effort Sat, 22 Oct 2016 12:42:44 +0000 CLEVELAND — While Hillary Clinton unveiled an emotional television ad featuring the parents of a slain Muslim American Army captain, Donald Trump assured supporters he would have no regrets if he loses the presidential election because he was going all out in the final weeks of the campaign.

“I will be happy with myself,” Trump said.

Trump planned to lay out his closing arguments for support with a speech Saturday in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, focusing on the priorities for the first 100 days of his presidency. Clinton had two events of her own in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

With early voting underway in several states, data compiled by The Associated Press showed that Clinton appeared to be displaying strength in the crucial battleground states of North Carolina and Florida and may also be building an early vote advantage in Arizona and Colorado.

Trump appeared to be holding ground in Ohio, Iowa and Georgia, although those states would not be sufficient for him to win the presidency if he trails Clinton in states like Florida or North Carolina.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally Friday in Fletcher, N.C.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally Friday in Fletcher, N.C.

Typically self-assured, the Republican businessman was unusually candid about the possibility of losing. He said Friday he is packing his schedule with campaign events through Election Day so he will know he spared no effort.

In that vein, Trump turned his ire on first lady Michelle Obama, who has emerged as one of the most effective voices for Clinton and has delivered searing indictments of Trump’s treatment of women.

“All she wants to do is campaign,” Trump said as he rallied supporters in North Carolina. He cited comments Mrs. Obama made during her husband’s 2008 campaign in which she said someone who can’t run their own house can’t run the White House. “She’s the one that started that,” Trump said.

Clinton’s new ad features Khizr Khan, whom Trump assailed after Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention. In the 60-second ad, which Clinton’s campaign said was airing in seven battleground states, Khan retells how his son, Capt. Humayun Khan, died in Iraq seeking to protect his U.S. military unit from a suicide bomber.

“Mr. Trump, would my son have a place in your America?” the father asks, tearing up as the ad fades to black.

Latest Hillary Clinton campaign ad:

Trump and Clinton remained sharply at odds over his unprecedented assertion in the final debate on Wednesday that he may not concede if he loses. She said Friday at a Cleveland campaign stop, “Make no mistake: By doing that, he is threatening our democracy.” She said that America knows “the difference between leadership and dictatorship.”

Trump has said he’s merely reserving the right to contest the results if the outcome is unclear or questionable. Underpinning his threat is his contention — presented with no evidence — that the election is “rigged” against him and may be soiled by widespread voter fraud. He’s urged supporters to “monitor” polling places for potential shenanigans.

Fanning those flames, Russia’s government has asked Oklahoma and two other states to allow Russian officials to be present at polling stations on Election Day, to study the “U.S. experience in organization of voting process.” Allegations by the U.S. government that Russia is trying to influence the election by hacking Democratic groups has fed a Clinton camp claim that Russian President Vladimir Putin is siding with Trump.

The Oklahoma secretary of state’s office said Friday it had denied the Russian request, in line with state law. At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said it was unclear what Moscow was trying to do.

“It’s appropriate that people might be suspicious of their motives,” Earnest said.


]]> 21, 22 Oct 2016 15:39:21 +0000
Pentagon chief in Iraq to see commanders, assess Mosul fight Sat, 22 Oct 2016 12:32:56 +0000 BAGHDAD — U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter arrived in Iraq on Saturday to meet with his commanders and assess the progress in the opening days of the operation to retake the northern city of Mosul from Islamic State militants.

His visit comes two days after a U.S. service member was killed outside Mosul, underscoring the risk that American troops are taking as they advise Iraqi forces in the fight. The trip also follows meetings that Carter held with Turkish leaders on Friday, when he announced “an agreement in principle” for Turkey to play a role in the Mosul battle, and that friction between Turkey and Iraq can be worked out.

U.S Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, right, and his Turkish counterpart Fikri Isik arrive for a meeting at Defense Ministry in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, amid escalating tensions between Turkey and Iraq over Turkish military operations in northern Iraq. Ozgur Yurdakadim/Turkish Defense Ministry via Associated Press

U.S Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, right, and his Turkish counterpart Fikri Isik arrive for a meeting at Defense Ministry in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, amid escalating tensions between Turkey and Iraq over Turkish military operations in northern Iraq. Ozgur Yurdakadim/Turkish Defense Ministry via Associated Press

Carter, who already has been to Iraq twice this year, has overseen the steady increase in the number of U.S. forces deployed to the fight and the growth of America’s effort to train and advise Iraqi troops. In his two earlier visits, Carter announced White House decisions to increase the U.S. troop level there. There were no expectations he would do that again.

Instead, he planned to meet with Iraqi leaders and military commanders to determine how the fight was going and whether any changes, increased resources or other assistance were needed.

Carter’s meetings in Turkey were a sign of moves to ease tensions between Turkey and Iraq over Turkish military operations in northern Iraq. That divide has grown as the operation to retake Mosul began to take shape.

Some 500 Turkish troops at a base north of Mosul have been training Sunni and Kurdish fighters since last December. The Iraqi government says the troops are there without permission and has called on them to withdraw. Turkey has refused, and insists it will play a role in liberating the city.

The U.S. service member killed this week was the fourth U.S. combat death in Iraq since the U.S. began military operations against IS in August 2014. It was the first since the Mosul operation began, and the service member was working with Iraqi special forces northeast of Mosul and serving as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist.

U.S. military officials said a fire at a sulfur plant in northern Iraq set by IS on Thursday was creating a potential breathing hazard for American forces and other troops at a logistical base south of Mosul.

Two officials said that while the fire was set two days ago in Mishraq, the winds shifted Saturday, sending the smoke south toward Qayara West air field. The base is being used by troops as a staging area for the Mosul operation. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

They said troops at the base were wearing protective masks, and that air samples were sent to the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency for analysis. Officials estimated it could take two to three days to put the fire out.

U.S. defense and military officials have said that while the offensive has started well, they expect the complex fight for the city to get more difficult. They said they will be watching to see how aggressively the militants fight and whether more leaders flee the city.

In what officials thought was an attempted diversion from the Mosul fight, IS attacked targets in and around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Friday in a coordinated assault that killed at least 14 people.

Carter was expected to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi as well as other top officials.

A U.S. military officer said IS had set up a multilayered defense in and around Mosul. The outer rings of this defense are what the U.S. military calls disruption zones, where IS fighters are expected to counter the Iraqi advance through the use of mortars and rockets, suicide bombers, road obstacles and car bombs.

The official said the U.S. does not expect this to include high-intensity force-on-force combat in these outer rings. The expected IS focus will be on disrupting and delaying the Iraqi advance rather than trying to hold ground outside the city. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The U.S. estimates there are between 3,000 and 5,000 IS fighters in the Mosul area, but some leaders probably have fled. A key factor will be how long those midlevel commanders stay or whether they decide to leave.

The U.S. is uncertain how hard IS will defend Mosul. But once the fighting gets to the center of the city, IS will have certain advantages that are more favorable for the use of snipers and the restriction of vehicle movement.

More than 4,800 U.S. troops are in Iraq and there are more than 100 U.S. special operations forces operating with Iraqi units. Hundreds more U.S. forces are playing a support role in staging bases farther from the front lines.


]]> 0, 22 Oct 2016 15:29:58 +0000
What will change if Massachusetts legalizes marijuana? Sat, 22 Oct 2016 08:00:00 +0000 Researchers who look at four states where pot is legal find no evidence of negative outcomes.

FALL RIVER, Mass. — We are either facing the end of the world or utopia, depending on whom you ask.

Either way, both pro and con forces say life will change based on the vote for referendum question four, which asks if Massachusetts should legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Proponents say legal marijuana will raise tax revenue, reduce crime, stimulate the economy and improve public health.

Opponents say legal marijuana will increase the use of alcohol and other drugs, increase crime, cause traffic accidents and cause teenagers to skip school.

But Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska say don’t worry about it. No matter which way the vote goes, nothing much will change, according to Harvard professor Jeffrey Miron.

Miron is a senior lecturer on economics and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the libertarian think tank.

Miron joined researchers Angela Dills and Sietse Goffard to write a paper for the Cato Institute in September, offering a statistical analysis of the effect of referenda in Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska that legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

Massachusetts will be one of 11 states, including Maine, considering that question on election day.

“Based on the four states, we didn’t find any changes or any of the outcomes that have been projected,” Miron said. “Any changes were very minor.

“What we found was evidence of increased tax revenue. The four states have taken in a modest amount of increased revenue as a result of the change.”

The paper looks at the legal history of marijuana laws – it was legal through the United States until 1913, when California became the first state to prohibit it. The federal government first got involved in 1937, when it imposed a prohibitively high tax on marijuana. Possession of marijuana did not become a federal crime until the 1950s.

Washington, Oregon and Alaska made medical marijuana legal in 1998. Colorado made recreational marijuana legal in 2012. (In Massachusetts, medical marijuana is legal. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a civil rather than criminal offense.)

Miron and company looked at a decade of statistics from Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska. In those studies, both marijuana and alcohol use remained steady, both before and after legalization. Marijuana prices remained stable and suicide rates showed no appreciable increase or decrease.

Admissions to emergency rooms in Colorado for treatment of alcohol or marijuana both declined slightly after marijuana was made legal. In Washington, ER admissions continued a decline that started in 2008. The crime rate and the violent crime rate remained stable in both Denver and Seattle. There was no appreciable change in the rate of traffic accidents or traffic fatalities after legalization in any of the states that had sufficient post legalization data, according to the paper.

In schools, suspensions remained stable as did standardized test scores.

Home prices and unemployment rates followed national trends in all four states. So did state spending on corrections and state police expenditures.

The biggest change has been in state revenue: All four states collected steadily increasing tax revenue from legal marijuana sellers.

“Our conclusion is that state marijuana legalizations have had minimal effect on marijuana use and related outcomes,” the paper states.

The authors note that there are only limited statistics available and that, over time, the results could change.

“On the basis of available data, however, we find little support for the stronger claims made by either opponents or advocates of legalization. The absence of significant adverse consequences is especially striking given the sometimes dire predictions made by legalization opponents.”

]]> 40 Sat, 22 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
New Clinton emails released, 1 has classified information Sat, 22 Oct 2016 02:53:40 +0000 WASHINGTON — One document in a new batch of Hillary Clinton’s emails released by the State Department on Friday contains classified information.

The department posted to its website 112 documents that the FBI recovered during its investigation into the private email server the Democratic presidential nominee used when she was secretary of state. In one email, the department censored several paragraphs that it determined contained “foreign government information” deemed “confidential” – the lowest level of classification.

Several other documents published Friday also contain classified information, but they are from email chains that were previously classified and released in earlier tranches of Clinton’s email, according to the State Department.

The message in question, to Clinton from her deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin on Nov. 26, 2010, contains readouts of two telephone conversations a senior U.S. diplomat had with top leaders from the United Arab Emirates. The paragraphs containing the descriptions of the calls with the Emirati officials were not marked classified when Clinton received the email. They were redacted entirely for public release under Freedom of Information Act standards on Thursday.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said the classification does not necessarily mean the information was mishandled at the time it was sent or received.

“While foreign government information may be protected from public release, both the executive order on classification and the Foreign Affairs Manual acknowledge that FGI often can be maintained on unclassified systems,” he said.

The FBI provided the State Department with about 14,900 emails purported to not have been among the 55,000 pages of work-related documents that Clinton had turned over and had been previously released. Of those previously released, the department classified more than 2,000 emails, mostly at the “confidential” and next-highest “secret” levels. Twenty-two emails were withheld entirely from publication on grounds that they were “top secret.”

Friday’s email release is the latest in a series of batches from the FBI-provided documents that the department is under court order to process and release under the Freedom of Information Act. The next releases are scheduled for Nov. 3 and 4, before the 2016 presidential election.

]]> 1 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 22:53:40 +0000
Former aide testifies Christie OK’d ‘traffic study’ on bridge Sat, 22 Oct 2016 01:57:14 +0000 NEWARK, N.J. — Republican Gov. Chris Christie approved of a traffic study on the George Washington Bridge, his former deputy chief of staff testified Friday in her criminal trial, but federal prosecutors say it was actually a cover story for a political payback scheme designed to cause traffic jams.

After a conversation with Christie, Bridget Kelly sent an email that read “time for some traffic problems” to David Wildstein, the self-described mastermind of the plot.

Kelly is accused of plotting with Wildstein and another former Christie ally to close lanes on the bridge, which connects Fort Lee and New York City, as revenge against Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, who wouldn’t endorse Christie’s re-election effort in 2013.

Her comments at trial that Christie signed off on the traffic study in August 2013, a month before the closures began, are the latest testimony indicating Christie knew more about the closures than he let on in the months afterward.

Christie’s spokesman said in a statement Friday night the governor had “no knowledge prior to or during these lane re-alignment” and “no role in authorizing them.” Spokesman Brian Murray said anything “said to the contrary is simply untrue.”

The scandal developed just after Christie won re-election handily and as his national political profile was rising. It ultimately weighed down his presidential campaign, which fizzled in the primary season after a poor showing in New Hampshire.

Also Friday, one of Christie’s top political advisers, Mike DuHaime, testified he told Christie ahead of a December 2013 news conference that Kelly and his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, knew about the lane closures. Christie then told reporters no one in his administration other than Wildstein knew about them.

Wildstein, a former Port Authority of New York and New Jersey staffer and high school classmate of Christie’s, previously pleaded guilty in the case and is the prosecution’s key witness. Wildstein has said the traffic study was just a cover story.

Kelly maintained Friday she believed the lane closings, on one of the world’s busiest bridges, to be part of a Port Authority traffic study and said they weren’t done for political retribution. She’s on trial along with former Port Authority executive Bill Baroni. They have pleaded not guilty and have said the government has twisted federal law to turn their actions into crimes.

The release of the “traffic problems” email was what brought the scandal into full public view and led to Christie firing Kelly and Stepien.

]]> 2, 21 Oct 2016 21:57:14 +0000
Cyberattack disrupts access to major websites, worries experts Sat, 22 Oct 2016 01:41:00 +0000 Withering cyberattacks on server farms of a key internet firm repeatedly disrupted access to major websites and online services including Twitter, Netflix and PayPal across the United States on Friday. The White House called the disruption malicious and a hacker group claimed responsibility, though its assertion couldn’t be verified.

Manchester, New Hampshire-based Dyn Inc. said its data centers were hit by three waves of distributed denial-of-service attacks, which overwhelm targeted machines with junk data traffic. The attacks, shifting geographically, had knock-on effects for users trying to access popular websites across the U.S. even in Europe.

“The complexity of the attacks is what is making it so difficult for us,” said Kyle York, the company’s chief strategy officer. “What they are actually doing is moving around the world with each attack.” He said an East Coast data center was hit first; attacks on an offshore target followed later.

The data flood came from tens of millions of different Internet-connected machines – including increasingly popular but highly insecure household devices such as web-connected cameras. It was an onslaught whose global shifts suggested a sophisticated attacker, though Dyn said it had neither suspect nor motive.


The level of disruption was difficult to gauge, but Dyn serves some of the biggest names on the web, providing the domain name services that translate the numerical internet addresses into human-readable destinations such as “”

Steve Grobman, chief technology officer at Intel Security, compared an outage at a domain name services company to tearing up a map or turning off GPS before driving to the department store. “It doesn’t matter that the store is fully open or operational if you have no idea how to get there,” he said in a telephone interview.

Jason Read, founder of the internet performance monitoring firm CloudHarmony, owned by Gartner Inc., said his company tracked a half-hour-long disruption early Friday in which roughly one in two end users would have found it impossible to access various websites from the East Coast.

“We’ve been monitoring Dyn for years and this is by far the worst outage event that we’ve observed,” said Read.

Dyn provides services to some 6 percent of America’s Fortune 500 companies, he said. A full list of affected companies wasn’t immediately available but Twitter, Netflix, PayPal and the coder hangout Github said they experienced problems.


Members of a shadowy collective that calls itself New World Hackers claimed responsibility for the attack via Twitter. They said they organized networks of connected “zombie” computers called botnets that threw a staggering 1.2 terabits per second of data at the Dyn-managed servers.

“We didn’t do this to attract federal agents, only test power,” two collective members who identified themselves as “Prophet” and “Zain” told an AP reporter via Twitter direct message exchange. They said more than 10 members participated in the attack. It was not immediately possible to verify the claim.

Dyn officials said they have received no claim of responsibility, but are working with law enforcement.

The collective, @NewWorldHacking on Twitter, has in the past claimed responsibility for similar attacks against sites including in September and the BBC on Dec. 31. The attack on the BBC marshaled half the computing power of Friday’s onslaught.

The collective has also claimed responsibility for cyberattacks against Islamic State. The two said about 30 people have access to the @NewWorkdHacking Twitter account. They claim 20 are in Russia and 10 in China. “Prophet” said he is in India. “Zain” said he is in China. The two claimed to their actions were “good,” presumably because they highlighted internet security problems.

Another collective member the AP previously communicated with via direct message called himself “Ownz” and identified himself as a 19-year-old in London. He told the AP that the group – or at least he – sought only to expose security vulnerabilities.

During the attack on the ESPN site, “Ownz” was asked if the collective made any demands on sites it attacked, such as demanding blackmail money. “We will make one demand actually. Secure your website and get better servers, otherwise be attacked again,” he said.


For James Norton, the former deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security who now teaches on cybersecurity policy at Johns Hopkins University, the incident was an example of how attacks on key junctures in the network can yield massive disruption.

“I think you can see how fragile the internet network actually is,” he said.

Dyn officials said attacks stemmed from tens of millions of devices connected to the internet – closed-circuit video cameras, digital video recorders and even thermostats – that were infected with malware.

“The Internet of Things sort of ran way ahead of how the Internet was architected,” Dyn’s York said on a call with reporters. He said there are between 10-15 billion such devices online.

Dyn first became aware of an attack around 7:00 a.m. local time, focused on data centers on the East Coast of the U.S. Services were restored about two hours later. But then attackers shifted to offshore data centers, and problems continue.

“It is a very smart attack. As we start to mitigate they react and start to throw something that’s over the top,” York said on a call with reporters.

The second attack broadened its net, affecting the U.S. West Coast. “Prophet” of New World Hackers said hacktivists of the broad, more amorphous Anonymous collective piled on in the third wave on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve stopped all our attacks,” he said at midafternoon. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security was monitoring the situation, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. He said he had no information about who may be behind the disruption.

Security experts have recently expressed concern over increasing power of denial-of-service attacks following high-profile electronic assaults against investigative journalist Brian Krebs and French internet service provider OVH .

In a widely shared essay titled “Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet,” respected security expert Bruce Schneier said last month that major internet infrastructure companies were seeing a series of worrying denial-of-service attacks.

“Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical internet services,” he said.

]]> 2 Sat, 22 Oct 2016 08:24:16 +0000
Islamic State launches attack on Kirkuk Sat, 22 Oct 2016 01:30:43 +0000 KIRKUK, Iraq — Islamic State militants launched a wave of pre-dawn attacks in and around the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on Friday, killing at least 14 people and setting off fierce clashes with Kurdish security forces that were still raging after sundown.

The assault appeared aimed at diverting attention from the Iraqi offensive to retake Mosul, and raised fears the extremists could lash out in unpredictable ways as they defend the largest city under their control and their last urban bastion in Iraq.

Multiple explosions rocked Kirkuk, and gunfire rang out around the provincial headquarters, where the fighting was concentrated. Smoke billowed over the city, and the streets were largely deserted out of fear of militant snipers. IS said its fighters targeted the provincial headquarters in a claim carried by its Aamaq news agency.

North of the city, three suicide bombers stormed a power plant in the town of Dibis, killing 13 workers, including four Iranian technicians, before blowing themselves up as police arrived, said Maj. Ahmed Kader Ali, the Dibis police chief.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, condemned the assault, which he said also wounded three Iranian workers, according to the official IRNA news agency.

Kirkuk is some 100 miles from the IS-held city of Mosul, where Iraqi forces launched a wide-scale offensive on Monday. IS has in the past resorted to suicide bombings in and around Baghdad in response to battlefield losses elsewhere in the country.

Kirkuk is an oil-rich city claimed by both Iraq’s central government and the largely autonomous Kurdish region. Kurdish forces assumed full control of the city in the summer of 2014, as Iraq’s army and police crumbled in the face of a lightning advance by IS.

Kemal Kerkuki, a senior commander of Kurdish peshmerga forces west of Kirkuk, said the town where his base is located outside the city also came under attack early Friday, but that his forces repelled the assault.

He said IS maintains sleeper cells of militants in Kirkuk and surrounding villages. “We arrested one recently and he confessed,” he said, adding that Friday’s attackers may have posed as displaced civilians in order to infiltrate the city. Kirkuk province is home to hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the conflict.

Iraqi and Kurdish forces backed by a U.S.-led coalition launched the multipronged assault this week to retake Mosul and surrounding areas – the largest operation undertaken by the Iraqi military since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

By Thursday, the Iraqi forces had advanced as far as Bartella, a historically Christian town some nine miles from Mosul’s outskirts.

Elsewhere in Iraq, the country’s top Shiite cleric called on forces taking part in the Mosul offensive to protect civilians, and for residents of Mosul, a mainly Sunni city, to cooperate with security forces.

“We stress today upon our beloved fighters, as we have before on many occasions, that they exercise the greatest degree of restraint in dealing with civilians stuck in the areas where there is fighting,” the reclusive Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said in a Friday sermon read by an aide. “Protect them and prevent any harm to them by all possible means.”

]]> 0, 21 Oct 2016 21:30:43 +0000
Philippine president says he won’t sever ties with U.S. Sat, 22 Oct 2016 01:20:40 +0000 MANILA, Philippines — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said Friday he did not mean he would cut off ties with the United States when he said in China that he was separating from the U.S., adding it’s in his country’s best interest to stay with America.

Despite the clarification, the tough-talking president kept up his tirades against the U.S., saying in a late-night speech in his southern hometown of Davao city that he would never travel to America “in this lifetime.”

At an economic forum Thursday in Beijing, where he made a state visit, Duterte declared “my separation from the United States … both in military and economics also.” His pronouncement was met with applause, but Duterte did not explain what he exactly intended to do and when.

Duterte, however, said in an arrival speech in Davao that he was not severing ties with his country’s treaty ally that is home to a large number of Filipino expatriates.

“When you say severance of ties, you cut the diplomatic relations. I cannot do that. Why? It’s to the best interest of my country that we maintain that relationship,” Duterte said, adding that Filipinos were not ready to embrace such an option.

What he meant by his remarks in China, Duterte said, was ending a Philippine foreign policy that closely leaned toward the U.S.

Ahead of his China visit, Duterte made a series of pronouncements to curb Philippine security engagements with the U.S., including the removal of American counterterrorism forces in the country’s south and his opposition to planned joint patrols with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea.

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 21:20:40 +0000
Spain’s top court overturns bullfighting ban Sat, 22 Oct 2016 01:13:05 +0000 MADRID — Spain’s top court Thursday overruled a controversial local ban against bullfighting in the powerful northeastern region of Catalonia, saying it violated a national law protecting the much-disputed spectacle.

The Constitutional Court ruled that Catalan authorities generally could regulate such public spectacles, and even outlaw them, but in this case the national parliament’s ruling that bullfighting is part of Spain’s heritage must prevail.

Catalonia banned bullfighting in 2010. The decision was part of the growing movement against bullfighting but it was also seen as another step in the Catalan government’s push to break away from Spain.

The ban had little practical effect as Catalonia had only one functioning bullring – in its capital, Barcelona – but neither is the court decision likely to greatly change things.

“There’ll be no bullfights in Catalonia regardless of what the Constitutional Court says,” Catalan Land Minister Josep Rulls said.

The World Animal Protection group described the decision as “outrageous,” adding that “cultural heritage does not justify an activity that relies on animal torture and indefensible levels of suffering.”

But the Fighting Bull Foundation of breeders, matadors, ring workers, aficionados and event organizers welcomed the news, warning that attempts to prevent bullfights in Catalonia would now be illegal.

Catalonia’s last bullfight was in 2011 before the region’s ban took effect. The court ruling followed a challenge to the ban by the conservative Popular Party headed by acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

Catalonia said it banned bullfighting to protect the animals but it continues to allow popular events featuring the chasing and taunting of bulls with flaming balls of wax or fireworks affixed to their horns.

Bullfighting and bull-related events in summer festivals remain immensely popular throughout Spain although animal rights groups have gained some ground in their campaigns.

Catalonia, with a population of 7.5 million, is a wealthy region with its own language and a large degree of self-rule.

]]> 0, 21 Oct 2016 21:13:05 +0000
Unveiling of 55-foot-tall nude sculpture stirs debate in California town Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:03:03 +0000 SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — There have long been complaints about the lack of women in the tech industry. Now there’s a towering female figure, in a tech park across the bay from San Francisco, although not quite what some people had in mind.

A 55-foot tall statue of a nude woman unveiled this week in the working-class community of San Leandro is stirring controversy and a lot of conversation.

At the base of the 13,000-pound statue is a message in 10 languages that says: “What would the world be like if women were safe?”

The statue — roughly three times as tall as Michelangelo’s David — is made of steel mesh in the form of a graceful dancer, with an arched back and arms stretched overhead. The debate is not over its artistic merit but whether it’s appropriate in public.

“If she’s a ballerina, she should have some clothes on,” said Tonette Watts, 57, a resident and mother of a teen girl, who stopped and stared at the statue on her way to work. “If you’ve got kids you do not want them seeing that.”

Another parent, Keith Verville, 48, studied the sculpture and then asked: “Why is it so big? And SO not clothed?”

The statue, named “Truth is Beauty,” is on private property at the edge of a new tech office complex – in a highly trafficked and visible area just across from San Leandro’s commuter rail station.

Many people, including city officials, have welcomed the statue as a reflection of the changing demographics in San Leandro, where young millennials now outnumber older residents.

A woman poses recently beneath the statue in San Leandro, Calif. Associated Press/Jocelyn Gecker

‘Truth is Beauty’ debuted in 2013 at Burning Man festival, and was bought by developers of the San Leandro, Calif., tech complex, to fulfill a requirement by the city to include public art at the site. Associated Press/Jocelyn Gecker

“This is something I’d never have thought would come to San Leandro,” said Mayor Pauline Russo Cutter. “It’s edgy and modern, and it makes me proud.”

The statue debuted in 2013 at Burning Man, the annual counterculture celebration in the Nevada desert. It was then bought by developers of the complex, for a price they haven’t disclosed, under a requirement by the city to include public art at the site.

Cutter said some city officials initially weren’t thrilled by the choice but ultimately liked the idea of starting a conversation about art. The mayor says the statue sends a powerful message of female strength that’s more apparent when seen up close.

The sculptor, Marco Cochrane, says he was marked as a child by the rape of a neighborhood friend and tries through art to bring attention to sexual assault and to the fear of many women, but also to the strength women feel when not afraid.

“She feels safe and she is loving herself in that moment, and hopefully people can feel that feeling,” Cochrane said of the statue. “It’s a beautiful woman, and part of it is to draw men in. Then they look down and see the message and they go, ‘Ohhhh.’ I hope that happens thousands of times.”

As word spreads about the statue, it’s becoming a popular selfie spot.

“She is exceptional,” said Jo Sutton, 43, a high school art teacher who hopes to bring her class to see the statue.

Businessman Michael Fennell, 73, stood taking pictures from several angles to send to his son, a sculptor in New York.

“This is a world-class statue,” Fennell said. “This is not a woman cowering because the world is against her. This is a woman saying, ‘Here we are! We have arrived!’ I love it.”

]]> 7, 21 Oct 2016 11:17:22 +0000
Crackdown looming on illegal Airbnb rentals in New York Fri, 21 Oct 2016 14:26:28 +0000 ALBANY, N.Y. — New York state may soon enact one of the nation’s toughest restrictions on Airbnb, the popular online short-term rental service.

Legislation awaiting action by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo before the end of the month would authorize fines of up to $7,500 for tenants and landlords who advertise rentals for 30 days or less in violation of a 2010 state occupancy law.

Supporters of the measure say many Airbnb rentals are already prohibited under that law. They say fines will help bring an end to illegal, unlicensed rentals that hurt local hotels and reduce the number of affordable apartments in New York City.

Cuomo hasn’t said what he intends to do, and Airbnb is pushing hard for a veto. The San Francisco-based company has proposed regulations intended to prevent property owners from running unlicensed hotels.

]]> 0 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 10:49:37 +0000
Vendetta seen in cyberattack on N.H. firm that hosts websites Fri, 21 Oct 2016 14:06:07 +0000 Hackers temporarily shut down access to websites for internet users Friday morning along the East Coast in what experts say was a coordinated and curiously timed attack on one particular Domain Name Server provider.

Dyn Inc. reported a distributed denial-of-service, or DDoS, attack at around 7:10 a.m. that left millions of people without access to Twitter, Spotify, Reddit and the New York Times, among other sites. Dyn restored service at 9:20 a.m. but was offline again at around noon as another attack, also affecting the West Coast, appeared to be underway.

DDoS attacks on companies like Dyn, which facilitate the loading of web pages, have increased recently in both size and intensity. The latest comes the day after Doug Madory, director of Internet Analysis at Dyn, gave a presentation at an industry conference about research he had done on questionable practices at BackConnect Inc., a firm that offers web services, including helping clients manage DDoS attacks. According to Madory, BackConnect had regularly spoofed Internet addresses through a technique known as a BGP hijack, an aggressive tactic that pushes the bounds of industry.

Madory’s research was conducted with Brian Krebs, a well-known writer on computer-security issues. Krebs also published an article based on the research last month. Within hours, his website was hit by a “extremely large and unusual” DDoS attack, he wrote.

The barrage likely originated with a large amount of poorly secured devices like internet-connected cameras, routers, and digital video recorders, according to an analysis of the attack on Krebs’s site. These devices, collectively referred to as the internet of things, have been the source of an increasing number of attacks since early 2015, Flashpoint and Level 3 Threat Research Labs said in a report published last month.

BackConnect has denied having any connection with the incident involving Krebs’s website, and didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Krebs wrote on his blog Friday that he had no evidence that the attacks on Dyn were related to Madory’s research. Dyn didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday.

With attacks on the Internet’s Domain Name Servers, hackers compromise the underlying technology that governs how the web functions, making the hack far more powerful and widespread.

The DNS translates website names into the Internet Protocol addresses that computers use to look up and access sites. But it has a design flaw: Sending a routine data request to a DNS server from one computer, the hacker can trick the system into sending a monster file of IP addresses back to the intended target. Multiply that by tens of thousands of computers under the hackers’ control, and the wall of data that flooded back was enormous.

A small server may be capable of handling hundreds of simultaneous requests, but thousands every minute cause overload and ultimately shut down, taking the websites it hosts offline with it.

The practice often is employed by groups of hackers. In 2012, a DDoS attack forced offline the websites of Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., US Bancorp and PNC Financial Services Group Inc.

A DDoS can be achieved in a number of ways, but commonly involves a distributed network of so-called “zombie” machines, referred to as botnets. A botnet is formed of personal computers in homes or offices infected with malicious code which, upon the request of a hacker, can start flooding a web server with data. One or two machines wouldn’t be an issue, but tens or hundreds of thousands fire such data simultaneously can be enough to cripple even the most sophisticated of web servers.

In the case of the Dyn incident, the computers targeted were DNS servers. Without a DNS server, those translations cannot take place, potentially rendering large numbers of websites inaccessible by users across a country or even the world. In other words, taking away the DNS servers is like taking away all the road signs on a country’s highway system.

“I would suspect there was a single company being attacked, and everybody else who was on the same service also experience outages,” said Carl Herberger, vice president for security solutions at Radware, an Israeli-based internet security company. “That would explain attack why other authoritative services were not being attacked.”

Yet so-called authoritative DNS providers like Dyn are notoriously hard to secure. Herberger likens them to hospitals, which must admit anyone who shows up at the emergency room. Dyn must consider traffic going to a website as initially legitimate. When a DDoS attack is launched, Dyn must work fast to sort out the bad traffic from the good, which takes time, resources and creates outages that ripple across the internet.

Dave Palmer, director of technology at U.K. cybersecurity company Darktrace, said the most recent DDoS attacks have been linked to internet of things devices, in particular web cams.

“The joke about the internet of things was that you were going to get people hijacking people’s connected fridges to conduct these attacks, but in these recent cases the culprit seems to be webcams,” Palmer said. “We will probably see, when this is investigated, that it is a botnet of the internet of things.”

To mitigate these attacks, companies ramp up their capacity to try to absorb the deluge of traffic and reroute it, often with the help of a major telecommunications carrier or cloud-services provider like Akamai Technologies Inc. and CloudFlare Inc. But the only way to really prevent denial-of-service attacks may be to increase the overall security level of consumers around the world, a task that is getting harder as more and more devices are connected to the Internet.

“This is exactly what happens when tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of devices are left unprotected,” Palmer said.

Bloomberg’s Elliott Snyder Scott Moritz and Michael Riley contributed to this story.


]]> 7 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 14:44:32 +0000
Attack in Afghanistan killed Illinois solider, Oklahoma man Fri, 21 Oct 2016 13:42:47 +0000 FAIRVIEW, Ill. — A decorated U.S. soldier from Illinois and an Army civilian employee from Oklahoma who both had been deployed multiple times to support military operations in Afghanistan were killed in an attack this week in Kabul, the Defense Department said.

Army Sgt. Douglas J. Riney, 26, of Fairview, Illinois, and Michael G. Sauro, 40, of McAlester, Oklahoma, died of wounds received when they encountered hostile enemy forces in Afghanistan’s capital, the military said in a statement Thursday.

“Mike was the type of person who no matter what you asked of him, he was always willing to lend a helping hand to everybody,” said Deborah Schreiner, chief of HAZMAT Training at the Defense Ammunition Center, Oklahoma, where Sauro was assigned. “He was such a joy to work with and always so upbeat.”

The Defense Department statement said the men died Thursday. NATO and an Afghan official earlier said a man wearing an Afghan army uniform had killed a U.S. service member and an American civilian Wednesday in Kabul. NATO said another U.S. service member and two U.S. civilians were wounded in the attack.

The Associated Press sent emails to military officials early Friday seeking to confirm whether Riney and Sauro were the ones who died in that attack.

Riney entered active-duty service in July 2012 as a petroleum supply specialist, the military said. He had been assigned to the Support Squadron, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas, since December 2012.

Riney earlier was deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom from July 2014 to February 2015 and deployed in June of this year in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Army Commendation Medal.

Sauro was assigned to the Defense Ammunition Center, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in McAlester, Oklahoma, the Defense Department said. He traveled to Afghanistan last month for his third deployment and was scheduled to return to the U.S. in March.

He previously deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from February to May 2009 and in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from October 2012 to January 2013.

The two U.S. civilians injured also were from the Defense Ammunition Center. Richard “Rick” Alford was in stable condition and Rodney Henderson suffered minor injuries, the center said, adding that they will both return to the U.S.

Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, earlier this week said the attack took place inside a military base in Kabul. NATO said the attacker was later killed. The victims were conducting duties as part of the larger NATO mission to train and advise the Afghan security services.

]]> 0, 21 Oct 2016 09:51:40 +0000
Canadian official leaves trade talks with E.U. Fri, 21 Oct 2016 12:44:41 +0000 BRUSSELS — Canada’s international trade minister says the European Union is not ready to sign a free trade deal with Canada at the moment, and that she was leaving the negotiations to return home.

Chrystia Freeland said as she left talks with the Wallonia region, which has been holding up the deal, that “it seems that for me, and for Canada, that the EU is not capable now to have an international deal, even with a nation with such European values like Canada.”

She said that “Canada is disappointed, but I think it is impossible.”

The deal was supposed to be signed next week in Brussels by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

It was unclear whether the EU would keep negotiating with Wallonia in coming days to solve the impasse.

Wallonia has held up the massive free trade deal with Canada, saying its objections had not yet been sufficiently addressed.

Paul Magnette, the president of Wallonia, spent hours discussing with Canadian International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland to find a compromise. The deal needs unanimity within the EU, and Belgium in turn needs unanimity among its regions.

The disagreement has pitted Wallonia, a region of 3.5 million people that’s smaller than New Jersey, against the entire EU and Canada, with populations of 500 million and 35 million.

“Difficulties remain,” Magnette said, adding that a key issue was how nations and multinational corporations would settle disputes under the deal.

Magnette said the talks would continue, but suggested any deal might not be ready in time for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s visit to Brussels next Thursday.

“I plead that, in an amicable way, we jointly postpone the EU-Canada summit and that we give ourselves time,” he said.

EU leaders warned that failure to clinch the deal with Canada could ruin the 28-nation bloc’s credibility as a trade partner and make it more difficult to strike such agreements with other global allies.

A similar free trade agreement between the EU and the United States is also being negotiated, but has met with far more opposition than the Canada pact. Progress on the U.S. deal is highly unlikely any time before next month’s American election.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he had invited Freeland to join talks Friday with the EU and Belgium to persuade Magnette to sign off on a deal that Wallonia’s legislature has repeatedly rejected.

Juncker said officials from the EU Commission were in talks in Wallonia’s regional capital, Namur, with regional leaders and the Canadian minister.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said he had worked through the night in an effort to broker a deal, including speaking to Trudeau.

Entering an EU summit early Friday, Michel said he did not want to say anything “that would pour oil on the flames” and said he feared positions were hardening as efforts continued to find a solution.

At a press conference in the early hours of Friday, Juncker stressed the importance of the deal.

“We need this trade arrangement with Canada,” he said. “It is the best one we ever concluded and if we will be unable to conclude a trade arrangement with Canada, I don’t see how it would be possible to have trade agreements with other parts of this world.”

On Thursday, EU President Donald Tusk underscored the high stakes. “I am afraid, that CETA could be our last free trade agreement,” he said.

Wallonia, which is a little smaller than New Jersey, wants more guarantees to protect its farmers and Europe’s high labor, environmental and consumer standards. It also fears the agreement will allow huge multinationals — first from Canada, later from the United States, if a similar deal with Washington follows — to crush small Walloon enterprises and their way of life.

Proponents say the deal would yield billions in added trade through tariff cuts and other measures to lower barriers to commerce. At the same time, the EU says it will keep in place the region’s strong safeguards on social, environmental and labor issues.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted Thursday that it was still business as usual for the world’s largest trading block.

“I tell you: You can continue to trust Europe as a trading partner,” she said.

]]> 0, 21 Oct 2016 11:15:57 +0000
With Iraqi army focused on Mosul, Islamic State attacks oil-rich city of Kirkuk Fri, 21 Oct 2016 11:45:16 +0000 IRBIL, Iraq — Islamic State gunmen attacked government buildings in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk and a nearby power plant on Friday, briefly controlling the main police station in their first significant counterattack since Iraqi forces launched an offensive for Mosul.

The Iraqi military said the situation was now “under control” and that three police stations and a political party headquarters had been attacked inside the city. It is unclear how many were killed in Kirkuk but at least 11 died in the attack on the power plant in the nearby village of Dibbis.

Lt. Col. Abdullah Majid from the Kurdish security forces known as Asayish said the attack started at 3 a.m. and now the remaining militants in Kirkuk city were surrounded in a hotel in the city center.

The assault on oil-rich Kirkuk comes just days after Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a large scale offensive to retake the northern city of Mosul, the biggest city controlled by the Islamic State group and about 100 miles to the northwest.

Army commanders and officials speculate that the attack is an attempt to relieve pressure on Mosul’s defenders as Iraqi forces reach the outskirts of the city.

“It’s a desperate attempt to move the front to Kirkuk and give their people who are besieged in Mosul a chance to escape,” said local lawmaker Ammar Kahiya. “The militants attacked the provincial council building but did not manage to control it. They managed to enter the police station but had lost it by mid-morning.”

Militants also attacked the village of Qutan where they took over a school and made a speech in the local mosque.

“A man from Daesh gave a speech and ordered the people to blow themselves up against the security forces,” said Kahiya, using the Arabic acronym for the group.

Hassan Touran, another lawmaker from Kirkuk, said that the attack was launched by Islamic State “sleeper cells.”

In the attack on an electricity station and a gas station in Dibbis, the militants targeted Iranian workers at the plant.

The Electricity Ministry said 11 workers were killed in total, including three Iranians.

The attackers then detonated their explosive vests when police showed up.

Col. Soud Kalobazyani of the peshmerga said the militants had also entered the village of Qaratappa, and were currently holed up in two houses.

The attack comes a day after Iraqi and Kurdish forces, known as peshmerga, opened new fronts against the militants in Mosul, with Iraq’s elite counterterrorism forces joining the fight for the first time.

Security forces made some advances but were met with tough resistance. In Bartella, around six miles east of the outskirts of Mosul, the militants dispatched a barrage of 15 car bombs against the elite Iraqi forces.

In the newly opened northern front, Kurdish forces said that “a number” of peshmerga “paid the ultimate sacrifice” during their offensive, adding that air support from the coalition had not been “as decisive as in the past.”

]]> 1 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 07:45:16 +0000
WikiLeaks emails part curtain on Obama era prior to his election Fri, 21 Oct 2016 02:17:47 +0000 WASHINGTON — The anti- secrecy group WikiLeaks on Thursday released a handful of Barack Obama’s emails from a period immediately before he was elected in 2008, including several that revealed names of people Obama was considering for senior roles and one that reflected care in avoiding transition conflict with President George W. Bush.

The emails span a period from Oct. 6, 2008, until Election Day that year, Nov. 4, and several include comments from “Barack.” In one email, John Podesta, veteran political operative who would go on to serve as Obama’s counselor, said, “Barack, good meeting yesterday,” referring to a session on creating an emergency national economic council to deal with a massive financial crisis that had the global economic order teetering.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 22:17:47 +0000
Forecasters agree: Maine will have warm winter Fri, 21 Oct 2016 02:17:47 +0000 WASHINGTON — Federal forecasters predict this winter may paint the U.S. in stripes of different weather: Warmer and drier than normal in the south, and colder and wetter than usual in the far north.

The National Weather Service winter outlook , issued Thursday, gets murky in the nation’s middle belt, with no particular expectation for trends in temperature or precipitation.

Still, some nasty storms might make the winter there memorable, said Mike Halpert, deputy director of the weather service’s Climate Prediction Center.

The major driver of the winter forecast is a budding La Nina, a cooling of the central Pacific that warps weather worldwide and is the flip side of the better-known El Nino, Halpert said.

For the South and California, “the big story is likely to be drought,” Halpert said.

And that’s not good news for California, which is in year five of its drought. The winter is the state’s crucial wet season when snow and rain gets stored up for the rest of year. Halpert said the state’s winter looks to come up dry, especially in Southern California.

“It’s probably going to take a couple of wet winters in a row to put a big dent into this drought now,” said weather service drought expert David Miskus. He said it will take “many, many years and it’s got to be above normal precipitation.”

The northern cold band that the weather service predicts is mostly from Montana to Michigan. Maine is the exception, with unusually warm weather expected.

The prediction center’s track record on its winter outlooks is about 25 percent better than random chance for temperature and slightly less than that for precipitation, Halpert said.

Private weather forecasters are predicting quite a different winter. They foresee a harsher one for much of the nation, including a return of the dreaded polar vortex, which funnels Arctic air into the U.S.

Judah Cohen of Atmospheric and Environmental Research in Lexington, Massachusetts, forecasts an unusually cold winter for the eastern and middle two-thirds of the U.S., especially raw east of the Mississippi River.

Cohen, whose research is funded by the National Science Foundation and closely followed by meteorologists, links North America’s winter weather to Siberian snow cover in October.

He agrees that Maine will have a warm winter, and also predicts a warm Southwest.

The private Accuweather of State College, Pennsylvania, calls for frequent storms in the Northeast, early snow in the Great Lakes, bitter cold in the northern tier and occasional cold in the middle. Like other forecasters, it predicts a warm and dry southwest, with some hope for rain and snow from San Francisco northward.

]]> 7 Fri, 21 Oct 2016 07:50:47 +0000
Grandparents sue agencies over ‘preventable’ sex abuse Fri, 21 Oct 2016 01:47:04 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — The grandparents of two young sisters who were sexually abused by their parents while in foster care are suing New Hampshire’s child protection agency.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges the Division for Children, Youth and Families allowed the biological parents to have unsupervised visits with their children in 2013, even after police began investigating reports the couple had molested other children at a homeless shelter where they were living.

The grandparents, who have adopted the girls, also are suing Easter Seals of New Hampshire, which oversaw earlier supervised visits and is accused of allowing abuse to occur during “bath time” with the parents.

“These horrific acts of sexual abuse were 100 percent foreseeable and 100 percent preventable. These two girls should never have been placed back in the care of these two monsters who inflicted this abuse on them,” said the grandparents’ attorney, Cyrus Rilee.

The lawsuit does not identify the parents or grandparents by name to protect the children’s privacy. The girls, now 5 and 7 years old, were 18 months old and 4 years old at the time of the abuse.

The parents are serving 25 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to sexual abuse and child pornography. According to the lawsuit, the couple videotaped more than a dozen incidents in which the girls were assaulted, including one in which the older girl’s mouth was covered with duct tape and her hands bound behind her back.


After one visit in November 2013, the girls’ grandmother saw the younger girl rubbing a paintbrush against her genitals. When asked what she was doing, the child answered, “Mommy and Daddy do it – no they don’t, don’t tell, I’ll get in trouble!” The grandparents immediately went to police, and the parents were arrested about 10 days later.

That visit was two months after Claremont police notified the Division for Children, Youth and Families that several children at a homeless center reported the girls’ father had molested them, the lawsuit states.

“If that isn’t shocking enough, after the abuse was discovered and the parents were arrested, when confronted by the adoptive mother and the investigating police officer about how they could have allowed unsupervised visits with the parents in light of the pending criminal investigation involving child sexual abuse, DCYF told both of them that they had to give these parents ‘the opportunity to fail,” ‘ Rilee said.

Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers said the department takes the need to ensure child safety and well-being seriously and has been working to increase staffing. He recently authorized moving 22 positions from other areas within the department, began hiring workers to extend coverage to 8 p.m. and is working to establish a 24/7 program.

A spokeswoman for Easter Seals said the organization takes the matter seriously, will cooperate with authorities and remains committed to supporting children, adults and families.

Gov. Maggie Hassan called for an outside review of the agency after two mothers were accused of killing their toddler daughters within a year of each other. That review is expected to be completed next month, but Rilee said it falls far short of addressing the problems. Beyond unspecified damages, Thursday’s lawsuit seeks to force the state to immediately increase staffing at the Division for Children, Youth and Families and provide services 24 hours a day.

“It’s no wonder that children are being physically and sexually abused and killed while in the child protection system in New Hampshire. Sadly, the only public response from DHHS … has been that the findings of the study will be used by DHHS to craft its next budget,” he said. “This is completely unacceptable. Abused and neglected children in the state of New Hampshire cannot wait until the end of next June for help.”

]]> 1 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 21:47:04 +0000
Planned Parenthood clinic reports peaceful year since hatchet attack Fri, 21 Oct 2016 01:26:22 +0000 The Claremont, N.H., facility has upgraded its internal security and police have kept a closer eye on it.

CLAREMONT, N.H. — There have been no reported disturbances at a New Hampshire Planned Parenthood clinic since it was badly damaged a year ago by a hatchet-wielding boy, police said.

Police say the boy destroyed computers, plumbing fixtures, phones and medical equipment inside the Claremont clinic on Oct. 21, 2015. They have refused to disclose his age or give details of the case, citing juvenile court privacy rules. The clinic reopened about a month later.

Police Chief Alexander Scott says the clinic installed internal security upgrades. Police also have been conducting extra patrols and building checks. He said there have been no other reports of vandalism or disturbances reported at the clinic.

Officials did not determine whether the vandalism was linked to the word “murderer” spray-painted on the same building several weeks earlier.

Jennifer Frizzell, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England’s vice president for public policy, said there have been no additional incidents of vandalism, violence or property damage at its other health centers in New Hampshire in the past year.

“Our Manchester health center experiences a regular volume of protests and scheduled demonstrations on the public sidewalk adjacent to our entrance, so this activity occasionally leads to complaints or the involvement of security guard or police officer to maintain boundaries and access,” she said.

Planned Parenthood, which recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, offers birth control, sex education and abortions. Planned Parenthood’s foes denounce its role as the nation’s leading abortion provider, although most efforts to defund the group have been thwarted.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 21:26:22 +0000
EPA official: We waited too long in Flint Fri, 21 Oct 2016 01:19:00 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency had sufficient authority and information to issue an emergency order to protect residents of Flint, Michigan, from lead-contaminated water as early as June 2015 – seven months before it declared an emergency, the EPA’s inspector general said Thursday.

The Flint crisis should have generated “a greater sense of urgency” at the agency to “intervene when the safety of drinking water is compromised,” Inspector General Arthur Elkins said in an interim report.

Flint’s drinking water became tainted when the city began drawing from the Flint River in April 2014 to save money. The impoverished city north of Detroit was under state control at the time. Regulators failed to ensure that water was treated properly and lead from aging pipes leached into the water.

Federal, state and local officials have argued over blame as the crisis continues to force residents to drink bottled or filtered water. Hundreds of children have elevated lead levels.

A panel appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder concluded that the state is “fundamentally accountable” for the lead crisis because of decisions made by state environmental regulators and state-appointed emergency managers controlling the city.

Even so, Snyder and other Republicans have faulted the EPA for a slow response. Last spring, Snyder blamed bureaucrats in Washington and Michigan for the crisis, while apologizing for not acting sooner to resolve it.

The report by the inspector general says officials at the EPA’s Midwest region did not issue an emergency order because they concluded that actions taken by the state prevented the EPA from doing so. The report calls that interpretation incorrect and says that under federal law, when state actions are deemed insufficient, “the EPA can and should proceed with an (emergency) order.”

Without EPA intervention, “the conditions in Flint persisted, and the state continued to delay taking action …,” the report said.

Michigan officials declared a public health emergency in October 2015; the EPA declared an emergency three months later.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has acknowledged that her agency should have been more aggressive in testing the water and requiring changes, but said officials “couldn’t get a straight answer” from the state about what was being done.

]]> 1, 20 Oct 2016 21:19:00 +0000
New Philippine president dumps U.S., fortifies ties with China Fri, 21 Oct 2016 01:00:21 +0000 Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced Thursday that he was “separating” from the United States and embracing China as the new best friend of the Philippines.

The 71-year-old president, famous for blunt, often profane rhetoric, announced his country’s realignment in a state visit to Beijing, where he was hailed as China’s new “brother.”

“Your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States … both in military, but also economics,” Duterte said to thunderous applause at a forum inside the Great Hall of the People, the bastion of the Chinese Communist Party. Without the United States, he said addressing the Chinese audience, “I will be dependent on you.”

During the visit, China and the Philippines are signing agreements for $13.5 billion in trade deals. The Philippines also said China had committed itself to $9 billion in low-interest loans. And the Philippines offered to open negotiations with China over disputed fishing waters in the South China Sea, a surprising change of policy given that an international tribunal in The Hague had ruled in July against China’s claim of historic rights to the waters.

During his Beijing visit, Duterte, who took office July 30, suggested that he was also eager to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

And as an added slap, Duterte mimicked an American accent and said: “Americans are loud, sometimes rowdy. Their larynx is not adjusted to civility.”

Duterte has been issuing increasingly anti-American rhetoric for months, mostly in reaction to U.S. criticism of a shoot-to-kill vigilante campaign against drug dealers and addicts. Since winning the presidential election in May, an estimated 3,500 people have been killed.

“Duterte doesn’t like Western finger-wagging over human rights and he is not going to get that from China,” said John Gershman, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service and a founder of the New York Southeast Asia Network.

Still, the unequivocal declaration by Duterte in Beijing came as a surprise to both the Chinese and the Americans, Gershman believes.

“As far as I can tell, the United States was unprepared. I don’t think anybody could imagine this could happen, or happen this quickly,” said Gershman. “The Chinese must be very happy, but I don’t think they could have dreamed of this opportunity.”

China’s President Xi Jinping called the visit by Duterte a “milestone.”

“China and the Philippines are neighbors across the sea and the two peoples are blood brothers,” Xi said.

At least for now, Duterte made no reference to canceling the mutual defense treaty with the United States, which dates back to 1951. The previous U.S.-friendly administration of Benigno S. Aquino III had agreed to allow the United States stepped-up access to Philippine military bases, and that agreement apparently remains in effect.

Duterte’s announcement is a blow to the Obama administration’s much-heralded “pivot” to Asia. U.S. diplomats had previously pointed to warmer relations with Manila — and tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea — as evidence that the policy was succeeding.

The State Department said Thursday it is “baffled” by Duterte’s latest suggestion that the Philippines was “separating” from the U.S. and is seeking an explanation of what the Philippine leader meant.

Despite Duterte’s increasingly fiery rhetoric aimed at the United States, coming as he made warm diplomatic gestures to erstwhile rival China, Washington “remains rock solid” in its commitment to a mutual defense treaty it holds with the Philippines and to the two countries’ 70-year alliance, State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

Duterte’s hostility “is inexplicably at odds with the very close relationship that we have with the Filipino people as well as the government there, on many different levels,” Kirby said.

“We are going to be seeking an explanation of exactly what the president meant when he talked about separation from the U.S.,” Kirby said. “It’s not clear to us exactly what that means in all its ramifications.”

Daniel Russel, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, will travel to Manila this weekend on a previously scheduled trip and will raise the issue with officials there, Kirby said.

He added that other countries in the region — presumably Japan and South Korea — are similarly “confused” by Duterte’s outbursts and “where this is going … what it portends.”


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]]> 1 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 21:00:21 +0000
‘Planet Nine’ may cause solar system to wobble Fri, 21 Oct 2016 01:00:00 +0000 Astronomers can’t see “Planet Nine.” But it makes its presence known.

The massive hypothetical object, which supposedly looms at the edge of our solar system, has been invoked to explain the strange clustering of objects in the Kuiper belt and the unusual way they orbit the Sun.

Now Planet Nine predictors Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown of Caltech, along with graduate student Elizabeth Bailey, offer another piece of evidence for the elusive sphere’s existence: It adds “wobble” to the solar system, they say, tilting it in relation to the sun.

“Because Planet Nine is so massive and has an orbit tilted compared to the other planets, the solar system has no choice but to slowly twist out of alignment,” lead author Bailey said.

Planet Nine is purely theoretical at this point. Batygin and Brown predict its existence based on unusual perturbations of the solar system that aren’t otherwise easily explained.

The new research led by Bailey is based on the observation that the Sun rotates on a different axis than the orbits of the planets. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune all move around the sun in a flat, shared plane. But that plane is tilted at a six-degree angle with respect to the sun.

This tilt doesn’t jibe with how astronomers say the solar system formed: 4.6 billion years ago, gravity started to pull together a vast, scattered cloud of gas and dust, causing it to spin into a disk. The center of the circle collapsed into a hot, dense ball of gas – the sun – and the remainder accumulated into planets. Because the sun came from the same disk as everything else, it should be spinning on the same plane. But it’s not.

“It’s such a deep-rooted mystery and so difficult to explain that people just don’t talk about it,” Brown said.

Enter Planet Nine. Based on Batygin and Brown’s previous calculations, the hypothesized planet weighs five to 10 times as much as Earth and is, on average, 20 times farther from the sun than Neptune. It takes Planet Nine 10,000 to 20,000 years to orbit the sun.

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 21:00:00 +0000
Rolling Stone writer called for retraction of discredited gang-rape article Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:35:37 +0000 CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely fired off an email to Rolling Stone editors in the middle of the night with a sobering subject line: “Our worst nightmare.”

She wrote that she no longer trusted “Jackie,” the central figure in her article about a gang rape at the University of Virginia, and that she believed the magazine should issue a retraction.

As an attorney for a university administrator who is suing Rolling Stone over the piece read the email aloud in court Thursday, Erdely broke down.

“Are those your words?” attorney Libby Locke asked.

“Yes,” Erdely said softly, tears streaming down her face.

Jackie had told Erdely of surviving a brutal gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity when she was a freshman, an account that appeared to exemplify the problem with sexual assault on campus and the way the school responds to it. Jackie’s harrowing tale, and allegations that U-Va. administrators did little in response, was the backbone of Erdely’s cover story.

But during months of reporting, Erdely was confronted with conflicting information about how the tale was relayed to Jackie’s friends. She found that the number of assailants wavered. And she noticed that Jackie had changed aspects of the account.

But Erdely never questioned Jackie’s credibility, and she testified in federal court that she never confronted Jackie about the discrepancies.

Erdely said she attributed the shifting details of the young woman’s tale to the trauma she experienced. Erdely had written extensively about victims of sexual assault and said they often change the details of their stories.

“It takes trauma victims some time to come forward with all the details,” Erdely said, explaining why she remained unskeptical after she learned that Jackie had told two versions of the story to her first-year roommate. “It’s not unusual.”

Later, she said she regrets trusting Jackie: “It was a mistake to rely on someone whose intent it was to deceive me.”

Locke, who is representing U-Va. administrator Nicole Eramo in a $7.5 million defamation lawsuit against Erdely and Rolling Stone, highlighted Erdely’s failure to explain inconsistencies in Jackie’s tale and her decision to run the story despite having never contacted key figures in it, including one of the young men Jackie identified as an assailant. Instead, Locke said, Erdely relied solely on the student’s word even as she grew increasingly distressed while the reporter pressed for ways to corroborate her account.

In a statement, Rolling Stone countered that Erdely was not the only one who trusted Jackie.

“It is clear that she firmly believed in the credibility of Jackie, as did U-Va. and Dean Eramo, when the article was published,” the statement said. “We made journalistic mistakes with respect to Jackie’s story and we have learned from them, but these mistakes do not support Dean Eramo’s lawsuit.”

The story, which painted U-Va. as indifferent to victims of sexual assault, prompted protests, vandalism and calls for Eramo to resign. Eramo, then a top administrator working on sexual assault prevention, said the article undid her life’s work. She testified earlier this week that the article portrayed her as attempting to suppress Jackie’s allegations when in fact she pushed Jackie to report her story to police.

Within weeks of the article’s publication, key details began to unravel, leading the magazine to issue a retraction.

Eramo’s attorneys have argued that Erdely arrived at the Virginia campus with a preconceived narrative and sought to cast characters, with Jackie filling the role of traumatized victim and Eramo personifying an institutional indifference to sexual assault.

Locke pointed out that the Rolling Stone article omitted key details that might have painted Eramo, who was not interviewed for the story, in a more favorable light, including quotes from subjects who viewed her positively.

Locke also underscored Erdely’s failure to contact key characters in the story, including the trio of friends who Jackie said met her following her assault and one of Jackie’s assailants, who Jackie claimed had brought her to the fraternity that night. In “A Rape on Campus,” the friends, identified by pseudonyms, react to Jackie’s tale with disregard. Jackie said one friend, Kathryn Hendley, asked her: “Why didn’t you just have fun with it?”

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 20:47:25 +0000
U.K. to pardon thousands of gay men convicted under sex laws of past Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:25:10 +0000 LONDON — Thousands of men who were convicted under now-abolished British laws against homosexuality are to receive posthumous pardons, the government announced Thursday. Those who are still alive will be eligible to have their criminal records wiped clean.

The Ministry of Justice said the pardons apply to men convicted for consensual same-sex sexual relations before homosexuality was decriminalized several decades ago. Men living with convictions can apply to have their names cleared.

Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said the government was trying “to put right these wrongs.”

“It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offenses who would be innocent of any crime today,” he said.

Calls for a general pardon have been building since World War II codebreaker Alan Turing was awarded a posthumous royal pardon in 2013.

The computer science pioneer helped crack Nazi Germany’s secret codes by creating the “Turing bombe,” a forerunner of modern computers. His work helped shorten World War II, and he was an innovator of artificial intelligence.

After the war, Turing was prosecuted for having sex with a man, stripped of his security clearance and forcibly treated with female hormones. He died in 1954 at age 41 after eating an apple laced with cyanide.

A few other countries, including Canada and New Zealand, are considering pardons for people convicted under now-repealed laws against gay sex.

Gay-rights advocacy groups in the United States said they knew of no U.S. state which had contemplated similar action.

However, the U.S. military – after lifting a ban that prevented gays from serving openly – adopted a policy that enabled gay soldiers who had been forced out to upgrade their discharges from dishonorable to honorable.

Sex between men remained illegal in England until 1967 – and even later in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The age of consent for gay people was not lowered to 16, the same as for heterosexuals, until 2001.

Many gay rights campaigners welcomed Thursday’s announcement. But some said the government should go further and issue a blanket pardon, rather than making men apply individually to have their criminal records vacated.

Others said they wanted an apology, not a pardon.

“To accept a pardon means to accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything,” said 94-year-old writer George Montague, who was convicted of gross indecency – then a commonly used charge for sex between men – in 1974.

]]> 0, 20 Oct 2016 21:37:47 +0000
Mexican judge denies El Chapo’s five appeals against extradition Fri, 21 Oct 2016 00:08:04 +0000 MEXICO CITY — A federal judge ruled against five appeals by convicted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in his legal battle to avoid extradition to the United States, the Mexican Attorney General’s Office said Thursday, but he can still appeal to higher courts.

The office said the judge denied two of Guzman’s appeals and threw out the other three.National Security Commissioner Renato Sales said last week that Guzman could be extradited in January or February. He is wanted on drug trafficking and other charges in the United States.

The leader of the Sinaloa Cartel has twice escaped from maximum-security prisons in Mexico, most recently in 2015.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 20:08:04 +0000
Iraqi steps up Mosul offensive, deploying special forces Thu, 20 Oct 2016 18:44:33 +0000 BARTELLA, Iraq — In a significant escalation of the battle for Mosul, elite Iraqi special forces joined the fight Thursday, unleashing a pre-dawn assault on an Islamic State-held town east of the besieged city, and the U.S. military announced the first American combat death since the operation began.

U.S. officials said the American service member died Thursday from wounds sustained in a roadside bomb explosion north of Mosul. More than 100 U.S. special operations forces are embedded with Iraqi units in the offensive, and hundreds more are playing a support role in staging bases.

The American had been operating as an explosive ordnance disposal specialist in support of the Iraqi Kurdish force known as the peshmerga, the U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss details.

Roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices pose a particular danger to advancing Iraqi forces and the U.S. advisers who are with them. The Islamic State group, which has occupied Mosul for more than two years, has prepared extensive defenses in and around the city.

As they charged toward the town of Bartella, nine miles from Mosul’s outskirts, the Iraqi special forces faced another favored weapon in the Islamic State arsenal: armored trucks packed with explosives and driven by suicide bombers. The militants’ signature battlefield tactic, the weapons offered a glimpse at what Iraqi forces can expect as they close in on the extremists’ biggest urban bastion.

The pre-dawn assault on Bartella was part of a multi-pronged operation on eastern approaches to Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. Attack helicopters strafed militant positions as they advanced amid a hail of gunfire.

The U.S.-trained special forces, officially known as the Counter Terrorism Service, are widely seen as Iraq’s most professional and least sectarian fighters, and have served as the shock troops in previous campaigns against the Islamic State. They are expected to lead the charge into Mosul.

Militants unleashed at least nine suicide car and truck bombs against the advancing troops, eight of which were destroyed before reaching their targets, while the ninth struck an armored Humvee, Lt. Col Muntadhar al-Shimmari told The Associated Press.

He did not give a casualty figure, but another officer said five Iraqi soldiers were wounded. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.

“After we break them in Bartella, everywhere else, they will crumble,” said Maj. Gen. Fadhil Barwari. He said the Islamic State had few defenses in the town, which was almost completely empty of civilians. “They just left some snipers and suicide car bombs,” he said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdish forces announced a simultaneous attack, with peshmerga fighters deployed on mountains northeast of Mosul descending from their positions and charging toward the front line.

Under cover of mortar and gunfire, the Kurdish troops used bulldozers and other heavy equipment to fill trenches dug by the militants as part of their defense of the Islamic State-held village of Barima, then advanced with their armored vehicles toward the extremists’ positions.

Military operations also appeared to be underway in the town of Bashiqa, northeast of Mosul, where thick smoke could be seen billowing up. A day earlier, Bashiqa was pounded by airstrikes and mortar fire from peshmerga positions high above.

Lt. Gen. Talib Shaghati told a news conference late Thursday that the special forces had succeeded in retaking Bartella. But Iraqi forces were still facing stiff resistance inside the town shortly before he spoke, and past advances against IS elsewhere in Iraq have often proved fleeting.

Soldiers stationed a few miles from Bartella said they watched as about 20 car bombs exploded in the town over the course of the day, each one sending a plume of smoke into the air. By late afternoon the skies over Bartella were black.

The Islamic State has used the tactic in past battles to wreak havoc among front line troops, but Iraqi forces have become better at stopping the suicide attackers.

“We destroyed the bombs with tanks,” Sgt. Maj. Qusay Rashid said. “They are sending all these car bombs now because we’re at the beginning of this huge battle. They are trying to put up their best defense.”

After Bartella, Iraqi forces advancing toward Mosul will begin to hit villages and suburbs where civilians still live, a factor that will further complicate military operations that rely heavily on artillery and airstrikes to clear territory.

Mosul is home to more than a million people, and rights groups fear a potential humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said Mosul may fall sooner than expected. The campaign to retake the city, which began Monday, had been expected to last weeks, if not months.

Speaking by video transmission to a conference in Paris focused on post-liberation planning for Mosul, the Iraqi leader said the Iraqi “forces are currently pushing forward … more quickly than we thought, and more quickly certainly than we established in our plan of campaign.”

The Islamic State group captured Mosul and the surrounding area during a lightning advance across northern Iraq in the summer of 2014, and Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the formation of a self-styled caliphate from the pulpit of a Mosul mosque.

Iraqi forces crumbled that summer, beating a humiliating retreat and leaving weapons and vehicles behind. But the special forces held together and fought back, and since then they have played a central role in retaking cities and towns from the extremist group.

The force was created by U.S. Special Forces shortly after the 2003 invasion to hunt down top insurgents and stage commando raids, but its mandate has since expanded. Its members include Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, and its human rights record is better than other forces taking part in the operation.

Mosul is a Sunni majority town, and many fear the involvement of state-sanctioned Shiite militias in the operation could stoke sectarian tensions. The Shiite militias have said they will not enter the city itself.

But even among the special forces there are traces of sectarian fervor. Many of the black Humvees that rode into battle in Bartella were decked with Shiite religious banners in addition to Iraqi flags.

Ali Saad, a 26-year-old special forces soldier, said Kurdish forces had asked them to take down the religious banners, but they refused.

“They asked if we were militias. We said we’re not militias, we are Iraqi forces, and these are our beliefs,” he said.

]]> 1, 20 Oct 2016 19:28:14 +0000
There’s now an app with ’emergency election stress’ meditations Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:41:17 +0000 The final debate started relatively peacefully, at least by 2016 standards. But, by the end, you may have been watching with fists clenched, stomach knotted, and heartbeat accelerated. You may have gone to bed with emotions charged, your mind racing. And now you’ve woken up knowing talk about the election will be largely unavoidable.


The good news is there are now guided meditations available for the sole purpose of calming your election stress.

Research studies have shown that meditation does reduce stress, and even more so, a Harvard neuroscientist found in 2015 that it can actually change the brain by thickening several areas, including one region that deals with mind wandering and self-relevance. Shutterstock/f9photos

Research studies have shown that meditation does reduce stress, and even more so, a Harvard neuroscientist found in 2015 that it can actually change the brain by thickening several areas, including one region that deals with mind wandering and self-relevance. Shutterstock/f9photos

By now we’ve established that election-induced stress is a real and common phenomenon inflicting more than half of American adults, and negatively impacting their work, their relationships and their health. People have been tweeting about their stress eating because of it and giving in to other vices like drinking and smoking weed.

So last week the meditation app 10% Happier enlisted several leading instructors to put together “election emergency” meditations to offer tips and breathing exercises to help our stressed-out populace manage their emotions.

The app is an offshoot of the book of the same name by ABC News anchor Dan Harris, who wrote about a panic attack he had on air and how he subsequently turned to meditation for his stress.

The idea to offer meditation specifically for election stress was only broached recently by a colleague, and Harris said he jumped on it because he needed it, too.

“For months, I have found myself compulsively checking the news, and stress eating during the debates. For example, during the last one, I consumed half of a gigantic bag of popcorn. And I know I’m not alone,” Harris said in an email. “Everybody I know – from my personal and professional life – is expressing a whole range of difficult emotions vis-a-vis the election. From anxiety to anger to annoyance.”

In one short guided session, titled “Exposure to Media,” well-known meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg begins: “Let’s say you’re reading something online or something on the news or you are in conversation with somebody and you feel triggered and this wealth of emotion starts pouring through you.” She then talks you through how to recognize and acknowledge the feelings, and then to realize they’re always changing, rising and then falling away.

“I tried to think of what particular habits of mine were adding to the distress. I see in my own mind the tendency to catastrophize and I realize it’s just projection. I’ve seen that if I look at my own fear, I see that the most painful place is the sense of helplessness,” Salzberg said in an interview. “We absorb the toxic energy going on around us, we don’t feel centered, we also forget the things we really care about. The breath will be with us if we’re stuck in traffic or watching a debate. We can always use that as a resource to re-center or re-ground. It’s very portable.”

Research studies have shown that meditation does reduce stress, and even more so, a Harvard neuroscientist found in 2015 that it can actually change the brain by thickening several areas, including one region that deals with mind wandering and self-relevance.

Salzberg, who has been practicing meditation for 45 years, said her students bring up the election a lot. She said they are anxious, but they also feel angered and ashamed by how much the conversations trigger the emotions. Politics is by nature a passionate subject, but Salzberg said she’s never seen the degree of stress caused by an election as she has this year. Part of it is the toxicity of the environment, she said, and also that the discord makes people feel so disconnected from one another.

Meditation is a “real refuge” for people with an established practice, she said, “because they know they can have a feeling but they don’t need to take it to heart, it’s washing through like the weather.” For those just turning to meditation to get through the next few weeks, she counseled that it’s important for them to remember that it’s normal to have thoughts interrupt a meditation, but the key is to recognize that the thought is there, to let it pass and return focus to the breath.

The six guided meditations targeting election stress are foundational, designed for anyone to pick up the practice. Salzberg said people should begin doing one or more every day between now and Nov. 8.

“It will help you to be centered, it will remind you: You have tools,” she said. “You can center your attention on your breath, you can do love and kindness. That’s the important thing that we have a path, that we have a way forward. We do have a world beginning on Nov. 9 and it will be a lot better if we bring more awareness and kindness into that world.”

]]> 1, 20 Oct 2016 13:45:44 +0000
STD rates hit record high in U.S. as screening clinics close Thu, 20 Oct 2016 17:14:11 +0000 Infections from three sexually transmitted diseases have hit another record high, federal health officials reported.

More than 1.5 million cases of chlamydia were reported last year, up 6 percent from the year before. About 400,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported, a nearly 13 percent increase from 2014. The biggest increase, 19 percent, occurred in syphilis cases, with nearly 24,000 reported, according to the annual report on STDs released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All three diseases are curable with antibiotics, but gonorrhea is growing increasingly resistant to treatment with antibiotics.

CDC officials said STD rates are rising at a time when many of the country’s systems for preventing those infections have eroded. In recent years, more than half of state and local STD programs have had their budgets cut, resulting in more than 20 health department STD clinics closing in one year alone, the CDC said. In 2014, the number of chlamydia cases also rose to record levels.

“We have reached a decisive moment for the nation,” said Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention.

Most STD cases continue to go undiagnosed and untreated, putting people at risk for severe and often irreversible health consequences, the CDC said. The economic burden to the U.S. health-care system is nearly $16 billion a year, according to the CDC.

Young people and gay and bisexual men face the greatest risk of infection, and there continues to be a troubling increase in syphilis among newborns, who are infected by their mothers.

The 2015 data, the latest available, show:

— Americans ages 15 to 24 accounted for nearly two-thirds of chlamydia diagnoses and half of gonorrhea diagnoses.

— Men who have sex with men accounted for the majority of new gonorrhea cases and the most contagious forms of syphilis.

— Women’s rate of syphilis diagnosis increased by more than 27 percent from 2014 to 2015.

— Congenital syphilis, which occurs when the infection is transmitted from a pregnant woman to her baby, increased by 6 percent.

Officials urged health-care providers to make STD screening a standard part of medical care, especially in pregnant women. Individuals need to get tested regularly and reduce risk by using condoms.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:14:11 +0000
As loss of Mars lander looks likely, European scientists embrace teaching moment Thu, 20 Oct 2016 14:31:32 +0000 BERLIN — Scientists at the European Space Agency downplayed the likely loss of its Mars lander, saying Thursday that a wealth of data sent back by the experimental probe would help them prepare for a future mission to the red planet.

The Schiaparelli lander was designed mainly to test technology for a European robotic mission to Mars in 2020 and avoid the fate of Europe’s Beagle 2 probe, which failed to deploy after landing in 2003.

Data received from Schiaparelli show that it entered the atmosphere as planned Wednesday and used its parachute to successfully slow down in the harsh Martian atmosphere, but its signal was lost shortly before the expected touchdown.

Experts said the probe may have descended too fast or too slowly and hoped that about 600 megabytes of data sent back to Earth would provide answers. The data are equivalent to about 400,000 pages of information for scientists to sift through.

“The experimental test has yielded a huge amount of data and clearly we’re going to have to analyze this in the days and weeks to come, but it gives us a lot of confidence for the future,” said David Parker, ESA’s director of human spaceflight and robotic exploration.

“We need to understand what happened in the last few seconds before the planned landing and that is likely to take some time,” he said.

Getting a spacecraft onto the surface of Mars is notoriously difficult and the planet is littered with the remains of failed attempts. Only NASA has repeatedly succeeded in landing several robotic vehicles on the planet, including the Opportunity and Curiosity rovers.

The apparent failure to achieve what rocket scientists call a “soft landing” marred an otherwise successful start to the ExoMars mission, a joint venture between ESA and Russian space agency Roscosmos.

ESA chief Jan Woerner noted that Schiaparelli’s mother ship was put into orbit around Mars as planned. The Trace Gas Orbiter will analyze the atmosphere in order to help determine whether there is life on Mars.

ESA’s member states are expected to decide in the coming months whether to pay the estimated $330 million needed for the second part of the ExoMars mission in 2020.

Scientists haven’t given up all hope that Schiaparelli might yet phone home. Don McCoy, the manager of the ExoMars project, said attempts will be made to reset the probe’s transceiver but noted that its batteries are only expected to last for a few days.

Parker said his team was undaunted by the fate of Schiaparelli.

“Mars exploration is hard, and that’s one of the reasons we do it,” he said.

]]> 2, 20 Oct 2016 10:41:39 +0000
Trump’s plan for ‘suspense’ another headache for Republicans up for re-election Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:27:17 +0000 WASHINGTON – Donald Trump needed a game changer. Instead, he landed a jaw dropper.

When the Republican nominee for president refused to say he would accept the results of the election, he rattled American democracy and openly flirted with the notion of a contested transition of power. He overshadowed an otherwise improved debate performance. And, with an almost-flip, five-word sentence, he created a headache for every Republican running for re-election who will be asked again and again to either defend or reject their nominee.

“I’ll keep you in suspense,” Trump said, when asked at Wednesday night’s third and final debate if he would vow to accept the results.

It was a moment that could have been expected but was stunning nonetheless. Trump has been railing for weeks about a “rigged” system tilted to favor Democrat Hillary Clinton. As he slips further behind Clinton in the polls, Trump has alternately blamed, with no evidence, a corrupt media, fraud at the polls and government officials trying to protect his rival.

The rhetoric has vexed a party already riven by his candidacy and fretting about its future. Before the debate, Trump’s vice presidential running mate, his campaign manager and his daughter all had said he would accept the election results. His effort to stir doubts about the outcome drew condemnation from President Barack Obama, who called it “unprecedented.”

But under the bright lights of prime time, Trump showed he will not be clipped by criticism or convention from any corner. As he has throughout the campaign, Trump chose to channel the sort of loose talk and frustration of disaffected Americans, consequences aside.

“She shouldn’t be allowed to run. It’s crooked – she’s guilty of a very, very serious crime. She should not be allowed to run,” Trump said, of his rival, pointing to no crime.

Clinton called Trump’s response “horrifying.”

“That is not the way our democracy works. We’ve been around for 240 years,” she said. “We’ve had free and fair elections. We’ve accepted the outcomes when we may not have liked them. And that is what must be expected of anyone standing on a debate stage during a general election.”

Trump’s campaign and allies quickly tried to cast his comments as no different than Vice President Al Gore waiting to concede his defeat in the 2000 election until December, after a Supreme Court decision and the recount in Florida. But Trump made no exception for such extraordinary circumstances.

Other Republicans quickly bemoaned the comment: “He should have said he would accept the results of the election. There is no other option unless we’re in a recount again,” tweeted conservative commentator Laura Ingraham.

Barring an unexpected implosion, Clinton walked into the debate on track to win 270 electoral votes – and then some. Trump arrived needing a performance that would stabilize his campaign – if not for his own prospects, then for the good of his party.

In recent weeks, Senate races in Nevada, Florida, New Hampshire and Missouri appear to have tightened. Republican incumbents in Pennsylvania and North Carolina are fighting for their political lives in states where Clinton appears to be pulling ahead.

Republicans hoped he would prove he was serious about trying to win as many votes as possible in the most important places – and not, as some of his rhetoric about the “rigged” election indicates, merely trying to spin his impending loss.

For roughly an hour, Trump showed he was serious. He and Clinton conducted largely substantive and focused policy debate on issues that have received short shrift in previous face offs, including abortion, gun control and immigration.

The Republican businessman effectively branded Clinton with 30 years of “bad experience” and raised, for the first time in a debate, the hacked emails that have illustrated a gap between her private and public positions, particularly on Wall Street banks and trade.

But Clinton’s preparation and skill at the podium also showed through. She effectively managed to dodge a question about her support for free trade, instead drawing Trump into sharp exchange over Russia’s role in the hack and alleged meddling in the election.

When moderator Chris Wallace asked the candidates about allegations of sexual harassment and assault – in Clinton’s case, allegations against her husband – Clinton used the moment to stand up for women, voters Trump has struggled to win, while ignoring the question of Bill Clinton’s infidelities.

“Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like,” she said.

The reemergence of sexual assault and misconduct allegations proved to be turning point in the night. Trump continued to issue flat, broad denials, but from that moment on became increasingly agitated as the conversation moved on to issues like Social Security.

“Such a nasty woman,” he blurted, in a remark that on any other night may have stood out for its caustic tone.

But on Wednesday it was only the second most memorable comment of the night.

]]> 26, 20 Oct 2016 11:47:53 +0000
U.S. claims for unemployment benefits at highest level in 5 weeks Thu, 20 Oct 2016 13:13:57 +0000 WASHINGTON – The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits rose to the highest level in five weeks but still remained close to the recent 43-year lows.

Applications for jobless benefits rose by 13,000 last week to 260,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That was the highest level since an identical 260,000 claim applications were filed the week of Sept. 10.

Since that time, claims had fallen to the lowest levels since November 1973. Even with last week’s gain, claims, which are a proxy for layoffs, remain at levels indicating that workers are enjoying job security despite sluggish economic growth.

The four-week average for claims, a less volatile measure, rose by 2,250 to 251,750 last week.

Overall, 2.06 million Americans are collecting unemployment checks, down 6 percent from a year ago.

The labor market has continued to show steady improvement this year although at a slower pace than in 2015. Employers added 156,000 jobs in September, fewer than the 167,000 jobs added in August and below last year’s average monthly gain of 230,000.

The unemployment rate inched up to 5 percent in September, compared to 4.9 percent in August, as more than 400,000 people entered the labor market to look for jobs but not all of them were immediately successful.

Still, the unemployment rate is just half the 10 percent high hit in October 2009 as the country was struggling to pull out of the Great Recession.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Oct 2016 09:13:57 +0000
Among Syrians arriving in U.S. in the past year, 80 percent are kids Thu, 20 Oct 2016 11:02:52 +0000 EL CAJON, Calif. — Seated at his desk at a suburban San Diego middle school, 12-year-old Abdulhamid Ashehneh tries not to let his mind wander to the painful memories of his life in civil war-torn Syria.

His father disappeared suddenly four years ago and, the family believes, was killed. Months later, Abdulhamid’s mother boarded a bus with her six children, the youngest 2, and fled to Jordan, the sound of bombs ringing in the distance.

“I think about my Dad a lot,” Abdulhamid said recently after practicing English at Cajon Valley Middle School, which has received an influx of Syrian children. “I wish he would come back.”

Abdulhamid is like many of the Syrian refugees arriving today in the U.S.: According to the U.S. State Department, nearly 80 percent of the more than 11,000 Syrian arrivals over the past year were children.

Abdullah Arab, 11, center, helps classmates Habeebullah Najme, left, 12, and Nada Alradi, 11, in a room filled with refugee children at Cajon Valley Middle School in El Cajon, Calif. Associated Press/Christine Armario

Abdullah Arab, 11, center, helps classmates Habeebullah Najme, left, 12, and Nada Alradi, 11, in a room filled with refugee children at Cajon Valley Middle School in El Cajon, Calif. Associated Press/Christine Armario

That’s a larger percentage than most refugee groups, in part because Syrians tend to have larger families and many have managed to stay together despite displacement, according to resettlement agencies helping the families acclimate to the U.S.

Many of those children are enrolling in public schools around the country, including Chicago; Austin, Texas; New Haven, Connecticut; and El Cajon, which received 76 new Syrian students the first week of school.

Syrian children face many of the same challenges as other young refugees — limited English, an interrupted education — but they are distinct in the level of trauma many have experienced, school leaders and resettlement workers said.

“The truth is, a lot of them have seen some pretty nasty stuff,” said Eyal Bergman, a family and community engagement officer for the Cajon Valley Union School District. “But I also see incredible resilience.”

In response to the influx, school districts are beefing up English instruction and making extra efforts to reach out to parents unfamiliar with the U.S. school system. In El Cajon, one-on-one orientations introduce families to the school’s teachers and staff and show them basics like how to read the district’s academic-year calendar.

Some refugee students are enrolled in “newcomer” classes where they are provided intense English instruction before being placed in mainstream classrooms. Others go directly into classes with English-fluent peers but are assigned to smaller groups for individual instruction. Teachers are trained in identifying trauma, and on-site counselors help students who need extra attention.

“I’ve had students tell me that maybe some of their family members passed away,” said Juanita Chavez, a second-grade teacher. “But I think a lot of them just want to focus on here, on learning. A lot of them don’t focus on the negative things that have happened to them.”

Ahad Al Haj Ali, 10, sits in a class for refugee students at Cajon Valley Middle School in El Cajon, Calif. Associated Press/Christine Armario

Ahad Al Haj Ali, 10, sits in a class for refugee students at Cajon Valley Middle School in El Cajon, Calif. Associated Press/Christine Armario

At night, Arabic-speaking staff and teachers hold a “parent academy” where newly arrived moms and dads are given bilingual children’s books in English and Arabic and guided on how to help improve literacy at home.

The rising number of Syrian refugee students comes amid a heated presidential campaign. During the second debate, Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton’s plan to expand the Obama administration’s refugee program and accept 65,000 Syrian refugees the “great Trojan horse of all time.”

Last November, in response to the deadly Paris attack believed carried out by operatives who fought and trained in Syria, nearly 30 states vowed to deny entry to Syrian refugees.

Resettlement agencies and school staff worry inflamed rhetoric about Muslims and Syrian refugees will trickle into the classroom. A report last year by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations found 50 percent of Muslim students surveyed were subjected to mean comments or rumors because of their religion.

“This is a concern of ours, to be watching that they do not feel shunned or stigmatized because of their national origin,” said Ellen Beattie, a senior director with the International Rescue Committee.

El Cajon, a city of roughly 104,000 people 15 miles east of San Diego, has become a melting pot of refugees from Uganda to Afghanistan. The first Middle Eastern immigrants were Chaldean Christians fleeing persecution in Iraq in the 1970s. Those earlier, now established waves of migrants are playing a role in helping settle the new arrivals from Syria.

“Most of them tell us the only reason they accepted the whole immigration process is really for their kids,” said Anas Kayal, who emigrated to the U.S. from Syria in 2001 and is a physician in San Diego. “They are OK with their own lives being disrupted by the war and crisis, but they are hoping their kids can have a better life.”

Watching her children learn English and adapt to U.S. schools has been redeeming for Abdulhamid’s mother after two years in Jordan, where she often struggled to feed them and at one point lived in a feeble tent that would blow apart in the wind.

“We’re still trying to cope with this emotionally,” Amena Alshehneh, 37, said. “But it’s the reality. We have to face the reality and get on our feet.”

As Abdulhamid assimilates, he still pines for his homeland and the life he left behind.

He remembers the Damascus home where he wrestled and practiced reading with his father. He remembers playing soccer and hide-and-seek with his best friend, and wonders what happened to him.

He also thinks about his computer and a remote-control car — cherished toys his father gave him and that he had to abandon.

“I feel so sad I left Syria,” said Abdulhamid, whose expression quickly shifts from joy to grief. “Because it’s my country. My home.”

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Why it matters: Broad power of IRS could be at stake Thu, 20 Oct 2016 02:53:38 +0000 Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional Associated Press series examining the issues at stake in the presidential election between now and Election Day. Read more from “Why it matters.”


The Internal Revenue Service touches everyone, not just taxpayers but anyone who receives a government check, drives on roads made possible by tax revenue or sends a child to a school helped by Washington. It’s a touch that can come with a heavy hand, in the eyes of critics who believe the agency’s far-reaching powers are abused and need to be tamed.


Republican Donald Trump’s most explicit views about the agency have been on the personal level – he says he’s been under a continuing multi-year IRS audit and that’s why he won’t release his tax returns, as other presidential candidates do. He’s also boasted that his use of business losses to zero out his tax liability shows he’s smart. Trump’s tax plan reduces the number of tax brackets but does not envisage dismantling the IRS as its fiercest critics want.

Democrat Hillary Clinton has said little about the powers of the IRS except to suggest Trump would use them to go after his opponents. She’s sure to fight attempts by Republicans to cut the agency’s budget.


No one loves the IRS.

Many Republicans, though, unlike most Democrats, talk of abolishing it. That idea never materializes. Even a smaller government could not function without an agency responsible for collecting revenue and going after tax cheats.

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says it’s one thing to simplify the tax code – a good idea, he offers – but another to think the country can get by without tax collectors. “You could call them something other than the IRS if that made you feel better,” he’s said to the critics.

With some 90,000 employees, a massive stockpile of information on citizens and powers to dig deep into the lives of those it decides to investigate, the IRS is in the face of Americans like no other agency. That’s become even more so since it was handed the job of enforcing the mandate that people carry health insurance.

The potential for abusing power is obvious, and it has happened – most vividly at the hands of President Richard Nixon but also in the administrations of John Kennedy, Franklin Roosevelt and more, historians say.

During the Obama administration, the IRS has acknowledged mistreatment of tea party groups by subjecting them to excessive scrutiny in their bid for tax-exempt status. But investigations by the Justice Department and the IRS’ independent inspector general found no evidence that actions against the conservative groups were politically motivated.

Koskinen took over after the IRS actions in question but has not been clear of the controversy. Conservative lawmakers pressed unsuccessfully to impeach him, accusing him of lying to Congress, not answering subpoenas and overseeing an agency that destroyed documents in the tea party case. He denied the accusations and told lawmakers that when he testified in June 2014 that no documents had been destroyed since congressional investigations began, he didn’t know that IRS workers had mistakenly destroyed backup tapes bearing thousands of emails.

As for getting rid of the IRS altogether, even libertarian-leaning analysts say that’s a stretch. Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, a former senior economist with Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, says even the most simplified tax code would require 10,000 to 20,000 tax collectors. “If you’re going to have federal taxes, you need an agency to collect them,” he said.

The Libertarian Party presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, says he’d like to eliminate the IRS and any other federal agency that Congress might vote to dismantle. But that, he has said, would take “a magic wand.”

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Cyberattacks could inflict more real-world damage Thu, 20 Oct 2016 02:39:46 +0000 LONDON —The world should brace itself for more physically destructive hacks, two senior cybersecurity officials said Wednesday, warning that a more dangerous era of hacking was already upon us.

Paul Chichester, the director of operations at Britain’s new National Cyber Security Center, told an event hosted by British defense think tank RUSI that electronic intrusions were on their way to becoming more “destructive, disruptive and coercive.”

“That will be our future,” he told a crowd of officers, academics and industry experts gathered for a two-day symposium in central London.

Chichester was seconded by Air Force Lt. Gen. James K. McLaughlin, deputy commander at U.S. Cyber Command, who told attendees that infrastructure-wrecking attacks were being seen “right now in the environment.”

Neither official went into specifics about what they’d seen or why they felt the threat was intensifying, although McLaughlin invoked a cyberattack in Ukraine which knocked out three separate power distribution companies last year. The Dec. 23 incident, believed to have been pulled off by a team of hackers using stolen passwords, left 225,000 people without electricity, according to a U.S. Department of Homeland Security bulletin published two months later.

Cybersecurity experts long worried that hackers can hijack the vulnerable industrial control systems to wreak havoc in power plants, traffic systems, factories, dams or reservoirs. Still, publicly confirmed examples of real-world damage from hacking have – so far – been few and far between. The Ukrainian incident provided a rare and dramatic demonstration of the physical consequences of a well-organized cyberattack.

“Three years ago these were just theoretical,” McLaughlin said. “Now we see them.”

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Oregon senator seeks IRS data on shell companies Thu, 20 Oct 2016 02:20:42 +0000 WASHINGTON — An influential Democratic senator has demanded answers from the IRS about what it has done since the Panama Papers were published last spring to combat tax fraud committed through anonymous shell companies.

Oregon’s Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter Wednesday to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, asking for data on required reporting about shell companies.

“It’s critical to determine whether our government has the right tools to discern legitimate businesses from criminal enterprises, and to identify what additional measures might be needed to fight financial crime,” Wyden said in his letter.

The April release of what’s now called the Panama Papers spotlighted how foreign leaders, drug cartels and the wealthy use offshore companies to skirt taxation and law enforcement. Under the umbrella of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, more than 300 journalists examined the leaked database of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which showed the true owners of hundreds of secret offshore companies.

The reporting led the Panamanian firm to abandon its U.S. operations in Nevada and Wyoming, states that were being used by foreigners as offshore tax havens much like wealthy Americans flock to havens such as the Cayman Islands and Bahamas.

Wyden wants answers from the IRS about a special Corporate Fraud Task Force that was created in 2011 by the IRS and the Nevada secretary of state to probe Nevada business entities suspected of involvement in tax evasion, money laundering and other fraudulent and deceptive practices.

Wyden is after data that would show whether registered agents, such as Mossack Fonseca, kept records of real contacts for the companies they created. Russian and Brazilian business owners favored Wyoming and Nevada for the secrecy that protected their identities even though they did no actual business in the United States. McClatchy’s reporting showed how, in many cases, it was virtually impossible to know those true owners, and follow-up reporting showed Nevada may not know.

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Smear efforts target Assange, WikiLeaks says Thu, 20 Oct 2016 01:48:10 +0000 WASHINGTON — The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks is claiming that an elaborate and somewhat wacky smear campaign has targeted the group’s founder, Julian Assange, to paint him as a pedophile and Russian client.

WikiLeaks said the smear efforts, which it’s outlined in tweets and a series of documents over the past two days, include a sham offer from the Russian government to pay Assange $1 million to promote a women’s dating site and a separate scheme to link Assange to a criminal case in the Bahamas.

The assertions are the latest twist in events that have kept Assange and WikiLeaks at center stage of the presidential campaign.

Assange, an Australian who has been holed up in Ecuador’s embassy in London for over four years, had been accelerating the release of the hacked material this month in a drive to embarrass Clinton. Ecuador cut his internet connection Saturday, saying it did not want him interfering in U.S. affairs.

The alleged smear campaign centers on a Houston company,, that describes itself as an online dating site for single women.

A representative for the company, Hannah Hammond, wrote to Assange’s legal team in London and Sweden with an offer to pay him to appear in a tongue-in-cheek five-minute television advertisement for the company that it said would air on the Lifetime channel.

“The source of the $1 million is the Russian government. It will be wired to Mr. Assange’s nominated account, upon his cooperation, and before filming of the ad by the SoHo camera crew,” Hammond wrote in a Sept. 16 email, according to a copy WikiLeaks published.

A second alleged plot also involves, and suggested that Assange used the dating website to sexually molest an 8-year-old Canadian girl vacationing with her family in Nassau.

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Bacteria takes a veteran’s limbs but not her resolve Thu, 20 Oct 2016 01:39:00 +0000 DACULA, Ga. — A year ago, Cindy Martinez was struggling to walk even just a few feet and lift just 5 pounds.

A flesh-eating bacteria had ravaged the 35-year-old Marine veteran’s body. She had a grim choice: Amputate both legs, an arm below the elbow, and parts of the fingers on her remaining arm – or face almost-certain death.

The amputations saved her. And after months of hospitalizations and rehabilitation, she finally found herself back home but alone while her young children were in school and her husband was at work.

“It kind of takes a toll on you mentally, just sitting there after all that I had gone through,” she said.

In the stillness of her home, she fired off an email to a gym and asked about joining. When they called back, “I told the lady on the phone, well, there’s a twist to my story.”

She soon found herself sitting in a circle surrounded by trainers at Crossfit Goat – with the motto Be Your Greatest of All Time. She told them her story and in February embarked on an unusual quest: becoming a Crossfit athlete. Crossfit gyms are known for high-intensity workouts, and their members often consider their “box” to be like a family as they bond over workouts that test strength and resolve.

“She will not be stopped no matter what,” gym owner Amanda Greaver said.

Martinez has worked up to deadlifting 95 pounds – nearly her weight – and squatting 65 pounds.

She needs to use her abdominal muscles to ensure she remains balanced. The fingers on her remaining full arm have varying degrees of amputation. Part of the latissimi dorsi muscles on the left side of her back, the area where the infection first sprouted, were removed.

But she and Greaver find ways to adapt.

Martinez is often surprised by the attention she gets and how others see her as inspirational.

“I’m just doing it. I want it – not that other people don’t want it,” she said. “I don’t know how to explain the speed that I’ve done it with.”

The gym and its members have rallied around her. At one point, Greaver created a workout for members so they would have a greater understanding of the challenges Martinez faces and help raise money to pay for a recumbent bike.

During the workout, athletes were allowed to use only one arm.

“Literally everybody who came in from doing that came straight up to me and said ‘Look at my arm. Wow, that was so difficult,”‘ Greaver recalled.

Martinez recently got prosthetic legs that will allow her to run. She’s getting used to the new legs, which she says feel like she’s wearing high heels on a trampoline, but one day they will allow her to perhaps enter a road race.

For now, she’s setting her sights on this month’s Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., which she will race on her recumbent bike.

“The mental aspect, it can be tough. It’s not that I don’t have a bad day,” she said. “But for the most part, I try to stay positive and I think staying active is a good way to, I don’t want to say get your mind off of it because it’s not like I can get my mind off of it but I’ve got to work with what I’ve got. I’m here for my kids, my husband and I want them to see I can still do things with them.”

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