First Christian Church

Strongest earthquake in 40 years hits Southeast Asia

">
Strongest earthquake in 40 years hits Southeast Asia

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Indian Ocean – The death toll continues to grow and millions face a homeless life in the new year as coastal communities in south Asia struggle against continued aftershocks and flooding caused by the largest earthquake to strike the planet in more than a generation.

The magnitude 9.0 undersea megathrust earthquake struck off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia on December 26, 2004, at 00:58:50 UTC (or 07:58:50 local time in Jakarta and Bangkok).

The earthquake was the strongest in the world since the 9.2-magnitude Good Friday Earthquake which struck Alaska, USA in 1964, and the fourth largest since 1900. More than 140,000 deaths[1] were caused by resulting tsunami, which in Thailand were up to 10 meters (33 feet) tall, and struck within three hours of the initial event.

Multiple tsunamis struck and ravaged coastal regions all over the Indian Ocean, devastating regions including the Indonesian province of Aceh, the coast of Sri Lanka, coastal areas of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, the resort island of Phuket, Thailand, and even as far away as Somalia, 4,100 km (2,500 mi) west of the epicenter.

While the earthquake and the tsunamis are no longer ongoing (other than aftershocks), the humanitarian and economic crisis generated by the disaster is still ongoing. This report will attempt to cover the crisis as it continues to develop.

Contents

  • 1 Damage and casualties
  • 2 Quake characteristics
  • 3 Post-tsunami humanitarian situation
    • 3.1 Humanitarian assistance
  • 4 Related news
  • 5 See also
  • 6 External links
    • 6.1 Aid efforts
    • 6.2 Video and Pictures of the devastation
  • 7 Video
  • 8 Pictures

Sallie Mae leads Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints about student loans

">
Sallie Mae leads Consumer Financial Protection Bureau complaints about student loans

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

A review this week by Wikinews of US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) complaints about student loans in the United States shows Sallie Mae leads all lending institutions in complaints. Of the 4,851 complaints dating back to March 2012 when the CFPB first began collecting student loan data, 2,262 or 46.6% of all complaints were about the lender. US Federal Reserve data from 2010/2011 shows Sallie Mae is the nation’s largest student loan lender, responsible for 25% of the market

The other major lenders in this space include Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, PNC, and Discover. In complaints, AES/PHEAA came in second with 546, or 11.3% of all complaints. Wells Fargo, Citibank and JPMorgan Chase each had between 5% and 7.5% of all complaints, totaling 918 complaints between them. 78 other lending institutions round out the list of organizations with complaints filed against them for student loans.

Few of the complaints originate from people with problems with federal student loans. Less than 1%, 35 total, are for these types of loans, with Sallie Mae accounting for the bulk of complaints with 17 total. 14 other lending institutions have 3 or fewer complaints. For non-federal student loans, Sallie Mae is still the leader for complaints, with 2245 or 46.6% of all non-federal student loan complaints.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sorts complaints into three issues: Problems when you are unable to pay, Repaying your loan, and Getting a loan. None of the federal loans had complaints about getting a loan. For non-federal loans, 65.5% of the 4,816 complaints related to loan repayment. Sallie Mae led in total complaints in this category with 1467. They were followed by AES/PHEAA with 356, Wells Fargo with 231, Citibank with 201, Discover with 158, JPMorgan Chase with 154, ACS Education Services with 143, and KeyBank NA with 116. CFPB says loan repayment issues include a basket of claim types including “fees, billing, deferment, forbearance, fraud, and credit reporting.” Problems when you are unable pay accounts for 30.8% of the complaints. Sallie Mae had 698 complaints. They were followed by AES/PHEAA with 181, JPMorgan Chase with 106, Wells Fargo with 104, Citibank with 70, and KeyBank NA with 58. Many of the complaints are, according to the CFPB, because borrowers have difficulty getting deferrments on loan repayment as a result of being unable to find employment.

The total complaints against Sallie Mae for September of this year is 2 fewer than the same time last year. The company’s performance this year compared to last year has been mixed. March and June numbers were down over 150 complaints from the same month a year before. April, May, July and August all saw increases of 17–43. Of the top six lenders by volume of complaints, only AES/PHEAA and Citibank saw drops every month between March and September from the total volume in the previous year. Wells Fargo had a gain of 1 in August and 6 in May from the previous year. JPMorgan Chase had a difference of 0 from the same month last year for April, 3 more this year for May, and 4 more for August. Discover saw an increase every month from the same period last year except for September. When the total complaints differences from year to year for March to September are counted, this year has 571 fewer complaints against the top six lenders.

Most, 1470, of the complaints against Sallie Mae were closed with explanations. 10.2% were closed with monetary relief. 7.7% were closed with non-monetary relief. 2.1% were closed with relief and 12.1% were closed without relief. AES/PHEAA’s complaint closure picture was much different. 40.1% of AES/PHEAA’s 546 complaints were closed with non-monetary relief, 35.3% were closed with explanations and 21.2% were closed without relief. Of the eight lending institutions with 100 or more complaints filed against them, Discover was the institution most likely to result in a closure with monetary relief with 12.9% of all their closures ending this way. Citibank was the institution with the highest percentage of closures ending with no relief at 26.0%.

Complaints over student loan lenders were geographically distributed, coming from 3,447 different zip codes. The largest cluster of complaints is for 20001, a Washington D.C. zip code with 10 complaints originating from there. 07950, the zip code for Morris Plains, New Jersey, and 37013, the zip code for Antioch, Tennessee, each had 8 complaints originating from them. Zip codes for Patchogue, New York; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Washington D.C.; and Arlington, Virginia each had 7 complaints originating from them. By volume of complaints by state, New York led with 497, with California second with 467, Pennsylvania third with 303, Florida fourth with 288 and Ohio fifth with 219 complaints. US Territories largely occupied the bottom spots. The Northern Marianas Islands, with a population of around 50,000, had 1 complaint. The U.S. Armed Forces – Pacific had 3. North Dakota and U.S. Armed Forces – Europe had 5 complaints each. South Dakota had 7. Wyoming had 8. Puerto Rico and Alaska had 9 each. Rounding out the bottom five states by volume of complaints, Mississippi had 11.

With the possibility of a United States government federal shutdown looming on October 1, student loans may be impacted because of potential for an automatic increase in interest rates.

Three babies dead within one week at Madrid Hospital

">
Three babies dead within one week at Madrid Hospital

Sunday, March 4, 2007

A Spanish hospital reported today that three premature babies have died within one week from the same infection. The babies, who were being cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit of Madrid‘s 12 de Octubre Hospital, all died after being infected with Klebsiella pneumoniae bacterium. Authorities also suspect that a fourth baby has become infected with the bacterium. The Spanish patients’ association ADEPA has asked the public prosecutor of the Madrid Region, Manuel Moix, to open an investigation into the matter.

This morning, hospital authorities stated that the first death occurred on 26 February. A baby born eight weeks prematurely and weighing just under one kilo died due to septic shock arising from the infection, which was unconnected with the symptoms of his premature birth, according to hospital reports.

Shortly afterwards, two babies in the same unit died on 2 March. They appear to have died from the same infection; however the hospital stated that they are still waiting for confirmation of the cause of death. A fourth baby has been found to have the bacteria on his skin, but as yet there is no confirmation of whether he has been infected. The hospital states that although the baby is in a serious condition, this is to be expected when a baby is born so premature, and that his condition is also due to other factors, unrelated to the bacterium, which have arisen since his birth.

The hospital authorities have asserted that all of the babies in its care are under close supervision, and are being periodically monitored by the Preventive Medicine Centre, in order that the most up-to-date information may be had on the state of any and all patients in the hospital.

To prevent further infections, the hospital has taken several measures. The first is of course rigorous medical hygiene. High-risk patients are referred to other hospitals. The hospital has been divided into two separate zones, one for those already infected and the other for those who have not yet been affected. As a consequence, 25 children who were staying in the hospital while the 3 premature babies died, remain separate from the others, to make sure newly admitted children are not exposed. The nursing staff has also been restricted to one or other of these two areas. Visits from specialists of other hospital services, and from families, has been restricted. Furthermore, an epidemiological study is being undertaken to determine the origin of the situation.

The newspaper El País reports that the bacterium Klebsiella pneumoniae is to be found in hospitals as a matter of course and is often contracted by those who have been in hospital for prolonged periods (termed a nosocomial infection). The mortality rate from the bacterium is extremely high in those cases where it’s contracted by people with serious illnesses, as is often to be expected in the case of a premature birth, which can result in newborn babies weighing less than 500 grammes.

According to the Spanish daily, this type of bacterium is prevalent in hospitals throughout the world, but the incidence of infection in Madrid hospitals is lower than the Spanish average. The head of the Neonatal Unit at 12 de Octubre Hospital, Carmen Payás, explained that the bacterium is very adaptable “and keeps on learning”. The father of the dead baby, an Ecuadorian named Angel Marcelo, was quoted as saying that the progress of the baby had at first been “tremendous”, and that he had even been taken off the respirator, but that a few days later he began to cough up blood, dying soon afterwards.

The chair of ADEPA, Carmen Flores, has appealed to the Madrid public prosecutor to open an investigation into the situation and to find those responsible. ADEPA have suggested that the investigation centre on the number of casualties among infants in the hospital, and on the question of whether conditions in the neonatal unit were a direct contributor to the incidence of the infection.

José Quero, head of the Neonatology Department of the La Paz hospital in Madrid said that, “sadly enough”, this situation was “not something exceptional,” but rather something neonatologists have to watch out for.

categories Uncategorized | | comments Comments (0)

FEMA employees pose as fake reporters during press conference

">
FEMA employees pose as fake reporters during press conference
 Correction — September 10, 2013 The headline should not contain the word fake: the employees posed as reporters; they didn’t pose as fake reporters, on the contrary they were fake reporters posing as real reporters. We aopologize for the error. 

Friday, October 26, 2007

The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is under fire after the agency held a fake press conference with fake news reporters in regards to individuals affected by the California wildfires and the assistance they could receive.

The agency called a press conference on Tuesday, giving the press only 15 minutes to show up. When many did not, FEMA brought in agency officials to pose as fake reporters and ask questions. The option for reporters to call into the conference was also available, but the ones who did call in only got to listen to the press conference, and could not ask questions. No reporters were actually present during the conference, parts of which were carried live on Fox News and MSNBC.

During the briefing, FEMA employees asked Deputy Administrator Harvey Johnson a series of what The New York Times called “decidedly friendly questions” such as “What type of commodities are you pledging to California?”, “What lessons learned from Katrina have been applied?” and “Are you happy with FEMA’s response so far?”. The briefing followed the format of a press conference, with FEMA’s press secretary at one point cautioning that he would allow just “two more questions”, then calling later for a “last question”. Officials who posed as fake reporters included the deputy director of public affairs Cindy Taylor and Director of External Affairs John “Pat” Philbin.

White House officials said that they do not condone FEMA’s actions and also state that they had no idea that the conference was taking place.

“FEMA has issued an apology, saying that they had an error in judgment when they were attempting to get out a lot of information to reporters, who were asking for answers to a variety of questions in regard to the wildfires in California. It’s not something I would have condoned. And they — I’m sure — will not do it again,” said Dana Perino, the White House’s press secretary in a statement.

FEMA apologizes for the mishap and says that their intentions were only to get the information to the citizens of California.

“[The purpose was] to get information out as soon as possible, and in trying to do so we made an error in judgment. Our intent was to provide useful information and be responsive to the many questions we have received. We can and must do better,” said Harvey E. Johnson, the agency’s vice administrator. “The real story — how well the response and recovery elements are working in this disaster — should not be lost because of how we tried to meet the needs of the media in distributing facts,” a FEMA statement said.

FEMA is currently deciding whether or not any officials should face punishment for the incident. One of the officials responsible, Pat Philbin, is going on to be the new head of public relations for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

This is not the first time that the Bush administration has come under fire for planting reporters at press conferences. In February of 2005, White House reporter Jeff Gannon was accused of being planted to ask softball questions to President Bush. FEMA itself had earlier undergone criticism during Hurricane Katrina for using disaster workers for public relations in 2005.

categories Uncategorized | May 23, 2019 | comments Comments (0)

Hotel development proposal could displace Buffalo, NY business owners

">
Hotel development proposal could displace Buffalo, NY business owners
Buffalo, N.Y. Hotel Proposal Controversy
Recent Developments
  • “120 year-old documents threaten development on site of Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal” — Wikinews, November 21, 2006
  • “Proposal for Buffalo, N.Y. hotel reportedly dead: parcels for sale “by owner”” — Wikinews, November 16, 2006
  • “Contract to buy properties on site of Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal extended” — Wikinews, October 2, 2006
  • “Court date “as needed” for lawsuit against Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal” — Wikinews, August 14, 2006
  • “Preliminary hearing for lawsuit against Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal rescheduled” — Wikinews, July 26, 2006
  • “Elmwood Village Hotel proposal in Buffalo, N.Y. withdrawn” — Wikinews, July 13, 2006
  • “Preliminary hearing against Buffalo, N.Y. hotel proposal delayed” — Wikinews, June 2, 2006
Original Story
  • “Hotel development proposal could displace Buffalo, NY business owners” — Wikinews, February 17, 2006

Friday, February 17, 2006

Buffalo, New York —Savarino Construction Services Corp. has proposed a $7 million hotel project at the Forest and Elmwood Avenue intersection, according to The Buffalo News. The proposal calls for a 5-story, 45,000 square-foot 80-room hotel with underground parking for at least 50 vehicles, and 4,500 square-feet of retail space on the lower level.

Hans Mobius, the owner of the five properties to be purchased in the plan (1109 to 1121 Elmwood), reportedly signed a contract with Savarino to assemble the development.

“We saw a huge opportunity to bring something to the Elmwood Village that will make sense and bring a service that’s currently not available,” said Eva Hassett, vice president of Savarino. “Elmwood is such a wonderful place to eat, shop, walk and spend time. We believe this project will add to that vibrant environment.”

Some business owners in the area see it differently. Wikinews interviewed 2 of the 4 owners whose business’s would be demolished if the development goes through.

Nancy Pollina, of Don Apparel at 1119 Elmwood, who found out about the development only yesterday, said she is “utterly” against the proposal. Her apparel shop has stood at the same location for nearly 14 years. She has volunteered in the community, and helped create several gardens around bus shelters in the city, and served on Forever Elmwood Board for six years as head of Beautification. Patty Morris co-owns Don Apparel with Pollina.

“To say this is a good looking project, I want to say the emperor has no clothes. This [project] does not take into consideration the needs of the college students. I have been told by college students, these shops here, are the reason they leave the campus,” said Mrs. Pollina.

Buffalo State College is 500-feet from the intersection.

Michael Faust, the owner of Mondo Video said, “Well, I do not really want to get kicked out of here. The landlord was very open, and the deal he made with me when I moved in here was ‘the rent is cheap and I [the landlord] will not fix anything and that will not change.'” Faust said he first learned of the development plan, “about 48 hours ago. I found out on Tuesday when the Buffalo News called and asked for my opinion on this.” Faust has not said if he will make plans to relocate. “We have to see if this [house] is going to get knocked down first,” said Faust.

An “informational” meeting, where citizens can voice opinions and learn about the proposal, will be held on Tuesday February 21, 2006 at 5:00pm (eastern), at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center Gallery at Buffalo State College, Rockwell Hall.

Executive director of Forever Elmwood Corporation, Justin P. Azzarella would not comment on whether or not the organization supports the development, saying, “you will just have to come to the meeting.”

Forever Elmwood Corp. is designed to preserve and protect the unique and historic nature of Elmwood Avenue and its surrounding neighborhoods and encourage neighborhood commercial revitalization. The organization was founded in 1994.

Nearly two years ago, the Forever Elmwood Corp. assisted in the blocking of the demolition of the Edward Atwater house at 1089 Elmwood next to Pano’s Restaurant which is at 1081 Elmwood. Owner Pano Georgiadis wanted to expand his restaurant onto the property where the house now stands, but the Common Council denied his permit to demolish saying the house is a historical landmark and needs to be protected. Georgiadis, who has a bleeding ulcer, said that all the court cases landed him in the hospital. “I got a bleeding ulcer, and since then, I don’t care about this house anymore, or this city. I just go to work every day. I think [preservationists] are parasites,” said Georgiadis.

Georgiadis will not be attending Tuesday’s meeting saying, “I will be out of town.”

In 1995 Hans Mobius proposed a plan to develop a Walgreens, that was to be placed in the same location, but residents and business owners shot down the proposal. Walgreens eventually withdrew its request for a variance after pressure from the community.

categories Uncategorized | May 21, 2019 | comments Comments (0)

85 Hindu pilgrims killed in India lorry crash

">
85 Hindu pilgrims killed in India lorry crash

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A minimum of 85 Hindu pilgrims have been killed in India and 64 injured after their lorry and trailer plunged 24m (80ft) into a river gorge late last night.

Approximately 150 people were on board when the driver lost control on a sharp bend near the village of Nagbavji, Rajasthan, smashing through a concrete crash barrier and continuing down into the valley, coming to rest inverted.

An overnight rescue operation was initiated, removing both survivors and bodies of the dead from the wreck, with the aid of cranes and spotlights. Ambulances and medical teams rushed to the scene from surrounding areas. Of the 64 who were hospitalised, three are reported to be in critical condition. The Press Trust of India reported that as many as 130 were injured, and Al Jazeera reported that there may have been 200 people on board. It is believed the death toll could rise still further, as many people remain trapped beneath the trailer.

The truck was a 12-wheeled model designed for hauling shipping containers, and was carrying pilgrims from three nearby villages Shiwal, Madri and Bhawa. The driver had offered to take them to their destination for free, a practise common in India, despite the fact that such trucks are not safe for passenger transport, being designed primarily as freight transporters.

The vehicle had been destined for the temple of Ramdev, a site considered by both Hindus and Muslims as being of high spiritual significance. The temple is the subject of an annual ten-day pilgrimage every September, which begins on September 13, although most of the 250,000 pilgrims who flock to the site arrive several days in advance of the festival.

The Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje visited the three villages in which the victims resided. The local government has initiated a full inquiry into the disaster.

categories Uncategorized | | comments Comments (0)

Glasgow cannabis enthusiasts celebrate ‘green’ on city green

">
Glasgow cannabis enthusiasts celebrate ‘green’ on city green

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Coinciding with Easter Sunday, Glasgow Cannabis Social Club’s annual 420 event was held on Glasgow Green, under sunny blue skies, and overlooking the river Clyde. Despite the city’s council attempting to revoke permission for the gathering at the last minute, police were happy for it to go-ahead with approximately a dozen officers attending in high-visibility vests.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16
  • 17
  • 18
  • 19
  • 20
  • 21

The Daily Record reported five arrests were made for minor offences, likely smoking and possession of small quantities of cannabis. Taking a less-sensational — and more accurate — line of reporting, the Monday edition of Glasgow’s Evening News stated five were referred to the Procurator Fiscal who is responsible for deciding if charges should be brought.

Official figures provided by the police were that 150 attended. With people coming and going, Wikinews reporters estimated upwards of 200 attended, compared to nearly 700 who had signed up for the event on Facebook. Hemp goods were advertised and on sale at the event, and some attendees were seen drinking cannabis-themed energy drinks.

“I was searched and charged under the Misuse of Drugs Act (which is a lot of bollocks)” one attendee noted online, adding “not fair to happen on a brilliant day like it was, other than that I had a great day!” A second said they were openly smoking and ignored by police, who “were only really focusing on people who looked particularly young”.

Cannabis seeds were openly and legally sold at the event and a hydroponics supplier brought a motortrike towing an advertising trailer. Actually growing cannabis is, however, illegal in the UK.

With the event openly advocating the legalisation of cannabis, speakers put their arguments for this to a receptive crowd. Retired police officer James Duffy, of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, spoke of the failed United States alcohol prohibition policy; stressing such policies needlessly bring people into contact with criminal elements. Highlighting other countries where legalisation has been implemented, he pointed out such led to lower crime, and lower drug use overall.

One speaker, who produced a bottle of cannabis oil he had received through the post, asserted this cured his prostate cancer. Others highlighted the current use of Sativex by the National Health Service, with a cost in-excess of £150 for a single bottle of GW Pharmaceuticals patented spray — as-compared to the oil shown to the crowd, with a manufacturing cost of approximately £10.

Similar ‘420’ pro-cannabis events were held globally.

categories Uncategorized | | comments Comments (0)

FDA mandates “black box” for Celebrex, pulls Bextra off market

">
FDA mandates “black box” for Celebrex, pulls Bextra off market

April 7, 2005

Drug giant Pfizer’s two blockbuster Cox-2 inhibitor drugs, Celebrex and Bextra, were both cited by the Food and Drug Administration for safety problems, particularly for long term users.

Last Thursday the FDA allowed Pfizer to keep Celebrex on the market if it added the “black box” warning to the physicians’ guideline. This warning is the strongest the FDA can give to doctors, and focuses on the increased chances of cardiovascular problems and gastrointestinal bleeding. Doctors should use the lowest possible dosage of Celebrex and for the shortest time necessary, it adds.

Meanwhile, Bextra was taken off the market today. Bextra users were told to stop taking the drug, according to reports.

Pfizer agreed to mandates by a blue ribbon panel of specialists, convened in February, to review the risks associated with the popular Cox-2 class of painkillers. The pills are taken by 50 million people worldwide.

The actions by the FDA are attributed to charges the agency was too slow and allowed manufacturers to report problems voluntarily. It also comes as other experimental Cox-2 drugs emerge, such as Merck’s Arcoxia and Novartis’s Prexige, and seems to raise the requirements for their future approval.

Critics said the Cox-2 inhibitors were over-prescribed and offered no more relief than cheaper over the counter medications such as ibuprofen.

Pfizer Inc (NYSE Symbol PFE) was trading at 26.90 at close on Thursday, up 0.15%

categories Uncategorized | May 19, 2019 | comments Comments (0)

ACLU, EFF challenging US ‘secret’ court orders seeking Twitter data

">
ACLU, EFF challenging US ‘secret’ court orders seeking Twitter data

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Late last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed objections to the United States Government’s ‘secret’ attempts to obtain Twitter account information relating to WikiLeaks. The ACLU and EFF cite First and Fourth amendment issues as overriding reasons to overturn government attempts to keep their investigation secret; and, that with Birgitta Jonsdottir being an Icelandic Parliamentarian, the issue has serious international implications.

The case, titled “In the Matter of the 2703(d) Order Relating to Twitter Accounts: Wikileaks, Rop_G, IOERROR; and BirgittaJ“, has been in the EFF’s sights since late last year when they became aware of the US government’s attempts to investigate WikiLeaks-related communications using the popular microblogging service.

The key objective of this US government investigation is to obtain data for the prosecution of Bradley Manning, alleged to have supplied classified data to WikiLeaks. In addition to Manning’s Twitter account, and that of WikiLeaks (@wikileaks), the following three accounts are subject to the order: @ioerror, @birgittaj, and @rop_g. These, respectively, belong to Jacob Apelbaum, Birgitta Jonsdottir, and Rop Gonggrijp.

Birgitta is not the only non-US citizen with their Twitter account targeted by the US Government; Gonggrijp, a Dutch ‘ex-hacker’-turned-security-expert, was one of the founders of XS4ALL – the first Internet Service Provider in the Netherlands available to the public. He has worked on a mobile phone that can encrypt conversations, and proven that electronic voting systems can readily be hacked.

In early March, a Virginia magistrate judge ruled that the government could have the sought records, and neither the targeted users, or the public, could see documents submitted to justify data being passed to the government. The data sought is as follows:

  1. Personal contact information, including addresses
  2. Financial data, including credit card or bank account numbers
  3. Twitter account activity information, including the “date, time, length, and method of connections” plus the “source and destination Internet Protocol address(es)”
  4. Direct Message (DM) information, including the email addresses and IP addresses of everyone with whom the Parties have exchanged DMs

The order demands disclosure of absolutely all such data from November 1, 2009 for the targeted accounts.

The ACLU and EFF are not only challenging this, but demanding that all submissions made by the US government to justify the Twitter disclosure are made public, plus details of any other such cases which have been processed in secret.

Bradley Manning, at the time a specialist from Maryland enlisted with the United States Army’s 2nd Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, was arrested in June last year in connection with the leaking of classified combat video to WikiLeaks.

The leaked video footage, taken from a US helicopter gunship, showed the deaths of Reuters staff Saeed Chmagh and Namir Noor-Eldeen during a U.S. assault in Baghdad, Iraq. The wire agency unsuccessfully attempted to get the footage released via a Freedom of Information Act request in 2007.

When WikiLeaks released the video footage it directly contradicted the official line taken by the U.S. Army asserting that the deaths of the two Reuters staff were “collateral damage” in an attack on Iraqi insurgents. The radio chatter associated with the AH-64 Apache video indicated the helicopter crews had mistakenly identified the journalists’ equipment as weaponry.

The US government also claims Manning is linked to CableGate; the passing of around a quarter of a million classified diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. Manning has been in detention since July last year; in December allegations of torture were made to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the conditions under which he was and is being detained.

Reports last month that he must now sleep naked and attend role call at the U.S. Marine facility in Quantico in the same state, raised further concern over his detention conditions. Philip J. Crowley, at-the-time a State Department spokesman, remarked on this whilst speaking at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; describing the current treatment of Manning as “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid”, Crowley was, as a consequence, put in the position of having to tender his resignation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Despite his native Australia finding, in December last year, that Assange’s WikiLeaks had not committed any criminal offences in their jurisdiction, the U.S. government has continued to make ongoing operations very difficult for the whistleblower website.

The result of the Australian Federal Police investigation left the country’s Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, having to retract a statement that WikiLeaks had acted “illegally”; instead, she characterised the site’s actions as “grossly irresponsible”.

Even with Australia finding no illegal activity on the part of WikiLeaks, and with founder Julian Assange facing extradition to Sweden, U.S. pressure sought to hobble WikiLeaks financially.

Based on a State Department letter, online payments site PayPal suspended WikiLeaks account in December. Their action was swiftly followed by Visa Europe and Mastercard ceasing to handle payments for WikiLeaks.

The online processing company, Datacell, threatened the two credit card giants with legal action over this. However, avenues of funding for the site were further curtailed when both Amazon.com and Swiss bank PostFinance joined the financial boycott of WikiLeaks.

Assange continues, to this day, to argue that his extradition to Sweden for questioning on alleged sexual offences is being orchestrated by the U.S. in an effort to discredit him, and thus WikiLeaks.

Wikinews consulted an IT and cryptography expert from the Belgian university which developed the current Advanced Encryption Standard; explaining modern communications, he stated: “Cryptography has developed to such a level that intercepting communications is no longer cost effective. That is, if any user uses the correct default settings, and makes sure that he/she is really connecting to Twitter it is highly unlikely that even the NSA can break the cryptography for a protocol such as SSL/TLS (used for https).”

Qualifying this, he commented that “the vulnerable parts of the communication are the end points.” To make his point, he cited the following quote from Gene Spafford: “Using encryption on the Internet is the equivalent of arranging an armored car to deliver credit card information from someone living in a cardboard box to someone living on a park bench.

Continuing, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL) expert explained:

In the first place, the weak point is Twitter itself; the US government can go and ask for the data; companies such as Twitter and Google will typically store quite some information on their users, including IP addresses (it is known that Google deletes the last byte of the IP address after a few weeks, but it is not too hard for a motivated opponent to find out what this byte was).
In the second place, this is the computer of the user: by exploiting system weaknesses (with viruses, Trojan horses or backdoors in the operating system) a highly motivated opponent can enter your machine and record your keystrokes plus everything that is happening (e.g. the FBI is known to do this with the so-called Magic Lantern software). Such software is also commercially available, e.g. for a company to monitor its employees.
It would also be possible for a higly motivated opponent to play “man-in-the-middle”; that means that instead of having a secure connection to Twitter.com, you have a secure connection to the attacker’s server, who impersonates Twitter’s and then relays your information to Twitter. This requires tricks such as spoofing DNS (this is getting harder with DNSsec), or misleading the user (e.g. the user clicks on a link and connects to tw!tter.com or Twitter.c0m, which look very similar in a URL window as Twitter.com). It is clear that the US government is capable of using these kind of tricks; e.g., a company has been linked to the US government that was recognized as legitimate signer in the major browsers, so it would not be too large for them to sign a legitimate certificate for such a spoofing webserver; this means that the probability that a user would detect a problem would be very low.
As for traffic analysis (finding out who you are talking to rather than finding out what you are telling to whom), NSA and GCHQ are known to have access to lots of traffic (part of this is obtained via the UK-USA agreement). Even if one uses strong encryption, it is feasible for them to log the IP addresses and email addresses of all the parties you are connecting to. If necessary, they can even make routers re-route your traffic to their servers. In addition, the European Data Retention directive forces all operators to store such traffic data.
Whether other companies would have complied with such requests: this is very hard to tell. I believe however that it is very plausible that companies such as Google, Skype or Facebook would comply with such requests if they came from a government.
In summary: unless you go through great lengths to log through to several computers in multiple countries, you work in a clean virtual machine, you use private browser settings (don’t accept cookies, no plugins for Firefox, etc.) and use tools such as Tor, it is rather easy for any service provider to identify you.
Finally: I prefer not to be quoted on any sentences in which I make statements on the capabilities or actions of any particular government.

Wikinews also consulted French IT security researcher Stevens Le Blond on the issues surrounding the case, and the state-of-the-art in monitoring, and analysing, communications online. Le Blond, currently presenting a research paper on attacks on Tor to USENIX audiences in North America, responded via email:

Were the US Government to obtain the sought data, it would seem reasonable the NSA would handle further investigation. How would you expect them to exploit the data and expand on what they receive from Twitter?

  • Le Blond: My understanding is that the DOJ is requesting the following information: 1) Connection records and session times 2) IP addresses 3) e-mail addresses 4) banking info
By requesting 1) and 2) for Birgitta and other people involved with WikiLeaks (WL) since 2009, one could derive 2 main [pieces of] information.
First, he could tell the mobility of these people. Recent research in networking shows that you can map an IP address into a geographic location with a median error of 600 meters. So by looking at changes of IP addresses in time for a Twitter user, one could tell (or at least speculate about) where that person has been.
Second, by correlating locations of different people involved with WL in time, one could possibly derive their interactions and maybe even their level of involvement with WL. Whether it is possible to derive this information from 1) and 2) depends on how this people use Twitter. For example, do they log on Twitter often enough, long enough, and from enough places?
My research indicates that this is the case for other Internet services but I cannot tell whether it is the case for Twitter.
Note that even though IP logging, as done by Twitter, is similar to the logging done by GSM [mobile phone] operators, the major difference seems to be that Twitter is subject to US regulation, no matter the citizenship of its users. I find this rather disturbing.
Using 3), one could search for Birgitta on other Internet services, such as social networks, to find more information on her (e.g., hidden accounts). Recent research on privacy shows that people tend to use the same e-mail address to register an account on different social networks (even when they don’t want these accounts to be linked together). Obviously, one could then issue subpoenas for these accounts as well.
I do not have the expertise to comment on what could be done with 4).
((WN)) As I believe Jonsdottir to be involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), what are the wider implications beyond the “WikiLeaks witchhunt”?
  • Le Blond: Personal data can be used to discredit, especially if the data is not public.

Having been alerted to the ongoing case through a joint press release by the ACLU and EFF, Wikinews sought clarification on the primary issues which the two non-profits saw as particularly important in challenging the U.S. Government over the ‘secret’ court orders. Rebecca Jeschke, Media Relations Director for the EFF, explained in more detail the points crucial to them, responding to a few questions from Wikinews on the case:

((WN)) As a worse-case, what precedents would be considered if this went to the Supreme Court?
  • Rebecca Jeschke: It’s extremely hard to know at this stage if this would go to the Supreme Court, and if it did, what would be at issue. However, some of the interesting questions about this case center on the rights of people around the world when they use US Internet services. This case questions the limits of US law enforcement, which may turn out to be very different from the limits in other countries.
((WN)) Since this is clearly a politicised attack on free speech with most chilling potential repercussions for the press, whistleblowers, and by-and-large anyone the relevant U.S. Government departments objects to the actions of, what action do you believe should be taken to protect free speech rights?
  • Jeschke: We believe that, except in very rare circumstances, the government should not be permitted to obtain information about individuals’ private Internet communications in secret. We also believe that Internet companies should, whenever possible, take steps to ensure their customers are notified about requests for information and have the opportunity to respond.
((WN)) Twitter via the web, in my experience, tends to use https:// connections. Are you aware of any possibility of the government cracking such connections? (I’m not up to date on the crypto arms race).
  • Jeschke: You don’t need to crack https, per se, to compromise its security. See this piece about fraudulent https certificates:
Iranian hackers obtain fraudulent httpsEFF website.
((WN)) And, do you believe that far, far more websites should – by default – employ https:// connections to protect people’s privacy?
  • Jeschke: We absolutely think that more websites should employ https! Here is a guide for site operators: (See external links, Ed.)

Finally, Wikinews approached the Icelandic politician, and WikiLeaks supporter, who has made this specific case a landmark in how the U.S. Government handles dealings with – supposedly – friendly governments and their elected representatives. A number of questions were posed, seeking the Icelandic Parliamentarian’s views:

((WN)) How did you feel when you were notified the US Government wanted your Twitter account, and message, details? Were you shocked?
  • Birgitta Jonsdottir: I felt angry but not shocked. I was expecting something like this to happen because of my involvement with WikiLeaks. My first reaction was to tweet about it.
((WN)) What do you believe is their reasoning in selecting you as a ‘target’?
  • Jonsdottir: It is quite clear to me that USA authorities are after Julian Assange and will use any means possible to get even with him. I think I am simply a pawn in a much larger context. I did of course both act as a spokesperson for WikiLeaks in relation to the Apache video and briefly for WikiLeaks, and I put my name to the video as a co-producer. I have not participated in any illegal activity and thus being a target doesn’t make me lose any sleep.
((WN)) Are you concerned that, as a Member of Parliament involved in the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), the US attempt to obtain your Twitter data is interfering with planned Icelandic government policy?
  • Jonsdottir: No
((WN)) In an earlier New York Times (NYT) article, you’re indicating there is nothing they can obtain about you that bothers you; but, how do you react to them wanting to know everyone you talk to?
  • Jonsdottir: It bothers me and according to top computer scientists the government should be required to obtain a search warrant to get our IP addresses from Twitter. I am, though, happy I am among the people DOJ is casting their nets around because of my parliamentary immunity; I have a greater protection then many other users and can use that immunity to raise the issue of lack of rights for those that use social media.
HAVE YOUR SAY
Do you believe the U.S. government should have the right to access data on foreign nationals using services such as Twitter?
Add or view comments
((WN)) The same NYT article describes you as a WikiLeaks supporter; is this still the case? What attracts you to their ‘radical transparency’?
  • Jonsdottir: I support the concept of WikiLeaks. While we don’t have a culture of protection for sources and whistleblowers we need sites like WikiLeaks. Plus, I think it is important to give WikiLeaks credit for raising awareness about in how bad shape freedom of information and expression is in our world and it is eroding at an alarming rate because of the fact that legal firms for corporations and corrupt politicians have understood the borderless nature of the legalities of the information flow online – we who feel it is important that people have access to information that should remain in the public domain need to step up our fight for those rights. WikiLeaks has played an important role in that context.I don’t support radical transparency – I understand that some things need to remain secret. It is the process of making things secret that needs to be both more transparent and in better consensus with nations.
((WN)) How do you think the Icelandic government would have reacted if it were tens of thousands of their diplomatic communications being leaked?
  • Jonsdottir: I am not sure – A lot of our dirty laundry has been aired via the USA cables – our diplomatic communications with USA were leaked in those cables, so far they have not stirred much debate nor shock. It is unlikely for tens of thousands of cables to leak from Iceland since we dont have the same influence or size as the USA, nor do we have a military.
((WN)) Your ambassador in the US has spoken to the Obama administration. Can you discuss any feedback from that? Do you have your party’s, and government’s, backing in challenging the ordered Twitter data release?
  • Jonsdottir: I have not had any feedback from that meeting, I did however receive a message from the DOJ via the USA ambassador in Iceland. The message stated three things: 1. I am free to travel to the USA. 2. If I would do so, I would not be a subject of involuntary interrogation. 3. I am not under criminal investigation. If this is indeed the reality I wonder why they are insisting on getting my personal details from Twitter. I want to stress that I understand the reasoning of trying to get to Assange through me, but I find it unacceptable since there is no foundation for criminal investigation against him. If WikiLeaks goes down, all the other media partners should go down at the same time. They all served similar roles. The way I see it is that WikiLeaks acted as the senior editor of material leaked to them. They could not by any means be considered a source. The source is the person that leaks the material to WikiLeaks. I am not sure if the media in our world understands how much is at stake for already shaky industry if WikiLeaks will carry on carrying the brunt of the attacks. I think it would be powerful if all the medias that have had access to WikiLeaks material would band together for their defence.
((WN)) Wikinews consulted a Belgian IT security expert who said it was most likely companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, would have complied with similar court orders *without advising the ‘targets*’. Does that disturb you?
  • Jonsdottir: This does disturb me for various reasons. The most obvious is that my emails are hosted at google/gmail and my search profile. I dont have anything to hide but it is important to note that many of the people that interact with me as a MP via both facebook and my various email accounts don’t always realize that there is no protection for them if they do so via those channels. I often get sensitive personal letters sent to me at facebook and gmail. In general most people are not aware of how little rights they have as users of social media. It is those of uttermost importance that those sites will create the legal disclaimers and agreements that state the most obvious rights we lose when we sign up to their services.
This exclusive interview features first-hand journalism by a Wikinews reporter. See the collaboration page for more details.
((WN)) Has there been any backlash within Iceland against US-based internet services in light of this? Do you expect such, or any increase in anti-American sentiments?
  • Jonsdottir: No, none what so ever. I dont think there is much anti-American sentiments in Iceland and I dont think this case will increase it. However I think it is important for everyone who does not live in the USA and uses social services to note that according to the ruling in my case, they dont have any protection of the 1st and 4th amendment, that only apply to USA citizens. Perhaps the legalities in relation to the borderless reality we live in online need to be upgraded in order for people to feel safe with using social media if it is hosted in the USA. Market tends to bend to simple rules.
((WN)) Does this make you more, or less, determined to see the IMMI succeed?
  • Jonsdottir: More. People have to realize that if we dont have freedom of information online we won’t have it offline. We have to wake up to the fact that our rights to access information that should be in the public domain is eroding while at the same time our rights as citizens online have now been undermined and we are only seen as consumers with consumers rights and in some cases our rights are less than of a product. This development needs to change and change fast before it is too late.

The U.S. Government continues to have issues internationally as a result of material passed to WikiLeaks, and subsequently published.

Within the past week, Ecuador has effectively declared the U.S. ambassador Heather Hodges persona-non-grata over corruption allegations brought to light in leaked cables. Asking the veteran diplomat to leave “as soon as possible”, the country may become the third in South America with no ambassadorial presence. Both Venezuela and Bolivia have no resident U.S. ambassador due to the two left-wing administrations believing the ejected diplomats were working with the opposition.

The U.S. State Department has cautioned Ecuador that a failure to speedily normalise diplomatic relations may jeapordise ongoing trade talks.

The United Kingdom is expected to press the Obama administration over the continuing detention of 23-year-old Manning, who also holds UK citizenship. British lawmakers are to discuss his ongoing detention conditions before again approaching the U.S. with their concerns that his solitary confinement, and treatment therein, is not acceptable.

The 22 charges brought against Manning are currently on hold whilst his fitness to stand trial is assessed.

categories Uncategorized | May 16, 2019 | comments Comments (0)

Race to save Chilean miners trapped underground from spiralling into depression continues

">
Race to save Chilean miners trapped underground from spiralling into depression continues

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It has emerged that the 33 Chilean miners trapped underground after the mine they were working in collapsed could be brought to the surface in a shorter time than was initially feared. While officials publicly announced that the men would not be brought to the surface until Christmas, sources inside technical meetings have revealed that they could in fact be on the surface by early November. The news comes as families were allowed to speak by radio-telephone to their trapped loved ones on Sunday. Over the weekend, video images filmed by the miners emerged showing the miners playing dominoes at a table and singing the Chilean national anthem. The miners also used the camera to send video messages to their families on the surface, saying that they regularly broke into tears, but were feeling better having received food and water.

The grainy nightvision images, filmed on a high definition camcorder that was sent down a small shaft to the mine, show the men in good spirits, chanting “long live Chile, and long live the miners.” They are unshaven and stripped to the waist because of the heat underground, and are seen wearing white clinical trousers that have been designed to keep them dry. Giving a guided tour of the area they are occupying, Mario Sepúlveda, one of the miners, explains they have a “little cup to brush our teeth”, and a place where they pray each day. “We have everything organized,” he tells the camera. Gesturing to the table in the center of the room, he says that “we meet here every day. We plan, we have assemblies here every day so that all the decisions we make are based on the thoughts of all 33.” Another unidentified miner asks to rescuers, “get us out of here soon, please.” A thermometer is shown in the video, reading 29.5C (85F).

As the film continues, it becomes evident that the miners have stuck a poster of a topless woman on the wall. The miners appear shy, and one man puts his hand to his face, presumably dazzled by the light mounted on the cameraman’s helmet. One miner sent a message to his family. “Be calm”, he says. “We’re going to get out of here. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your efforts.” Another said that the miners are “sure that there are people here in Chile that are big people, that are powerful people, that are intelligent people, and they have the technology and they will all work together to get us out of here.” Speaking to the camera, one says: “we have had the great fortune that trapped in this mine there are good, professional people. We have electricians, we have mechanics, we have machine operators and we will let you know that while you are working to rescue us on the surface, we are down here ready to help you too.” It has been reported that Mario Gómez, 63, has become the group’s “spiritual leader”, having worked in the mines for over fifty years. He has requested that materials to build a shrine be sent down to the cavern.

Upon seeing the video in a private screening, family members, who are living in a small village of tents at the entrance to the San José copper-gold mine—which they have named Camp Hope—were elated. “He’s skinny, bearded and it was painful to see him with his head hanging down, but I am so happy to see him alive”, said Ruth Contreras, the mother of Carlos Bravo, who is trapped in the mine. The video, of which only a small portion has been released to the public, shows the miners, many of them wearing helmets, cracking jokes and thanking the rescuers for their continued efforts. The supplies are being sent to the men through a small shaft only twelve centimeters wide, and a laboratory has been set up with the purpose of designing collapsible cots and miniature sandwiches, which can be sent down such a narrow space.

CNN reported on Friday that “officials are splitting the men into two shifts so one group sleeps while the other works or has leisure time .. On average, each man has lost 22 pounds (10 kilograms) since they became trapped three weeks ago, and dehydration remains a threat. But a survey of the men indicates that at least nine miners are still too overweight to fit through the proposed rescue shaft. Initially, the miners survived by draining water from a water-cooled piece of equipment. To stay hydrated in the 90-degree mine, each miner must drink eight or nine pints of water per day.”

But while there are jubilant celebrations on the surface that the miners are alive, officials are now nervous that the miners could become depressed, trapped in a dark room the size of a small apartment. Chilean health minister Jaime Mañalich said that, on the video, he saw the telltale signs of depression. “They are more isolated, they don’t want to be on the screen, they are not eating well”, he said. “I would say depression is the correct word.” He said that doctors who had watched the video had observed the men suffering from “severe dermatological problems.” Dr. Rodrigo Figueroa, head of the trauma, stress and disaster unit at the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile, explained that “following the euphoria of being discovered, the normal psychological reaction would be for the men to collapse in a combination of fatigue and stress … People who are trained for emergencies – like these miners – tend to minimize their own needs or to ignore them. When it is time to ask for help, they don’t.” NASA has advised emergency workers that entertaining the miners would be a good idea. They are to be sent a television system complete with taped football matches. Another dilemma facing Mañalich is whether the miners should be permitted to smoke underground. While nicotine gum has been delivered to the miners, sending down cigarettes is a plan that has not been ruled out.

With the news that drilling of the main rescue tunnel was expected to begin on Monday, officials have informed the media that they hope to have the miners out of the mine by Christmas—but sources with access to technical meetings have suggested that the miners could actually be rescued by the first week of November. A news report described the rescue plan—”the main focus is a machine that bores straight down to 688m and creates a chimney-type duct that could be used to haul the miners out one by one in a rescue basket. A second drilling operation will attempt to intercept a mining tunnel at a depth of roughly 350m. The miners would then have to make their way through several miles of dark, muddy tunnels and meet the rescue drill at roughly the halfway point of their current depth of 688m.” Iván Viveros Aranas, a Chilean policeman working at Camp Hope, told reporters that Chile “has shown a unity regardless of religion or social class. You see people arriving here just to volunteer, they have no relation at all to these families.”

But over the weekend, The New York Times reported that the “miners who have astonished the world with their discipline a half-mile underground will have to aid their own escape — clearing 3,000 to 4,000 tons of rock that will fall as the rescue hole is drilled, the engineer in charge of drilling said Sunday … The work will require about a half-dozen men working in shifts 24 hours a day.” Andrés Sougarret, a senior engineer involved in operating the drill said that “the miners are going to have to take out all that material as it falls.”

The families of those trapped were allowed to speak to them by radio-telephone on Sunday—a possibility that brought reassurance both the miners and those on the surface. The Intendant of the Atacama Region, Ximena Matas, said that there had been “moments of great emotion.” She continued to say that the families “listened with great interest and they both felt and realized that the men are well. This has been a very important moment, which no doubt strengthens their [the miners’] morale.” The phone line is thought to be quite temperamental, but it is hoped that soon, those in the mine and those in Camp Hope will be able to talk every day. “To hear his voice was a balm to my heart … He is aware that the rescue is not going to happen today, that it will take some time. He asked us to stay calm as everything is going to be OK … He sounded relaxed and since it was so short I didn’t manage to ask anything. Twenty seconds was nothing”, said said Jessica Cortés, who spoke to her husband Víctor Zamora, who was not even a miner, but a vehicle mechanic. “He went in that day because a vehicle had broken down inside the mine … At first they told us he had been crushed [to death].”

Esteban Rojas sent up a letter from inside the mine, proposing to his long-time partner Jessica Yáñez, 43. While they have officially been married for 25 years, their wedding was a civil service—but Rojas has now promised to have a church ceremony which is customary in Chile. “Please keep praying that we get out of this alive. And when I do get out, we will buy a dress and get married,” the letter read. Yáñez told a newspaper that she thought he was never going to ask her. “We have talked about it before, but he never asked me … He knows that however long it takes, I’ll wait for him, because with him I’ve been through good and bad.”

categories Uncategorized | | comments Comments (0)