Archive for December, 2018

Rally in Australian forests to oppose woodchip industry

Monday, December 31st, 2018

Sunday, July 2, 2006

A rally organised by a coalition of nearly 30 environmental groups took place at the site of the Eden wood chip mill in the south east forests of New South Wales today. Organisers estimate that 600 people attended the event, many of whom had travelled hundreds of kilometers to the site from various parts of New South Wales and Victoria.

The protesters sought to highlight the trade in wood chips made from old growth native forests which has continued in Australia despite promises by governments to discontinue the practice. It is thought to be an unnecessary sacrifice of a publicly owned resource and the habitat of native animals for short term profits. The industry is subsidised through provision of publicly funded infrastructure and a unreasonably low royalty levied on harvesters of the resource.

All Eden wood chips are exported, mostly to pulp and paper mills in Japan and the paper made from Eden chips is generally copy paper used in the printing industry and it is consumed within Japan. Since its establishment, Eden has exported over 35 million tonnes of native forest chips.

The Eden chip mill exports approximately 900,000 tonnes of chips a year, and is heading for 1 million tonnes in the next couple of years, produced from native forests each year and Australia is the only country that continues to trade forest wood chips to Japan, as all other supplier countries use plantation stock to produce chips.

The rally was organised with police cooperation and was conducted without any incident.

Major rallies escalate teacher strike in BC

Monday, December 31st, 2018

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

A rainy day in Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, failed to dampen the spirits of protesting teachers and their labour union supporters on Monday as thousands turned out to make their voices heard and, incidentally, shut down the city’s transportation services. The local transit union was not involved in the strike, their offices were picketed by striking Telus workers.

There are more labour events being planned. Across northern B.C. thousands of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members are off the job in solidarity with the teachers. In Prince George a rally is planned to be held in front of the office of Education Minister Shirley Bond.

“If solutions aren’t found, on Wednesday of this week, another massive shutdown in a different area of this province will take place,” shouted Jim Sinclair, B.C. Federation of Labour president, to a crowd gathered on the lawn of the Legislature yesterday.

Inside, the opposition NDP used Question Period to repeatedly probe the ruling Liberal party’s decision to not speak with the BC Teacher’s Federation (BCTF). Carol James asked Gordon Campbell what the difference was between this strike and that held by the Hospital Union (HU) in 2004 – also an illegal strike. The Premier’s response was that he personally did not negotiate with the HU, and the rule of law was supreme: teachers must return to the classroom before negotiations over a bargaining process for next year’s contract may begin.

The strike is back in court again this week, with Supreme Court Judge Brenda Brown saying she will rule Friday on requests the union be slapped with additional fines for refusing to call off the strike after the civil contempt of court ruling last week. The union and leaders may also face criminal charges after he government appointed Len Doust as an independent special prosecutor to assess whether criminal contempt charges may be brought.

Nigeria swears in new president after death of Umaru Yar’Adua

Monday, December 31st, 2018

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Goodluck Jonathan, the acting president of Nigeria, was formally sworn in today, several hours after president Umaru Yar’Adua died.

The oath of office was administered in the capital Abjua. According to the constitution, Jonathan will be the country’s leader until next elections next April; he is also to nominate a vice president, who must be approved by the senate.

Jonathan already has been running the country when he became acting president since February, when Yar’Adua was hospitalised in Saudi Arabia for medical treatment.

After being sworn in, Jonathan made an address. “While this is a major burden on me, and indeed the entire nation, we must — in the midst of such great adversity — continue to gain our collective efforts towards upholding the values which our departed leader represented […] One of the true tests will be that all votes count, and are counted, in our upcoming presidential election,” he said.

Yar’Adua, aged 58, was buried earlier in the Katsina state; the government has declared a week of mourning.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia CEO apologies for financial planning scandal

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ian Narev, the CEO of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, this morning “unreservedly” apologised to clients who lost money in a scandal involving the bank’s financial planning services arm.

Last week, a Senate enquiry found financial advisers from the Commonwealth Bank had made high-risk investments of clients’ money without the clients’ permission, resulting in hundreds of millions of dollars lost. The Senate enquiry called for a Royal Commission into the bank, and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC).

Mr Narev stated the bank’s performance in providing financial advice was “unacceptable”, and the bank was launching a scheme to compensate clients who lost money due to the planners’ actions.

In a statement Mr Narev said, “Poor advice provided by some of our advisers between 2003 and 2012 caused financial loss and distress and I am truly sorry for that. […] There have been changes in management, structure and culture. We have also invested in new systems, implemented new processes, enhanced adviser supervision and improved training.”

An investigation by Fairfax Media instigated the Senate inquiry into the Commonwealth Bank’s financial planning division and ASIC.

Whistleblower Jeff Morris, who reported the misconduct of the bank to ASIC six years ago, said in an article for The Sydney Morning Herald that neither the bank nor ASIC should be in control of the compensation program.

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

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

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.
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((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.

14,000-acre Southern California ‘Crown Fire’ at 82% containment, evacuation orders lifted

Sunday, December 30th, 2018

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Antelope Valley, California —The Crown Fire that has burned through 13,980 acres in the High Desert of Southern California since 2:32 pm (2232 UTC) Thursday was at 82% containment Saturday evening, according to the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

On Friday high winds caused the fire to jump the California Aqueduct and spread into the city of Palmdale. Over 2,000 residents of Leona Valley, Ana Verde, and Rancho Vista were given mandatory evacuation orders. The sky was blanketed with thick orange pyrocumulus clouds and falling ash, making the air hard to breathe.

State Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived in Palmdale on Friday to survey the burned areas. “We were very fortunate to not have fires for quite some time because the air temperature was cool and we didn’t have the experiencing of dry weather and all the winds and so on, but all of a sudden the fire season kicked in as if, ‘Here we are,'” Schwarzenegger said during a press conference. “But we are ready and we have luckily distributed resources all over the state of California, so we are ready at any given time.”

The fire has so far destroyed one house and three mobile homes, damaging the roof of another and burning car garages, horse stables, and other outbuildings. Most of the more seriously threatened homes were constructed recently from fire-proof materials, with walls coated in stucco, and fire-resistant plants in the yards. Although some roads are still closed to all traffic, all existing evacuation orders were lifted late Friday night and 500 residents of Rancho Vista were told to “shelter in place” until further notice. Despite the absence of mandatory evacuation orders, over 2,000 houses, 60 commercial buildings, and 100 outbuildings are still under threat.

Throughout the night, fire crews have been battling the wildfire, assisted by cooler temperatures and lighter-than-expected winds which have enabled them to establish containment lines. “Crews went out [Friday] night and did some great work trying to complete more lines and also trying to take care of what we call ‘cat eyes’ which are embers within the perimeter of the fire, so there will be much more work being done there today,” said LACFD Captain Roland Sprewell. “But of course we’re not going to rest on our laurels today…we’re going to be vigilantly watching the winds, especially in the ridge and down in the valleys.”

At the height of the fire, 1,700 firefighters from all over California were battling the flames, although as of 12:00 pm Saturday afternoon, it has been reduced to around 1,350 personnel. 16 fire camp crew have also assisted. 250 fire engines and four bulldozers have been used. In the air, 4 Boeing 747 supertankers, 1 McDonnell Douglas DC-10 tanker, and 6 modified Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters known as “Firehawks” have been dropping water and red Phos-Chek slurry. The Los Angeles Sheriffs Department also increased its presence in the Antelope Valley by bringing in response teams from stations outside the AV. This afternoon, the deployment has been scaled back to three teams as the fire stabilizes and further evacuation orders become unlikely.

Three firefighters have been injured battling the fire, although all injuries are minor. One sheriff deputy was also hospitalized for smoke inhalation but has since been released.

Republican leaders in US want more tax relief in economic stimulus

Saturday, December 29th, 2018

Monday, January 26, 2009

As the newly inaugurated Barack Obama administration continues to push for a US$825 billion stimulus package to aid the struggling United States economy, some Republican legislators say they will not vote for such a plan without the inclusion of more tax cuts and less “unnecessary” spending.

Arizona Senator John McCain, Obama’s general election opponent and a leading voice within the Republican Party, says he would not vote for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan as it currently stands. Appearing on Fox News Sunday yesterday, McCain echoed his campaign platform in saying, “We need to make tax cuts permanent, and we need to make a commitment that there’ll be no new taxes.”

McCain and other Republicans say they are unhappy with the bill introduced in the House of Representatives, which combines roughly $550 billion in domestic spending with $275 billion in tax cuts. McCain believes not enough Republican proposals have been integrated into the plan, which he fears will result in the plan becoming “just another spending project” rather than a job creator.

“Republicans have not been brought in, to the degree that we should be in, to these negotiations and discussions. So far, as far as I can tell, no Republican proposal has been incorporated,” McCain said. “We’re losing sight of what the stimulus is all about, and that is job creation.”

The Arizona senator is known for his bipartisan efforts in Washington, D.C., but he defined his role in the new Senate as the “loyal opposition”, which does not mean “that I or my party will be a rubber stamp” for Obama, he said.

In his first weekly address since being sworn in, President Obama explained the stimulus plan in further detail, calling it a plan to “immediately jumpstart job creation as well as long-term economic growth.” He outlined several of the bill’s priorities, including the creation or salvation of up to four million jobs, as well as sweeping investments in health care, education, energy and infrastructure.

Among these investments are a new electricity grid with more than 3,000 miles of transmission lines, the weatherization of 2.5 million homes, health insurance protection for more than 8 million Americans, a renovation of over 10,000 schools, a project to repair thousands of miles of roadways, and an expansion of broadband Internet access.

Obama also laid out the rationale behind the stimulus, saying that “unprecedented action” is necessary in order to prevent further economic distress. “Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four,” Obama said. “In short, if we do not act boldly and swiftly, a bad situation could become dramatically worse.”

The president addressed the skepticism surrounding the stimulus package, pledging to “root out waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending”, while holding the government accountable for its actions. “We won’t just throw money at our problems,” Obama said. “We’ll invest in what works.”

Still, Republicans such as House Minority Leader John Boehner are skeptical of the plan’s effectiveness in rebuilding the economy. “I think a lot of Republicans will vote no because it’s a lot of wasteful Washington spending”, he commented on Meet the Press, repeating McCain’s call for less federal spending and more tax cuts.

Examples of “wasteful” spending cited by Republicans include millions of coupons to aid in the digital television transition, $200 million for new sod on the National Mall, and $360 million to fight sexually transmitted diseases, which includes funding for contraceptives. House Republicans have claimed it will take 10 years before the economy feels the effect of a stimulus, and that the combined spending of the stimulus and the financial bailouts of last year will leave future generations with over $2 trillion of debt.

In response to the stimulus plan being pushed through Congress, Boehner and Republican Whip Eric Cantor presented Obama with an alternative stimulus plan on Friday, one that relies exclusively on income and business tax cuts. “Our plan offers fast-acting tax relief, not slow-moving and wasteful government spending,” Boehner said. The counterproposal includes an income tax reduction that would save families an estimated $3,200 a year.

Despite this opposition, the stimulus bill is expected to pass through Congress by mid-February, as the Republican minority does not have enough votes to stop its approval. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell expressed a general support of the plan at a White House meeting with Obama and other congressional leaders. “I do think we’ll be able to meet the president’s deadline of getting the package to him by mid-February,” McConnell said. The bill is expected to go before Congress for a vote on Monday, February 2.

Obama’s top economic adviser Lawrence Summers defended the stimulus plan while on Meet the Press. He said the bill was intended to balance the long-term initiatives mentioned above with the tax cuts desired by Republicans. He also said Obama was committed to spending three quarters of the stimulus money within 18 months.

Stanford physicists print smallest-ever letters ‘SU’ at subatomic level of 1.5 nanometres tall

Friday, December 28th, 2018

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A new historic physics record has been set by scientists for exceedingly small writing, opening a new door to computing‘s future. Stanford University physicists have claimed to have written the letters “SU” at sub-atomic size.

Graduate students Christopher Moon, Laila Mattos, Brian Foster and Gabriel Zeltzer, under the direction of assistant professor of physics Hari Manoharan, have produced the world’s smallest lettering, which is approximately 1.5 nanometres tall, using a molecular projector, called Scanning Tunneling Microscope (STM) to push individual carbon monoxide molecules on a copper or silver sheet surface, based on interference of electron energy states.

A nanometre (Greek: ?????, nanos, dwarf; ?????, metr?, count) is a unit of length in the metric system, equal to one billionth of a metre (i.e., 10-9 m or one millionth of a millimetre), and also equals ten Ångström, an internationally recognized non-SI unit of length. It is often associated with the field of nanotechnology.

“We miniaturised their size so drastically that we ended up with the smallest writing in history,” said Manoharan. “S” and “U,” the two letters in honor of their employer have been reduced so tiny in nanoimprint that if used to print out 32 volumes of an Encyclopedia, 2,000 times, the contents would easily fit on a pinhead.

In the world of downsizing, nanoscribes Manoharan and Moon have proven that information, if reduced in size smaller than an atom, can be stored in more compact form than previously thought. In computing jargon, small sizing results to greater speed and better computer data storage.

“Writing really small has a long history. We wondered: What are the limits? How far can you go? Because materials are made of atoms, it was always believed that if you continue scaling down, you’d end up at that fundamental limit. You’d hit a wall,” said Manoharan.

In writing the letters, the Stanford team utilized an electron‘s unique feature of “pinball table for electrons” — its ability to bounce between different quantum states. In the vibration-proof basement lab of Stanford’s Varian Physics Building, the physicists used a Scanning tunneling microscope in encoding the “S” and “U” within the patterns formed by the electron’s activity, called wave function, arranging carbon monoxide molecules in a very specific pattern on a copper or silver sheet surface.

“Imagine [the copper as] a very shallow pool of water into which we put some rocks [the carbon monoxide molecules]. The water waves scatter and interfere off the rocks, making well defined standing wave patterns,” Manoharan noted. If the “rocks” are placed just right, then the shapes of the waves will form any letters in the alphabet, the researchers said. They used the quantum properties of electrons, rather than photons, as their source of illumination.

According to the study, the atoms were ordered in a circular fashion, with a hole in the middle. A flow of electrons was thereafter fired at the copper support, which resulted into a ripple effect in between the existing atoms. These were pushed aside, and a holographic projection of the letters “SU” became visible in the space between them. “What we did is show that the atom is not the limit — that you can go below that,” Manoharan said.

“It’s difficult to properly express the size of their stacked S and U, but the equivalent would be 0.3 nanometres. This is sufficiently small that you could copy out the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the head of a pin not just once, but thousands of times over,” Manoharan and his nanohologram collaborator Christopher Moon explained.

The team has also shown the salient features of the holographic principle, a property of quantum gravity theories which resolves the black hole information paradox within string theory. They stacked “S” and the “U” – two layers, or pages, of information — within the hologram.

The team stressed their discovery was concentrating electrons in space, in essence, a wire, hoping such a structure could be used to wire together a super-fast quantum computer in the future. In essence, “these electron patterns can act as holograms, that pack information into subatomic spaces, which could one day lead to unlimited information storage,” the study states.

The “Conclusion” of the Stanford article goes as follows:

According to theory, a quantum state can encode any amount of information (at zero temperature), requiring only sufficiently high bandwidth and time in which to read it out. In practice, only recently has progress been made towards encoding several bits into the shapes of bosonic single-photon wave functions, which has applications in quantum key distribution. We have experimentally demonstrated that 35 bits can be permanently encoded into a time-independent fermionic state, and that two such states can be simultaneously prepared in the same area of space. We have simulated hundreds of stacked pairs of random 7 times 5-pixel arrays as well as various ideas for pathological bit patterns, and in every case the information was theoretically encodable. In all experimental attempts, extending down to the subatomic regime, the encoding was successful and the data were retrieved at 100% fidelity. We believe the limitations on bit size are approxlambda/4, but surprisingly the information density can be significantly boosted by using higher-energy electrons and stacking multiple pages holographically. Determining the full theoretical and practical limits of this technique—the trade-offs between information content (the number of pages and bits per page), contrast (the number of measurements required per bit to overcome noise), and the number of atoms in the hologram—will involve further work.Quantum holographic encoding in a two-dimensional electron gas, Christopher R. Moon, Laila S. Mattos, Brian K. Foster, Gabriel Zeltzer & Hari C. Manoharan

The team is not the first to design or print small letters, as attempts have been made since as early as 1960. In December 1959, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, who delivered his now-legendary lecture entitled “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom,” promised new opportunities for those who “thought small.”

Feynman was an American physicist known for the path integral formulation of quantum mechanics, the theory of quantum electrodynamics and the physics of the superfluidity of supercooled liquid helium, as well as work in particle physics (he proposed the parton model).

Feynman offered two challenges at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society, held that year in Caltech, offering a $1000 prize to the first person to solve each of them. Both challenges involved nanotechnology, and the first prize was won by William McLellan, who solved the first. The first problem required someone to build a working electric motor that would fit inside a cube 1/64 inches on each side. McLellan achieved this feat by November 1960 with his 250-microgram 2000-rpm motor consisting of 13 separate parts.

In 1985, the prize for the second challenge was claimed by Stanford Tom Newman, who, working with electrical engineering professor Fabian Pease, used electron lithography. He wrote or engraved the first page of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, at the required scale, on the head of a pin, with a beam of electrons. The main problem he had before he could claim the prize was finding the text after he had written it; the head of the pin was a huge empty space compared with the text inscribed on it. Such small print could only be read with an electron microscope.

In 1989, however, Stanford lost its record, when Donald Eigler and Erhard Schweizer, scientists at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose were the first to position or manipulate 35 individual atoms of xenon one at a time to form the letters I, B and M using a STM. The atoms were pushed on the surface of the nickel to create letters 5nm tall.

In 1991, Japanese researchers managed to chisel 1.5 nm-tall characters onto a molybdenum disulphide crystal, using the same STM method. Hitachi, at that time, set the record for the smallest microscopic calligraphy ever designed. The Stanford effort failed to surpass the feat, but it, however, introduced a novel technique. Having equaled Hitachi’s record, the Stanford team went a step further. They used a holographic variation on the IBM technique, for instead of fixing the letters onto a support, the new method created them holographically.

In the scientific breakthrough, the Stanford team has now claimed they have written the smallest letters ever – assembled from subatomic-sized bits as small as 0.3 nanometers, or roughly one third of a billionth of a meter. The new super-mini letters created are 40 times smaller than the original effort and more than four times smaller than the IBM initials, states the paper Quantum holographic encoding in a two-dimensional electron gas, published online in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. The new sub-atomic size letters are around a third of the size of the atomic ones created by Eigler and Schweizer at IBM.

A subatomic particle is an elementary or composite particle smaller than an atom. Particle physics and nuclear physics are concerned with the study of these particles, their interactions, and non-atomic matter. Subatomic particles include the atomic constituents electrons, protons, and neutrons. Protons and neutrons are composite particles, consisting of quarks.

“Everyone can look around and see the growing amount of information we deal with on a daily basis. All that knowledge is out there. For society to move forward, we need a better way to process it, and store it more densely,” Manoharan said. “Although these projections are stable — they’ll last as long as none of the carbon dioxide molecules move — this technique is unlikely to revolutionize storage, as it’s currently a bit too challenging to determine and create the appropriate pattern of molecules to create a desired hologram,” the authors cautioned. Nevertheless, they suggest that “the practical limits of both the technique and the data density it enables merit further research.”

In 2000, it was Hari Manoharan, Christopher Lutz and Donald Eigler who first experimentally observed quantum mirage at the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, California. In physics, a quantum mirage is a peculiar result in quantum chaos. Their study in a paper published in Nature, states they demonstrated that the Kondo resonance signature of a magnetic adatom located at one focus of an elliptically shaped quantum corral could be projected to, and made large at the other focus of the corral.

Virginia man arrested for plotting to bomb Washington DC metro

Friday, December 28th, 2018

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Virginia man and Afghan national, Awais Younis, was arrested and charged on December 6 for making threatening communications and is currently being subjected to a mental evaluation which was ordered by a Judge during a hearing on December 9. Younis allegedly revealed his plans on the social networking site Facebook and is scheduled for a second hearing on December 21. The unsealed court documents came to the attention of news media today.

Federal authorities said that Younis told the FBI’s witness on Facebook how to construct a pipe bomb and “what type of shrapnel would cause the greatest amount of damage”. The FBI arrested Younis after an informant alerted them about his plans.

According to an FBI statement Younis said that he could hide a pipe bomb under a sewer head in Georgetown and place pipe bombs under the third and fifth metro cars, which contain “the highest number of commuters on them”, without being noticed. However, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, Peter Carr, assured the public that there is no danger, “The public should be reassured that activities prior to his [Younis’] arrest were carefully monitored and that there is no threat against Metrorail or the general public in the Washington, D.C., area”

Younis is also known as Sundullah Ghilzai and Mohhanmed Khan and is either 25 or 26 years old.

Commerce Commission fines BNZ $5 million

Thursday, December 27th, 2018

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The New Zealand Commerce Commission has fined the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ). It has been forced to pay NZ$5 million in compensation to its customers, $500,000 in fines and $80,000 in costs to the Commerce Commission. The money will be placed into a bank account to be monitored by an auditor, and if there is any money left over it will be donated to a consumer organization.

BNZ has been forced to pay these fines for failing to disclose that they were charging their customers for the exchange of foreign currency during February, 2002 until May, 2004 on its credit and debit cards, which is a breach of the Fair Trading Act. They pleaded guilty to 21 counts of breaching the act. The BNZ say that they will contact their affected customers and that they should get their compensation by November this year. The bank is responsible for contacting all their customers.

The BNZ is the third bank to be charged, the two others were ANZ and the National Bank, which were charged $11.325 million combined as they had since become a single company.

There are still other ongoing prosecutions on these other financial services: Westpac, ASB, TSB, American Express, Diners Club and The Warehouse Financial Services. The Commission would not comment on these cases.

This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.

Paula Rebsotck, Commerce Commission Chairperson, said “the result was a victory for New Zealand consumers, many of whom would have unknowingly paid the currency transaction charges. While fees like these remain hidden, banks have no incentive to offer lower fees.”