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  1. Longer blades, taller towers among the reasons wind power is growing in the US. Wind power doesn't make up the largest part of the United States' energy mix, but it grew over the last year, according to the Wind Technologies Market Report. The renewable energy source grew to more than 8 percent of the country's electricity supply—reaching 10 percent in a growing number of states—and saw a whopping $25 billion in investments in what will translate to 16.8 gigawatts of capacity, according to the report. Released by the US Department of Energy, the sizeable report draws on a variety of data sources, including government data from the Energy Information Administration, trade data from the US International Trade Commission, and hourly pricing data from the various system operators. “The report itself covers the entire gamut of the US wind industry,” Mark Bolinger, a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and one of the authors of the report, told Ars. Bigger is sometimes better According to the report, the performance of wind power operations in the US has improved a great deal. We can measure this metric based on capacity factor, a ratio of the amount of energy a turbine actually produces compared to the amount it could have produced if it ran at its peak constantly. For recently constructed wind power projects, the average capacity factor has now cleared 40 percent. The biggest gains in this area, however, are seen in the US's “wind belt,” a region stretching from the Dakotas to Texas that receives a large amount of wind. In large part, this increase is due to longer blades, which allow the turbines to generate more power as they're spun around by the wind. According to the report, in 2010, there were no turbines in the US that had rotors at or above 115 meters in diameter. However, last year, 91 percent of new turbines had rotors of this size or larger. The report also notes that this size is likely to increase. The towers these rotors are attached to are also getting taller, sometimes along with the increase in blade size. According to Bolinger, this move isn't quite as widespread, but “it is starting to creep up now.” In the past, there's been a “soft cap” of 500 feet on the total height of the turbines—from the base of the tower to the tip of the blades—because that triggers greater permitting requirements from the Federal Aviation Administration, he said. But with the size of the rotors increasing recently, the size of the towers themselves also needs to increase to avoid having the blades swing too low to the ground. Developers have gotten more comfortable going over 500 feet, he said, adding that some turbines are reaching 700 feet tall. Even besides the practical reason behind them, taller towers also help the turbines generate more energy. “In general, the winds tend to be stronger at higher altitudes, so this is something that will increase the capacity factor,” he said. The “wind belt” still sees the vast majority of wind development in the US. However, this trend of larger turbines with larger rotors allows wind operators to function quite well in areas that have lower average wind speeds. “That does open up other parts of the country to economical wind development,” he said. There are larger up-front costs to build these larger turbines, but at a dollar-per-watt basis, they end up cheaper. They may be more expensive, but they produce more energy, Bolinger said. Blowin’ in the wind All of this is making wind power cheaper. In 2009, the national average price of wind power purchase agreements reached a peak of $70 per megawatt-hour. Now, in the “wind belt,” it is around $20 per megawatt-hour and averages around $30 per megawatt-hour in the country's eastern and western regions. “These are at, or near, all-time lows,” Bolinger said, although they include the impact of renewable energy tax breaks. Wind also gets indirect subsidies, since it requires power lines to get to people. Wind operations tend to be located far away from major population centers. Bolinger said that, to improve the effectiveness of wind power, there should be better incentives to build these lines and more planning involved in building them. “You need that critical transmission link to move the power from the wind farm to the urban centers where the power can be consumed,” he said. Wind's growth has come in part due to tax breaks and the willingness to pay the costs of expanding the transmission grids. But it also provides benefits that aren't priced in, either. By displacing fossil fuels, wind power can reduce the emissions of various compounds such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide, among others. Human health and the climate benefit from these reductions. The report estimates that the national average economic benefits for these reductions came to $76 per megawatt-hour generated by wind last year. According to Bolinger, this year's report is the first that includes a segment about the health and environmental benefits of the renewable energy source. In the US, wind power is getting bigger and better, report says
  2. US govt offers $10 million reward for tips on nation-state hackers The United States government has taken two more active measures to fight and defend against malicious cyber activities affecting the country’s business and critical infrastructure sectors. One initiative is a website with resources from across the federal government designed to help businesses and communities from ransomware attacks. The other is offering a reward of up to $10 million for information on operations conducted by actors working for a foreign government. Tackling the ransomware threat Earlier this week, the U.S. Government launched the StopRansomware.gov website specifically to help private and public entities mitigate the ransomware threat. It is meant as a central platform for information about ransomware gathered from all federal government agencies, which includes the guidance, the latest alerts, updates, and resources. “StopRansomware.gov includes resources and content from DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the U.S. Secret Service, the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Departments of the Treasury and Health and Human Services” - U.S. Department of Homeland Security The ransomware threat has grown to unprecedent levels lately, with attacks on critical infrastructure and businesses that rippled to the regular individual. Cyberattacks like those on giant JBS Foods, the largest meat producer in the world, on Colonial Pipeline - the main fuel supply line for the U.S. East Coast, or the more recent one on Kaseya, which affected up to 1,500 businesses worldwide, highlighted even more the effort necessary to tackle it. Tracking nation-state hackers On Thursday, the U.S. Department of State announced that its Rewards for Justice (RFJ) program now incentivize reports of foreign malicious activity against U.S. critical infrastructure. The reward is up to $10 million and it is intended for details that can help identify and locate any person that acts on behalf of a foreign government in malicious cyber operations. The actions may include extortion as part of a ransomware attack, stealing information from protected systems, “and knowingly causing the transmission of a program, information, code, or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causing damage without authorization to a protected computer.” “Protected computers include not only U.S. government and financial institution computer systems, but also those used in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce or communication” - U.S. Department of State The payment may be enough to encourge hackers involved in attacks affecting critical infrastructure in the U.S. to turn on each other and get a legal, stress-free payout. To receive the information in a secure fashion and to protect the safety of potential sources, the Department of State set up a tips-reporting service on the dark web: http://he5dybnt7sr6cm32xt77pazmtm65flqy6irivtflruqfc5ep7eiodiad.onion [access through Tor browser] For this purpose, RFJ is using the SecureDrop platform that is typically used by journalists for secure communication with their sources and to protect their identity by using random codes instead of usernames. Additionally, payments through the RFJ program may also be in cryptocurrency, which can help tipsters maintain their anonymity and receive the reward. The RFJ program started in 1984 and has paid more than $200 million to over 100 individuals offering information that helped in the fight against terrorism (prevent terrorist acts, bring terrorists to justice) and deal with threats against the U.S. national security. US govt offers $10 million reward for tips on nation-state hackers
  3. U.S. Has Record-Breaking Day With 3.4 Million Vaccinations Photo: Stephen Zenner (Getty Images) Today the U.S. administered a record-breaking one-day rate of 3.4 million vaccine doses, according to the White House covid-19 response team. Presumably, this was accomplished by the time of the team’s 1:15 pm ET tweet. Hot vaccine summer! Maybe! For some! According to the CDC covid-19 vaccine tracker, over 89.5 million U.S. residents have received at least one dose, and 48.6 million are fully vaccinated. Generally, states with lower populations such as Vermont, the Dakotas, Alaska, Rhode Island, Maine, West Virginia, and Hawaii are receiving the most vaccinations per capita. Meanwhile, outlying U.S. territories including the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands are far behind the national average, along with Alabama and Georgia. Biden can take another victory lap; so far the U.S. has made good on his promise of 100 million shots in his first 100 days, and yesterday he moved the goal post to 200 million shots in that timeframe, which ends April 30th. A few caveats: Bloomberg health care editor Drew Armstrong has reported that a backlog in reporting could be boosting the reported rates in states such as Texas. An analysis of CDC data by the Kaiser Family Foundation found earlier this month that whites are receiving vaccine doses at roughly twice the rates for Black and Latinx people. And poorer countries, too, are stuck waiting while rich countries like the U.S. distribute their plentiful stash; the unequal delay could significantly prolong the pandemic by creating more opportunity for new variants. Bloomberg’s global vaccination map shows no available data for most of Africa, while the United States has raced past most of the world. But here’s a bit of good news for the rest of the world, along with a fun reminder that a few months ago we staring down the prospect of Trump in office and a two-year rollout timeline. Get used to wearing pants and finish that Sopranos binge watch. Source: U.S. Has Record-Breaking Day With 3.4 Million Vaccinations
  4. Im on the East Coast.. and we're currently experiencing an unusual arctic chill.. it's covered pretty much all of US.. with wind chills going down to negative!
  5. Here is Google's Birthday Present from Uncle Sam The United States government has readied an antitrust lawsuit against Google’s search engine, accusing the company of “crushing competition to protect and extend monopoly.” The move comes after a 14-month long investigation, where the US Department of Justice (DoJ) probed whether Google distorts search results to favour its own products and shuts off access to competitors, sources told Bloomberg. This is significant as Google enjoys a major 90 percent control of the US online search segment and generates an enviable $100 billion revenue. Rivals have long complained of abuse of power to “snuff out the competition”. The US is not alone in its concern but had not pursued action against the company since early investigations in 2013. European competition regulators earlier fined Google billions of euros for breaking antitrust laws. Sources told Bloomberg action is expected within the next week or two, after the State attorneys general and Justice Department lawyers complete final preparations for the case this week in Washington. Officials met with Google reps the previous week to discuss accusations of search bias against competitors and providing of Google and other partners as default to users. Moneycontrol could not independently verify the report. “It’s impossible for small search engine competitors to compete with Google’s deep pockets and outbid it for valuable placements like Apple’s browser,” Gabriel Weinberg, CEO of DuckDuckGo, said in his complaint to the DoJ. In a recent statement, a spokesperson for DuckDuckGo said the company is pleased that the DoJ “is going to finally address the elephant in the room: Google’s obvious, overwhelming, and anti-competitive dominance in search,” adding that “a world without search defaults” would benefit consumers. Spearheaded by US Attorney General William Barr, this could now become the country’s biggest monopoly case since the suit against Microsoft in 1998. It also comes amid US President Donald Trump’s crackdown on US tech firms alleging political censoring. William Kovacic, a law professor at George Washington University and a former Fair Trade Commission (FTC) chairman told the publication that the DoJ could make a similar arguments about “demanding exclusivity as a way of excluding rivals” that it used “successfully” against Microsoft in the past. Source
  6. The Commerce Department reportedly says that US companies exporting gear to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation must first get a license to do so. The Beijing branch of Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation. US wariness of Chinese tech firms was underlined again Friday, when the Commerce Department sent a letter to companies in the states reportedly telling them they must get a license before exporting certain goods to China's largest chipmaker, because of concerns about military use of technology. The Commerce Department said in the letter that exports to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation "may pose an unacceptable risk of diversion to a military end use in the People's Republic of China," according to a Saturday report by The New York Times. Last year, the US placed restrictions on companies selling gear to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, over concerns about Huawei's relationship with the Chinese government and fears that its equipment could be used to spy on other countries and companies. And popular video app TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is currently facing a potential ban in the US because of worries that the user data it collects could be shared with China's communist government. Both Huawei and ByteDance have called such concerns baseless. The Times notes that though SMIC is China's most technologically advanced manufacturer of semiconductors, it lags years behind industry-leading chipmakers and can't make chips that support the most cutting-edge applications. And for the processors it does make, it relies on equipment and software from American companies, the Times said. Asked about the Commerce Department's letter and the new export restrictions, a spokesperson for the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security said in a statement to CNET that the BIS can't comment "on any specific matter." The BIS "is constantly monitoring and assessing any potential threats to US national security and foreign policy interests," the spokesperson added, and "will take appropriate action as warranted," along with its interagency partners. SMIC didn't immediately respond to CNET's request for comment, but a spokeswoman for the company told the Times that SMIC makes chips solely for commercial and civilian purposes and has no relationship with China's armed forces. Source
  7. The US Commerce Department has issued a new order to block people in the US from downloading the popular video-sharing app TikTok as of September 20th, Reuters first reported Friday. The full order was published by the Department of Commerce on Friday morning. “Any transaction by any person, or with respect to any property, subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, with ByteDance Ltd,” the order reads, “shall be prohibited to the extent permitted under applicable law.” It is set to take effect on September 20th. Over the last few weeks, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, has been engaged in talks with US companies like Microsoft and Oracle to create a new company, TikTok Global, that would meet the Trump administration’s concerns over user data security. Earlier this month, President Trump sparked negotiations after calling for US TikTok operations to be shut down unless sold to a US company by September 15th. Microsoft has dropped out of the bidding, leaving Oracle and Walmart as the leading candidates to hold stake in the new TikTok company. Still, the administration has yet to strike a deal that meets all of its requirements. Officials told Reuters that a Commerce Department rule banning US downloads of TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps like the messaging platform WeChat could be issued as early as Friday. That rule would reportedly go into effect Sunday, September 20th, banning new downloads of both WeChat and TikTok. “We’ve already committed to unprecedented levels of additional transparency and accountability well beyond what other apps are willing to do, including third-party audits, verification of code security, and US government oversight of US data security,” TikTok said in a statement Friday. “We will continue to challenge the executive order, which was enacted without due process and threatens to deprive American people and small businesses across the US of a significant platform for both a voice and livelihoods.” Reuters said that the administration’s ban would bar Apple and Google from offering any of these Chinese-owned apps in their app stores for US users. The tech companies would still be allowed to offer TikTok to users outside of the US. US-based companies would not be barred from conducting business with the Chinese-owned apps, like how Walmart and Starbucks allow users to make transactions through WeChat. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Reuters Friday, “We have taken significant action to combat China’s malicious collection of American citizens’ personal data, while promoting our national values, democratic rules-based norms, and aggressive enforcement of U.S. laws and regulations.” Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Verge. Source
  8. Last week a massive law enforcement operation against members of The Scene unfolded, targeting release group SPARKS and their affiliates. In a brand new communication released this morning, a Scene entitity reveals that the action took down dozens of sites across 14 countries. It further predicts that more is yet to come and that security needs to be addressed. Last Tuesday, exactly one week ago, unofficial reports began to surface that enforcement action was underway targeting groups and members of ‘The Scene’, the tight-knit entities that are often described as sitting at the top of the so-called ‘Piracy Pyramid’. As the hours began to pass, it was clear the initial reports were true. The unsealing of indictments in the United States, some dating back to January, later revealed that the US Government had homed in on at least three key members of the connected movie and TV show release groups SPARKS, GECKOS, DRONES, ROVERS and SPLiNTERS. On Tuesday, Wednesday and subsequent days, chaos in The Scene was widespread. The USDOJ revealed that an operation was underway on three continents, with law enforcement partners in 18 countries carrying out raids and seizures, declaring that around 60 servers had been taken down. Unofficial reports indicated that the activity was centered on Europe, particularly in Nordic countries, with Eurojust and Europol deeply involved in the operation. New ‘Scene Notice’ – As Close as it Gets to a ‘Scene’ News Release Since then, communication from inside The Scene itself has been sporadic at best but this morning the existence of a so-called ‘Scene Notice’ was revealed on public sites known as ‘pre-databases’. This notice, basically a text file in .NFO format, reveals some interesting information from an insider’s perspective. So-called ‘Scene Notices’ are relatively rare, certainly when compared to the number of content releases put out by The Scene itself. When they do appear, however, they often carry security-related information, decrying one group or other for being insecure or perhaps accusing certain entities of behavior that could undermine operations. Sometimes it’s possible to identify who writes these bulletins (groups or individuals) but in today’s case, the author is unknown. Titled “Scene_busts_And_Mitigations”, we reproduce quotes from it here, with some tidying but with grammatical errors intact. It begins by noting that the purpose of the notice is to shed light on what it describes as the “whole corona era bust”, aka the action against SPARKS and its affiliates. According to the notice, the action was indeed significant and could even be ongoing. “The scene has been hit hard by various agencies from around the globe. Totaling over 29 sites has been busted within 14 country’s, mostly within Europe. As from the looks now it is certain to say that the bust took a big bite out of the ISO scene. Without a doubt, this will not be the last of it since there will be more information available for the feds to chunk through now,” it reads. Indeed, from initial reports on Tuesday, through Wednesday and the rest of last week, we received various reports of continuing actions, most of which were hard or impractical to confirm. It seems logical to conclude, however, that as the authorities scooped up additional individuals suspected of crimes, plus their hardware and perhaps even their cooperation, more and more opportunities for further operations raised their heads. Some sources suggest that the number of sites taken down could already be closer to 50 than 30, but official details are hard to come by. Possible Compromise of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) While many in the lower (sometimes even just slightly lower) echelons of the piracy world now communicate via newer platforms that can include Telegram or Discord, for example, The Scene itself has always had a preference for IRC, aka Internet Relay Chat. Somewhat archaic by today’s pretty GUI-driven chat interface standards, IRC is relatively inaccessible to newcomers but that, and its improved security, have kept it popular with The Scene year after year. However, according to the just-published Scene notice, an aspect of one particular IRC network may have been compromised. “Rumors has it that there was a bust in France from a known user that was also running an IRC server for the linknet IRC network. This is not confirmed nor denied,” it notes. “So please use linknet only with the common security practices (SSL, Blowfish, Channel encryption,” it adds, referring to what should be common security practices, irrespective of whether a raid has happened or is expected in the future. “This rumor should not be taken lightly and it’s advised to keep sites off linknet and use private IRCD [IRC daemon] for any site related actions if possible.” Advice For ‘SiteOps’ and ‘Currys’ Advice for ‘siteops’, or site operators, is also included in the notice. Mostly technical in nature, it again offers tips on keeping platforms secure. Much of it is fairly obvious, such as moving, renaming and otherwise obscuring sites if they hosted any of the groups that were busted. The same goes for ‘currys’, otherwise known as couriers. These groups and/or individuals are involved in the distribution of Scene release to other platforms within the Scene. To carry out their roles, they necessarily have access to a number of sites, so it’s advised that they “avoid insecure sites or sites that are ignoring the security measures.” Again, pretty obvious stuff but it is possible that the less experienced will attempt to carry on as normal. The Future and Recovery of The Scene There’s a general consensus, based on history, that even following seismic events such as the ones witnessed last week, The Scene will eventually recover. The notice acknowledges that “it will take time” to get everything back and running which is perhaps underplaying how serious things are at the moment. Nevertheless, it states that the information was put together for the “love of the scene.” “[W]e will [be] back and we will thrive again! Thoughts are with the fallen ones,” it concludes. Again, it’s unclear who authored this notice, whether they hold any position of authority, or whether any of the mitigation suggestions will have any meaningful effect on the recovery rate of The Scene. In any event, it seems unlikely that normal business will be resumed any time soon since trust and stability, The Scene’s most valuable commodities, are currently its most scarce. Source: TorrentFreak
  9. The raids and arrests this week targeting piracy release group SPARKS have caused chaos in The Scene, with members and groups going into hiding and new releases dropping like a stone. The targeting of just one group shouldn't have such a massive effect but it seems probable that in the weeks and months to come, we'll learn that one weak spot can be exploited to undermine a much larger infrastructure. This Tuesday, TorrentFreak received more rapid-fire anonymous tips than we have done in recent memory. Demanding confidentiality is nothing new but tipsters and sources using anonymous mailers, obscured IP addresses, alongside repeat requests that identities aren’t revealed, usually point to something particularly unusual. And indeed, something unusual was definitely underway. Late Tuesday, documents filed under seal in the United States as early as January 2020 were suddenly unsealed, revealing one of the most important piracy-related cases of the past decade. As detailed in our report yesterday, a case brought by the US Government resulted in a Grand Jury charging at least three members of several and related top-tier ‘Scene’ release groups – SPARKS, GECKOS, DRONES, ROVERS and SPLiNTERS – with conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement and other crimes. The US case has been ongoing for many months and the investigation certainly longer. Exactly how long was unknown until yesterday when a Swedish prosecutor revealed that it had been underway “for years”. However, What took us by surprise was the volume of reports on Tuesday, the claims of panic and fear in ‘The Scene’ globally, and what now appears to be a significant reduction of releases of all kinds from what is usually a prolific and cascading ‘Piracy Pyramid’ system. Initial Information Proved Correct People closely involved in The Scene are naturally secretive, or at least that’s the mandate. The truth is that some are prepared to talk but everyone is so scared of being caught by the authorities or labeled by fellow members as insecure, that truly verifiable sources are extremely hard to come by. As a result, reporting the finer details becomes a product of overlapping independent sources, none of whom want to be identified, which isn’t ideal. Nevertheless, during Tuesday we were told by multiple sources that topsites and warez-affiliated members and resources were being targeted by law enforcement, anti-piracy groups, or a combination of both in many regions. What they all had in common was that the entities were affiliated with SPARKS and various topsites. Another recurring theme was the focus on Nordic countries as being at the heart of action. Many countries were mentioned, including the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Poland but, again and again, the reports cited both Norway and Sweden as potentially the main ‘problem’ areas. US Department of Justice Began Talking Yesterday In an official announcement Wednesday, following the initial yet unofficial reports of raids 24 hours earlier and after the unsealing of the indictments, the USDOJ revealed the global scale of the operation against SPARKS and its affiliates. “Thanks to the efforts of HSI, the Postal Inspection Service, Eurojust, Europol, and our law enforcement partners in 18 countries on three continents, key members of this group are in custody, and the servers that were the pipeline for wholesale theft of intellectual property are now out of service,” the announcement read. The US revealed that law enforcement authorities in many countries assisted in the investigation against SPARKS including those in Canada, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Republic of Korea, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. SPARKS member George Bridi, 50, was reportedly arrested on Sunday in Cyprus on an INTERPOL Red Notice. Correa (aka ‘Raid’), 36, was arrested Tuesday in Olathe, Kansas, where he will appear in federal court. Umar Ahmad (aka ‘Artist’), 39, was not arrested and as of Wednesday was reportedly still at large, according to the US Government. The Nordic Connection Several pieces of information received by TF during Tuesday indeed placed someone known as ‘Artist’ as a central and important figure in the action taking place. Umar Ahmad is now officially named as that key person but according to his indictment, the US Government is not seeking to prosecute him for SPARKS-related offenses beyond January 2020. That’s also the case for George Bridi, an indicted co-defendant whose alias is currently unknown. The only SPARKS defendant charged with offenses up to August 2020 is Jonatan Correa, aka ‘Raid’. While there is room for speculation as to what may have happened here, it seems somewhat reasonable to conclude (at least given the charges) that Ahmad and Bridi stopped their alleged offending months ago. However, according to records kept by Scene-watching sites (known as pre-databases), SPARKS-related groups continued releasing content online until fairly recently. That aside, what we can confirm today is that Norway’s National Criminal Investigation Service, commonly known as Kripos, carried out raids at several premises this week and seized computer equipment on what is being described as a “large scale”. In addition, three men – who are yet to be named but are in their 30s and 40s – were arrested and charged for breaches of Norway’s Copyright Act. It is not currently known whether 39-year-old Oslo-resident Umar Ahmad is among them. Danish authorities have also confirmed that four men, aged between 35 and 48, had their homes searched and were subsequently charged with copyright infringement offenses. Servers and other pieces of IT equipment were seized. Source: Some Warning Signs Were Spotted a While Ago It’s certainly possible that SPARKS members were absolutely oblivious to the US Government’s investigation but according to one difficult-to-verify source, who insisted on anonymity but spoke with us at length and in considerable detail, this year and “before COVID”, some Scene members were questioning why a particular SPARKS member had suddenly “retired”. We are not publishing that member’s name here (which we believe was provided to us in advance of the unsealing of the US indictment) but according to the same source, another possibly-connected mystery was still lingering. The source alleges that some months earlier an individual connected to a separate yet prominent release group also “went afk” and suddenly stopped providing content. Again, we aren’t publishing the name of that group or the nickname of the person involved but we can confirm that the alleged group stopped releasing several months before the end of 2019. This led to rumors that one or both may have been compromised and hadn’t just taken a break. The relevance is that, according to the same insider, the pair (coincidentally or not) are believed to have shared the same content sources. Again, this is unconfirmed information but the first group has never returned to action and the second has the US Government on the attack after uncovering where it was obtaining its DVD and Blu-Ray discs from. Significant Legal Action in Sweden After receiving initial information, which was later confirmed by the USDOJ, that significant action had taken place in Sweden. On Tuesday, we spoke with Jon Karlung, the owner of ISP Bahnhof, which we were informed may have been visited by the authorities investigating SPARKS. That turned out not to be the case. Karlung told us that nobody had visited the company nor requested information. However, he said that with 400,000 households and 10,000 companies as clients, plus the company’s sale of bandwidth capacity to other ISPs, he couldn’t rule out that someone way down the chain, even a client of someone else, may have been visited. Whether connected to this specific ISP or not, multiple sources informed us that at least one topsite affiliated with multiple groups utilized a high-bandwidth home link in Sweden, with another topsite connected to multiple groups also seized in the country. What we know from official sources is that there were 14 house searches carried out in Sweden on Tuesday, including in Umeå, Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm. No one was arrested during the raids but according to prosecutor Johanna Kolga, more servers were seized in Sweden than anywhere else. Netherlands Action and the Existence of MLATs Finding information about what happened in the Netherlands led us to Tim Kuik of anti-piracy group BREIN. We put it to him that if anyone in the country knows anything about the case, it must be him. Like most other people, Kuik wasn’t budging on detail. But he did offer a plausible explanation for the silence. “It is an interesting case indeed. It is entirely possible for so-called MLATs to be carried out on the request of say US law enforcement and the Dutch authorities carrying it out without informing any private stakeholders,” Kuik told us. “In such cases it may be so that stakeholders abroad, who may have filed a criminal complaint for example, have been made aware and would not be at liberty to say anything about it. So nobody is likely to comment I think. But you can always try. I have no comment.” Later, however, Eurojust – the European Union Agency for Criminal Justice Cooperation – confirmed that it “helped transmit and facilitate the execution of over 30 Mutual Legal Assistance requests and Letters of Request necessary for taking down the servers and executing searches..” In all, over 60 servers were taken down in North America, Europe and Asia and “several main suspects” were arrested, the agency added. Interesting Allegations, Few New Releases, and Kevin Bacon Over the past 48+ hours, TF has been provided with a list of topsites and related infrastructure that has either been raided or taken down as a precautionary measure. The dozen-plus platforms will therefore remain unnamed, as we simply cannot determine which of the platforms are offline voluntarily, or down because they have been seized. This leads us to why so many sites and other key pieces of infrastructure have disappeared, apparently just because one group was targeted. The reasons, we are told, are complex but can be boiled down to the number of connections SPARKS had in The Scene. One recurring theme is that one of SPARKS’ members is claimed to have become quite influential and as a result may have “extended his tentacles too far”, as one source framed it. These connections, with many other groups and activities, may go some way to explaining why The Scene all but shut down Tuesday. If we take Bacon’s Law and apply it here, the response makes complete sense. Nevertheless, the scale of the shutdown is unusual, to say the least, and only time will tell if The Scene will fully recover. For the average torrent or streaming site user, a period of reduced new content availability might be on the horizon but history shows us that rarely lasts for long and that the cycle will probably begin again, once people have figured out who they can trust. Source: TorrentFreak
  10. More than one out of every 50 people in the US is known to have or have had COVID-19. Coronavirus cases surpassed 8 million in the US on Friday. America surpassed 8 million cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The grim milestone that puts the US ahead of every other country in terms of total cases. Over 218,000 coronavirus deaths have been reported in the US as well, again setting a record that represents about 20% of total deaths worldwide. COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, has rapidly spread across the globe, infecting nearly 40 million and killing over 1.1 million. Beside the US, India has the highest number of cases, at almost 7.4 million, while some countries like New Zealand have all but eliminated COVID-19 with the number of active infections now at zero. Experts expect an end to the pandemic will begin once vaccines that prevent against the coronavirus become widely available sometime in 2021. Here's a list of all the symptoms of COVID-19, according to the CDC, as well as a list of places to buy the most popular face masks on sale now. Source
  11. As the United States continues its struggle with the pandemic-induced economic recession and a sputtering recovery, the country's burgeoning debt is not anyone's top concern these days. Even deficit hawks are urging a dysfunctional Washington and a chaotic White House to approve another round of badly needed stimulus to the tune of trillions. "The US federal budget is on an unsustainable path, has been for some time," Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said this week. But, Powell added, "This is not the time to give priority to those concerns." However, when the country eventually pulls out of its current health and economic crises, Americans will be left with a debt hangover. On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that for fiscal year 2020, which ended September 30, the US deficit hit $3.13 trillion -- or 15.2% of GDP -- thanks to the chasm between what the country spent ($6.55 trillion) and what it took in ($3.42 trillion) for the year. As a share of the economy, the estimated 2020 deficit is more than triple what the annual deficit was in 2019. And it's the highest it has been since just after World War II. The reason for the huge year-over-year jump is simple: Starting this spring, the federal government spent more than $4 trillion to help stem the economic pain to workers and businesses caused by sudden and widespread business shutdowns. And most people agree more money will need to be spent until the White House manages to get the Covid-19 crisis under control. The Treasury Department won't put out final numbers for fiscal year 2020 until later this month. But if the CBO's estimates are on the mark, the country's total debt owed to investors -- which is essentially the sum of annual deficits that have accrued over the years -- will have outpaced the size of the economy, coming in at nearly 102% of GDP, according to calculations from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The debt hasn't been that high since 1946, when the federal debt was 106.1% of GDP. "Debt is the size of the economy today, and soon it will be larger than any time in history," CRFB president Maya MacGuineas said. The problem with such high debt levels going forward is that they will increasingly constrain what the government can do to meet the country's needs. Spending is projected to continue rising and is far outpacing revenue. And interest payments alone on the debt -- even if rates remain low -- will consume an ever-growing share of tax dollars. Given the risks of future disruptions, like a pandemic, a debt load that already is outpacing economic growth puts the country at greater risk of a fiscal crisis, which in turn would require sharp cuts to the services and benefits on which Americans rely. "There is no set tipping point at which a fiscal crisis becomes likely or imminent, nor is there an identifiable point at which interest costs as a percentage of GDP become unsustainable," CBO director Phillip Swagel said last month. "But as the debt grows, the risks become greater." Fact Since 1970, the federal government has run deficits during every fiscal year for all but four years, from 1998 to 2001. Source
  12. Russia wants no-hack pact, CERTs and nuclear agencies to conduct regular chit-chats Russia has taken the unusual step of posting a proposal for a new information security collaboration with the United States of America, including a no-hack pact applied to electoral affairs. The document, titled "Statement by President of Russia Vladimir Putin on a comprehensive program of measures for restoring the Russia – US cooperation in the filed [sic] of international information security", opens by saying "one of today's major strategic challenges is the risk of a large-scale confrontation in the digital field" before adding: "A special responsibility for its prevention lies on the key players in the field of ensuring international information security (IIS)." Russia therefore wants to reach agreement with the USA on "a comprehensive program of practical measures to reboot our relations in the field of security in the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs)". Putin suggested four actions could set the ball rolling: Resuming "regular full-scale bilateral interagency high-level dialogue on the key issues of ensuring IIS". Establishing and maintaining "continuous and effective functioning of the communication channels between competent agencies of our States through Nuclear Risk Reduction Centers, Computer Emergency Readiness Teams and high-level officials in charge of the issues of IIS within the bodies involved in ensuring national security, including that of information". Jointly developing "a bilateral intergovernmental agreement on preventing incidents in the information space similarly to the Soviet-American Agreement on the Prevention of Incidents On and Over the High Seas in force since 25 May 1972". That agreement aimed to reduce the chance of a maritime incident between the then-USSR and the USA, and included de-escalation measures to stop an incident going nuclear. Exchanging "guarantees of non-intervention into internal affairs of each other, including into electoral processes, inter alia, by means of the ICTs and high-tech methods". Russia stands accused of interfering in the 2016 US presidential election with widespread use of fake social media accounts. The USA's Federal Bureau of Investigations last week warned: "Foreign actors and cybercriminals could create new websites, change existing websites, and create or share corresponding social media content to spread false information in an attempt to discredit the electoral process and undermine confidence in US democratic institutions." On 17 September FBI director Christopher Ray testified before the House Homeland Security Committee Events and named Russia as a nation already interfering in this year's elections (video below). Source
  13. US-broadcaster DISH Network is suing a former reseller of IPTV services SET TV and Simply-TV in a Florida court. It's alleged that the defendant continued to sell pirate IPTV subscriptions under various brands, even after DISH obtained damages awards of $120m and an order to prevent ongoing violations. Back in 2018, broadcaster DISH Network sued pirate IPTV service SET TV for offering numerous TV channels that had been illegally obtained from DISH’s satellite service. In November 2018 that particular lawsuit came to end when SET TV’s operators were ordered by a Florida court to pay $90 million in statutory damages. However, DISH wasn’t convinced its work was done when it came to similar if not identical services still in operation. DISH Targets Pirate IPTV Service Simply-TV In March 2019, DISH and NagraStar filed another lawsuit in Florida, targeting several individuals and companies collectively doing business as Simply-TV, a $20 per month service which several users described as having many similarities to SET TV. DISH complained that Simply-TV worked with SET TV-related entities that capture DISH content without permission, with Simply-TV also re-selling the service to others under their own brands and pricing structures. The Florida court quickly handed down a temporary restraining order and later in April, converted that to a comprehensive preliminary injunction. In August 2019, DISH was awarded $30 million in statutory damages and an order that permanently enjoined the Simply-TV defendants “and anyone acting in active concert or participation” with them from “retransmitting or copying, or assisting others in retransmitting or copying, any of DISH’s satellite or over-the-top Internet transmissions of television programming or any content contained therein.” DISH Sues Former SET TV and Simply-TV Reseller Lisa Crawford According to yet another IPTV lawsuit filed in Florida, DISH is now continuing its battle against an individual it claims was not only a reseller of the SET TV service but also of Simply-TV. DISH claims that an individual called Lisa Crawford along with business entities including LC One LLC, LC Pryme Enterprises LLC, LC Pryme Holdings LLC, LC Pryme One Enterprises LLC, and several others, ignored the orders of the Court in the previous cases by continuing to breach the broadcaster’s rights. Noting that Crawford initially acted as a reseller for SET TV, when that was shut down she began reselling Simply-TV packages. When that service was ended she moved on again by allegedly selling and supporting new pirate IPTV services including Prime Tyme TV, Lazer TV Streams, Griff TV, and Flix Streams. “Just like the SET TV and Simply-TV pirate streaming services, the new Pirate IPTV Services being facilitated by Crawford and the Pirate IPTV Entities are, and have been retransmitting DISH programming received from DISH’s satellite television service without authorization from DISH,” the complaint reads. DISH Demands Damages & Injunction Under the FCA DISH’s claims against Crawford, the LLCs, and the various IPTV brands are being actioned under the Federal Communications Act, specifically 47 U.S.C. § 605(a) and 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(4) which relate to illegal reception/retransmission and selling devices that facilitate access to DISH’s satellite programming. In common with the lawsuits against SET TV and Simply-TV, DISH also demands a permanent injunction preventing Crawford and the various entities from illegally obtaining and distributing its television content, and manufacturing or selling configured devices and/or subscriptions. DISH also seeks an order that will remove advertising and social media pages promoting Prime Tyme TV, Lazer TV Streams, Griff TV, and Flix Streams, and an order that will allow it to take control of any and all websites used to offer the services. DISH also wants access to all records relating to IPTV devices and subscription sales, including the details of those who purchased them. In respect of damages, DISH demands up to $100,000 for each violation of 47 U.S.C. § 605(a) and up to $100,000 for each violation of 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(4). As the earlier cases show, potential awards can easily reach tens of millions of dollars. The full complaint can be found here (pdf) Source: TorrentFreak
  14. YouTube-rippers FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com have petitioned the US Supreme Court to take up their case. Several major music companies sued the sites over copyright infringement but thus far the legal battle has been focused on the jurisdiction issue. The Russian owner of the sites now asks the Supreme Court to look at the matter and avoid a dangerous precedent. YouTube rippers are seen as the largest piracy threat to the music industry, and record labels are doing their best to shut them down. In 2017, YouTube-MP3, the world’s largest ripping site at the time, shut down after being sued, and several others followed voluntarily. A group of music companies hoped to achieve the same with FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com. The sites’ Russian owner Tofig Kurbanov was taken to court in the United States in 2018, accused of facilitating mass copyright infringement. Quick Dismissal and Appeal The music companies were hoping for a quick win but they got the opposite. Kurbanov fought back and before the copyright issues were discussed, the complaint was already dismissed. A Virginia federal court ruled that the music companies lacked personal jurisdiction as the sites were operated from abroad and didn’t ‘purposefully’ target or interact with US users. The music companies were not happy with the ruling and appealed the matter at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, with success. The appeals court found that there are more than sufficient facts to conclude that Kurbanov purposefully conducted business in the US, specifically the state of Virginia. Supreme Court Petition The outcome of the appeal came as a disappointment to Kurbanov and his legal team. They are convinced that the district court had it right and pointed out several seemingly conflicting jurisdiction rulings in US courts. To obtain more clarity, they decided to take the matter to the Supreme Court. This week, Kurbanov’s lawyers officially submitted their petition which describes the problem at hand, as well as the questions they would like to see answered. Specifically, Kurbanov asks the Supreme Court whether his due process rights are violated when he is subjected to the jurisdiction of a US Court, simply because his websites are frequently used there. Also, whether minor internet-based and internet-initiated transactions are sufficient to warrant jurisdiction. Clashing Precedents These jurisdiction questions are not new. There are several precedents from similar cases but many of these are contradictory. According to the petition, lower courts are deeply split on some core issues. For example, rulings from the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits contradict the Seventh and Tenth Circuits on whether the use of “purely virtual” contacts are sufficient to warrant personal jurisdiction. That is particularly important for Internet-related cases such as this one. Disagreement also exists on whether having a registered DMCA agent subjects a site operator to the jurisdiction of a US court, as the Fourth Circuit court concluded in this case. “The Fourth Circuit held that it was jurisdictionally relevant that the Websites appointed a U.S. DMCA agent to receive infringement complaints. This decision conflicts with decisions from other circuits, other Fourth Circuit panels, and this Court, all of which have held the appointment of an agent for service of process is irrelevant,” the petition reads. Geo-Blocking Another fiercely contended issue relates to geoblocking. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals found that because FLVTO.biz and 2conv.com failed to block US visitors and allowed advertisers to geo-target US citizens, jurisdiction is warranted. This is a dangerous conclusion, the petition notes. Using the same logic, a US citizen could be subject to the jurisdiction of a Chinese court, if he or she fails to block Chinese visitors. “If allowed to stand, it will subject website operators to personal jurisdiction in every location where their website is accessible, regardless of whether the defendant has expressly aimed his conduct at the forum or otherwise has the constitutionally required minimum contacts,” the petition explains. Because of the lack of clarity and disagreement in various courts, Kurbanov hopes that the Supreme Court will take on the matter. These questions come up in many cases and could have widespread consequences, so a detailed ruling would be welcome. Clarity Is Needed Evan Fray-Witzer, one of the attorneys representing Kurbanov, is hopeful that the petition will be granted. Not just for his client, but to resolve the present legal uncertainty for all website operators. “If you operate a website that is popular, then you’re subject to jurisdiction anywhere – and everywhere – that people access the website. And that’s not a precedent that anyone should want to stand because if Kurbanov can be dragged into court here from Russia, then any U.S. citizen who creates a popular website can expect to be dragged into court anywhere in the world,” Fray-Witzer says. The attorney invites the music companies to join their request. While they are on the opposite side of the argument, they can benefit from more clarity as well. “If the record companies are so certain that the Fourth Circuit got this question right, then they should be anxious for the Supreme Court to take up the case. We invite them to join our petition and ask the Supreme Court to weigh in on these crucial jurisdictional questions. But I’m not holding my breath that they’ll do so.” — A copy of the petition for writ of certiorari, submitted to the US Supreme Court, is available here (pdf). Source: TorrentFreak
  15. (Reuters) - New coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in record numbers swept through more U.S. states, including Florida and Texas, as most push ahead with reopening and President Donald Trump plans an indoor rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. People drink outside a bar during the reopening phase following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in the East Village neighborhood of New York City, New York, U.S., June 13,2020. Alabama, Florida and South Carolina reported a record number of new cases for the third day in a row on Saturday, which many state health officials partly attribute to gatherings over the Memorial Day holiday weekend in late May. Oklahoma reported record new cases for the second day in a row, and Alaska did so for the first time in weeks. Arizona and Nevada reported a near-record number of new cases. In Louisiana, which had been one of the earlier virus hotspots, new cases were again on the rise with over 1,200 - the most there since May 21. Nationally, there were over 25,000 new cases reported on Saturday, the highest tally for a Saturday since May 2, in part due to a significant increase in testing over the past six weeks. Perhaps more troubling for health officials is many of these states are also seeing record hospitalizations - a metric not affected by increased testing. Arkansas, North Carolina, Texas and Utah all had a record number of patients enter the hospital on Saturday. In South Carolina, 69% to 77% of hospital beds are occupied, depending on the region. While Utah’s governor announced last week that most of the state would pause its reopening, no state is talking about a second shutdown as they face budget shortfalls and double-digit unemployment. Many went ahead with reopenings before meeting government infection rate guidelines for doing so. Fears that a second wave of infections is happening - or that states failed to curb their first wave - prompted health officials to plead with the public to wear masks and avoid large gatherings. Trump still plans to hold his first campaign rally since early March on Saturday in Tulsa, although those attending will have to agree not to hold the campaign responsible if they contract COVID-19. About a third of the record new cases in the state came from Tulsa County, according to state data. The Tulsa Health Department on Friday said the outbreak was linked to indoor gatherings. Hospitalizations and the percent of tests coming back positive have been steady in the state. “I have concerns about large groups of people gathering indoors for prolonged lengths of time. It is imperative that anyone who chooses to host or attend a gathering take the steps to stay safe,” said Bruce Dart, the department’s executive director, in a statement that advised people at gatherings to wear masks. Trump has refused to wear a mask at a series of recent public events. Source
  16. A batch of CBD oil that was distributed nationwide in the US has been recalled after it tested positive for high levels of lead. The FDA warns that consuming this CBD oil could potentially result in lead poisoning, a serious condition that could, among other things, result in kidney damage and shock. There haven’t been any consumer complaints related to the CBD, however. The voluntary recall comes from Summit Labs for its Kore Organic CBD oil, specifically a batch of watermelon-flavored tincture from which a sample tested with 4.7ppm of lead. The high lead sample came from the recalled Batch #730 Lot#K018, which contained 30ml bottles of 15mg 450x products sold to consumers. The high level was detected in a random sample tested by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service. Summit Labs reports that it tested a sample from the same batch and found that the lead levels were within the legal limits at 0.5ppm. Despite that, the entire batch has been recalled based on the sample that tested with high levels. Assuming a consumer purchased a unit of the CBD oil that features high levels of lead, the FDA says it is possible that this could lead to high lead exposure and acute lead poisoning. Symptoms of this condition vary and may include things like nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, muscle weakness, paresthesia, low appetite, weight loss, a metallic taste in the mouth, and more. As expected, consumers are advised to stop using the recalled CBD oil and to return it to Summit Labs. The company is alerting customers and distributors about the recall using multiple methods, including personal visits and phone calls. Consumers can also attempt to return the product to the store where they bought it to get a full refund. Source
  17. SAN DIEGO (AP) — U.S. authorities arrested 32 people at a demonstration Monday that was organized by a Quaker group on the border with Mexico, authorities said. Demonstrators were calling for an end to detaining and deporting immigrants and showing support for migrants in a caravan of Central American asylum seekers. A photographer for The Associated Press saw about a dozen people being handcuffed after they were told by agents to back away from a wall that the Border Patrol calls “an enforcement zone.” The American Friends Service Committee, which organized the demonstration, said 30 people were stopped by agents in riot gear and taken into custody while they tried to move forward to offer a ceremonial blessing near the wall. Border Patrol spokesman Eduardo Olmos said 31 people were arrested on suspicion of trespassing by the Federal Protective Service and one was arrested by the Border Patrol for assaulting an agent. More than 300 people, many the leaders of churches, mosques, synagogues and indigenous communities, participated in the demonstration at San Diego’s Border Field State Park, which borders Tijuana, Mexico. Source
  18. An invasive tick that feeds on humans, pets, livestock and wildlife is now making a new home for itself in the United States. The Asian longhorned tick (Haemaphysalis longicornis) is a potentially disease-carrying, blood-sucking species native to East Asia. Last year, however, this exotic pest was somehow found in the US state of New Jersey, hitching a ride on a sheep, thousands of kilometres from home. Since then, this intrepid and opportunistic explorer has been popping up all over, in multiple different states, including New York, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Arkansas, Connecticut and Maryland. It's the first invasive tick to emerge in the US in nearly 80 years, and researchers think it is here to stay. A new study suggests that the steady and furtive creep of the Asian longhorned tick has only just begun. "The Asian longhorned tick is a very adaptable species, especially in its native East Asia,"says lead author Ilia Rochlin, an entomologist at the Rutgers University Center for Vector Biology. "The optimal tick habitat appears to be defined by temperate conditions--moderate temperature, humidity, and precipitation. These climatic conditions also support forested or shrubby vegetation, providing prime environment for ticks." And unfortunately, these ideal conditions are found right across North America. Using climate and environmental data from the tick's home in China, Japan and Korea, Rochlin created a statistical model that identifies similarly suitable habitats in the US and Canada. The findings reveal that much of North America is a veritable breeding ground for the Asian longhorned tick, with moderate to high suitability. Vast regions of this continent, including the west coast and especially the east coast, were found to boast ideal humid temperatures and subtropical broadleaf forests in which these ticks commonly flourish. "Similar to China's mainland, this potential H. longicornis habitat in North America is limited by low temperatures in the north, by dry climatic conditions in the west, and by high temperatures in the south," the study concludes. This leaves plenty of room for movement. Dipping down to northern Florida and stretching all the way up to southeastern Canada; tracing the Gulf coast as far as Louisiana; reaching inland to the Midwest and southeastern states; running along the northern coast of California and Oregon, and speckling the waterline of Washington. The regions where this tick could potentially set up residence are immense. The results are concerning, because this tick is notorious for carrying disease, and this puts all of its food sources in North America at risk, including goats, sheep, cattle, pigs, deer, cats, dogs, rats, mice, hedgehogs, birds and even humans. At present, there is no evidence that the longhorned tick has transmitted any diseases in the US, but given its track record, expectations are not good, prompting the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) to issue a warning about the invasive species last month. In its homeland, this tick has been found to carry a severe, fever-inducing virus of the Phlebovirus genus. And incidentally, this emerging disease is closely related to the Heartland virus in the US, which is currently transported by the Lone Star tick. "Introduction of a tick species that is a competent vector for a closely related virus should be a matter of concern for the public health agencies and requires further investigations," the study argues. But perhaps the biggest worry has to do with livestock. In Australia and New Zealand, where this invasive species has already set up camp, the Asian longhorned tick has been found to carry bovine theileriosis, which can result in costly production losses and high mortality. This blood-sucking tick can even cause a dairy cow's milk production to drop by as much as 25 percent. Given the species' tiny size, its versatility and its ability to asexually reproduce, laying thousands of eggs at a time, Rochlin says that eradicating it from the US will be extremely difficult if not impossible. The only thing we really can do at this stage is keep tabs on this parasite as closely as possible. "The main question I am often asked is 'What can be done about ticks?' - and I don't have a good answer to that. While research and surveillance are important, we are in dire need of comprehensive tick-control strategy and new tools to carry it out," Rochlin says. "Mosquito control has been very successful in this country, but we are losing the battle with tick-borne diseases." This study has been published in the Journal of Medical Entomology. source
  19. The U.S. was ranked one of the deadliest countries for journalists in 2018 for the first time in an annual report from Reporters Without Borders. The U.S. ranked sixth among the most lethal countries for journalists, behind Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, Yemen and India, in that order. Six journalists were killed in the U.S. this year. Four journalists, as well as a sales assistant, were killed in June when a gunman opened fire at the Annapolis, Md. offices of the Capital Gazette. Two other journalists, a North Carolina television anchor and cameraman, were killed by a falling tree while covering a hurricane in May. Overall, more journalists were killed, abused and subjected to violence in 2018 than in any other year on record, according to the report, which added that reporters are facing an “unprecedented level of hostility." Murder, imprisonment, hostage-taking and enforced disappearances of journalists all increased compared to last year. A total of 80 journalists were killed in 2018, with 49 murdered or deliberately targeted while 31 were killed while reporting. While the report partially blames bombings and shootings targeting the media in Afghanistan with the increase in deaths, 45 percent of those killed were not in conflict zones. In 2018, 348 reporters were detained and 60 were held hostage. China leads the world in detentions, with 60 journalists held in that country. Thirty-one journalists are being held hostage in Syria. “Violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels this year, and the situation is now critical,” Reporters Without Borders Secretary General Christophe Deloire said in a press release. “The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists,” he added. The October murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who resided in Virginia, in Istanbul sparked international outrage. The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the hit as part of his crackdown on dissent. Reporters Without Borders has been heavily involved in the #ProtectJournalists campaign, which calls for the appointment of a special representative of the United Nations secretary general for the protection of journalists. Source
  20. It appeared to be a sweet, easy way to import large loads of cocaine from southern California to the highly-profitable and unquenchable market of Australia. Owen Hanson, the good-looking former University of Southern California athlete turned cocaine kingpin and leader of violent criminal enterprise ODOG, teamed up with Los Angeles-based fine chocolate importer/exporters Nathan and Andrew Dulley. Hanson and his California-based henchmen would drop off large batches of cocaine - usually in quantities of tens of kilograms or more - and the Dulley brothers would intermix and package the drugs with legitimate chocolate merchandise to disguise it from the shipper and Australian and US customs authorities. The Dulleys would use their established import/export routes, and when the shipments landed in Australia ODOG members would distribute the drugs. Just like Hanson, sentenced in a San Diego court last year to more than 21 years in prison, the Dulleys, Nathan, 36, and Andrew, 34, now face long jail stints in America's federal prison system. The brothers entered guilty pleas to international drug trafficking charges in San Diego on Thursday to become the latest affiliates of the ODOG drug, money laundering and illegal gambling syndicate to fall following a highly-successful joint covert operation by NSW Police, the NSW Crime Commission, FBI and US Drug Enforcement Administration. So far 22 other defendants charged in connection with the case have pleaded guilty in US courts. "Transnational racketeering organisations represent a clear and present danger to the safety and security of our communities," US Attorney for the southern district of California Adam Braverman said. "Those who assist such criminal enterprises by allowing the corruption of their otherwise legitimate businesses will be held accountable for the harm wrought on our communities." The gangster lifestyle that Hanson, a muscle-bound playboy and former member of the champion USC gridiron team, had enjoyed collapsed when New South Wales police, the FBI and other authorities swooped on him at a golf course near San Diego in 2015. The 36-year-old was attracted to the huge profits he could make by trafficking cocaine to eager buyers in Australia. He boasted how he could sell a kilogram of cocaine in Australia for US$175,000 (NZ$262,885) compared to US$20,000 in Los Angeles. His downfall began in 2011 with the discovery in a Sydney hotel room of a suitcase containing A$702,000 (NZ$760,305) cash. Authorities followed a trail that eventually led them to Hanson and ODOG. At Hanson's sentencing last year prosecutor Andrew Young described how Hanson fashioned himself as a mob boss. He used the handle "Don Corleone" on his encrypted Blackberry and insisted a restaurant he was a partner in had a "Wise Guy Room" adorned with mob photos. Professional gambler Robert Cipriani told the court how Hanson embarked on a terror campaign against him and his actress girlfriend Greice Santo in an attempt to recoup money Hanson demanded. Hanson had red paint splattered on Cipriani's mother's grave and sent DVDs to the couple showing actual beheadings of people with a chainsaw and knife. Source
  21. The trade war is starting to hurt the Asian nation, depressing the consumer spending that the Alibaba relies on to drive much of its growth. Alibaba trimmed its annual forecast after quarterly sales missed estimates, underscoring the extent to which escalating tensions with the US are hurting the Chinese economy. For the fiscal year ending March, the company is now predicting revenue of 375 billion yuan ($54.5 billion) to 383 billion yuan, equating to growth of as much as 53% versus the 60% it guided towards previously. Second-quarter sales came in 1.6% below analysts’ estimates. While the US and China appear willing to discuss a deal of some sort, Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma has warned of longer-term conflict between the world’s two largest economies. The trade war is starting to hurt the Asian nation, depressing the consumer spending that the online giant relies on to drive much of its growth. Domestically, it’s grappling with a migration of smaller merchants to cheaper platforms such as JD.com and Pinduoduo, both backed by nemesis Tencent. “China’s e-commerce sector will feel the drag of the economy slowdown even more next year,” said Steven Zhu, an analyst with Pacific Epoch. “Platforms like Pinduoduo are charging much lower in commissions, posing significant competition to Alibaba.” Heightening the uncertainty, Chinese regulators are clamping down on the country’s internet sector, reining in everything from gaming apps and travel sites to ride-hailing. That’s exacerbating already slowing growth in Alibaba’s business. The Hangzhou-based company is trying to counter that by stepping up its marketing services and investing in its own grocery stores and delivery to boost sales. Alibaba’s closely watched customer management revenue, which includes the high-margin business of helping merchants with marketing, grew 25%– down a tad from the previous quarter’s 26%. Other divisions however remained humming — the cloud business grew 90%. Youku, its Netflix-style video service, more than doubled its average daily subscribers, while the international business — a relatively smaller piece of the pie — grew 55%. Revenue at China’s biggest e-commerce company rose 54% to 85.15 billion yuan in the three months ended September. That compares with the 86.5 billion-yuan average of estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Adjusted earnings-per-share came to 9.60 yuan, compared with estimates for 7.43 yuan. Shares of Alibaba gained 2.6 percent in pre-market trade, as stocks surged amid hopes China and the U.S. might have possible terms of a trade deal to discuss this month. Its shares have slid 12.3 percent this year compared with a 3.5 percent loss for the NYSE Composite Index. The reduced forecast comes as Alibaba ramps up for its annual Singles’ Day shopping festival, a litmus test of not just the company’s health but also China’s overall consumption. Chinese online retail sales growth is already slowing, to 24% in the third quarter from 36% in the second. Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang, who succeeds Ma as chairman next year, will preside over the November 11 event as it broadens the shopping categories to include purchases made in affiliated shopping malls and food deliveries. Alibaba faces “a soft quarter ahead on weak consumption and intensifying competition,” Wendy Huang, an analyst at Macquarie, said in a report. Source
  22. US official fears supply chain attack on US military systems. The Trump administration on Monday announced it was banning US exports to a Chinese semiconductor firm named Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company, Ltd., citing national security concerns. In a statement released by the US Department of Commerce (DoC), officials said the Chinese chipmaker posed "a significant risk of being or becoming involved, in activities contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States." DoC officials are now barring US companies from selling any products to Fujian Jinhua, which was recently nearing completion of a new dynamic random access memory (DRAM) factory project. US hardware maker Micron Technology has repeatedly accused Fujian Jinhua, and its Taiwanese partner United Microelectronics Corp (UMC), of stealing its chips designs [1, 2]. The three companies are currently duking it out in US and Chinese courts. Now, the Trump administration is taking action "in light of the likely U.S.-origin technology" that "threatens the long term economic viability of U.S. suppliers of these essential components of U.S. military systems." "When a foreign company engages in activity contrary to our national security interests, we will take strong action to protect our national security. Placing Jinhua on the Entity List will limit its ability to threaten the supply chain for essential components in our military systems," said Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce. Fujian Jinhua is nearing completion of a mammoth $5.7 billion factory in China's Fujian province, a factory that is said to dwarf any existing plants. The Chinese chipmaker is the second major tech company after ZTE to have landed on the Trump administration export ban list --known as the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) Entity List. The first was ZTE after the company was caught exporting products to Iran and North Korea. The Trump administration revoked the ban after ZTE agreed to pay a $1 billion fine. The Trump administration has also banned government agencies from using Huawei and ZTE devices on the fear they may contain backdoors that allow Chinese spies access to US government networks. Source
  23. Artificial intelligence technology has the capability to be the most impactful software advance in history and the US government has no idea how to properly regulate it. The US does know that it doesn’t want other countries using its own AI against it. A new proposal published (Nov. 19) by the Department of Commerce (pdf) lists wide areas of AI software that could potentially require a license to sell to certain countries. These categories are as broad as “computer vision” and “natural language processing.” It also lists military-specific products like adaptive camouflage and surveillance technology. The small number of countries these regulations would target includes a big name in AI: China. Donald Trump, who has placed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of Chinese goods as part of a simmering trade war, has long railed against China’s alleged theft of intellectual property. This proposal looks like a warning from US officials, just as Chinese president Xi Jinping aims to boost AI in his own country. “This is intended to be a shot across the bow, directed specifically at Beijing, in an attempt to flex their muscles on just how broad these restrictions could be,” says R. David Edelman, a former adviser to president Barack Obama who leads research on technology and public policy issues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. On two occasions this year, the White House has moved to stop China from receiving tech exports on national-security grounds. The US already regulates certain exports to China, and products capable of military use are required to be licensed before they can be exported, as is the case with North Korea, Syria, and Iran. Since AI software isn’t a device or a physical product, it could prove a difficult task to restrict how the technology flows out of the country, says Jack Clark, policy director at the nonprofit OpenAI. He argues that artificial intelligence, as a dual-use technology, can be utilized as a weapon or tool. Because AI is not tethered to a specific physical device, regulating it must address how a broad technology could function on any computer. “It’s like trying to restrict math,” Edelman says. In addition, tech companies regularly post open-source AI software and tools on the internet, in an effort to get more people using their paid services and expanding the reach of AI tools in general. It’s still unclear whether open-source code would be called an export. Publicly available code was exempt when the US regulated the export of encryption. These kinds of hard questions are needed for sensible regulation, Clark says: “I’m happy to see this because it’s a conversation that needs to be had. It’s going to be a difficult and frustrating process because it’s complicated issue.” Negotiations will be complicated by the 30-day window offered for comments, which Edelman and Clark said is unusually short. Source
  24. Xi Jinping and Donald Trump discussed a range of issues — among them the trade dispute that has left over $200 billion worth of goods hanging in the balance. "President Trump has agreed that on January 1, 2019, he will leave the tariffs on $200 billion worth of product at the 10 percent rate, and not raise it to 25 percent at this time," the White House said. Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump put their bilateral trade war on pause momentarily, striking an agreement to hold off on slapping additional tariffs on each other's goods after January 1, as talks continue between both countries. In a White House readout of a dinner at the G-20 summit in Argentina, Xi and Trump discussed a range of nettlesome issues — among them the trade dispute that has left over $200 billion worth of goods hanging in the balance. "President Trump has agreed that on January 1, 2019, he will leave the tariffs on $200 billion worth of product at the 10 percent rate, and not raise it to 25 percent at this time," the statement read. Over the next 90 days, American and Chinese officials will continue to negotiate lingering disagreements on technology transfer, intellectual property and agriculture. "Both parties agree that they will endeavor to have this transaction completed within the next 90 days. If at the end of this period of time, the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the 10 percent tariffs will be raised to 25 percent," the statement added. Meanwhile, "China will agree to purchase a not yet agreed upon, but very substantial, amount of agricultural, energy, industrial, and other product from the United States to reduce the trade imbalance between our two countries. China has agreed to start purchasing agricultural product from our farmers immediately," the White House said. Xi also plans to designate Fentanyl as a controlled substance, according to the statement. As the U.S. opioid crisis continues to rage, it would suggest that people selling the drug to parties in the U.S. would be subject to stiff penalties in China. The Trump administration had threatened to more than double the tariffs it has already slapped on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, while Xi's government has put targeted tariffs on $110 billion in U.S. goods. The standoff has raised fears among investors and businesses that the global economy could be dragged down by the dispute between the world's two largest economies. Trump, who made U.S. trade policy a central plank of his platform as a presidential candidate in 2016, wants to address specific gripes with China's trade practices, especially its alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property. Trump touted the G-20 meeting thus far as a "great success" in a pair of tweets Saturday. But he postponed a press conference, which was scheduled to follow a summit meeting, until after the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, who died at age 94 on Friday. In a joint declaration, the group of nations said the current multilateral trading system is "falling short of its objectives and there is room for improvement," and supported reforms to the World Trade Organization. Source
  25. “We’ve launched our last satellite,” John Donovan, CEO of AT&T Communications, said in a meeting with analysts on Nov. 29. The AT&T executive effectively declared the end of the satellite-TV era with that statement. AT&T owns DirecTV, the US’s largest satellite company—and second largest TV provider overall, behind Comcast. DirecTV will continue offering satellite-TV service—it had nearly 20 million satellite video subscribers as of September, per company filings. But the company will focus on growing its online video business instead, Donovan said. It has a new set-top box, where people can get the same TV service they’d get with satellite, through an internet-connected box they can install themselves. It expects that box to become a greater share of its new premium-TV service installations in the first half of 2019. It also sells cheaper, TV packages with fewer channels through its DirecTV Now and WatchTV streaming services, which work with many smart TVs and streaming media players like Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices. The practice of getting TV through satellite dishes propped up in backyards and perched on rooftops first took hold in the US in the last 1970s and early 1980s, after TV networks like HBO and Turner Broadcasting System started sending TV signals to cable providers via satellites. People in areas without cable or broadcast TV began putting up their own dishes to receive the TV signals, and that grew into a TV business of its own. But in recent years, consumers have shifted to new digital TV offerings like Netflix and Hulu or the live, PlayStation Vue service. That shift away from traditional TV services has hit satellite particularly hard. The US pay-TV industry reportedly lost a record number of TV subscribers last quarter, and the satellite services from DirecTV and Dish Network (which also owns internet-TV service Sling TV) were the hardest hit. In 2017, AT&T lost 554,000 satellite video subscribers, and it continued to hemorrhage customers this year, according to company filings. “He’s not going to launch more satellites,” AT&T’s top boss, chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson, said of Donovan, during the meeting. “We’re kind of done.” Source
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