Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Ripken visits Japanese youth in tsunami-hit area

Ripken visits Japanese youth in tsunami-hit area

In this photo taken on Nov. 10, 2011 and released by the U.S. Embassy in Japan, Cal Ripken Jr. shows his batting skills to junior high school boys from various towns of tsunami-hit northeastern Japan during his baseball clinic in Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture, Japan. Ripken Jr. took a message of hope and perseverance to Japanese children effected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

(AP) TOKYO - Cal Ripken Jr. took a message of hope and perseverance to Japanese children affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

The Hall of Fame infielder, who earned the nickname "Iron Man" for playing in 2,632 consecutive games during his 21-year career with the Baltimore Orioles, put on a baseball clinic in Ofunato, Japan, as part of nine-day mission as a sports diplomat on behalf of the U.S. State Department.

Some 70 junior high school students from schools throughout the disaster area took part in the clinic conducted by Ripken, his former Baltimore teammate Brady Anderson and Japanese baseball's own "Iron Man," Sachio Kinugasa.

"We were able to provide a small distraction," Ripken said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. "Something that makes you feel good, makes you smile and maybe just for a brief moment helps you get through the day."

Ripken said he was fascinated to hear that some of the students would play baseball deep into the night just to help them deal with their losses.

"It was horrific in many ways," Ripken said. "Some of them lost their entire families, they lost everything they had and in many cases they were the only ones left from their families. You realize a baseball team for most of us is a secondary family but for some of these kids it became a primary family."

While he said there was no comparison between his streak and what the students in the region were going through, the mental approach that allowed him to play in 2,632 consecutive games could provide some valuable lessons.

"I think there is a valuable process that says we played it one game at a time and had to focus on what you could control today to get you to tomorrow," he said.

This was Ripken's third trip as a Public Diplomacy Envoy. He traveled to China in 2007 and to Nicaragua in 2008. A 2008 trip to South Africa, was scrapped because of scheduling issues.

He said touring the disaster zone was a sobering experience.

"Going through the areas and seeing it firsthand started to get me emotional," Ripken said. "There is no way you can fathom the scale of what happened by seeing it on TV. When you are standing there and looking left and looking right and seeing some signs of how high the water came — some people told me it was almost 50 feet in some areas — you can't realize what anyone would do in that situation."

Some of the children that Ripken instructed had met him before. In August, 16 young Japanese baseball and softball players traveled to the United States for a three-week exchange program.

Ripken's consecutive game streak broke the Major League Baseball record held by Lou Gehrig (2,130) and the mark in Japan set by Kinugasa (2,215).

Facebook: Attack identified, most spammed porn removed

Facebook: Attack identified, most spammed porn removed

Facebook has been hit by a widespread attack spamming porn and violent images, security experts say.

(CNN) -- Facebook says a hack that exploited some Web browsers was responsible for a flood of porn, violent images and other graphic content that spread across the site over the past couple of days.

Spokesman Frederic Wolens said Facebook's security team had been working to identify the cause of the spam and that, by Tuesday afternoon, "we have eliminated most of the spam caused by this attack."

"We are now working to improve our systems to better defend against similar attacks in the future," Wolens said in an e-mail.

Earlier Tuesday, Graham Cluley, a consultant with Web security firm Sophos, said that "explicit and violent" images had been flooding the News Feeds of Facebook users for the past 24 hours or so.

Cluley wrote on the Sophos blog that the images included hardcore porn; photoshopped images of celebrities, including teen pop star Justin Bieber, in sexual positions; "extreme violence;" and at least one image of an abused dog.

"What's clear," Cluley wrote, "is that mischief-makers are upsetting many Facebook users and making the social networking site far from a family-friendly place."

Several staffers reported seeing some of the images by Tuesday morning.

Facebook's Wolens said that users were tricked into pasting malicious script into their browser URL bars, causing them to unknowingly share the offensive content.

He said no data or account information was compromised during the attack.

The blog AllFacebook reported that the social-media giant had been quietly taking down the images for most of the day Tuesday.

Writer Jackie Cohen said a request for comment on the images merely got a reply thanking her for "flagging" the images.

"The fact that these photos spread for as long as 48 hours unchecked [shows] how much Facebook relies on individual users to flag inappropriate content: people were commenting on the images more than flagging them," she wrote.

Users were, understandably, distraught.

"Seeing a dead dog on my Facebook news feed ........ Officially deactivating it," said one Twitter user in a post collected by Sophos.

"I saw a dead dog, Justin Bieber [performing a sex act] and a naked grandma," said another. "Time to delete facebook."

The Facebook statement said the site has built a mechanism to shut down pages sharing the links and contacted people affected by the attack with information about how to protect themselves.

The site advised users never to copy and paste unknown code into their browser bars, always use up-to-date browsers and use the "Report" links on Facebook to report suspicious activity when they see it.

Facebook did not say anything about who may have been behind the attacks.

With questions still abounding, speculation on the Web turned -- as it often does in online hacking cases -- the controversial "hacktivist" collective Anonymous.

A group claiming allegiance to Anonymous announced it was going to make November 5 "Kill Facebook Day." That day came and went with little noticeable activity.

But last week, an Anonymous-affiliated group announced in a YouTube video that it had created the "Fawkes virus," a sophisticated tool that would attack Facebook.

A handful of Twitter feeds widely acknowledged as being run by Anonymous members had made no mention of the Facebook posts Tuesday morning.

At least two members had previously distanced themselves from Operation Facebook, saying it was doomed to fail and that Anonymous is not a cohesive group with unanimously approved goals.

"Using a simple Facebook account, the worm can be carried into other accounts with little or no interaction," an automated voice says in the video posted on the account "AnonSecurity157." "We did not expect the intensity with which this would spread."

The video claims the worm can be controlled remotely and that once it's fully understood it "will use this to its advantage against corruption."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Brazil police raid Rio's biggest slum

Brazil police raid Rio's biggest slum

The raid is considered the most important step yet in bringing security to Rio de Janeiro before it hosts the final matches of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. 

Brazilian security forces backed by armoured vehicles swept into Rio de Janeiro's biggest shantytown Sunday morning.

The first troops moved into the hilltop community of Rocinha just before dawn as black military helicopters hovered overhead.

Down below, elite squads backed by police, soldiers and naval personnel made their move. To further tighten security, authorities had shut down airspace and major highways around the favela.

Rocinha has been under the control of drug traffickers for decades, but the government has promised to control the violence before the city hosts the 2016 Olympics. Rio will also host the final matches of the 2014 World Cup

About 100,000 people live in Rocinha, which is the biggest drug distribution point in Rio. The slum straddles a green mountainside above posh neighborhoods.

"We are prepared for battle. We're prepared for a war, said Capt. Yerson de Oliveira. "And we'll succeed."

Despite the show of force, officials said they were hoping to avoid a firefight with drug traffickers. They arrested the head of the gang while he was trying to escape in the trunk of a car —and for the past week, they've been announcing their plans, giving gang members and residents ample warning.

Residents watch as armoured vehicles move into the Rocinha shantytown Sunday. 

Why won't the European Central Bank save Europe?

Why won't the European Central Bank save Europe?

Mario Draghi, new president of the European Central Bank (ECB), speaks to the media in Frankfurt on November 03, 2011.

(CNN) -- As Italy and other countries stare into the financial abyss, questions are being raised about whether the European Central Bank should be bailing out failing economies as the only institution with sufficient funds available to act on several fronts at once.

But although the ECB may have the resources to help pull Italy and other cash-strapped eurozone nations back from the brink, bank president Mario Draghi says ECB intervention cannot be the answer.

"What makes you think becoming the lender of last resort for governments is actually the thing you need to keep the eurozone together?" Draghi said at a press conference last week.

What is the ECB's traditional role?

The European Central Bank was established in 1998 after the Treaty of the European Union -- known as the Treaty of Maastricht -- created the structure for what would become the euro currency.

The ECB's mandates are to control inflation and ensure some level of stability for the 17 countries that use the euro currency. Like other central banks, the ECB's main tool for attaining these goals is by raising or lowering interest rates -- a key tool for influencing financial markets.

The ECB's primary remit is to control inflation around 2% or below. It also keeps money flowing through the eurozone's economy by lending cash (known as providing liquidity) to the sovereigns in return for holding collateral, or bonds, of those states.

The bloc's financial structure allowed, however, each eurozone country to retain their own tax policies, budgets and banks and issue their own bonds. It is this lack of integration which is often pointed to as being a key contributing factor in the eurozone crisis -- not to mention a lack of fiscal responsibility by member countries, according to Howard Wheeldon, senior strategist at BGC Partners.

"The ECB could've been shouting across the rooftops that too many euro members were not obeying the rules that were set in stone before the eurozone came into being in terms of deficit and debt," he said.

How has that role changed during the crisis?

While the ECB's power was initially limited to controlling interest rates, as the global financial crisis deepened European leaders authorized the bank to begin buying government debt in order to stabilize countries' bond yields -- the rate a country must pay to borrow money to pay its bills.

If investors lose confidence that a country will pay back its debts, fewer investors will by the country's bonds, which in turn will drive the rate up.

Greece, Ireland and Portugal were all forced to seek bailouts once their 10-year bond yield, or rate, surpassed and remained above the 7% mark for an extended period of time.

Since August the ECB has bought billions of euros worth of Italian bonds in attempt to keep Italy well below this "point of no return" -- but on November 9 Italy's bond yield surged to a euro-era high of 7.3% amid fears that the eurozone's third largest economy could collapse.

Some investors and economists see the ECB as the only European institution with the capacity to respond quickly to the crisis in Italy.

Why doesn't the ECB want to continue buying Italian bonds?

As international lenders desert Italy, the ECB is now in the uncomfortable position of being seen as a potential lender of last resort for nations that can no longer borrow from the private sector.

The ECB is reluctant to do so, however, because the bank believes the practice would merely gloss over serious economic problems in eurozone countries and discourage them from enacting austerity measures in order to bring their debts under control.

"Once you've put that 'lender of last resort' thing out there, the perception will be (that cash-strapped countries will) be automatically bailed out," said Wheeldon. "But financial stability can only occur if countries have discipline."

Experts say Italy needs to enact reforms that will boost economic growth, not just cut spending, to stabilize its debts -- and ECB leaders remain opposed to expanding the bank's balance sheet with risky sovereign debt.

Still, other analysts say the ECB may quietly increase its purchases of Italian bonds if the government demonstrates a commitment to getting its fiscal house in order.

What else can the ECB do?

While buying bonds is currently an integral part of the strategy to keep Italy from collapse, experts say any successful approach must be more comprehensive if it is to work.

"Buying bonds can't be the total modus operandi", said Wheeldon. "The ECB will have to do a combination of things to (prevent Italian default)."

The ECB could lower interest rates in an attempt to encourage growth in eurozone countries, although some experts doubt a rate drop would make a much of a difference.

European leaders could also pass legislation to allow the ECB to print billions of euros to pay off sovereign debt, but experts say that would only devalue the euro, cause inflation and undermine the bank's credibility.

"If that was the easy solution it would've been done," said Wheeldon. "If the ECB printed money, the soundness of the bank would be seriously questioned."

Monday, November 7, 2011

Occupy Canada braces for winter weather

Occupy Canada braces for winter weather

Protesters at the Occupy Quebec campsite were given an ultimatum to leave the site this week because of safety reasons. The Occupy Canada movement is preparing for winter at cities across the country.

for the spectre of a teeth-chattering winter, as mayors and police in several cities ramp up the pressure to drive demonstrators out of public areas.

The mission to weather-proof flimsy tents in preparation for freezing temperatures has become a priority in some cities, with the Toronto camp dispatching a "Winterization" team to devise ways to combat the cold.

Vancouver's protest may not last into the colder months, now that the encampment's future is in doubt following the death of a 20-year-old woman Saturday.

Mayor Gregor Robertson said the loss of a life — reportedly due to a drug overdose — has proven that the encampment is no longer safe and must be dismantled "as soon as possible."

"When lives are lost, we clearly have to take steps," Robertson told reporters.
'We will not agree to go peacefully'

In a challenge to the mayor, a Vancouver protest organizer identified only as Kiki said the campers would not move without putting up a struggle.

"No, we will not agree to go peacefully," Kiki said.

Elsewhere in B.C., the mayor of Victoria, Dean Fortin, says it's also time to start negotiating an end to the protest camp there. Police will begin handing out pamphlets to demonstrators informing them they must begin to vacate.

"If we are forced to take steps, the steps will be through progressive enforcement of asking them to leave, ticketing and then talking to the courts," Fortin said.

For the Occupy Toronto group at St. James Park, protesters living there for the past four weeks had to share the space with a Remembrance Day ceremony that took place Sunday.

Toronto police also arrested a protester and charged him with assault and assault with a weapon. It was the first serious charge laid by police since the protesters began camping out at a downtown park.

Police were called to the park by other protesters after the man allegedly threatened one person with a metal guitar and threw a can of beer at another.
Occupy Halifax makes room for Remembrance Day

Meanwhile, in Halifax protesters were leaving their site voluntarily to make way for Remembrance Day ceremonies scheduled to take place at the Grand Parade Square on Nov. 11.

Groups purchased brooms and began scrubbing down monuments. The rally is expected to relocate to Victoria Park, about a 15-minute walk away.

Despite dropping temperatures in Regina, the Occupy campers there said they have no plans to move.

In Manitoba, Occupy Winnipeg activists are in for a chilly night, with snow moving in from Saskatchewan. It will be the first snow of the year to hit the camp, but many are nevertheless vowing to stay put, and are bracing for the weather by installing foam insulation in their tents and raising their sleeping bags on palettes.

In Quebec City, Mayor Régis Labeaume's order for Occupy protesters to tear down their camp on Thursday went ignored. The city has yet to enforce its order, but officials said they will soon.

Montreal's Occupy camp is still having regular visits from fire officials, who have said they are conducting regular checks to remind demonstrators about the need for fire safety, said Montreal fire spokesperson Louise Desrosiers.

Greece's prime minister to quit in deal to salvage bailout package

Greece's prime minister to quit in deal to salvage bailout package

Prime Minister George Papandreou began steps to form a coalition government after narrowly winniing a vote of confidence.
Athens, Greece (CNN) -- Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou will step down as his government's leader, the country's president announced Sunday night -- agreeing to do so on the condition that the controversial 130 billion euro bailout deal is approved.

The announcement follows a meeting on Sunday in which Papandreou and Antonis Samaras -- the leader of the New Democracy party, Greece's leading opposition party -- agreed to form a new government.

The two will meet again Monday to discuss who will become the nation's next prime minister as well as who will serve in the new government, according to the statement from President Karolos Papoulias.

No more details or a timeline of future events were disclosed, beyond that new national elections will be held sometime after the bailout is implemented. Earlier Sunday, Samaras told reporters that once Papandreou resigns everything will "take its course" and "everything else is negotiable."

The move appears to close one chapter in Greece's tumultuous political and economic saga, as Papandreou had become a lightning rod for critics for his leadership of the south European nation as it tackles a prolonged financial crisis.

It also paves the way for passage of the agreement that he negotiated October 26 with European leaders. That deal wipes out 100 billion euros in Greek debt (half of what it owes) and a promise of 30 billion euros to help the public sector pare its debts, making the whole package worth a total of 130 billion euros ($178 billion).

But Greece's turmoil is far from over. The bailout -- the second that it has received from the European Union and International Monetary Fund -- would be accompanied by additional austerity measures such as slashing government jobs, privatizing some businesses and reducing pensions. It also comes at a time when Greece's economy, and to some extent the global economy, is still staggering.

Though Greece ranks 32nd in terms of gross domestic product, experts say that it wields a disproportionate influence internationally. Economists fret that a Greek default on its debt could drag down larger European economies, in particular those of Italy and Spain, as well as struggling Portugal and Ireland.

That is why world markets were on edge Sunday, awaiting some resolution of the domestic political battle. European leaders have said they want Greece to be one of the 17 nations that use the euro, though they've also said saving the common currency is more important.

Eurozone finance ministers are scheduled to meet Monday in Brussels.

Within Greece, the bailout's passage would be a significant victory for Papandreou. He has insisted repeatedly in recent weeks that it needs to be approved -- signaling that he'd be willing to exit as prime minister, a job he has held since 2009, as long as that happens.

Earlier Sunday, Greece's president met ahead of a Cabinet meeting with all party leaders -- including Papandreou, who heads the socialist PASOK party, and Samaras.

"I can sense the agony of the Greek people," Samaras said before the meeting. "Everybody has to act responsibly now and send a message of stability abroad to the people of Europe and the people of our country too."

"I agree completely with your words," Papoulias said. "We should give an end to this sense of insecurity and instability. We should give answers to the questions: where are we going and what are we doing? We are all responsible for that."

Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos is likely to remain in his post as finance minister in a new government, sources told Greek television. Candidates for the prime minister's job include Petros Moliviatis and Loukas Papaimos, according to Greek television.

The new government will have a life of four months, according to Greek television, citing sources, and elections will be held in early spring.

On Monday -- in addition to a meeting between Papandreou and Samaras -- the Greek president will hold another meeting open to heads of all Greece's political parties.