Off the Wires

SECRET SERVICE AGENT BOOK ROCKS CLINTON CAMPAIGN

June 5th, 2016  |  Source: Drudge Report

Posted directly outside President Clinton's Oval Office, Former Secret Service officer Gary Byrne reveals what he observed of Hillary Clinton's character and the culture inside the White House while protecting the First Family. 


Coming in 3 weeks his tell-all book: 'CRISIS OF CHARACTER!'

Specific details of the agent's confessional are being held under tight embargo.

"What I saw in the 1990s sickend me," Byrne explains. "I want you to hear my story."

'CHARACTER' is set for release June 28. [It ranked #60,436 on AMAZON's bestsellers list late Saturday.] 


Payday loans face new limits under proposal from U.S. consumer bureau

June 2nd, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

The U.S. agency charged with protecting consumers from financial abuse unveiled a proposal on Thursday that would limit short-term borrowings known as “payday” loans, which can carry interest rates as high as 390 percent.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s proposal includes having lenders determine if some borrowers can afford to take out debt. It also calls for restrictions on loan rollovers.

Payday lenders typically cater to low-income borrowers who need cash in a pinch but cannot access financing from mainstream banks. The name comes from the idea that a borrower would take out an emergency loan and repay it with the next paycheck. Since the loans often are not collateralized, lenders take the risk of not being repaid and charge higher rates.

"Too many borrowers seeking a short-term cash fix are saddled with loans they cannot afford and sink into long-term debt," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a statement, calling the proposal "mainstream" and "common-sense."

"It’s much like getting into a taxi just to ride across town and finding yourself stuck in a ruinously expensive cross-country journey."

The industry has braced for new regulation from the CFPB since the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law gave it authority over the payday loan market, and anticipation of new federal rules has already created political fractures on Capitol Hill.

Meanwhile, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service have cracked down on alleged fraud and racketeering in the industry. Payday lenders are one of the targets of "Operation Chokepoint," an FBI investigation into business relationships between banks and potential law-breaking companies.

The CFPB's proposal includes a "full-payment" test for people borrowing up to $500 over a short period. Lenders would have to determine whether a borrower could afford each loan payment and still meet basic living expenses, according to a summary.

It would bar lenders from taking auto titles as collateral and would make it difficult for them to "push distressed borrowers into reborrowing." It would also cap the number of short-term loans made in quick succession. At the same time, it would limit the number of times a lender could try to debit a borrower's bank account for an outstanding payment, with the CFPB saying failed withdrawal attempts rack up bank fees for borrowers.

The proposal presents two alternatives for longer-term loans. One caps interest rates at 28 percent and the application fee at $20. The other is an installment loan of equal payment amounts, with the loan's total cost capped at 36 percent.

The agency said current practices ensnare borrowers in "debt traps" with accumulating fees and interest, and that they encourage people to take out new loans to pay off old debts, all of which can leave them broke, without bank accounts, or carless.

Lenders say they fill a critical hole in the economy, allowing people living paycheck to paycheck to cover basic costs and those in need, who may have poor credit records, to quickly take out loans.

LONG FIGHT, POLITICAL FRACTURES

The fight over the proposal will span months. The agency will evaluate comments on the proposal, due Sept. 14, before issuing final regulations. It is also beginning a review of "other potentially high-risk loan products and practices" such as open-end credit.

Cordray was scheduled to discuss the proposal later on Thursday at a hearing in Kansas City, Missouri. A coalition of advocacy groups supporting reforms planned a rally in the city, while detractors have already begun voicing concerns.

On the political front, Republicans, who are widely critical of the bureau, say restricting small dollar, short-term loans will cut off struggling consumers' access to a legal financial lifeline during emergencies.

Democrats generally support reform, but are divided on how it should be carried out.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and other proponents for stronger financial regulation have lined up behind the CFPB.

Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, on the other hand, has promoted the approach used in her home state of Florida which is considered more permissive. She has sponsored a bill with other members of the House of Representatives from the state to delay the CFPB rules for two years and exempt states with laws similar to Florida's.


Gotthard tunnel: World's longest and deepest rail tunnel opens in Switzerland

June 1st, 2016  |  Source: BBC

The world's longest and deepest rail tunnel has officially opened in Switzerland, after almost two decades of construction work.

The 57km (35-mile) twin-bore Gotthard base tunnel will provide a high-speed rail link under the Swiss Alps between northern and southern Europe.

Switzerland says it will revolutionise European freight transport.

Goods currently carried on the route by a million lorries a year will go by train instead.

The tunnel has overtaken Japan's 53.9km Seikan rail tunnel as the longest in the world and pushed the 50.5km Channel Tunnel linking the UK and France into third place.

§Switzerland's engineering triumph


Time's Myspace Data Breach

May 31st, 2016  |  Source: The Street.com

The latest hacking outbreak is yet another reminder that cybercrime is a global epidemic. 

Another day, another hacking incident in the headlines, with embarrassed corporate executives scrambling to figure out what happened (and to cover their posteriors).

Time (TIME) on Tuesday morning confirmed reports that Myspace, a Time Inc. social networking site, has been the victim of a major data breach. As many as 360 million Myspace user records were reportedly stolen.

Shortly before the Memorial Day weekend, Myspace's IT security personnel learned that stolen Myspace usernames, passwords and email addresses were being posted by an online hacker forum. The hacking incident is still under investigation and the full scope of the breach remains unclear.

If you're looking for profitable but relatively safe ways to put your hard-earned cash to work, you should pinpoint "mega-trends" with momentum. One such investment opportunity is cyber security, which is one of the surest growth opportunities you'll ever find.

The best play on cyber security is networking giant Cisco Systems(CSCO) . The stock has enjoyed a recent post-earnings rally, but it still has plenty of upside left. Cisco exemplifies the strong underlying fundamentals that you should look for in a stock. The company sits on a huge cash hoard and controls proprietary technology that's increasingly coveted by consumers and businesses around the world.

Cisco offers considerable capital appreciation potential, but it's also a defensive growth play for investors worried about the market's current volatility. Cisco holds cash and short-term investments (quarterly) of $63.51 billion, which provides the company with a cushion for any market downturn. This war chest also allows the company to make the consistently strong research and development spending that's necessary to maintain its edge in a fiercely competitive industry.

Meanwhile, corporate America has compiled a record amount of cash that it intends to tap for long-deferred IT investments, another multi-year boon for Cisco.

Companies are increasingly defined by the right combination of 1s and 0s, not by bricks and mortar. This digital transformation has given rise to the "extended enterprise," and with it a breeding ground for attacks on IT systems. As we've just witnessed with Time, hackers are relentless around the world.

Cisco is dominant in the technologies that make the extended enterprise possible; it's also a pioneer in creating computer defenses along the extended outreaches of these virtual empires.

Read more here: https://www.thestreet.com/story/13590071/1/time-s-myspace-data-breach-buy-this-leading-cybersecurity-stock.html


Barack Obama Under Fire From Brexit Campaigners

May 31st, 2016  |  Source: HuffPo

Backlash time after his ‘back of the queue’ threat

Brexit campaigners have ridiculed Barack Obama for threatening the UK with a backlash if it quits the EU.

A new attack ad by the Grassroots Out campaign hits back at the US President’s warning that Britain would go to ‘the back of the queue’ in trade talks outside the European Union.

With just over three weeks to go to the EU referendum, the campaign placed full-page adverts in 21 regional newspapers on Tuesday.

The ad, which plays on the original ‘Hope’ poster that helped get Obama first elected in 2008, is designed to seize on Britons’ anger at being told how to vote by a politician from overseas.

Its final pay-off line is: “Don’t Be Bullied By Barack”.

Read on here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/brexit-campaign-ridicules-barack-obama-grassroots-out-peter-bone-mp_uk_574d8fdbe4b0ebf6a32a0e57?edition=uk


Venezuelans resort to looting as food shortages hit crisis point

May 27th, 2016  |  Source: FT.com

On one side, under the burning midday sun of Maracay in north-central Venezuela, hundreds of angry people have been waiting in line since 4am to buy food. On the other side, a group of military men guard the gate of a supermarket. The high-noon showdown is tense.

“There is nothing left to sell. If you really wanted to buy food, you should have started queueing at two in the morning,” yells one of the military men. “That is the people’s food,” an angry mother of four retorts. “People are losing patience . . . we are all tired.”

Snaking queues for scarce staples are a common sight across Venezuela and looting is becoming routine. This poses the biggest risk to Nicolás Maduro, the socialist president.

“The situation is very, very critical,” says Marianella Herrera, a professor of food and nutritional public policy at the Central University of Venezuela, who also runs Fundación Bengoa, a watchdog dealing with issues around nutrition. “The anguish when it comes to acquiring food is gigantic and generates violence.”

Only days before the supermarket showdown, hundreds of people had broken into the wholesale market next door, which had been guarded by paratroopers in red berets. Eyewitnesses say there was a “stampede”, with people rushing to get their hands on packs of rice, sugar and cornmeal flour.

“[It is] written in the Bible, people will kill each other for food,” the voice of a woman can be heard on an amateur video of the looting. To some, like Marcial Salazar, who sells vegetables at the market, the situation is understandable: “People are hungry for food, and hungry for having someone good in power.”

Mr Salazar opens the fridge at his household of six to the Financial Times. Its only contents are a handful of mangoes picked from a nearby tree and plastic bottles filled with tap water. Next to it, a bucket contains half a kilogramme of black beans, half a kilogramme of dried pasta and one kilogramme of maize flour: “That’s all for the week.”

Read on here; ($): http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/0c2b0db8-21a4-11e6-9d4d-c11776a5124d.html#axzz49r6b3imH


Moscow frees Ukraine pilot in swap for Russians held in conflict

May 25th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Ukrainian military pilot Nadiya Savchenko arrived home in Kiev on Wednesday after nearly two years in a Russian jail, part of a prisoner swap in which two Russians held in Ukraine were returned to Moscow.

Handing over Savchenko, whose release had been demanded by Western governments and who has become a national hero in Ukraine, is likely to ease tensions between Moscow and the West a few weeks before the European Union decides whether to extend sanctions against Russia.

"A presidential plane with Ukraine's hero Nadiya Savchenko has landed," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said in a post on Twitter.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Savchenko, who while in Russian jail was elected a member of the Ukrainian parliament, was granted a pardon by Russian President Vladimir Putin to allow her to leave jail and return home.

Peskov also said that the two Russians, Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were now back in Russia, having landed at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on a special flight from Kiev.

Ukraine accused them of being Russian special forces officers fighting in eastern Ukraine, though Moscow has never acknowledged the two were following its orders.


U.S. new home sales race to eight-year high, prices surge

May 24th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

New U.S. single-family home sales surged to a more than eight-year high in April and prices hit a record high, offering further evidence of a pick-up in economic growth that could allow the Federal Reserve to raises interest rates soon.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday new home sales jumped 16.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of619,000 units, the highest level since January 2008. The percent increase was the largest since January 1992.

March's sales pace was revised up to 531,000 units from the previously reported 511,000 units. Economists had forecast new home sales, which account for about 10.2 percent of the housing market, rising to only a 523,000 unit-rate last month.

New home sales are volatile month-to-month and April's increase probably exaggerates the housing market strength.

Still, last month's gain pushed new home sales well above their first-quarter average of 531,667 units. New home sales increased in three regions, but fell in the Midwest.

RELATED COVERAGE

·        U.S. household debt rises to $12.25 trillion in first quarter: New York Fed


Snowden calls for whistleblower shield after claims by new Pentagon source

May 23rd, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

Accusations that Pentagon retaliated against a whistleblower undermine argument that there were options for Snowden other than leaking to the media

Edward Snowden has called for a complete overhaul of US whistleblower protections after a new source from deep inside the Pentagon came forward with a startling account of how the system became a “trap” for those seeking to expose wrongdoing.

The account of John Crane, a former senior Pentagon investigator, appears to undermine Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and other major establishment figures who argue that there were established routes for Snowden other than leaking to the media.

Crane, a longtime assistant inspector general at the Pentagon, has accused his old office of retaliating against a major surveillance whistleblower, Thomas Drake, in an episode that helps explain Snowden’s 2013 National Security Agency disclosures. Not only did Pentagon officials provide Drake’s name to criminal investigators, Crane told the Guardian, they destroyed documents relevant to his defence.

Snowden, responding to Crane’s revelations, said he had tried to raise his concerns with colleagues, supervisors and lawyers and been told by all of them: “You’re playing with fire.”

Read on here: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/22/snowden-whistleblower-protections-john-crane?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=GU+Today+USA+-+morning+briefing+2016&utm_term=173670&subid=11002792&CMP=ema_a-morning-briefing_b-morning-briefing_c-US_d-1


Are they spies or students?

May 20th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Leading U.S. universities are pushing back against a proposed State Department rule that would bar foreign students from more research projects and classes involving information seen as vital to national security.

The proposal by the administration of President Barack Obama reflects growing worries in Washington over a rise in intellectual property theft from foreign adversaries such as China.

Research related to defense technology such as munitions, nuclear engineering and satellite technology would be particularly affected by the rule, which is still in the proposal process and has not been widely reported.

Defense contractors such as Northrop Grumman (NOC.N), Boeing (BA.N) and Lockheed Martin (LMT.N) regularly sponsor university research, but did not respond to requests for comment.

The new rule, which largely applies to company-sponsored research, threatens to shrink the pool of research opportunities available for U.S. colleges, which have grown strongly in popularity among high-paying foreign students in recent years.

Some top U.S. schools do not accept any research grants that restrict participation by foreign citizens because it runs counter to their policies of academic freedom and non-discrimination.

In a letter to the State Department, Stanford University said it joined The Association of American Universities (AAU), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Pennsylvania in criticizing the rule, citing "disastrous consequences." The AAU represents 62 leading research institutions, including Harvard, Duke University, and the University of Chicago.

The universities say the rule would tip the balance too far in favor of national security against academic freedom.

"We wouldn't be able to perform the same basic foundational research that we do," said Stanford's director of export compliance Steve Eisner. "Stanford has a policy of conducting research openly regardless of citizenship. We're not going to tell our Chinese students that they can't participate."

No current cases of industrial espionage involve university research, though government officials told Reuters they suspect university faculty are violating loosely defined research rules.

A 2011 FBI report said "foreign adversaries and competitors take advantage" of the openness of information on college campuses and a small percentage of students, researchers and foreign professors are "working at the behest of another government."

There were just under 1 million foreign students at U.S. colleges in the 2014-2015 school year, 31 percent of whom were Chinese, according to the Institute of International Education. That has grown from fewer than 100,000 in the 1960s when the United States began regulating their access to research.

In 2015, the number of intellectual property cases investigated by the FBI rose 53 percent from the previous year.

The FBI says China is the main culprit. It has accused Chinese nationals of attempting to export technology from the United States, including genetically modified corn seed and sensitive military information stored on Boeing computers.

The Department of Justice said in a statement that "we know that some foreign spies and criminals target students and faculty alike to steal valuable technology and intellectual property." It added it was working with universities and laboratories to raise awareness of the threat.

A spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hong Lei, said the United States should be improving cooperation with China instead of adding restrictions on foreign students.

"China's scientific and technological developments have been achieved through the hard struggle of the Chinese people," Lei said at a ministry briefing on Thursday.

SHRINKING RESEARCH CHOICES The proposed rule comes as universities face shrinking federal funding for research, forcing many to rely more on industry-sponsored projects.

State Department officials told Reuters they are aware of universities' opposition to the rule, but have received no complaints or advice from companies that sponsor university research.

Experts in counterterrorism and counter nuclear proliferation told the State Department tighter restrictions on research access are necessary because universities are "a soft target," said Tony Dearth, director of defense trade controls licensing at the State Department.

In the first case of its kind, University of Tennessee electrical engineering professor John Reese Roth was convicted in 2008 of exporting "defense articles" without a license, and of wire fraud and conspiracy and sentenced to four years.

Roth used foreign students in research on plasma-based flight-control devices for drone aircraft under a U.S. Air Force contract. He let two foreign students illegally gain access to sensitive information and export it to China, said the FBI.

The proposed rule would expand the definition of research classified as "technical" to any project that undergoes a pre-publication review by a private sponsor.

Unlike less-sensitive "fundamental" research, technical research is regulated in a variety of ways including a requirement that foreign students must apply for a license. Students from China, Iran and North Korea are usually denied licenses, said university officials.

The State Department argues that if a company wants to take a second look at research because it may be sensitive to its economic interests, foreign student involvement should be regulated.

Stanford told the State Department in a public letter that the new rule would affect a broad portion of industry-backed research because universities "routinely" allow sponsors to review results for up to 90 days.

Colleges that object to the government's foreign-student restrictions have long avoided technical research and focused solely on projects classed as fundamental. The new rule would force them to either loosen their policies or give up defense-related research.

Schools with fundamental research-only policies are already in the minority. A Reuters survey of the top 35 research universities, ranked by R&D expenditures, found only 11 were still adhering to such a position.

Federal funding for research still dwarfs business funding, but the two are trending in opposite directions.

Over 2011-2014, federal funds for university research fell to $37.9 billion from $40.8 billion, according to the National Science Foundation. Over the same period, industry-sponsored university research grew to $5.9 billion from $4.9 billion.

"As federal funds have become scarcer and the competition has increased, I think we see a lot of universities expanding their partnerships with industry," said Bob Hardy, director of intellectual property management at the Council on Government Relations, an association of research universities.




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