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Member since: 2003 before July 6th
Number of posts: 29,876

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The Bitcoins Bankrolling Snowden

It’s a virtual currency that can be tough to trace. No wonder bitcoin donations to WikiLeaks have spiked since Julian Assange said he’s funding Snowden’s adventure. By Winston Ross.
Jun 25, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

If there’s one thing America learned about evading federal capture on Monday, it’s that pandas have a much harder time doing so than NSA leakers. Rusty the Red Panda’s escape from the National Zoo lasted less than 24 hours. Edward Snowden is still out there.

If only Rusty had a briefcase full of cash, opposable thumbs, or WikiLeaks, whose founder said in a call with reporters that the site is bankrolling Snowden’s flight to avoid prosecution. The move opens up the whistleblowing organization to possible prosecution for aiding and abetting a fugitive, and it could lead to new attempts to choke off WikiLeaks’ ability to collect and distribute cash, à la the 2010 blocking of payments to the site by entities such as Visa, MasterCard, and PayPal.

But there is another way for Snowden to remain a “free” man (much as anyone running from the most powerful spying agency in the world can be free): bitcoins, and other digital currencies that are encrypted, largely hacker-proof if properly stored, and passed from one user to the other, with nothing more than a few clicks of a button. Bitcoins are used as currency only because they’re made up of highly secure digital building blocks that users trust enough to barter with.

Snowden is apparently already using bitcoins, albeit indirectly. Ever since the credit-card companies’ 2010 chokehold, WikiLeaks has been accepting donations via the electronic currency. And maybe it’s a coincidence, but bitcoin donations to WikiLeaks jumped from about $20 per day last week to more than $700 on Monday, the day Snowden was reportedly headed from Moscow to Havana. (There was also a spike on June 13, the same day WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange gave a live video address to the University of Sydney, praising Snowden as a "hero."

Bitcoin isn’t the only option to help WikiLeaks or Snowden. There are now several forms of encrypted digital currency out there; WikiLeaks suggests Litecoin as another option. But as the most-well-known form of digital currency, bitcoins could begin to play larger and larger roles in high-profile cases like Snowden’s. No longer does a fugitive need a suitcase full of cash to survive on the lam. Now he just needs a thumb drive full of bitcoins.



Methane in Water Seen Sixfold Higher Near Fracking Sites

By Mark Drajem - Jun 24, 2013

Water wells close to gas-drilling sites in Pennsylvania had methane levels more than six times higher than more distant wells, evidence that the boost in production is causing leaks, Duke University researchers found.

The chemical fingerprint of the methane, the key component of natural gas, along with the presence of ethane and propane, indicate that much of the gas is from deep underground, such as the Marcellus Shale, according to a study released today. Production in the Marcellus is booming through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to break up rock and free trapped gas.

“Distance to gas wells was, by far, the most significant factor influencing gases in the drinking water we sampled,” said Rob Jackson, an environmental sciences professor at Duke in Durham, North Carolina, and the study’s lead author. The evidence “all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners’ water.”

The peer-reviewed study, released in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a follow-up and extension of a 2011 study by Jackson and his co-authors, which drew criticism from the drilling industry. That study tested drinking water supplies in northeastern Pennsylvania including the town of Dimock, where the state said gas wells failed and leaked. It found no evidence of the chemicals used in fracking in water wells; it did link drilling to elevated methane leaks.



Working Poor Losing Obamacare as States Resist Medicaid

By Alex Wayne and David Mildenberg - Jun 25, 2013

Rose Ruiz collects $8 an hour cooking, cleaning, checking the oxygen tanks and changing the diapers for a 67-year-old diabetic confined to a studio apartment on the south side of Austin, Texas.

Ruiz, a home health aide to Medicaid patients, has no medical insurance herself. Her best shot at getting access to doctors and medicines for her own needs was through President Barack Obama’s expansion of the federal-state Medicaid programs.

That hope was scuttled for Ruiz and thousands of other health-care workers across Texas when the state opted out of the Medicaid expansion earlier this month. Texas has the highest rate of uninsured people in the U.S.

“The politicians don’t know where I’m coming from, they don’t walk in my shoes,” said Shantelle Williams, a home aide who makes the U.S. minimum wage of $7.25 an hour tending to patients just south of Dallas. “That decision was for them, it wasn’t for me.”

Expansion of Medicaid eligibility was intended to provide coverage for the working poor, those with incomes barely exceeding the poverty line yet low enough that they would struggle to make premium payments on insurance bought through the new exchanges set to open Oct. 1. Though last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld Obama’s 2010 Affordable Care Act, it also let states choose not to expand Medicaid.



Kerry Heads to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait before Visiting Israel

Globe-trotting U.S. Secretary of State John Kelly has left India for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait before flying to Jordan and Israel later this week to tackle the issue of Palestinian Authority demands.

The Saudi kingdom is a powerful ally of the United States and is solidly behind the rebels in the Syrian civil war. Kerry and the Obama administration want to get rid of Assad and have come out in favor of arming the rebels but still are concerned that a terrorist regime might replace Assad, if and when he is ousted or killed.

“If the United States does nothing, and the rest of the world does nothing, then Syria is going to wind up in an even worse condition than it is today,” Kerry told CBS News from New Delhi. He said it would be even worse if Syria were to break up, “with radicals, extremists able to get a hold of chemical weapons and free to use it as a base to begin to conduct their operations again against the West and the United States.


Senators to Introduce Bill to End Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac

By Cheyenne Hopkins - Jun 25, 2013

A bipartisan group of senators is planning to introduce a proposal today for replacing U.S.-owned mortgage financiers Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC) with a newly created government reinsurer.

The bill to be offered by Senators Bob Corker and Mark Warner reflects a prevailing view among lawmakers that the two government-sponsored enterprises should cease to exist while a federal role in backing mortgage lending should remain. Corker, a Tennessee Republican, and Warner, a Virginia Democrat, have set a news conference for 2:15 p.m. to introduce the measure.

The senators have revised the proposal from an earlier version to reduce the losses that lenders would take on bad mortgages during a financial crisis, according to a draft copy of the revised 154-page bill that was obtained yesterday.

“There is a bipartisan effort here that’s thoughtful and it is without question the most thorough Congressional effort to draft a GSE reform legislation to date,” David Stevens, president and chief executive officers of the Mortgage Bankers Association, said in an interview.

The proposal could restart a stalled debate over the future of the U.S. mortgage-finance system. Congress has yet to propose a measure for replacing Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have operated under U.S. conservatorship since they were seized by regulators during the 2008 credit crisis. President Barack Obama’s administration also hasn’t provided a plan for revamping the government’s role in housing finance.

‘Uphill Fight’



New Home Sales Near Five-Year High, Prices Rise

WASHINGTON | Tue Jun 25, 2013 10:06am EDT

(Reuters) - Sales of new U.S. single-family homes rose to their highest level in nearly five years in May, confirming the housing market's strengthening tone.

The Commerce Department said on Tuesday sales increased 2.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 476,000 units - the highest level since July 2008. It was the third straight month of gains in new home sales.

Sales increased 3.3 percent in April. Economists polled by Reuters had expected new home sales to rise to a 462,000-unit rate last month.

Compared with May 2012, sales were up 29 percent.

Home sales data will be closely watched in the coming months for signs of strain from the rise in mortgage rates.



Consumer Confidence Surges To Five-Year High, Conference Board Says

Source: LA TIMES

By Jim Puzzanghera

WASHINGTON -- Americans are more optimistic about the economy than they have been since the Great Recession began, the Conference Board said Tuesday.

The group's Consumer Confidence Index unexpectedly jumped to 81.4 this month, up sharply from 74.3 in May. It was the third straight monthly increase, though the figures were compiled before the recent stock market sell-off.

Analysts had expected confidence to rise only slightly this month.

The other leading gauge, from Thompson Reuters and the University of Michigan, hit a five-year high in May, but its preliminary reading for June dipped a bit.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-consumer-confidence-conference-board-economy-20130625,0,7966105.story

Nelson Mandela Still Critical, Family Discusses 'Delicate Matters'

Johannesburg: Anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela's medical condition remains "unchanged" in a critical condition, the South African Presidency said today, as the 94-year-old leader's family met to discuss "delicate matters" relating to him.

Condition of Mandela, who is battling for his life, "remains unchanged in hospital and doctors continue to do their best to ensure his recovery, well-being and comfort," President Jacob Zuma said in a statement.

He also urged that Mandela and his family be "accorded the necessary sensitivity, dignity and privacy at this time".

"We must support him and support his family. We must demonstrate our love and appreciation for his leadership during the struggle for liberation and in our first few years of freedom and democracy by living out his legacy and promoting unity, non-racialism, non-sexism and prosperity in our country," said Zuma.

The family gathering at Qunu in the Eastern Cape, where the revered statesman spent his childhood, came two days after Zuma gave the strongest indication yet that all is not well with the elder statesman.



Durable Goods Orders Up 3.6% In May, A Good Sign For Manufacturing

Source: LA TIMES

By Jim Puzzanghera
June 25, 2013, 6:29 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- Orders for airplanes, computers and other long-lasting durable goods rose more than expected in May, the third increase in four months and a sign of strengthening in the vital manufacturing sector.

Durable goods orders rose 3.6% in May from the previous month to $231 billion, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. Analysts had expected a 3% rise.

The May increase matched a revised 3.6% rise in April. Durable goods orders were down 5.9% in March, largely because of slumping demand for aircraft.

Orders for aircraft and other big-ticket transportation equipment are an important factor in the monthly data.

Read more: http://www.latimes.com/business/money/la-fi-mo-durable-goods-manufacturing-economy-20130625,0,1291014.story

6/07/13: DOJ Fights Release of Secret Court Opinion Finding Unconstitutional Surveillance

In the midst of revelations that the government has conducted extensive top-secret surveillance operations to collect domestic phone records and internet communications, the Justice Department was due to file a court motion Friday in its effort to keep secret an 86-page court opinion that determined that the government had violated the spirit of federal surveillance laws and engaged in unconstitutional spying.

This important case—all the more relevant in the wake of this week's disclosures—was triggered after Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a member of the Senate intelligence committee, started crying foul in 2011 about US government snooping. As a member of the intelligence committee, he had learned about domestic surveillance activity affecting American citizens that he believed was improper. He and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), another intelligence committee member, raised only vague warnings about this data collection, because they could not reveal the details of the classified program that concerned them. But in July 2012, Wyden was able to get the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify two statements that he wanted to issue publicly. They were:

* On at least one occasion the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court held that some collection carried out pursuant to the Section 702 minimization procedures used by the government was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

* I believe that the government's implementation of Section 702 of FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] has sometimes circumvented the spirit of the law, and on at least one occasion the FISA Court has reached this same conclusion.


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