July 24th, 2010
$$$$$: Happy Birthday, buddy!
Sneed hears real estate mogul Neil Bluhm is tossing a private birthday party here for President Obama, who turns 49 on Aug. 4.
• The shocker: The dinner invite to the Barack bash at Bluhm's home requires a $30,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee!
• The stunner: Obama is also scheduled to be in town Aug. 5 for a fund-raiser at the Palmer House for U.S. Senate hopeful Alexi Giannoulias, who is hoping to capture Uncle Rocky's old seat.
Former Dem political powerhouse Dan Rostenkowski, the old lion of the House Ways and Means Committee -- and friend of former U.S. presidents on both sides of the aisle -- is struggling with cancer. Ah, Danny.
She stood by him: Barbara Amiel, the brilliant and beautiful wife of former media magnate Conrad Black -- who was just released on bail from federal prison -- parked herself in front of a computer/typewriter/trough of pens when her hubby went to prison two years ago . . . and furiously fought for his release by dispatching a flood of letters and petitions worldwide.
• The upshot: Amiel, a columnist for Macleans magazine who has endured jealous jibes in the past for her string of husbands, brains and bravura, is the real hero in this love story.
• The backshot: "She was amazing," said a woman familiar with Amiel's endeavor of love and commitment. "She stood by her man and called and wrote to just about everybody who could help. Just like the song says: 'Sometimes it's hard to be a woman giving all your love to just one man. But stand by your man.' She sure did."
• Update: Black, the former owner of the Sun-Times who was found guilty of defrauding his media empire, is due today in the Chicago courtroom of U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve, who released him on $2 million bail.
• $$$: Roger Hertog, who guaranteed the former newspaper baron's $2 million bail, launched the New York Sun in 2002 with Black as an investor. A philanthropist who has reportedly given away $100 million, Hertog won the National Humanities Medal in 2007; funds Jewish thought courses at Princeton and New York University's law school, and is a significant donor to New York's Catholic schools. Black is a devout convert to Catholicism. His wife is Jewish.
Shed 'em & Grow 'em: Bill Clinton may have promised his daughter, Chelsea, he'd lose 15 pounds for her upcoming wedding, but it looks like mom, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been having a worldwide bad hair day because she is growing her hair into a longer "do" for the nuptials.
To honor slain Chicago Police Officer Michael Bailey, every crew member working on the set of the flick "Transformers 3," which is filming in Chicago, will wear a Chicago Police Memorial Foundation T-shirt on Saturday.
• To wit: The crew bought 500 shirts -- each cost $10 -- and film director Michael Bay made a personal donation. Nice.
Reginald Potts, who has been in Cook County Jail since December 2007 while awaiting trial in the kidnapping and murder of his ex-girlfriend Nailah Franklin, just got charged with assaulting a Cook County Jail correctional officer. It's his third such offense.
• Background: Potts, who will be eligible for the death penalty if convicted, reportedly refused to get off the jail phone several weeks ago, so jail guards cut the phone's power line. Potts is accused of punching the nearest officer four times before he was subdued.
Today's birthdays: Walter Maksym, ageless; Slash, 45; Woody Harrelson, 49; Don Imus, 70; Marlon Wayans, 38; Eriq La Salle, 48, and Anthony Kennedy, 74, and belated wishes to Nikki Winters-Haywood, 52.
July 24th, 2010
The upgrading, besides allowing the flag to be flown, also grants certan privileges to the delegation staff, such as diplomatic immunity, although it is not equal to embassy status.
The PLO's chief representative in the United States, Maen Areikat, said that this step makes the PLO's status in the United States equivalent to its status in Canada and many western European countries.
Israeli Radio reported that sources in Prime Minister Netanyahu's office said that the Prime Minister knew of the planned step and did not object to it. . Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem claimed that the step was taken to strengthen Abu Maazen and try to get him to agree to direct talks with Israel. However, they expressed dissapointment that the White House did not make ceasing the PA's anti Israel incitement a condition for the status upgrade.
July 24th, 2010
If the government can find a manufacturer, the Linux operating system-based computer would be the latest in a string of "world's cheapest" innovations to hit the market out of India, which is home to the 100,000 rupee ($2,127) compact Nano car, the 749 rupees ($16) water purifier and the $2,000 open-heart surgery.
The tablet can be used for functions like word processing, web browsing and video-conferencing. It has a solar power option too — important for India's energy-starved hinterlands — though that add-on costs extra.
"This is our answer to MIT's $100 computer," human resource development minister Kapil Sibal told the Economic Times when he unveiled the device Thursday.
In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte — co-founder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab — unveiled a prototype of a $100 laptop for children in the developing world. India rejected that as too expensive and embarked on a multiyear effort to develop a cheaper option of its own.
Negroponte's laptop ended up costing about $200, but in May his nonprofit association, One Laptop Per Child, said it plans to launch a basic tablet computer for $99.
Sibal turned to students and professors at India's elite technical universities to develop the $35 tablet after receiving a "lukewarm" response from private sector players. He hopes to get the cost down to $10 eventually.
Mamta Varma, a ministry spokeswoman, said falling hardware costs and intelligent design make the price tag plausible. The tablet doesn't have a hard disk, but instead uses a memory card, much like a mobile phone. The tablet design cuts hardware costs, and the use of open-source software also adds to savings, she said.
Varma said several global manufacturers, including at least one from Taiwan, have shown interest in making the low-cost device, but no manufacturing or distribution deals have been finalized. She declined to name any of the companies.
India plans to subsidize the cost of the tablet for its students, bringing the purchase price down to around $20.
"Depending on the quality of material they are using, certainly it's plausible," said Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst at Forrester Research. "The question is, is it good enough for students?"
Profitability is also a question for the $35 machine.
Epps said government subsidies or dual marketing — where higher-priced sales in the developed world are used to subside low-cost sales in markets like India — could convince a manufacturer to come on board.
This and similar efforts â€” like the Kakai Kno and the Entourage Edge tablets â€” show that there is global demand for an affordable device to trim high textbook costs, she said.
If it works, Epps predicts the device could send a shiver of cost-consciousness through the industry.
"It puts pressure on all device manufacturers to keep costs down and innovate," she said.
The project is part of an ambitious education technology initiative by the Indian government, which also aims to bring broadband connectivity to India's 25,000 colleges and 504 universities and make study materials available online.
So far nearly 8,500 colleges have been connected and nearly 500 web and video-based courses have been uploaded on YouTube and other portals, the Ministry said.
July 23rd, 2010
By Barry Secrest
In the ongoing "dark comedy" that is the current Governmental paradigm of considerable dysfunction, we are beginning now to wonder if manifest destiny has determined that each week must now be even more inspiring of increasing anti-depressant ingestion than the prior. To illustrate, Republican "Savior" Senator Scott Brown came through "once again"--this time as the deciding vote on the Financial "Deform" Bill. Unfortunately Brown sided with the Socialist Democrats yet again and voted yes for the 2,300 page monster bill that the Legislators, again, most likely failed to read. After running on a Conservative platform, we naively wonder if perhaps Brown is but another RINO--if not worse.
Unfortunately, consensual disappointment in our elected officials has become so "de rigueur" that we are now nonplussed--at best--by any eventual outcome whether it be surprising or not--at least until November. At any rate, The Financial "Deform" Bill was indeed passed, which could have been great news, at least on one point, for both Conservatives and the Country. It could have meant that one of the largest problems of the financial meltdown, being the actions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, would be forever reined in and corrected.
However, not so "again."
In fact, the two now Government-owned entities were not even mentioned in the legislation--not surprisingly. Do I sound like Eeyore yet? Meanwhile, there was also the fantastic news for Europe that the Euro has twittered up in value all of a sudden. Alas....our problem in this case was that the US dollar ratcheted downward as the cause. The dollar, along with the stock market, tanked. The reason? The Fed had indicated that the US may not satisfactorily recover for another 5 to 6 years in yet another case of "No We Can't." One supposes that keeping an opinion such as that secret would have been out of the question?....
July 23rd, 2010
By Bryan Bender
WASHINGTON — Federal investigators have identified several dozen Pentagon officials and contractors with high-level security clearances who allegedly purchased and downloaded child pornography, including an undisclosed number who used their government computers to obtain the illegal material, according to investigative reports.
The investigations have included employees of the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — which deal with some of the most sensitive work in intelligence and defense — among other organizations within the Defense Department.
The number of offenders is a small percentage of the thousands of people working for sensitive Pentagon-related agencies. But the fact that offenders include people with access to government secrets puts national security agencies “at risk of blackmail, bribery, and threats, especially since these individuals typically have access to military installations,’’ according to one report by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service from late 2009.
Some of the individuals have been prosecuted and other cases have been dropped, while more have languished several years without resolution, according to the previously undisclosed documents about the investigations.
The more than 50 pages, compiled by the investigative service, part of the Pentagon’s Inspector General’s Office, contain summaries of investigations initiated since 2002, including some cases that remain open.
The uneven discipline reflects difficulties in bringing prosecutions, according to specialists. The evidentiary standards are high for prosecution in child pornography cases, according to child welfare specialists, including positively identifying victims as underage or known victims of abuse. In others, evidence was lost or misplaced and investigators said they lacked sufficient resources to complete all of them.
Gary Comerford, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Inspector General, said the agency takes such cases very seriously but said he could not comment on individual investigations.
Many of those apprehended were swept up in a much broader probe initiated by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in 2006. Operation Flicker identified an estimated 5,000 people who had paid money over the Internet to access websites operated overseas. But until now, it has not been disclosed that a sizable number of cases were referred to the Defense Department for investigation because they involved military personnel, intelligence officials, or defense contractors.
The investigative documents were provided to the Globe by a government official after they were approved for public release.
The exact numbers of cases involving Defense Department personnel were not contained in the reports and officials at DCIS could not immediately provide statistics. But the official reports indicate that more than 30 government employees were investigated.
Purchasing child pornography is a crime; accessing it on a government computer is also a violation of laws governing the misuse of government property.
At least two of the cases were contractors with top secret clearances at the National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on foreign communications, according to the documents. When one of the contractors was indicted two years ago, he fled the country and is believed to be hiding in Libya, according to a summary of the investigation from last year. The other was sentenced in 2008 to more than five years in prison and lifetime probation.
A separate case involves a contractor working at the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that builds and operates the nation’s spy satellites. The individual admitted in 2008 when he was being interviewed to renew his security clearance that he viewed child pornography at least twice a week on his home computer.
As of December, the individual had been transferred to an agency field office in New Mexico and had not been charged. A National Reconnaissance Office spokesman, Rick Oborn, said he was aware of a few cases of agency employees accessing such images but could not immediately say whether the particular contractor was still working for the organization.
Specialists in child protection expressed alarm at the revelations, but said it was not that surprising to find even officials in sensitive government positions engaging in such activity.
“Some are in high-ranking positions, in positions of trust,’’ said John Sheehan, executive director of the exploited child division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has been consulted on many of these cases and has reviewed 36 million images of alleged child pornography since 2002 at the request of law enforcement agencies. “There isn’t a profile or stereotype, which makes it even more challenging for law enforcement.’’
The Pentagon’s investigation reports show that personnel found frequenting the illegal websites worked at a variety of Pentagon installations.
Thirteen suspects were identified in California, including individuals who worked at some of the most sensitive military installations on the West Coast. One was a contractor at Edwards Air Force Base, where weapons testing is conducted, while another worked at the Naval Air Warfare Center at China Lake.
Their positions gave the cases priority at the immigration and customs agency that first uncovered them, according to the reports, “because the subjects are DoD employees who possess security clearances.’’
A large amount of pornography was found on the office computer of a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, including images that appeared to be of children. DARPA is responsible for developing some of the military’s most secret weapons and technologies. Charges were not pursued because there were no images of known victims of abuse, something that is routinely needed to bring charges, the case summary said.
A DARPA spokesman, Eric Mazzacone, declined to comment.
Other agencies where personnel were investigated are blacked out in the documents because their jobs were so highly sensitive, including a case from 2007 in which a national security official had 93 documents, 8,400 pictures, and 200 movies “that were evidence of receipt of child pornography.’’ The individual was sentenced to five years in prison and five years of supervised release.
Others have not led to criminal prosecutions, such as the 2007 case involving an employee at the Defense Contract Management Agency in Hartford who had about 40 images believed to constitute child pornography on a government-issued computer. The individual was not prosecuted because the ages of the individuals depicted in the images could not be determined or positively identified as known child victims, according to the reports.
Another case opened in August 2007 involving a Defense Department contractor was closed “due to a lack of resources,’’ a November 2009 report from Pentagon criminal investigators said.
The case was referred back to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Bryan Bender can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.