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Sony hack got your worried? Here are some cyber safety tips

Sony hack got your worried? Here are some cyber safety tips

By Brad Knickerbocker

The recent Sony hack reminds those who own personal computer, tablets, or smart phones that their important personal information could be breached by hackers. Here are some ways to help avoid that.

Speaking on CCTV News recently, cyber security expert Gary Miliefsky said this: “We’re trading convenience for privacy and security. Every mobile device, every smartphone, every tablet is a doorway either into your bank account, credit card, or your identity. And as a result, the hackers have so many new ways in it’s a feeding frenzy for cyber criminals this year.”

Mr. Miliefsky is CEO of SnoopWall, the inventor of spyware-blocking technology, and an advisor to the US Department of Homeland Security. Here are his tips to safeguard your information:

Assume you’ve already been compromised. Whether it's your baby monitor, your SmartTV, the Webcam on your laptop or apps you installed on your smartphone or tablet, your antivirus is not enough protection. It's time to take those devices’ and apps’ privacy policies, and the permissions you grant them, much more seriously.

Change your passwords – all of them. Now. And do it as frequently as you can tolerate. Also, if you don't want to change it often, then use any unique characters you can think of, such as a dollar sign ($) or exclamation mark (!), or replace an "oh" with a "zero" (0). This goes a long way in preventing attacks against your password.

Turn off wireless and geolocation services. Protect your smartphones and tablets by turning off WiFi, Bluetooth, NFC and GPS, except when you need them. That way, if you are at a local coffee shop or in a shopping mall, no one can spy on you using nearby (proximity) hacking attacks and they can’t track where you were and where you are going on your GPS.

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Christoph Waltz on His Late Success

Christoph Waltz

Christoph Waltz on His Late Success

After struggling to make it as an actor for 35 years, he may now play James Bond’s nemesis Blofeld.

By Alexandra Wolfe

Life for Christoph Waltz has changed dramatically in the past five years. After struggling to make it as an actor for 35 years, he broke into mainstream Hollywood only recently.

Mr. Waltz, 58, kept at it, although he admits that he had doubts along the way. “My conviction is we don’t have any idea about our talents,” he says. “People always overestimate their talents, always, and maybe as a consequence underestimate unexpected or unrealized talents.”

Still, he thinks of talent as a “little pet that needs to run”—something with a life of its own. “I always had the feeling that my little pet that needs to run couldn’t run properly because of this or that,” he says. “But now all, of a sudden, everybody wants to take it for a walk.”

In the past five years, Mr. Waltz has acted in about a dozen films; two of those roles have earned him Academy Awards for best supporting actor. Since his big break as a Nazi villain in Quentin Tarantino ’s “Inglourious Basterds,” he has appeared in such films as “Django Unchained” (2012), “The Three Musketeers” (2011) and “The Green Hornet” (2011), and the makers of the 24th James Bond film, “Spectre,” recently announced that he will play a prominent part.

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Mr. Waltz says that he gets his inspiration for his characters from day-to-day interactions. “Life is not a bad model,” he says. He also reads psychology, a subject in which he has long been interested. Along with helping him to develop his characters, reading about psychology has given him insight into a film’s overall narrative. “We’re kind of the product of our cognition, which is all pictorial in a way, and it’s really sequencing images that make up a story.” The story of a movie, he says, is about how one image relates to the next.

“That’s all very theoretical,” admits Mr. Waltz. But psychology—and the performing arts—run in his family. Mr. Waltz’s maternal grandfather was a psychoanalyst who wrote a 1949 book called “Sex Perfection and Marital Happiness.” Mr. Waltz grew up in Vienna; his parents were both set and costume designers. His father was German, so he was born a German citizen and became an Austrian citizen as well in 2010. “I was born in Austria, and I grew up in Austria, and it was kind of silly not to have an Austrian passport,” he says. “I corrected it.”

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After working so long to make it, Mr. Waltz is grateful to have options. “The parts I can get offered cover so many different things,” he says. And he’s glad that success came to him later in life. “I’m old enough to really appreciate it,” he says. “When it happens when you’re 25, you really erroneously think it’s all about you.” Being older, “I don’t make that mistake.”

 
Is Any College Football Coach Worth $60 Million? Jim Harbaugh Is

Is Any College Football Coach Worth $60 Million? Jim Harbaugh Is

Michigan supposedly offered 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh a $42 million contract, which would him the highest-paid coach in the NCAA. Why they should offer even more.

Despite the fact that he has never won a championship, the University of Michigan is rumored to be offering Jim Harbaugh $42 million for six years to return to his alma matter and become the highest paid coach in college sports.

Harbuagh has said that he doesn’t want ”to talk about any other job than the one I have,” which is the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers. Michigan hopes that his lack of a statement is a sign of possibility.  For a former Michigan quarterback, it’s a homecoming he has to be considering, especially with that kind of superlative salary on the line.  Bruce Feldman at Fox Sports One is claiming that the $8 million dollar number “isn’t even close.” 

If Michigan really wants to make sure that Harbaugh returns to Ann Arbor, it shouldn’t be. 

With the potential upside that he would bring to the program, Michigan could offer Harbaugh $2-3 million more and still breaking even on their investment in one year.

Having been the big man on Stanford’s campus as their coach from 2007-10, Harbaugh knows college football.  At Michigan, he would be a formidable recruiter, able to evoke the tradition of his former iconic coach, Bo Schembechler.  With a .700 career winning percentage as a coach in college and the NFL, Harbaugh is a winner. As the rumors have swirled, former players have come out stating that Harbaugh turns losers into winners.

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The reported Harbuagh offer is indisputably a Hail Mary full of cash, and one that has made Michigan football part of a December college football discussion, even if it’s not for what’s happening on the field.  More than 100,000 people have watched a YouTube video of Harbaugh-at-Michigan highlights with Matthew McConaughey's voiceover from the Lincoln commercial. A homecoming for Harbaugh would instantly put Michigan back into spotlight of the billion-dollar industry known as College Football, and provide a fresh start to one of top brands in the game.

In addition to the negative on-field attention, off-the-field problems were just as bad this year.  In his second year as athletic director, former Domino’s CEO and former Michigan backup QB David Brandon pushed a bottom-line-first agenda that alienated alumnae and current students.  It got so bad, that the school resorted to “Groupon-like services” to fill seats. Brandon stepped down before the season was over.

Beyond the embarrassment, missing bowl games carries a real economic cost. An appearance in even a third-tier bowl is worth a couple million dollars.  For their trip to New Orleans against Alabama, Ohio State is bringing in a cool $17 million.   If they get to the 2015 National Championship game, that’s another $24 million.  While the current Big 10 revenue share agreement would limit Michigan’s direct share of playoff bowl payout to only a few million, it would cast a halo worth many millions more on the school and program.  One area that would immediately benefit is revenue from ticket sales.

 
Macau Looks Beyond Gambling as the Take From the Tables Slows

Macau Looks Beyond Gambling as the Take From the Tables Slows

Macau had been on a hot streak.

Over a span of 10 years, the Chinese territory reshaped itself from a sleepy Portuguese colony into the world’s largest gambling destination. A flood of money from the increasingly wealthy mainland washed over the city and its residents, and the casino industry now dominates the economy.

But this autumn, gambling revenue dropped precipitously, by nearly 20 percent in November from the same month last year. The stocks of casino operators have slumped after Beijing announced that the Chinese police would be cracking down on the flow of illicit money through the territory.

That move came ahead of a visit by President Xi Jinping of China, who arrived in Macau on Friday as part of the city’s commemoration of the 15th anniversary of its handover from Portuguese to Chinese control.

Macau is taking a hard look at how to wean itself off its heavy reliance on gambling. Casino resorts are using diverse approaches — like Shrek-themed breakfast buffets for families and boxing title fights — to attract mainland Chinese visitors who will spend at least some of their vacation money away from the tables.

“There’s an opportunity for Macau to attract a new breed of customer, one which is looking for a more holistic experience,” said Aaron Fischer, a gambling analyst at the brokerage firm CLSA.

Beijing has openly pressed the Macau government to diversify into a “family-style entertainment zone” with less reliance on gambling.

“The dominance of one industry can lead the city to prosperity, but it also can lead to its demise,” Li Gang, director of the Central People’s Government Liaison Office in Macau, said this last week.

 
“My life has been one long descent into respectability”

Mandy Rice-Davies, Figure in Sex Scandal, Dies at 70

Mandy Rice-Davies, a former nightclub dancer and model who achieved notoriety in 1963 in one of Britain‘s most spectacular Cold War sex scandals, died on Thursday. She was 70.

Her publicist said in a statement confirming the death that Ms. Rice-Davies had endured a “short battle with cancer.” The statement did not say where she died.

In later years Ms. Rice-Davies became a businesswoman and a writer and was known by her married name, Marilyn Foreman. But Britons more widely remember her for making headlines in what was called the Profumo affair — revelations that a government minister, John Profumo, had shared a mistress, Christine Keeler, with a Soviet defense attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov.

The scandal raised questions about national security and rocked the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan.

Ms. Rice-Davies shared lodgings with Ms. Keeler but never met Mr. Profumo, who died in 2006.

In March 1963, Mr. Profumo went before Parliament to deny any “impropriety whatever” with Ms. Keeler. But he resigned three months later as details of the relationship emerged, forcing him to admit that he had lied to Parliament.

Details of the scandal were revealed in court hearings at the trial of Stephen Ward, an osteopath, who had introduced Mr. Profumo and Ms. Keeler at a party at the Berkshire country home of the aristocrat Lord Astor. Mr. Ward took a drug overdose just before he was found guilty on two counts of living off immoral earnings and died a few days later.

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n court hearings in 1963, the public learned of what seemed to be lurid activities involving aristocrats, government officials, diplomats, spies and call girls.

As the hearings unfolded, Ms. Rice-Davies gained renown for a pithy response to being told that Lord Astor had denied he had slept with her.

“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?” she said, according to one account. (Others quoted her as saying, “He would, wouldn’t he?” or, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”)

The remark was seen as a sign of a new lack of deference in 1960s Britain, as the country struggled for greater prosperity and the class system that had shielded the upper crust from scrutiny came under assault from newly assertive ordinary people.

“It was an age of deference,” Ms. Rice-Davies said in a BBC interview this year. “People still doffed their caps.”

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Born in Llanelli, Wales, on Oct. 21, 1944, Ms. Rice-Davies spent part of her early years in the English Midlands and dropped out of high school to work in a department store in Birmingham. At 16 she left home against her parents’ wishes and wound up working in London as a nightclub dancer.

“My biggest fear was living a drab, boring life,” she wrote in an article this year in the newspaper The Mail on Sunday. “Well, I certainly didn’t end up doing that.”

As a dancer at Murray’s Cabaret Club, she added, “I met a showgirl called Christine Keeler. It was dislike at first sight.”

As the scandal ebbed, she wrote, “I was offered a job singing at a club in Germany, and I accepted with alacrity even though the only place I’d ever sung before was in the church choir.”

Ms. Rice-Davies performed in cabarets in Germany and Spain and later spent time in Israel, where, with her first husband, Rafael Shaul, an Israeli, she founded a string of nightclubs and restaurants in her name.

After a divorce and a brief second marriage, she returned to Britain in 1980, embarking on a career as an actor and writer. In 1988 she married Ken Foreman, a British businessman, who survives her. They had homes in Britain, Florida and the Caribbean.

“My life has been one long descent into respectability,” she was widely reported as saying.

 
School Finds Music Is the Food of Learning

School Finds Music Is the Food of Learning

At Voice Charter School in Queens, Students Have Outperformed Their Peers Academically

The principal, unsmiling in his jacket and tie, launched himself into the air, jumping up and down at the back of the gymnasium, waving frantically at more than 100 first graders as they rehearsed for their holiday concert.

Franklin Headley, the principal, was bouncing around to prepare the children for a room full of grinning, waving adults who would come to watch them perform the next day, and he asked the students not to wave back. A few giggles bubbled up from gaptoothed faces, but the students, partway through a cheery rendition of “I’ve Got Rhythm,” kept on singing.

Calendars are awash this time of year in holiday-themed pageants, but the mainly straight-faced students crooning in that gym are much better prepared for the season than most. They are pupils at Voice Charter School in Queens, where students learn to read music, execute complicated harmonies and play a little piano in the music classes they attend at least once a day, and where, far more than in other general education schools, they learn to sing, sing, sing.

The gym was standing room only for the performance the next night.

“Please don’t wave at your children,” Mr. Headley said to a room packed with whispered Spanish, head scarves and the occasional bindi. “We want them to be trained, competent musicians.”

Nonetheless, one first-grade boy, stage left during the performance of “I’ve Got Rhythm,” waved furtively. And it would not be an event full of small children if someone did not throw up. Someone did.

Ultimately, these little disturbances were just fine, because Voice is not trying to train aspiring professionals.

“They learn how to be really good at something,” Mr. Headley said. “We believe that then translates into everything else.”

.................................

In an era of dwindling attention to the arts in public schools, Voice is now in its seventh year. Mr. Headley founded the school after learning that music and movement might improve language acquisition, he said, a concept he came across while he was studying at a principal training program called New Leaders. Voice started with kindergarten and has added one new grade each year; it expects to reach its full complement of kindergarten through eighth grade in the fall.

Today, the school has just shy of 600 students spread between two buildings in Long Island City; one of them used to be a Catholic school. Bells from St. Rita’s Roman Catholic Church, right next door, chime throughout the day. Seventy percent of the students qualified for free lunch last year, according to city data. Like other New York charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, it admits students through a lottery. No one auditions.

Academically, students at Voice did significantly better than the city average on New York State math exams last year, with 70 percent of its students passing, compared with 39 percent citywide. Their English performance was less impressive, but with 39 percent passing, it still beat the citywide average of 30 percent.

The children, each in a uniform of a sky-blue shirt and navy skirt or slacks, are instructed to be quiet in the hallways and asked not to shriek during gym class, to protect order as well as their voices. But what really distinguishes the school are the sounds. Songs in English, Spanish, Japanese and German drift through the buildings, pens rhythmically tap against any convenient hard surface, and little bursts of music surface even where they are not meant to be.

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“They learn to stick with something hard and breaking things down into steps,” she said. “And work together as a group at such a young age.”

 
North Korea demands joint inquiry with US into Sony Pictures hack

North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un

North Korea demands joint inquiry with US into Sony Pictures hack

Pyongyang denies responsibility for cyber-attack and threatens grave consequences if Washington continues to blame it

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The foreign ministry in Pyongyang denied responsibility for the the highest-profile corporate hack in history, and said there would be grave consequences if Washington refused to collaborate on an investigation and continued to blame it.

The state KCNA news agency added that claims North Korea had conducted the attack on Sony in revenge for the controversial comedy The Interview, a multimillion-dollar comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen that depicts the assassination of Kim Jong-un, were “groundless slander”.

KCNA quoted the foreign ministry as saying: “As the United States is spreading groundless allegations and slandering us, we propose a joint investigation with it into this incident.

“Without resorting to such tortures as were used by the CIA, we have means to prove that this incident has nothing to do with us.”

North Korea’s comments came after Barack Obama said Sony had made a mistake in axing the comedy, which had been due for release on Christmas Day.

Speaking on Friday after the FBI pinned the blame for the cyber-attack on North Korea, Obama said: “We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States, because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don’t like, or news reports that they don’t like.

 
Learning Mindful Parenting From Dragon Moms

Learning Mindful Parenting From Dragon Moms

By Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Ed.D.

"Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now."

“Before you cross the street, take my hand.

Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

In John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" we see a mundane example of mindful parenting, helping a child to live in the moment rather than in the future. The work of mindful parenting is in the quality of the attention we bring to each moment, and in the commitment to live and parent as consciously as possible. I feel that I am parenting mindfully when I am seeing my children clearly, as they are, without the veils of my own expectations, fears, and needs so that I can see what is truly called for in each moment.

 
Why Dad’s “Talk” is Important

Why Dad’s “Talk” is Important

By Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D.

Does it matter if Dad doesn’t discuss emotions? Yes, yes, yes!

The media tell us that love sports and beer and never talk about feelings. But what happens when these men become dads?  Does it matter if Dad doesn’t discuss emotions? (Mom can take care of it, right?) Are we really losing anything by not expecting men to be examples for their children of emotionally well-adjusted adults?

 
Jerry Sandusky loses bid to get his $4,900-a-month pension restored

Down and out: Former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky lost a legal battle to restore his $4,900-a-month pension, a benefit that was canceled two years ago after he was sentenced for child molestation

Jerry Sandusky loses bid to get his $4,900-a-month pension restored

By Associated Press and Snejana Farberov for MailOnline

Convicted serial child molester Jerry Sandusky will not be getting his $4,900-a-month pension back, it was revealed today. 

The former assistant football coach at Penn State lost the benefit two years ago after he was sentenced for sexually abusing young boys, some of whom he had met through his charity benefiting underprivileged youths. 

Sandusky's attorney Chuck Benjamin said Friday the State Employees' Retirement System issued a 122-page opinion with the decision not to restore the pension. Benjamin says he plans to challenge the ruling in a lawsuit.

The decision followed a recommendation in June by a hearing examiner who said Sandusky had already retired by the time the Pension Forfeiture Act was expanded in 2004 to add sexual offenses to the crimes that trigger forfeiture.

The 70-year-old Sandusky is serving a decades-long sentence and appears likely to die in prison. His wife, Dottie, would be in line to continue collecting 50 per cent of his pension benefits upon his death.

Mrs Sandusky has stood by her husband's side throughout the trial and even after his conviction, insisting that he was innocent. 

The good wife: Sandusky's loyal wife, Dottie (left), would be in line to continue collecting 50 per cent of his pension benefits upon his death

The wife of the former football coach has been unwavering in her support, attacking the media and even their adopted son, Matt, who appeared as a witness for the prosecution during the trial accusing Sandusky of molesting him from the time he was 8 years old.

'All I can say at this point is we're looking forward to litigating the revocation of the pension in court,' Benjamin said. 'That's the next step of this process. We've exhausted our administrative remedies, and now we'll be filing papers within the next 30 days in court."

The hearing examiner, Michael Bangs, had said that the retirement system had improperly applied the forfeiture law to Sandusky for crimes he committed as a retiree.

 
Inside Obama's Family Deportation Mill

Inside Obama's Family Deportation Mill

By Ian Gordon

Immigration officials are opening new lockups for moms and kids seeking refuge from violent homelands. So much for compassion.

This past summer, the "border kids"—tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras detained after crossing into the United States—became the country's latest immigration crisis. Aid groups mobilized, Congress held hearings, and pleas for compassion resounded at the highest levels of government. "These are our kids," Vice President Joe Biden told a group of lawyers in August, urging them to offer the children free legal representation.

But the Obama administration hasn't extended that caring attitude to another huge group of Central American migrant kids—those traveling with a parent or guardian, usually their mother. In fiscal 2014, according to data from US Customs and Border Protection, these so-called family unit apprehensions nearly quadrupled. By comparison, the increase in kids arriving at the border alone—the surge that put Capitol Hill in a crisis mode—was a relatively modest 77 percent.

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In perhaps the biggest policy reversal since the surge began, the federal government has rebuilt the controversial family detention system it gutted only a few years ago, in no small part to send a message to would-be immigrants—even though 98 percent of those at one Texas detention facility were asylum seekers who claimed that they feared returning to their home countries, according to a recent report by the Women's Refugee Commission and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. "I certainly would've never expected it from this administration," said the WRC's Michelle Brané, who coauthored the report. "Why they went for this draconian detention, I just don't get it."

In 2009, the feds stopped detaining women and children at the notorious T. Don Hutto facility near Austin, Texas, following Bush-era allegations of stark conditions and sexual abuse. Family detention seemed to be on the outs. Then, in July, the White House put forward a $3.7 billion emergency appropriations request that included $879 million for about 6,300 new family detention beds. While the request never made it through Congress, the Department of Homeland Security still managed to open a temporary family facility in Artesia, New Mexico, and a second one in Karnes City, Texas. (Nearly 500 women and children have been deported since these facilities opened their doors to family-unit detainees.)

The Artesia facility is set to close this month, just in time for DHS to open yet another family detention center in Dilley, Texas. Built to house 2,400 migrants, the South Texas Family Residential Center will be the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility ever. Like Hutto, it will be run by the private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America.

Anti-detention advocates argue that locking up families is not only expensive—ICE spends $161 a day to detain the typical immigrant, but $266 a day per family-unit detainee—but also traumatic and unnecessary. For the past several years, said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Michael Tan, women with children who passed the so-called credible fear of persecution screening, which comes before an asylum hearing, were allowed to live in the community while they went through the immigration process. "The agency understood that if you were a bona fide asylum seeker we didn't need to lock you up," Tan said. Besides, alternatives to detention can be nearly as effective in getting people to their immigration hearings, at a fraction of the cost.

"Detention puts a whole lot of pressure on extremely vulnerable people to give up their cases," Tan said. "The immigration authorities know that one way to facilitate removal is to keep people locked up."

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Is Obama extending economic 'lifeline' to communist regime?

Is Obama extending economic 'lifeline' to communist regime?

By Mark Trumbull

President Obama's decision to open relations with Cuba has sparked swift and vocal opposition from critics who say it will only aid the Castro regime. Supporters say the move promises to nudge the Cuban regime to expand political and economic freedom.

Will closer financial ties between the United States and Cuba help to promote political reform on the communist island or simply prop up a morally bankrupt regime?

That question is stirring deep controversy after President Obama announced a major move to open diplomatic relations with Cuba after a five-decade attempt to isolate the Castro regime out of existence.

Mr. Obama said “these 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” and argued that “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.”

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“The United States has just thrown the Cuban regime an economic lifeline,” Sen. Robert Menendez  (D) of New Jersey, outgoing chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement released Wednesday. Another senator of Cuban-American heritage, Ted Cruz (R) of Texas, used the same “economic lifeline” phrase in issuing his own lament.

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Although Cuba experts line up on both sides of this complex question, many share a few points of common ground: One is that the latest moves announced jointly in Washington and Havana will inject some meaningful economic resources to the Cuban economy, which promise to benefit the Castro regime as well as ordinary Cubans.

But a second point of consensus is that a five-decade US economic embargo aimed at squeezing Cuba shows no signs of toppling the communist government.

And Cuba experts say that under either Obama’s new policy or the prior status quo, the aging Raul Castro wants to see the regime live on after his own time in power ends. The key question, then, is whether the new economic and diplomatic opening does more to promote reform and political dissent than it does to prop up the regime with new funds or credibility.

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U.S. Appeals Court Expands Gun Rights

Gerald Crawford prepared for target practice at Action Impact gun range in Southfield, Mich., in 2011. A U.S. appeals court ruled Thursday that Charles Tyler, a Michigan man committed to a mental institution decades ago, could buy guns.

U.S. Appeals Court Expands Gun Rights

Man Committed to Mental Institution Decades Ago Can’t Be Blocked From Buying Gun

By Ashby Jones

In the first legal ruling of its type, a federal appeals court in Cincinnati on Thursday deemed unconstitutional a federal law that kept a Michigan man who was briefly committed to a mental institution decades ago from owning a gun.

A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the federal ban on gun ownership for anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective or who has been committed to a mental institution” violated the Second Amendment rights of Clifford Charles Tyler, a 73-year-old Hillsdale County man.

“The government’s interest in keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill is not sufficiently related to depriving the mentally healthy, who had a distant episode of commitment, of their constitutional rights,” wrote Judge Danny Boggs, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, for the panel.

Lucas McCarthy, Mr. Tyler’s lawyer, called the ruling “a forceful decision to protect Second Amendment rights,” and said he hoped it that it would have “a significant impact on the jurisprudence in the area of gun rights.”

The Justice Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The decision is the first by a federal appeals court to deem unconstitutional a federal gun law since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2008 ruling, called D.C. v. Heller. The Heller ruling, in which the court struck down the Washington, D.C., ban on firearms ownership, represented the Supreme Court’s first foray in decades into the scope of the Second Amendment.

Mr. Tyler recently attempted to buy a gun, but was denied on grounds that he had been committed by a court to a mental institution in 1986 after emotional problems associated with a divorce, Thursday’s opinion said. His commitment lasted less than a month.

Federal law bans gun ownership for a several types of people, including convicted felons, people under 18, illegal immigrants, drug addicts and those ordered by a court to a mental institution. However, federal law also says that people must have opportunities to prove that their disqualifying “disabilities” have ended and that they should be able to own a gun.

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Sony Hates Adam Sandler As Much As You

 

By William Boot

Leaked drama-filled emails between Sony Pictures studio chief Amy Pascal and other execs show some of the reasons why the longtime Sandler home let him move over to Netflix.

Back in October, Variety broke the news that Adam Sandler had signed an exclusive deal with Netflix to star in and produce four films for the streaming video service.

It was a surprising development—that one of the biggest global stars, whose films have raked in $3.9 billion worldwide, would take his talents online—especially given that Sandler had, with a few exceptions, spent the last 15 years starring in and producing films for Sony Pictures. The actor’s production company, Happy Madison, is even situated on the Sony studio lot.

But Sandler’s last film, the critically mauled Blended, took in a paltry $46 million at the domestic box office and that, coupled with recent misfires That’s My Boy and Jack and Jill, led some to question whether the Sandman’s star was petering out.

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Emails unearthed by The Daily Beast reveal that the studio wasn’t happy with Sandler’s behavior on the set of Hotel Transylvania 2, as well as a studio pitch on a film adaptation of the board game Candyland that led Pascal to brand the 48-year-old actor—who has a reputation as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood—an “asshole.”

A distressed and apologetic email dated Sept. 23 of this year from Hannah Minghella, co-president of production for Columbia Pictures, to Pascal and other execs details her frustrations with Team Sandler over a Candyland meeting gone terribly awry—with Sandler allegedly cornering studio execs and demanding that they green-light the $200 million film project on the spot.

“Adam is an asshile [sic] and this is more his fault than anyone’s but what we did was not communicate with each other and make assumptions maybe I didn’t pay attention when you were telling me what I was walking into but it also comes from a non alien meant between us all and too many people doing everything and no one taking responsibility and I mean myself as it is my responsibility to let you guys know what I want to breath [sic] life into,” replied Pascal.

Doug Belgrad, president of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s motion picture group, also weighs in on the chain to Pascal, clearing Minghella of any blame and placing it more on Sandler’s own issues with his fading star power.

“On Candyland, [Minghella] was just servicing Adam,” wrote Belgrad. “You knew from when Venit called you last week and what I told you that it was all a zhiv, but Sandler is so on guard for it, there was no chance to pull that off. You said yourself that Adam was gonna be angry and you said you didn’t care you couldn’t fix what was really bothering him that he isn’t the guy he once was and nobody can make that better for him.”

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Publisher's Note: We like Adam Sandler. He is reliably reported to be very polite to civilians.

 
Battle for the minds of young Muslims

Mohamed Taha Sabri laments the Islamic State’s allure. (M. Wezel for Post)

Battle for the minds of young Muslims

Anthony Faiola and Souad Mekhennet

As the Islamic State’s ruthless ideology radiates from the Middle East, a mosque in Berlin and countless others across the West face new fault lines in a conflict that moderates don’t always win.

After the latest of his sermons denouncing the Islamic State, Mohamed Taha Sabri stepped down from an ornate platform at the House of Peace mosque. The 48-year-old chief preacher then moved to greet his congregation, steeling himself for the fallout.

Soon, two young men — they are almost always young, but not always men — were calling him out. Only moments before, Sabri had derided the militants’ tactics, saying “it is not our task to turn women into slaves, to bomb churches, to slaughter people in front of cameras while shouting ‘God is great!’ ”

One young man in a black leather jacket angrily chided him for challenging “Muslim freedom fighters.” His companion in a yellow shirt then chimed in: “What is your problem with the Islamic State? You are on the wrong path!”

“No,” said Sabri, embracing the surprised young men. “My brothers, you are the ones on the wrong path.”

In the era of the Islamic State, the wrong path has become all too familiar ground at the House of Peace. Nestled between the kebab restaurants and bric-a-brac shops of an immigrant neighborhood in south Berlin, the liberal mosque stood for years as a temple of tolerance where battered Muslim women could find help divorcing their husbands and progressive imams preached a positive message of religious tolerance.

 

But as a ruthless brand of Islamic ideology radiates from the battlefields of the Middle East, the House of Peace has become a microcosm of the new fault lines developing inside countless mosques in the West. It illustrates the daily battle being fought against the militant group’s message by thousands of moderate religious leaders in Europe and beyond.

It is a fight that is sowing fresh divisions, and one the moderates do not always win. At least two youths who used to worship at the House of Peace — including Denis Cuspert, a former German rapper recently filmed holding the head of an enemy in an Islamic State video — have already left to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq. Another former worshiper here — an 18-year-old female convert to Islam — is now actively making plans to travel to Syria with an Islamic State fighter.

Roughly 16 worshipers have stopped attending prayer services in protest of Sabri’s stance. Two others were banned from the mosque for spreading radical views. Surveillance cameras have been installed and unauthorized gatherings prohibited to thwart radical recruiters. One burly 20-year-old worshiper became so enraged with Sabri’s Friday sermons against the Islamic State that he twice assaulted the slight preacher, once leaving him bleeding on the floor in need of emergency medical treatment.

 
How bad would an IRS shutdown be?

IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. | AP Photo

How bad would an IRS shutdown be?

The IRS chief’s warning on Thursday that drastic budget cuts may force a shutdown for perhaps days is his latest bid to illustrate the impact of starving the tax agency.

But how bad would it really be?

It may be that the only way Congress will heed IRS commissioner John Koskinen’s plea for more money is if they see the damage that a collective $600 million budget gap would bring: confused taxpayers, delayed refunds and tax cheaters looting the Treasury.

But Koskinen, appointed by President Barack Obama to clean up the agency after the tea party targeting affair, will have to tread carefully, keeping his responsibility to protect taxpayers and ensure a smooth tax season — or risk the wrath of the public and Republicans in Congress who’ve so far ignored his efforts to stop several years of budget bleeding.

“Tens of thousands of people are reaching out to the IRS on a continuing basis, so you’re just going to have a general deterioration of the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization — the ability of taxpayer to get through, get their letters answered, or get something resolved,” said former President George W. Bush’s IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, vice chairman of alliantgroup. “If there’s a furlough day, they can’t get through to anybody.”

On Thursday, Koskinen said closing the agency for several days would be a last resort. He didn’t note when the furloughs might occur, but last year’s three furlough days, due to sequestration cuts, avoided tax season.

Former IRS officials expect Koskinen to do the same this time around.

“It would be irresponsible to shut down during the filing season because it would delay refunds and cost the government money. … They are where they are [financially], and it’s not a good place to be, but they ought to be responsible about it,” Donald Korb, former IRS chief counsel now with Sullivan & Cromwell, said, adding that off-season furloughs are “not the end of the world.”

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The Audacity of Scolding Sony

The Audacity of Scolding Sony

Russell Berman

President Obama's surprising denunciation of a major American corporation is just the latest evidence that he plans to make the most of his last two years in office.

The accepted story of President Obama in the six weeks since the November elections is that he's been liberated. No longer tied down by the political prospects of Democrats in Congress, he has upended the low expectations placed on a lame-duck president and moved in rapid succession on immigration, climate change, net neutrality, and just this week, to normalize relations with Cuba after a 50-year freeze.

Yet Friday's year-end press conference yielded a remarkable presidential moment of another kind: Obama called out a major American corporation for acting like a coward.

"Yes, I think they made a mistake," the president said of Sony's widely-criticized decision to cancel the release of its satirical movie, The Interview, following a cyberattack from North Korea and threats of violence from the hackers who orchestrated it.

Coming from a cautious president who carefully selects his battles, that statement was newsy enough. But Obama went much further. Sony's retreat, he suggested, was as silly as a football fan who wouldn't go to an NFL game because of the vague, post-9/11 threat of a terrorist attack on a stadium. Or, he mused, what if the organizers of the Boston Marathon had cancelled this year's race after last year's bombing?

"We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States," Obama said. "That's not who we are. That's not what America is about." He said he understood that Sony had "suffered significant damage" from the leaking of internal company emails. But, he continued, "I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them, 'Don’t get into a pattern where you are intimidated by these kind of criminal attacks.'" (Sony Pictures Entertainment issued a statement later Friday afternoon blaming theater owners who refused to show the film. "It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so," read the statement, which did not mention Obama's words.)

As for the perpetrators of the hack, the president pointed to the FBI's confirmation earlier in the day that North Korea was behind it, and he said the government had "no indication" it was working with any other country, such as China. "We will respond proportionally, and we'll respond at a time and place and manner that we choose," he said, declining to comment on whether that might be additional sanctions or a counter cyberattack on Kim Jong Un's regime. (Obama also managed to mention the co-stars of the shelved film, Seth Rogen and James Franco, whose name he mispronounced as "Flacco.")

 
Sony CEO Responds to Obama, Hits Back at President's Comments

Sony CEO Responds to Obama, Hits Back at President's Comments

Sony CEO Responds to Obama, Hits Back at President's Comments

Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton breaks his silence to address President Obama‘s comments about the studio’s decision to cancel the release of The Interview.

“We have not caved, we have not given in, we have not backed down,” the 54-year-old Sony exec shared to CNN.

He added, “I think the unfortunate part is… The President, the press, and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened. We do not own movie theaters. We cannot decide what will be played in movie theaters."

 
Report: Immigrant workers account for all employment growth since 2007

Report: Immigrant workers account for all employment growth since 2007

By Susan Ferrechio

Report: Immigrant workers account for all employment growth since 2007

Labor statistics show that foreign-born workers account for all net gains in U.S. employment in the past seven years, according to a group that advocates low immigration.

The Center for Immigration Studies issued a report Friday that found 1.5 million fewer U.S.-born workers employed in 2014 than prior to the recession in 2007. Foreign-born employment for both legal and illegal immigrants increased by more than 2 million workers during the same time period.

The data, which CIS obtained from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is evidence that native-born workers could have a harder time finding jobs under President Obama’s plan to allow more than 5 million illegal immigrants to obtain work permits, CIS officials said.

“If we continue to allow in new immigration at the current pace or choose to increase the immigration level it will be even more difficult for the native-born to make back the ground they have lost in the labor market,” the report’s authors, Steven A. Camarota and Karen Zeigler, wrote.

U.S. employment numbers have been on the rebound for months.

The U.S. economy added 321,000 jobs in November, one of the strongest gains in three years.

The unemployment rate has steadily fallen and is now 5.8 percent, the lowest level since June 2008.

But Camarota and Zeigler say that employment numbers for U.S.-born workers has still not returned to pre-recession levels, while it returned to pre-recession levels for immigrant workers in 2012 “and has continued to climb.”

Overall, the number of U.S.-born workers fell from 124,014 million in November 2007 to 122,558 million in November 2014. Foreign-born workers, who make up 17 percent of the workforce, increased from 23,104 million to 25,108 million in the same time period.

 
How Much More Rain Does California Need to End the Drought?

How Much More Rain Does California Need to End the Drought?

The two weeks of rain have helped, but it's not nearly enough.

By Julia Lurie

Over the past two weeks, California has gotten a deluge of rain, lifting its reservoir levels and hydrating the soil in a state that is in the midst of one of the worst droughts in history. The chart above shows the state's drought levels pre- and post-storm, and thankfully, there's a little less of the menacing "exceptional drought."

The drought this year has been particularly scary because California's reservoirs, which are supposed to supply farmers and communities with water in dangerously dry times, were already depleted after two previous years of drought. The rain over the past two weeks has helped restore this backup supply, though as the chart below shows, California's reservoirs are only 57 percent as full as they usually are at this time of year.

 
George Clooney Wrote a Petition to Support The Interview, But No One Signed It

George Clooney Wrote a Petition to Support The Interview, But No One Signed It

By Lindsey Weber

George Clooney wrote up a petition to support The Interview, directed at his fellow actors, and is now telling Deadline that no one would dare sign it: "It was sent to basically the heads of every place. They told Bryan Lourd [Clooney's agent] , 'I can’t sign this.' What? How can you not sign this? I’m not going to name anyone, that’s not what I’m here to do, but nobody signed the letter." They were all too afraid, too afraid to publicly side with Clooney, who is basically every famous person's BFF: "This is just where we are right now, how scared this industry has been made ... Understand what is going on right now, because the world just changed on your watch, and you weren’t even paying attention."

His solution? Sony should release the film online and he will let them know: "I just talked to Amy [Pascal, the co-chariman of Sony Pictures] an hour ago. She wants to put that movie out ... Stick it online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I’m not going to be told we can’t see the movie. That’s the most important part. We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all fucking people."

...........................

On November 24 of this year, Sony Pictures was notified that it was the victim of a cyber attack, the effects of which is the most chilling and devastating of any cyber attack in the history of our country. 

Personal information including Social Security numbers, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and the full texts of emails of tens of thousands of Sony employees was leaked online in an effort to scare and terrorize these workers. 

The hackers have made both demands and threats. The demand that Sony halt the release of its upcoming comedy The Interview, a satirical film about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Their threats vary from personal—you better behave wisely—to threatening physical harm—not only you but your family is in danger. 

North Korea has not claimed credit for the attack but has praised the act, calling it a righteous deed and promising merciless measures if the film is released. 

Meanwhile the hackers insist in their statement that what they've done so far is only a small part of our further plan. 

This is not just an attack on Sony. It involves every studio, every network, every business and every individual in this country. That is why we fully support Sony's decision not to submit to these hackers' demands. 

We know that to give in to these criminals now will open the door for any group that would threaten freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together. 

 
Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up.

Did historical Jesus really exist? The evidence just doesn’t add up.

There are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence.

Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved.

Numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called “Historical Jesus” – and most of them are, as biblical scholar J.D. Crossan puts it, “an academic embarrassment.” From Crossan’s view of Jesus as the wise sage, to Robert Eisenman’s Jesus the revolutionary, and Bart Ehrman’s apocalyptic prophet, about the only thing New Testament scholars seem to agree on is Jesus’ historical existence. But can even that be questioned?

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.

..............................

The methods traditionally used to tease out rare nuggets of truth from the Gospels are dubious. The criterion of embarrassment says that if a section would be embarrassing for the author, it is more likely authentic. Unfortunately, given the diverse nature of Christianity and Judaism back then (things have not changed all that much), and the anonymity of the authors, it is impossible to determine what truly would be embarrassing or counter-intuitive, let alone if that might not serve some evangelistic purpose.

The criterion of Aramaic context is similarly unhelpful. Jesus and his closest followers were surely not the only Aramaic-speakers in first-century Judea. The criterion of multiple independent attestation can also hardly be used properly here, given that the sources clearly are not independent.

Paul’s Epistles, written earlier than the Gospels, give us no reason to dogmatically declare Jesus must have existed. Avoiding Jesus’ earthly events and teachings, even when the latter could have bolstered his own claims, Paul only describes his “Heavenly Jesus.” Even when discussing what appear to be the resurrection and the last supper, his only stated sources are his direct revelations from the Lord, and his indirect revelations from the Old Testament. In fact, Paul actually rules out human sources (see Galatians 1:11-12).

Also important are the sources we don’t have. There are no existing eyewitness or contemporary accounts of Jesus. All we have are later descriptions of Jesus’ life events by non-eyewitnesses, most of whom are obviously biased. Little can be gleaned from the few non-Biblical and non-Christian sources, with only Roman scholar Josephus and historian Tacitus having any reasonable claim to be writing about Jesus within 100 years of his life. And even those sparse accounts are shrouded in controversy, with disagreements over what parts have obviously been changed by Christian scribes (the manuscripts were preserved by Christians), the fact that both these authors were born after Jesus died (they would thus have probably received this information from Christians), and the oddity that centuries go by before Christian apologists start referencing them.

Agnosticism over the matter is already seemingly appropriate, and support for this position comes from independent historian Richard Carrier’s recent defense of another theory — namely, that the belief in Jesus started as the belief in a purely celestial being (who was killed by demons in an upper realm), who became historicized over time. To summarize Carrier’s 800-page tome, this theory and the traditional theory – that Jesus was a historical figure who became mythicized over time – both align well with the Gospels, which are later mixtures of obvious myth and what at least sounds historical.

The Pauline Epistles, however, overwhelmingly support the “celestial Jesus” theory, particularly with the passage indicating that demons killed Jesus, and would not have done so if they knew who he was (see: 1 Corinthians 2:6-10). Humans – the murderers according to the Gospels – of course would still have killed Jesus, knowing full well that his death results in their salvation, and the defeat of the evil spirits.

So what do the mainstream (and non-Christian) scholars say about all this? Surprisingly very little – of substance anyway. Only Bart Ehrman and Maurice Casey have thoroughly attempted to prove Jesus’ historical existence in recent times. Their most decisive point? The Gospels can generally be trusted – after we ignore the many, many bits that are untrustworthy – because of the hypothetical (i.e. non-existent) sources behind them. Who produced these hypothetical sources? When? What did they say? Were they reliable? Were they intended to be accurate historical portrayals, enlightening allegories, or entertaining fictions?

Ehrman and Casey can’t tell you – and neither can any New Testament scholar. Given the poor state of the existing sources, and the atrocious methods used by mainstream Biblical historians, the matter will likely never be resolved. In sum, there are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence – if not to think it outright improbable.

 
Half of Dr. Oz's medical advice is baseless or wrong, study says

Terrence McCoy

A withering assessment of Oz and the whole doctor talk show business.

It’s not hard to understand what makes Dr. Oz so popular. Called “America’s doctor,” syndicated talk-show host Mehmet Oz speaks in a way anyone can understand. Medicine may be complex. But with Dr. Oz, clad in scrubs and crooning to millions of viewers about “miracles” and “revolutionary” breakthroughs, it’s often not. He somehow makes it fun. And people can’t get enough.

“I haven’t seen a doctor in eight years,” the New Yorker quoted one viewer telling Oz. “I’m scared. You’re the only one I trust.”

But is that trust misplaced? Or has Oz, who often peddles miracle cures for weight loss and other maladies, mortgaged medical veracity for entertainment value?

These questions have hammered Oz for months. In June, he was hauled in front of Congress, where Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told him he gave people false hope and criticized his segments as a “recipe for disaster.” Then last month, a study he widely trumpeted lauding coffee bean weight-loss pills was retracted despite Oz’s assertions it could “burn fat fast for anyone who wants to lose weight.”

And now, his work has come under even greater scrutiny in the British Medical Journal, which on Wednesday published a study analyzing Oz’s claims along with those made on another medical talk show. What they found wasn’t reassuring. The researchers, led by Christina Korownyk of the University of Alberta, charged medical research either didn’t substantiate — or flat out contradicted — more than half of Oz’s recommendations. “Recommendations made on medical talk shows often lack adequate information on specific benefits or the magnitude of the effects of these benefits,” the article said. “… The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.”

 
NYTIMES EDITORIAL BOARD: Sony and Mr. Kim’s Thugs

Sony and Mr. Kim’s Thugs

Sony Pictures pulled the movie “The Interview” after large theater chains said they would not show it, fearing threats of violence to their customers and employees by hackers believed to be working for the North Korean government. Though the companies are understandably cautious, this decision will establish a dangerous precedent that could further embolden rogue regimes and criminals.

“The Interview” is a comedy about a C.I.A. plot to assassinate the dictator who rules North Korea, Kim Jong-un, using two hapless TV journalists played by Seth Rogen, who also co-directed the movie, and James Franco. Had it been made about any other world leader, it might have elicited a few barbed statements, and possibly a ban by the country in question.

After a few weeks in theaters, the movie would have faded into obscurity. But it was about Mr. Kim, a despot who runs an isolated and impoverished country that is held together by fear and propaganda about the greatness of its supreme leader.

North Korean hackers, seeking revenge for the movie, stole millions of documents, including emails, health records and financial information that they dished out to the world. As the Christmas release of “The Interview” approached, the hackers said the film’s release would result in bloodshed and evoked the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Even though the Department of Homeland Security said there was “no credible intelligence” of a threat to theaters, major chains like AMC, Regal and Cinemark said they would not show the film. And on Wednesday Sony threw in the towel, saying it “has no further release plans.”

Even a movie studio aware of Mr. Kim’s megalomania could not have fully anticipated this crime and the threats that followed. Unfortunately, Sony’s capitulation sends a signal to Mr. Kim and other criminals that they can succeed in extortion if they are creative and devious enough. Corporate executives are now rightly fearing increased hacking attacks against their computer systems.

Corporations, even large ones like Sony, cannot stand up to a rogue state and shadowy hacker armies all by themselves. That’s why the Obama administration needs to take a strong stand on this and future attacks. Officials said on Thursday that they were considering a “proportional response.”

Retaliation by the Obama administration over this attack would risk escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and between North Korea and Japan, where Sony’s corporate parent is based. However, there are things the United States can do. Although there are already heavy sanctions on North Korea, there may be ways to inflict more economic pain.

Washington could seek an international panel to investigate the attack and demand condemnation by the United Nations Security Council. The United States also needs to work with Japan and South Korea, two other regular targets of North Korean hacking, to improve their defenses and develop common responses like imposing sanctions.

China, North Korea’s main ally and benefactor, remains the best check on the Kim regime; experts say most North Korean hackers are based in China. But China has its own history of hacking American government and industry computers and has resisted Washington’s requests for talks on how to handle hacking attacks and their aftermath.

The international community needs to speed up work on norms on what constitutes a cyberattack and what the response should be. If China and the United States are unable to work together in this critical area, the Internet will become a free-for-all and everyone will pay the price.

As for “The Interview,” threats from North Korea are unlikely to prevent its viewing, and the worldwide publicity might even increase its potential audience. The scene of the movie that shows the assassination of Mr. Kim’s character is already available online.

It would not be surprising for Sony to eventually sell the movie to a streaming company like Netflix. Or someone might find a way to put a copy of it onto file-sharing sites where it would be impossible for Mr. Kim’s hackers to contain. As many businesses have learned, it is hard to keep things off the Internet.

 
The first Latino president? Obama’s not there yet.

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 9:  A member of the crowd holds up a

The first Latino president? Obama’s not there yet.

By Edward-Isaac Dovere

Bill Clinton was the first black president. Thursday afternoon, taking in the Cuba thaw after weeks buoyed by President Barack Obama’s immigration reform executive actions, Labor Secretary Tom Perez put down a new marker for his own boss.

“When I reflect on the breadth and depth of what he has done for Latinos, it really makes him in my mind, and in the minds of so many others, the first Latino president,” said Perez, the son of Dominican immigrants and one of the administration’s highest-ranking Latinos.

Perez isn’t alone in that assessment. But many Latinos aren’t ready to go that far. But they’re starting to move. Obama’s approval rating shot up among Latinos since the executive action announcement, and the change in Cuba policy is a reminder of just how much politics have shifted: Most older Cubans rage against lifting the embargo, while most younger Cubans track with the American public in supporting what Obama did — not to mention that Cubans now make up only 3.5 percent of the country’s Hispanic population. But polls show non-Cuban Hispanics support normalizing relations with Cuba by far greater margins.

Obama has already increased his Latino support from 67 percent in 2008 to 71 percent in 2012. If things keep up this way, pollsters see the chance that one of his electoral legacies could be helping deliver upward of 80 percent of a quickly growing population to the next Democratic nominee.

Gary Segura, the principal and co-founder of the polling firm Latino Decisions, said Republicans risk hastening that along if they spend the next two years railing against the immigration executive actions — which, he said, will only help Obama’s standing among Latinos by giving him a chance to repeatedly remind them that he stood with them.

“He’ll spend most of the last two years of his presidency defending Latinos and his executive action. He’ll look good, his party will look good, the opposition party will look bad,” Segura said.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) is a leader of immigration reform efforts among House Republicans. But as a Cuban himself, and one who represents many other Cubans in South Florida, he said Obama’s outreach to Castro demonstrates “a limitless willingness to appease enemies of freedom,” and a “grotesque concession.”

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Sony Made It Easy, but Any of Us Could Get Hacked

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Sony Made It Easy, but Any of Us Could Get Hacked

WSJ Essay: The information-technology security lessons of the broad cyberattack on Sony.

 
Cuba Is A Kleptocracy, Not Communist

Cuba Is A Kleptocracy, Not Communist

It’s not communism that’s the problem in Cuba, it’s the Castro brothers’ winking at corruption.

Fidel Castro seized power in January 1959 after waging a guerilla war against then-dictator Fulgencio Batista. The charismatic bearded revolucionario dressed in a dark olive uniform promised to restore order and hold elections. People on the streets of Havana cheered and celebrated the return of fighters from the Sierra Maestra. Batista had fled and Castro was their hero.

But the dream of a new dawn was short lived—at least a democratic one. Soon enough, Castro turned his back on those ideals, embracing Soviet style communism. Cuban exiles fled. Others were ousted. In 1961, the United States broke off relations with the island 90 miles off Florida’s shores.

For years, Americans and Cuban exiles alike speculated that the normalization of relations between the two countries would spark a new kind of revolution. Cubans would flood the streets once again ousting the Castro brothers who have now been in power for 55 years.

That is now considered unlikely. Instead, Cuba probably will undertake a process of economic reforms that integrates its economy more with the United States and the global system. But other states, especially Russia, have had trouble adjusting to a market economy, degenerating into massive kleptocracies. Cuba, already corrupt, will have to avoid becoming even more so when American investment pours in.

Experts agree that much will depend on the measures undertaken both by the United States and Cuba. As it stands, the deal will ease the travel ban and trade embargo, and make it easier for Americans to do business in Cuba. But only Congress has the ability to completely lift the trade embargo, which has been in place since 1962.

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In the past, Fidel Castro and his brother Raul were considered permanent enemies of Washington. In return, Cuban rhetoric wholeheartedly blamed the United States for crippling their economy. Politically in the last five decades, every problem Cuba faced was part of larger struggle against northern imperialists.

But in a transition process heavily based on economic reforms, the real challenge facing Cubans is not removing the Castro’s communist regime, but tackling corruption.

“The black market is a form of corruption. Most people in Cuba find jobs not because of a salary but because other perks they may have at that job,” explains Ted Henken, Chair of Sociology and Anthropology at Baruch College. “Another part which is more pernicious is corruption by well-placed people on top of the food chain,” he says, referring to former military cadres that control sectors of Cuba’s economy.

According to Transparency International, an organization that monitors corporate and political corruption worldwide, Cuba scored 46 just close of the halfway mark where 0 is most corrupt and 100 is transparent. China and Russia, countries that ushered in similar economic transitions, scored 36 and 27 accordingly.

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The Right-Wing Billionaire Who Bowed to North Korea over ‘The Interview’

The Right-Wing Billionaire Who Bowed to North Korea over ‘The Interview’

He may own some tough-talking, hard-right media outlets. But when a movie controversy crested, Philip Anschutz’s Regal Cinemas caved.

When the top movie-theater chains in the United States dropped Seth Rogen and James Franco’s Kim Jong Un assassination comedy The Interview—ostensibly over fear of terrorist attacks against their theaters—Regal Cinemas was the greatest loss.

Regal Entertainment Group is the biggest and most geographically diverse theater company in the country. It operates over 7,000 screens all over America. Industry sources with knowledge of the situation tell The Daily Beast that Regal and AMC Theatres were the “”first dominos to fall” in the top-five theater circuits, essentially sealing the fate of The Interview.

“Due to the wavering support of the film The Interview by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres,” Regal announced in their statement.

Regal’s move brings back into the public view a right-wing media baron who would rather be elsewhere. The chain’s biggest owner is a secretive deeply conservative billionaire and devout Christian who is, according to The New Yorker, “the man who owns L.A.”

Philip Anschutz, whose investment fund owns about 47 percent of Regal’s shares, has all the makings of a major-league boogeyman of the left—like a Rupert Murdoch or a Koch brother. He presides over a sprawling media and sports empire that spans from the Lakers to The Chronicles of Narnia. He has donated generously to conservative (and anti-gay) causes and candidates, including Rick Santorum, both Bush presidents, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Last year, Regal Entertainment Group slashed some workers’ hours down to 30 per week, blaming Obamacare. And Media Matters, the liberal media-watchdog group, labeled Anschutz, “the other right-wing media mogul you should worry about” in 2009.

 
North Korea’s bizarre Sony saga uncovers Hollywood’s hidden truth

A worker removes a billboard for "The Interview" in Hollywood. (Getty)

North Korea’s bizarre Sony saga uncovers Hollywood’s hidden truth

Ann Hornaday

Despite Hollywood's protests that movies are “just” movies, “The Interview” shows that they are all political.

There’s really no bright side to discern from this week’s bizarre, unprecedented spectacle involving Sony Pictures and “The Interview,” a Seth Rogen-James Franco satire about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

After weeks of suffering through the most destructive corporate hack in history, and on the heels of theaters refusing to show the comedy because of terrorist threats made by the hackers (now believed to be sponsored by the North Korean government), Sony finally pulled “The Interview” on Wednesday, refusing even to make it available on demand.

It was a particularly distressing choice given that the decision arrived the same day President Obama announced a new, liberalized policy with Cuba — a softening of relations presumably designed to bring American democratic values to the communist country. This is what freedom of expression looks like, extruded through the priorities of late corporate capitalism and aggressively asymmetrical global politics.

The truth that the Sony/“Interview” debacle has laid bare is that all films are political, from the most banal escapist romp to the self-valorizing action adventures we aggressively send to the overseas markets — especially in Asia — that account for around 70 percent of the movie industry’s profits.

That point was inadvertently proved with perhaps the most provocative kernel of information that emerged during the disorienting past few days. In the middle of the swirl, the Daily Beast revealed communications between Sony Entertainment chief executive Michael Lynton and the State Department, which told him that “The Interview” had the potential of actually moving the needle in North Korea. Lynton had already run the project by a specialist at the Rand Corp. (where he sits on the board of trustees).

In a June e-mail, Rand defense analyst Bruce Bennett wrote to Lynton: “I have been clear that the assassination of Kim Jong Un is the most likely path to a collapse of the North Korean government. Thus while toning down the ending may reduce the North Korean response, I believe that a story that talks about the removal of the Kim family regime and the creation of a new government by the North Korean people (well, at least the elites) will start some real thinking in South Korea and, I believe, in the North once the DVD leaks into the North (which it almost certainly will).”

Lynton subsequently wrote back: “Bruce — Spoke to someone very senior in State (confidentially). He agreed with everything you have been saying. Everything. I will fill you in when we speak.”

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The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother

The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother

The college students of a surprised Cuba sang karaoke on Thursday afternoon beside a dark green tank memorializing the Cuban revolution. They played dominoes in the shade of the University of Havana law school, where Fidel Castro found his footing as a leader with a pistol at his side.

When asked about the historic shift by the United States to ease its trade embargo and pursue normalized relations with Cuba, they spoke first of what it meant for the Cuban people, then of what it said about President Obama, and finally, a few mentioned the boldness of President Raúl Castro.

They said nothing of Fidel.

At a moment described by many as an equivalent to the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the absence of Fidel Castro — he has said nothing about it, and has not appeared in public for months — spoke volumes. For many Cubans, it confirmed that Fidel, perhaps by his own design, is slipping further into the past, into history, at a time when his approach to the United States seems to be fading as well.

“It’s a break with the past, and a transition,” said Jorge Luis Rivero González, 26, a master’s student in information technology. “What we have now is hope for a new path. We don’t know what’s coming, but it better be good.”

Fidel is still an imposing figure in the Cuban consciousness, a leader so venerable and fiercely protected that many avoid talking about him at all. Few here or in Washington, where the name Fidel is often shorthand for communist revolution itself, suggested that détente with the United States could have happened without his approval.

Some of the former leader’s most loyal followers here have even described Mr. Obama’s recognition of Cuba with a Castro still in power as a final triumph for Fidel — a formal nod of respect that the old guerrillero has demanded since 1959.

There was even some Fidel-like braggadocio in the speech by his brother Raúl, who celebrated the return on Wednesday of Cuba’s three convicted spies from the United States with a rare flair for theatrics. After years of appearing mostly in a suit, Raúl was careful to wear his military uniform, linking the prisoners’ release to “Comrade Fidel” and his promise years ago to bring the men home.

Some experts argued that it was yet another sign that on big, geopolitical questions, the Castro brothers largely remain in sync.

“Raúl and Fidel have no daylight between them on things like this,” said Julia Sweig, a scholar at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies Cuba. “They have been in complete lock step on Cuban foreign policy.”

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And yet the new Cuba that Raúl is fashioning from the old is a far cry from Fidel’s youthful revolution. Today’s Cuba seems less concerned with ideals than dollars. It is a hatchery of private enterprise and nascent inequality, where property can be bought and sold, along with cars and filet mignon. It is a proud country, tired of struggling, where the poor can see the rich rising along the way to Raúl’s stated goals: economic growth and stability.

“Raúl is a pragmatist; he is not a mindless idealist,” said Brian Latell, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst who has written books on the Castros. “Fidel has always been the heavy anchor on change and reform.”

Perhaps the difference is that now, with Cuba’s economy still on the edge of collapse, that weight seems to be lifting as Fidel fades further from view.

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