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Updated: 5 min 42 sec ago

Hillary Clinton’s New Book Is Called Hard Choices

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 09:11

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s new book will be titled Hard Choices, her publisher announced Friday.

Simon & Schuster unveiled a cover image of the new book Friday, describing it as an “inside account of the crises, choices, and challenges she faced during her four years as America’s 67th Secretary of State, and how those experiences drive her view of the future.”

The book is set for its release on June 10, and the subsequent book tour will be closely watched for clues about whether Clinton will mount another presidential run.

“All of us face hard choices in our lives,” Clinton writes at the start of the book. “Life is about making such choices. Our choices and how we handle them shape the people we become.”

 

Categories: Magazines

Obama Political Guru Helping Britain’s Labour Party

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:47

The political strategist behind President Barack Obama’s White House victories is taking his talents across the pond to help Britain’s Labour Party.

David Axelrod will spend the next several months serving as the party’s “senior strategic advisor,” in an effort to get British opposition leader Ed Miliband elected as prime minister in May 2015. In a statement Friday, Axelrod said he had been impressed by Miliband’s ideas and says he has solid vision for the country’s future.

“Barack Obama articulated a vision which had, at its core, the experience of everyday people,” Axelrod said. “And everyday people responded, they organised and they overcame the odds. I see the same thing happening in Britain.”

Axelrod’s work in Britain won’t be a cakewalk. Prime Minister David Cameron hired Australian political guru Lynton Crosby and President Barack Obama’s former campaign manager Jim Messina to help advise during his 2015 campaign.

 

Categories: Magazines

Crazy Siri Hack Brings Voice Commands to Google Maps, Spotify

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:30

Tired of waiting for Apple to open up Siri to more developers? So were a group of college students, who’ve come up with a clever workaround.

Their hack is called “Googolplex,” and it allows users to create custom voice commands for Siri. These commands can even hook into third-party apps, so you can ask Siri to get directions from Google Maps or play a song in Spotify.

Best of all, the setup is extremely simple, and can be done by anyone without jailbreaking:

  1. Head to betterthansiri.com and create an account.
  2. On your iPhone, go to Settings > Wi-Fi and tap the “i” button next to your wireless network’s name.
  3. Scroll to the bottom, and under “HTTP Proxy,” select “Auto” and enter “http://totally.betterthansiri.com” (without quotes) into the URL field.
  4. Initiate a Siri voice command starting with the word “Googolplex” (or “Google Plex”), and select “Continue” from the box that pops up.
  5. When prompted, enter your username and password from step one.

At this point, you should be able to use custom Siri voice commands beginning with the word “Googolplex.” For instance, you can say “Googolplex, give me directions to the nearest gas station,” and Siri will pull up those directions in Google Maps instead of Apple Maps. Other pre-loaded commands let you pick a song on Spotify, control a Nest thermostat and even unlock a Tesla car.

The trick is that when you say “Googolplex,” Siri interprets it as “Google Plex,” which in turn executes a Google search for the word “Plex” in the Safari browser. Googelplex then routes your request through its proxy server, where your custom commands are interpreted and sent back to the phone.

There’s been some concern about the security of this hack, since it’s basically routing your activity through Googolplex’s servers. But according to the developers, the routing only occurs when you explicitly ask Siri for “Googolplex.” In all other cases, your activity remains secure.

The bigger practical issue is that this hack only works on Wi-Fi networks, and only after you’ve set up the HTTP Proxy. You won’t be able to ask Siri to play a song in Spotify while you’re out on a run, or ask for Google Maps directions from your car.

Still, it’s an impressive hack, and it gives us a little taste of how much better Siri could be.

Categories: Magazines

Johnny Depp Thinks Transcendence Could Happen

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:20

The star of the new film Transcendence, about a man whose body dies but whose consciousness lives on in a computer, thinks we’re close to having that kind of technology become more than a movie plot.

“When you look at it’s kind of a sci-fi thing,” Johnny Depp said in an interview with MTV News. “But when you dig a little bit deeper the technology that we use in the film… is very close to becoming a reality and will be a reality in the next 30 years.

“[Transcendence] is a foretelling of what’s to come,” Depp added.

Well, let’s think. Watch-phones have become a reality. Robo-cops are on the horizon. Maybe Depp is right and humans as computers are next up. But if Terminator taught us anything, we should be worried.

Categories: Magazines

Barry Diller Blasts Obama for Backing TV Broadcasters

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:08

Billionaire mogul Barry Diller blasted the Obama Administration and the nation’s largest TV broadcasters on Thursday for trying to shut down Aereo, the upstart online video service backed by the media investor. Next week, Aereo will square off against the broadcasters in a landmark Supreme Court case with billions of dollars at stake that could transform the TV business.

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Aereo uses thousands of dime-sized antennas to pick up free, over-the-air TV signals, which it transmits to customers over the Internet for a monthly fee starting at $8. The startup has angered the major broadcasters, including NBC, FOX, ABC and CBS, which claim the service is illegal because it’s ripping off their copyrighted TV signals. Aereo hit back on Thursday by launching a website designed to advance its argument that the service is legal.

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In March, the Obama administration filed a friend of the court brief supporting the broadcasters and claiming that Aereo is “liable for infringement.” Several well-known public interest and technology advocacy groups have backed Aereo, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, the Consumer Electronics Association, and Engine Advocacy. Dozens of prominent law professors and legal scholars are also supporting Aereo.

Last year, federal courts in New York and Boston agreed with Aereo’s argument that it is transmitting legally protected “private performances” to individual users over their own leased antennas, based on principles established by the important 2008 Cablevision decision, which allowed remote-storage DVR technology. But in February, a federal judge in Utah sided with the broadcasters, intensifying the legal uncertainty surrounding Aereo.

“The networks would like the court to expand copyright law far beyond what Congress intended,” says EFF Staff Attorney Mitch Stoltz. “The networks’ interpretation of the law would strip away the commercial freedom that led to the home stereo, the VCR, all manner of personal audio and video technology and to Internet services of many kinds.”

Diller’s broadside, which was published in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, accused the TV networks of turning their back on a century-old agreement in which they were granted use of the nation’s public airwaves in exchange for delivering free, advertising-supported TV programming. In recent years, the TV networks have been able to extract billions of dollars in retransmission fees from cable and satellite companies for the right to broadcast their programming.

“Broadcasters make more money when consumers are steered away from over-the-air program delivery and toward cable and satellite systems that pay the broadcasters retransmission fees,” wrote Diller, who is on Aereo’s board of directors. “There’s nothing wrong with that. But it seems rich for them to forget the agreement they made to provide television to the consumer in return for the spectrum that enables their business.”

Diller also castigated the Obama Administration for aligning itself “against competition, choice and the consumer” by supporting the broadcasters. “In siding with the broadcasters, the administration has signaled that the preservation of legacy business models takes precedence over lawful technological innovation,” Diller wrote.

The Obama administration’s support for the broadcasters “ignores the government’s own previous legal positions and threatens to outlaw the entire cloud-computing industry,” Diller wrote, echoing a point made by Aereo CEO Chet Kanojia in a recent interview with TIME. That’s because Aereo’s cloud-based DVR service relies on the same legal principles as the entire cloud-computing industry, which enables consumers to store data on remote servers accessible by the Internet.

The broadcasters claim that Aereo’s service amounts to blatant theft, and have warned that if Aereo prevails, they could remove their primetime shows from free TV and move them to pay channels like Showtime. The National Football League and Major League Baseball have threatened to take high-profile broadcasts like the Super Bowl and World Series to cable. Such a move by the broadcasters would “disenfranchise” millions of viewers who rely on antennas to receive TV programming, “just because they want to make more money,” Kanojia says.

Meanwhile, Aereo suffered a setback this week when the Supreme Court announced that Justice Samuel Alito, who had earlier recused himself from the case, will now be able to participate. Oral arguments are set for next Tuesday. (The high court doesn’t comment on why justices do or do not recuse themselves, but it’s often because of stock ownership in one of the parties.)

Alito’s participation gives the broadcasters a boost because it removes the possibility of 4-4 tie, which would have meant that a lower court ruling in favor of Aereo would stand. “With Alito no longer recused, broadcasters now have an additional avenue for scoring that fifth vote,” according to Scott R. Flick, a D.C.-based partner at the law firm Pillsbury. “In other words, it’s easier to attract 5 votes out of 9 than it is to get 5 votes out of 8.”

Categories: Magazines

Here Comes the Next Big Push to Get Drivers to Buy Electric Cars

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:05
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Everybody understands that one big upside of owning an electric car is that you’ll never have to spend a penny on gasoline. Now, you won’t have to pay for the electricity needed to charge the car either.

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Thanks to a new “No Charge to Charge” initiative from Nissan, drivers who purchase or lease a new battery-powered Nissan Leaf will receive a special card that allows them to plug in at public charging stations at no cost whatsoever starting July 1. The program will be available in 25 U.S. markets, which have collectively accounted for 80% of all Leaf purchases thus far, and owners will be able to charge their vehicles for free for two years. Anyone who purchases outright or leases a new Leaf as of April 1 or later is eligible in the participating markets, which include many major cities along the West Coast, as well as Nashville, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

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According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s FuelEconomy.gov site, a Nissan Leaf owner can expect to pay an average of $550 in “fuel cost” annually, based on driving 15,000 miles per year. So Nissan’s program would seem to be the equivalent of a $1,100 bonus for buyers. Whether or not an owner actually realizes such a return will depend a lot on how easy it is to use the public charging stations where plugging in is free. Most electric car owners charge their vehicles at home at night, and Nissan isn’t going to pitch in with any portion of your house’s electricity bill.

Even if “No Charge to Charge” offers less of a return that it initially seems like at first glance, the program obviously makes it more enticing—and more cost-effective—to buy a Leaf, so it could push some potential buyers off the fence. “The net effect here is it really increases the utility of the Leaf for the driver,” Normam Hajjar, research director for the electric-car app creator Recargo, said of Nissan’s new initiative, via the San Francisco Chronicle.

Nissan’s move comes at a muddled time in the electric car market, when Tesla is clearly the runaway success at the high end of the field, and when a wide range of less expensive EVs, plug-ins, and hybrids continue to vie for consumer attention. Despite the arrival of more and more plug-in models into the market, hybrids and electric cars remain a very small niche, representing around 3% of new car sales.

In a statement that’s about as definitive as you can get, Michelle Krebs, senior analyst with Edmunds.com, told the Detroit Free Press, “Plug-in vehicles aren’t going away, but how many will sell, at what price and using which technology, is yet to be determined.”

The Nissan Leaf ended 2013 on a high note, with its best sales month ever in December: 2,529 units sold, bringing the year’s total to 22,610, more than double the amount in 2012. But the disappearance of end-of-year incentives, combined with brutally cold weather that hurt all auto sales, resulted in a big electric car sale slump in early 2014. According to MarketWatch, there were 918 Chevy Volts and 1,252 Nissan Leafs sold in January 2014, compared to 2,392 Volts and 2,529 Leafs the previous month.

Leaf sales have rebounded with the onset of warmer weather, including 2,507 units sold in March, its second-best month ever, and a 12% increase over March 2013. For the first three months of 2014, meanwhile, sales of the gas-electric hybrid Volt decreased by 15% compared to the same period in 2013.

In any event, it’s clear that for any plug-in to achieve true mainstream appeal, some work needs to be done to convince the average driver of the cost-effectiveness of an electric car. Basically, the cars need to be cheaper to own and operate, or automakers need to do a better job of proving to consumers that these vehicles are indeed cheap to own and operate.

Throwing in two years’ worth of free charging, as Nissan is doing, certainly helps the equation. So does the tried-but-true practice of simply lowering the retail price. That’s what Nissan did in early 2013, which resulted in the automaker selling twice as many Leafs in 2013 that it did the previous year. And that’s what GM is planning for the next Chevy Volt, with the recent news that an entry-level Volt should hit the market for the 2016 model year with a list price starting at around $30,000—roughly $10,000 less than the base price of the original Volt.

Categories: Magazines

Zuckerberg Immigration Group Targets Steve King

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:05

The pro-immigration reform group backed by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is launching an ad campaign against Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King, accusing him of “attacks on American soldiers and the military” for his staunchly anti-reform stance.

The broadcast and digital ad buy in Iowa features King’s comments from an interview with Breitbart News saying he would oppose efforts to allow illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children, so-called DREAMers, to gain permanent residency by joining the military. “As soon as they raise their hand and say ‘I’m unlawfully present in the United States,’ we’re not going to take your oath into the military, but we’re going to take your deposition and we have a bus for you to Tijuana,” King said.

“Instead of supporting our military, Steve King, a Republican member of Congress, insults the brave soldiers who are immigrants and those who would proudly serve,” the ad says. “Steve King’s attacks on American soldiers and the military is wrong.”

“Rep. Steve King and his anti-immigrant allies want to deport over 11 million people, and by claiming ‘I think [Congress] blows up’ if a military DREAMer provision is even considered, he demonstrates that they’re willing to use threats over Congressional procedure to block every conceivable path to even the least controversial aspects of immigration reform,” said Todd Schulte, the executive director of Fwd.us, which is backed by many Silicon Valley executives. “He compares allowing DREAMers willing to lay their lives on the line for our country to earn citizenship to giving out candy. He says those who stand up and volunteer to serve should be put on a bus and deported to Tijuana. King’s comments are an insult to immigrants as well as to the commitment and sacrifices that U.S. service members and veterans make every day. It’s just plain wrong that Steve King’s fear-mongering voice is one of those dominating the immigration debate.”

A second ad features Alejandro Morales, who the group said has lived in Chicago since he was only seven months old but can’t enlist because of his undocumented status

Categories: Magazines

The Criminal Mastermind Behind a Car Vandalism Spree Turned Out To Be A Dog

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 08:00

The English town of Brampton had been plagued with a seemingly relentless stream of car vandalism. Over the last six months, a criminal had popped over two dozen car tires belonging to local residents and police had no leads as to the culprit. One victim, Ann Taylor, sought to end the crime wave and set up a CCTV camera. That’s when the criminal was caught red-handed. Or, rather, red-pawed.

Turns out the vandal plaguing the town was a border collie named Jess who, in fact, had it out for cars. The pup had been run over a few months ago and was intent on seeking her revenge. The video shows the collie’s clear intent and the tenacity with which she aims to fulfill her goal of stopping those evil car tires from injuring any other dogs.

To stop the crime spree, the dog will be kept on a leash from now on.

[Via BBC]

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Categories: Magazines

Authorities Want to Arrest Captain of Capsized Ferry

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 07:59

Officials in South Korea are calling for the arrest of the captain of the ferry that capsized this week with over 300 students on board.

Prosecutors and local police have also requested an arrest warrant for three crewmembers in a local court, AFP reports. “The joint investigation team of police and prosecutors asked for warrants to arrest three crew, including the captain,” a coast guard official told AFP.

The captain and most of the crew reportedly escaped the ferry that capsized Wednesday off the coast of South Korea, an accident that authorities think may have been the result of a shift in cargo after a sharp turn. Though the captain and crew escaped, hundreds remained trapped on board the sinking vessel, including students from the Danwon High School, outside of Seoul. On Friday, the death toll from the ferry disaster rose to 28 and hundreds are believed to still be in the ship. About 270 are still missing, CNN reports.

Hopes are waning among those waiting to hear of more rescues, and on Friday the vice-principal of the Danwon School, one of the 179 people rescued from the ferry, was found hanging from a tree in an apparent suicide.

Captain Lee Joon Seok apologized on Thursday saying, “I feel really sorry for the passengers, victims and families. … I feel ashamed.”

[AFP]

Categories: Magazines

This Is How Detroit Found Itself a Mysterious Pot of Gold

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 07:53

To the great relief of firefighters, police and other public employees in bankrupt Detroit, city fathers recently plugged a huge hole in their pension plans. For now, anyway, something close to these employees’ retirement dreams have been restored.

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But how did they do it? Just a few weeks ago, Detroit leaders pegged the pension shortfall at $3.5 billion—about 20% of the city’s total indebtedness—and they were threatening to slash benefits beyond already expected cuts of up to 14% for cops and firemen and 34% for other workers. Miraculously, workers are now being assured that benefits cuts will be comparatively tame, amounting to less than a 5% reduction for those hardest hit.

Where did the money come from? Who found the pot of gold that is enabling the city to fill such a big funding gap? The answer, of course, is that no one found so much as a single hard penny. Actuaries simply juggled a few numbers on the city ledger and, voila, a paper windfall appeared. Don’t try this at home.

The most important accounting change was the assumed rate of return on investments held in the city’s two big retirement funds. Previously, the annual rate of return was estimated at 6.25% and 6.5% on the two funds. Now the city is assuming a rate of return of 6.75% on both funds. Why the bump? In part, anyway, the city seems to be taking heart in the stock market’s big gain last year, when after lackluster returns the past decade or so the S&P 500 rebounded with a glowing 32% total return.

A sustained higher rate of return would mean more annual income for the funds, making them better able to meet benefits promises with the same amount of assets. But the question remains: Is the higher return assumption realistic? One year is not a trend. Many planners believe we have decades of slow growth and modest returns ahead. A bankruptcy judge still must rule on the rosier projections.

A pension fund manager boosting the return assumption because stocks finally had a good year is a little like you at home predicting next winter won’t be so cold and slashing your heating budget. You might be right. But it’s just a guess—and if the guess is wrong you will have to find the money elsewhere to heat the house. Your finances only looked better briefly; the picture dimmed as soon as another cold winter hit.

So how realistic is the 6.75% return assumption? In the Detroit General Retirement System, annualized returns over the past seven years have been 3.9%, according to one analysis. The past five years, public pension funds have had a median annualized return of 5.3%, according to another analysis. Not so good, right?

But let’s not throw Detroit’s leaders under the bus just yet. Because people generally work and accrue benefits over 40 years or so, pension funds can take an extremely long view. The median pension fund return over the past 25 years has been 8.6%. The typical pension fund manager today assumes long-term rates of return between 7% and 8%. So Detroit has company, and may even seem cautious.

Among others, Warren Buffett has scolded pension managers for not recognizing a fundamental shift to slower growth and lower returns. But the new assumptions in the Motor City aren’t completely unsupportable. Maybe the city’s employees will catch a much-needed break and get the higher returns that pension managers hope for.

 

Categories: Magazines

Pro-Russia Militants Defy Diplomatic Deal in Ukraine

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 07:48

Pro-Russian militants refused on Friday to vacate government buildings they’ve been occupying in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, defying a deal struck on Thursday to ease tensions along the border with Russia.

Diplomats from the U.S. and E.U. brokered a cautious with Ukraine and Russia to have all buildings illegally seized by the militants cleared out and all paramilitary groups disarmed. But the armed men allied with Moscow has demanded that the interim government in Kiev give up power first, the Associated Press reports.

“This is a reasonable agreement but everyone should vacate the buildings, and that includes [acting Prime Minister Aseniy] Yatsenyuk and [acting President Oleksandr] Turchynov,” said Denis Pushilin, a spokesman for the self-professed Donetsk People’s Republic. “[Russian Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation,” he added. Pushilin wants residents to be able to decide whether they want sovereignty, CNN reports.

The agreement, which was struck in Geneva, promises amnesty for militants and protesters who cooperate fully, though tensions remain high in eastern Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama were both reluctant to declare the effort a victory. “I think there is the possibility, the prospect, that diplomacy may de-escalate the situation,” Obama said Thursday. “We’re not going to know whether there is follow-through on these statements for several days.”

[AP]

Categories: Magazines

Boston Is Ready to Run Again: Stories of Resilience One Year Later

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 07:00

This week, survivors, first responders and family members of those killed came together to mark the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The events that unfolded starting at 2:49 p.m. on April 15, 2013, nearly three hours after the race’s winners crossed the finish line, altered lives forever.

In this gripping video feature, survivors and runners who were at the finish line remember the frantic moments of that deadly day.

A year after two bombs claimed three lives and injured more than 260 people, their stories of survival are a testament to Boston’s resilient spirit in the aftermath of the bombings. Their resolution to run again on Monday, the day the race takes place this year, comes from the determination to continue to rebuild, drawing strength from the heroics they saw that day.

 

Categories: Magazines

Quiz: How Would You Do On the New SAT Vocabulary Questions?

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 07:00

The College Board recently announced a shift in how the SAT will gauge students’ talent for vocabulary. The days when a commitment to flash cards could get young people a good score are coming to an end in 2015. Starting in 2016, students won’t be asked about obscure, 10-dollar words with fill-in-the-blank questions; they’ll be asked about “high utility” words, much more common terms with multiple meanings that can only be identified by looking at the word’s context.

But as they say in teaching, it is better to show than to tell. Here, we’ve put together a quiz of old- and new-style vocab questions, using current practice materials and examples of future questions that the College Board released this week. See which you find most challenging and whether you find any merit in criticisms that the test-maker is “dumbing down” the exam:

Take Our Survey

Categories: Magazines

Ukrainian Militia Rejects Calls to Leave Buildings

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 06:43

(DONETSK, Ukraine) — Pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine’s east who have been occupying government buildings in more than 10 cities said Friday they will only leave them if the interim government in Kiev resigns.

Denis Pushilin, a spokesman of the self-appointed Donetsk People’s Republic, told reporters that the insurgents do not recognize the Ukrainian government as legitimate.

Ukraine and Russia on Thursday agreed to take tentative steps toward calming tensions along their shared border after more than a month of bloodshed. But Pushilin, speaking at the insurgent-occupied regional administration’s building in Donetsk, said the deal specifies that all illegally seized buildings should be vacated and in his opinion the government in Kiev is also occupying public buildings illegally.

“This is a reasonable agreement but everyone should vacate the buildings and that includes Yatsenyuk and Turchynov,” he said referring to the acting Ukrainian prime minister and president.

The deal calls for disarming all paramilitary groups and the immediate return of all government buildings seized by pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine as well as pro-West right-wing protesters in Kiev. But none of the government buildings seized across eastern Ukraine has yet been vacated, according to local media.

The Ukrainian government as well as the Right Sector movement, whose activists are occupying Kiev’s city hall and a cultural center in the capital, have not commented on the call for buildings in Kiev to be vacated.

Pushilin on Friday reiterated the insurgents’ call for a referendum that he said will allow “self-determination of the people.”

The Russian foreign ministry had no immediate comment.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told the parliament Friday morning that the government has drafted a law that would offer amnesty to all those who will be willing to lay down their arms and leave the occupied government buildings.

On Thursday, thousands gathered at peaceful demonstrations in at least four eastern cities to denounce Russia for its perceived meddling in Ukrainian affairs. Political developments in eastern Ukraine have for weeks been dominated by a small but vocal and armed opposition to the interim government in Kiev.

Categories: Magazines

Kansas City Police Arrest Man Suspected in Highway Shootings

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 05:12

A suspect in the recent string of 20 shootings in and around Kansas City has been apprehended. Police Chief Darryl Forte said that the suspect was arrested but not yet formally charged.

The random shootings, mostly on highways and roads, started on March 8, leaving three people wounded and putting residents of the Kansas City area on edge. At least 12 of the shootings are believed to be connected.

“We wanted to make sure the residents and those people who travel through Kansas City know they are safe,” said Forte, praising the investigation’s swift development.

The suspect is known to be a man in his late twenties.

“The investigation is ongoing, we are still looking at evidence. I can’t say this is the only suspect. We are always looking,” Forte said.

Most of the 20 shootings occurred at night and on highways, though police have not revealed more details to explain the connection they found between 12 of them. Some of the motorists were struck by bullets a very short time apart.

There have been no more related shootings since Kansas City police went public with their investigation.

Categories: Magazines

India’s Antigraft Fighter Takes on Opposition Leader In the Battle For Varanasi

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 05:08

Congested and crisscrossed by narrow and often dark lanes, Varanasi’s air is a mix of wood smoke and incense. The green-brown Ganges, the busy colorful bazaars, the morning bathers and the nightly oil lamps make this picturesque place a draw for tourists from all over. There’s a timeless quality in this northern Indian city, said to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

But this month, the peace has been rudely shattered. Ever since the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi decided to contest from Varanasi, and Arvind Kejriwal, chief of the newly-formed antigraft Aam Aadmi Party decided to take him head on, things in Varanasi have been as earthly as they can possibly be.

For the city’s 1.5 million voters, severely polarized on the basis of caste and religion, it’s going to be a tough call.

Varanasi is a bastion of Hinduism and with around 3,500,000 Brahmin votes has traditionally been a stronghold of the BJP. For the last 20 years, with the exception of 2004, they have won this seat. For Modi, who has elbowed aside member of Parliament and party old timer Murli Manohar Joshi to enter the fray, winning Varanasi should be a breeze — at least until Kejriwal decided to begin a David vs Goliath face-off.

While Modi can count on Varanasi’s staunch Hindu Brahmin population, Kejriwal, if he can position his campaign well, can appeal to a entire cross section of voters — the city’s 400,000 Muslims, for instance.

“Here is a person who is at the forefront of an anti corruption movement, former chief minister of Delhi, a person who has been highlighting issues relating to crony capitalism and arguing there’s little to differentiate between the [incumbent] Congress and BJP when it comes to policies,” points out Delhi-based independent political analyst, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta. “The fact he is personally contesting Modi, irrespective of the outcome, is very significant in itself.”

Kejriwal says he is not much after the seat as the platform that campaigning provides him. “I am not here to become a Member of Parliament. If that was my intent, I would have chosen a safe seat like most other politicians are doing,” he told a rally in Varanasi recently.

Meanwhile, the incumbent Congress party’s candidate, local politician Aay Rai, has been campaigning in the shadow of his counterparts. If Kejriwal eats into Modi’s vote bank, and if the regional Samajwadi party goes through with a proposal to withdraw its candidate and transfer support to Rai, then Congress just might pull it off. Either way, in Varanasi Kejriwal has the power to dent the spectacular win Modi envisioned for himself.

Categories: Magazines

Racist Internet Forums Linked to U.S. Hate Crimes

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 05:07

A white supremacist charged with killing three people this week had posted over 12,000 messages on the website Stormfront, which carries the slogan “No Jews, No Right,” according to an organization that tracks hate groups. Frazier Glenn Cross stands accused of killing three people near two Jewish community facilities in suburban Kansas City.

According to a report released Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights organization, there has been a developing online trend of posters on online hate forums being “disproportionately responsible” for mass killings and racist crime.

A community of “White Nationalists,” Stormfront describes itself as “the voice of the new, embattled White minority.”

Users of the website were responsible for over 100 murders in the last five years, claim researchers.

Past visitors include Wade Michael Page, an American veteran who killed six people in a mass shooting at a Sikh Temple in 2012. Another was Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian extremist who killed 77 people in a shooting spree at a youth summer camp in 2011.

“It has been a magnet for the deadly and deranged,” said Heidi Beirich, author of the report.

Don Black, owner of Stormfront, told Reuters that killers like Breivik have been banned from posting on the site. “We’re obviously a big website, and any site is likely to have a few unstable people pass through,” Black posted in a statement on his website.

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This is the Deadliest Day in Mt. Everest’s History

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 04:23

An early morning avalanche on the slopes of Mount Everest has killed at least 12 Nepalese Sherpas and left several more missing in what is being called the deadliest day in the mountain’s history.

A wall of snow overcame the local guides at 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning near the mountain’s Camp 2 as they were preparing ropes on the route to the summit ahead of the spring climbing season.

“Rescuers have already retrieved four bodies and they are now trying to pull out two more bodies that are buried under snow,” Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, told AFP.

Sherpas are famous for their ability to weather high altitudes and are widely regarded as some of the best mountaineers in the world. A Sherpa, Tenzing Norgay, and New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary were the first people to summit the world’s highest peak.

Today, many Sherpa work under incredible pressure, pushing their bodies to their physical limits in order to maintain lucrative guide positions in the service of usually affluent foreign mountaineers, who climb in the Himalayas as a form of adventure tourism.

To date, more than 4,000 climbers have reached Everest’s summit. An estimated 200 have died in the attempt.

[AFP, AP]

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Ole Miss Fraternity Chapter Shuttered After Racist Prank

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 04:10

The University of Mississippi’s Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity chapter has been closed after three members are believed to have hung a noose around a bronze statue of civil rights icon James Meredith, the first black student admitted to the Oxford-based school.

“The decision is not a result of any individual incident, but a response to newly discovered, ongoing behavior that includes incidents of hazing, underage drinking, alcohol abuse, and failure to comply with the university and fraternity’s codes of conduct,” the fraternity said in a statement Thursday.

“Though the incident involving the James Meredith statue several months ago did not directly result in the chapter’s closure, it did mark the beginning of an intensified period of review.”

In February, a person or persons placed a noose around the campus statue and left behind a Confederate flag. In the wake of the incident, the fraternity decided to expel three students.

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Despair Turns to Anger in South Korea as Ferry Death Toll Reaches 28

Fri, 04/18/2014 - 03:48

Updated 7:37 a.m. ET

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The vice principal of the high school whose students made up the bulk of those aboard the stricken Sewol ferry reportedly committed suicide Friday after being rescued.

The death of Kang Min-Kyu, 52, is the 29th so far connected to the disaster, local news agency Yonhap reports, and with 270 people still missing, fingers are being pointed at the captain and crew, even as rescue attempts continue amid the murky and turbulent waters.

Officials are looking at whether a crewman’s decision to abruptly turn the 6,852-ton ship, bound for the southern resort island of Jeju, contributed to its sinking off the coast of South Korea on Wednesday. There were 475 passengers aboard, many of them high school students on a class trip. At present, officials say there are just 179 survivors, with the final death toll expected to climb considerably higher.

Divers have been continually buffeted by fierce currents, strong tides and bad weather, and have struggled to enter the now completely submerged hulk, with most recovered bodies being found floating in open water.

“We cannot even see the ship’s white color. Our people are just touching the hull with their hands,” Kim Chun-il, a diver from Undine Marine Industries, told relatives gathered nearby in the port city of Jindo.

Comparing eyewitness testimony from survivors with a transcript of a ship-to-shore exchange indicates that the captain delayed evacuation for about 30 minutes after a transportation official gave an order to prepare to abandon the 20-year-old vessel.

According to the Associated Press, at 9 a.m. — just five minutes after receiving a distress call — an official at the Jeju Vessel Traffic Services Center instructed that lifejackets be readied in preparation for evacuation. But a crew member on board replied, “It’s hard for people to move.”

Near the site of the tragedy, anxious and frustrated family members huddle to observe the faltering rescue attempts. “I want to jump into the water with them,” said Park Geum-san, the 59-year-old great-aunt of missing student Park Ye-ji. “My loved one is under the water … anger is not enough.”

The Japanese-made ship was three hours from its destination when it began to list heavily and fill with water, despite following a frequently traveled 300-mile route in calm conditions. Repeated attempts were made to right the vessel but failed even though it was apparently well within the 5% maximum list for such maneuvers to succeed.

Increasingly, relatives are venting anger at the authorities involved, and especially the ship’s captain, 68-year-old Lee Joon-seok, who was among 20 of the 29 crew members to survive, according to the coast guard.

“How could he tell those young kids to stay there and jump from the sinking ship himself?” said Ham Young-ho, grandfather of Lee Da-woon, 17, one of the young confirmed dead, reports Reuters.

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that some text messages, purportedly from survivors trapped within the vessel and saying “I am still alive” and “There are six of us in the room next to the dining hall,” were among many hoax messages that circulated in the aftermath of the disaster.

South Korea’s National Police Agency revealed there were no records of phone calls, SMS or other messages received from anyone listed as missing after noon on Wednesday — one hour after the boat overturned — further dashing hopes that anyone still inside the sunken hull is still alive.

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