Thursday, March 14, 2013

Pursuit of hackers who took credit reports expands

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2013 file photo, Jay-Z poses backstage with the awards for best rap/sung collaboration for "No Church in the Wild" and best rap performance for "N****s in Paris" at the 55th annual Grammy Awards, in Los Angeles. Jay-Z is among 11 celebrities and government officials whose private financial information appears to have been posted online by a site that began garnering attention on Monday, March 11, 2013. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File)

FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2013 file photo, Jay-Z poses backstage with the awards for best rap/sung collaboration for "No Church in the Wild" and best rap performance for "N****s in Paris" at the 55th annual Grammy Awards, in Los Angeles. Jay-Z is among 11 celebrities and government officials whose private financial information appears to have been posted online by a site that began garnering attention on Monday, March 11, 2013. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP, File)

(AP) ? The pursuit of hackers who audaciously stole and published credit reports for Michelle Obama, the attorney general, FBI director and other U.S. politicians and celebrities crisscrossed continents and included a San Francisco-based Internet company, Cloudflare, The Associated Press has learned.

The sensational crime caught the attention of Congress and President Barack Obama, who said "we should not be surprised."

Obama said he could not confirm that the first lady's credit report was published earlier this week on a Russian website, along with what appeared to be the credit reports of nearly two dozen others, including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and celebrities Britney Spears, Jay Z, Beyonce and Tiger Woods.

Perhaps in a show of defiance as the FBI, Secret Service and the Los Angeles Police Department coordinated efforts to investigate the security breach, the website added late Wednesday what it said was the credit report of disgraced Pennsylvania football coach Jerry Sandusky.

If accurate as widely suspected, the leaked records put each victim at significant risk of identity theft. Included in the reports are Social Security numbers, dates of birth and a list of previous home addresses. The records also include such personal information as the first lady's monthly payments on a student loan 10 years ago and that she once held a Banana Republic credit card.

The president said determined hackers are a persistent threat.

"We should not be surprised that if you've got hackers who want to dig in and devote a lot of resources, that they can access people's private information," Obama told ABC News in an interview aired Wednesday. "It is a big problem."

Obama added: "It would not shock me if some information among people who presumably have pretty good safeguards against it, still gets out. That's part of the reason why we've got to continually improve what we do and coordinate between public and private sectors to make sure that people's information is safe."

On Capitol Hill, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee cited the breach Wednesday at a congressional hearing about the government prosecuting hackers. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said the leaks of financial information was "just the beginning of the problem" when it comes to the vulnerability of U.S. computer networks. Goodlatte said the U.S. has billions of dollars at stake, as foreign hackers try to steal sensitive information from businesses.

"The truth is that all citizens are vulnerable to these kinds of cyberattacks," Goodlatte said.

A spokesman for one of the largest U.S. credit bureaus, Tim Klein of Equifax, said an initial investigation showed that the hackers accessed the credit bureau's system by correctly entering personal details about their victims to impersonate them and generate the credit reports.

Representatives for Experian, Equifax and TransUnion have all said they were cooperating with the U.S. criminal investigation being conducted by the FBI and Secret Service.

A retired FBI executive assistant director, Shawn Henry, said he hopes the incident sheds light on the scope of the cybersecurity problem and identity theft in particular, which affects millions of Americans who aren't famous enough to make headlines.

"There's a lot of sensitive data available online," said Henry, the president of CrowdStrike, a security technology company. "People aren't keeping information in a safe locked behind closed doors. Information being breached and violated is happening every day."

In San Francisco, Cloudflare operates the directory computers, known as name servers, used behind the scenes to send visitors to the Russian website where the stolen credit reports were being published, according to Internet registration records. Without that service, few Internet users would be able to visit the Russian website or view the stolen credit reports.

A company spokeswoman, Carol Carrubba, told the AP that Cloudflare, which she described as a performance and security company, doesn't comment on its customers. But Carrubba said: "Even if we delete a customer's account, the content remains in place, though the site may load more slowly."

Internet directories on Wednesday continued to identify Cloudflare as directing traffic to the Russian website, although any technical changes could take hours or days to update across the Internet.

Last month, the chief executive at Cloudflare, Matthew Prince, said in a speech that he had been victimized last year by hackers associated with the group UGNazi. They tricked Google into giving them access to his Gmail account, Prince said, and left voicemails taunting him that they had bought his Social Security number from an underground Russian website. Prince said the break-in of his personal email account also allowed the hackers to take over Cloudflare's corporate email systems.

In his speech, Prince said his company traced the attackers within 24 hours, and the hackers turned out to be among Cloudflare's customers.

The FBI in San Francisco declined to tell AP whether investigators have contacted Cloudflare to review payments or communications that had been used to set up the service.

The website address uses an Internet suffix originally assigned to the former Soviet Union, and many of the pages feature unflattering pictures of the person featured and taunting messages to them. A counter on the website indicated that it had received more than 500,000 views as of late Wednesday afternoon.

Social Security numbers posted on Jay-Z, Mel Gibson and others matched records in public databases. Social Security numbers are not public records, although they are used to be included in some court filings. Many courts require the information be redacted from filings since the numbers can be used to steal a person's identity and open credit accounts in their name.


Associated Press writers Jason Dearen in San Francisco, Raquel Maria Dillon in Los Angeles and White House Correspondent Julie Pace and writers Ted Bridis and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.


Follow Anne Flaherty at

Associated Press


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New owners hope to have Twinkies in stores soon

The new owner of Hostess Brands snack cakes hopes to have Twinkies back on U.S. store shelves by this summer, according to a member of the purchasing group.

"Our family is thrilled to have the opportunity to reestablish these iconic brands with new creative marketing ideas and renewed sales efforts and investment," Daren Metropoulos, a principal at his family's private equity firm, told Reuters in an email on Tuesday.

"We look forward to having America's favorite snacks back on the shelf by this summer."

Daren's father, Dean Metropoulos, teamed up with Apollo Global Management to offer $410 million for Twinkies and other snack cakes. Their offer was to serve as the minimum offer for the business but no other bidders emerged.

News of their winning offer was revealed late on Monday in a court filing.


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Monday, March 11, 2013

CYBER DIARY: Tongue has no bones: The need for 'speech therapy'!

Tongue has no bones. But it is the sharpest weapon and it can injure many. But the worst consequence is when it destroys the user himself badly. That is what is happening these days with the omnipresent digital capturing devices all around. For many people, microphone is a weakness. The moment a microphone is given, their main mission is to say something that can amuse the audience. Very few have the self-control to abide by the time allotted to them. They know that routine facts are never of interest to any audience. You won?t get any claps for giving a gentleman talk. For getting the attention of audience, you need to do one or all of the following: a) criticize someone?s actions b) dig someone?s past c) leak some secrets d) make some promises e) pull someone?s legs, and if nothing of these are handy, then f) share one?s own mischiefs and blunders. People call the last one, ?lying on your back and spiting on yourself?. The passionate speaker, who got mesmerized by the excellent acoustics and enthusiastic and encouraging audience, loses control over what he speaks, when he speaks, to whom he speaks, how he speaks and about whom he speaks. The words flow faster than his thoughts, and every word and every gesture of him are captured by the cameras and then transmitted within no time far and wide to alert the subjects of his oration. Before he comes out of the stage, sharp reactions emerge from even far-flung areas, defamation suits are filed, and arrest warrants are ready. Then he has to go on a denial spree accusing everyone including the reporters, cameramen, and even the microphone for misrepresenting his words. They regret their words privately and justify their stand publicly that they have been misquoted. Here are a few examples. (Since some of them are still sub-judice, I prefer to say that the speakers have been ?misquoted?. All are innocent unless they are declared guilty at the end of all judicial processes). A leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the Kerala state (known for the first democratically elected communist government in the world) located in Southern India, told in a public meeting that his party had murdered and thus eliminated as many as 13 congress workers a few years back. He reportedly added that his party used to prepare the lists of opponents they want to eliminate and had used contract killers. (See a clipping).?? He was arrested by the police on charge of murder. There are several politicians who have landed into trouble for their criticisms against judgments of the court. A few have gone to the extent of imputing ulterior motives on the judicial officers.? In a speech on the eve of India?s Independence Day in 2012, the head of a state in India criticized the judiciary stating that ?court verdicts are purchased?. It was also stated that ?at times favourable verdicts are given in return for money?. The Calcutta high court took serious view of these remarks and advised the public figure to ?lace her speech with moderation?. No doubt, political leaders always get trapped by their own words, because they are destined to devote major part of their life talking to public and media, for their own survival and image building. But, media houses are also in search of spice, and they send the reporters who are trained to put sticks and words in the mouths of politicians. Very few political leaders have the capacity and skill to escape from the media. They lose control easily when bombarded with leading questions in the presence of their supporters. One public figure was quizzed by a reporter for his comments on an accusation regarding sexual abuse by a politician. The minister tried to evade the question, but the lady reporter did not leave him. Finally, the annoyed minister regained his sense of humour and reportedly asked her: ?Why are you after that person? I think, something happened between you!? Speakers of Indian Parliament and Assemblies have tough time removing from records those unparliamentary words inadvertently uttered by members in ?charged atmosphere? within the legislative houses. Microphone mania is killing!!

How to control our tongue? It is written the Bible as follows:

??If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!??(James 3: 2-5)
May be, some institutes will come with a ?speech therapy? of a different kind for 'outspoken' people. Else management institutes can think of starting a course on ?Microphone Management?!? (Views are personal. Thanks to Sajjive for translating my thoughts to wonderful cartoons)

? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?Sibichen K Mathew

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News in Brief: Canada?s ice shrinking rapidly

News in Brief: Canada?s ice shrinking rapidly

Melt from Arctic Archipelago will raise sea levels by 35 millimeters

Melt from Arctic Archipelago will raise sea levels by 35 millimeters

By Erin Wayman

Web edition: March 11, 2013



During the 21st century, glacial melt in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago (including Ellesmere Island, shown in a satellite view) could raise global sea level by 35 millimeters, a new study finds.

Credit: NASA

The glaciers of Canada?s Arctic islands are irreversibly melting, researchers warn.

Jan Lenaerts of Utrecht University in the Netherlands and colleagues simulated ice loss in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago throughout the 21st century as temperatures warm. By around 2100, the islands? glaciers may shed 12.4 trillion tons of ice, or 18 percent of their current volume.

That melting would raise global sea level 3.5 centimeters, the team reports online March 7 in Geophysical Research Letters. After Greenland and Antarctica, the archipelago will be the world?s third-largest source of sea level rise caused by vanishing ice.

J.T.M. Lenaerts et al. Irreversible mass loss of Canadian Arctic Archipelago glaciers. Geophysical Research Letters. doi:10.1002/grl.50214. [Go to]

D. Powell. Himalaya rush. Science News. Vol. 182, August 25, 2012, p. 18. Available online: [Go to]

J. Raloff. Modern-day sea level rise skyrocketing. Science News. Vol. 180, July 16, 2011, p. 13. Available online: [Go to]

E. Wayman. Shrinking polar ice caused one-fifth of sea level rise. Science News. Vol. 182, December 29, 2012, p. 10. Available online: [Go to]


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TSX advances as energy shares, BlackBerry drive gains

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index closed higher on Monday, helped by gains in the energy sector and a 14 percent jump in BlackBerry shares on takeover speculation and U.S. market launch plans. BlackBerry shares gained after U.S. wireless carrier AT&T Inc said it would start selling the highly anticipated BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone to customers by March 22, with early sales of the devices to begin on Tuesday.

BlackBerry shares rally on AT&T launch, takeover hopes

TORONTO (Reuters) - BlackBerry shares rose 12 percent on Monday, fueled by takeover speculation and news that AT&T Inc will start selling the new BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen smartphone in the United States on March 22. The CEO of China's Lenovo Group Ltd told a French newspaper on Monday that the personal computer maker might consider an acquisition of Canada's BlackBerry at some point in the future.

Canadian Solar expects retroactive EU duties on solar imports

(Reuters) - Canadian Solar Inc reported a bigger-than-expected quarterly loss and said retroactive duties on China-made solar products by the European Commission could reverse a pick-up in demand for its products in the continent. The stock of the company, most of whose manufacturing operations are in China, fell 12 percent to a two-month low of $3.28 on the Nasdaq on Monday.

Aeterna Zentaris to stop late-stage cancer drug trial, shares fall

(Reuters) - Canadian drugmaker Aeterna Zentaris Inc said it would discontinue a late-stage trial of a cancer drug after an independent data safety monitoring committee said the drug was unlikely to help increase patient survival. Shares of the company fell as much as 29 percent to C$1.89 on Monday on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Analysis: Solar trade war promises order bonanza for Taiwan

(Reuters) - Business has been booming for Taiwanese solar companies since they became the middlemen in a trade war between the United States, China and Europe over the multi-billion dollar solar power equipment market. Green Energy Technology Inc , which makes wafers used in solar cells, is receiving so many orders from Chinese firms seeking to circumvent U.S. import duties that the company is considering renting extra capacity.

Nomura to take Monte Paschi dispute to London: source

MILAN (Reuters) - Japanese bank Nomura is seeking to establish British jurisdiction for its dispute with Monte dei Paschi di Siena over risky derivatives trades, a source close to the matter said on Monday. Nomura began proceedings in one of Britain's top court on March 1, the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. On the same day Italy's scandal-hit Monte dei Paschi filed a damages claim in a Florence court against Nomura, as well as Deutsche Bank and two former executives of Monte dei Paschi.

Tycoons to exit TNK-BP, Rosneft closing this week: sources

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Two of the tycoons who shared control of Russia's third largest oil producer with BP for much of the past decade will leave their management posts at the end of the week when their sale of the company to Rosneft is closed. Sources close to management said German Khan, a TNK-BP shareholder and the firm's de facto chief in recent years, will leave the company by Friday with Viktor Vekselberg, a metals and mining tycoon who holds a nominal senior post.

Boeing confident has permanent 787 battery fix: executive

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Boeing Co is confident that proposed changes to the 787 Dreamliner will provide a permanent solution to battery problems that grounded its newest jet, a senior executive said on Monday. The U.S. planemaker has also made significant progress in pulling together a plan to launch a revamped version of its best-selling 777 wide-body jet, Boeing Commercial Airplanes marketing vice president Randy Tinseth told a conference of aviation financiers.

Blackstone, Canadian fund buy more of Gecina's debt

PARIS (Reuters) - Investment fund Blackstone and Canadian real estate fund Ivanho? Cambridge said they had acquired 64.7 percent of the loans held by two Spanish owners of Gecina , potentially paving the way to take an equity stake in the French real estate group. Gecina, a French real estate investment trust, has been in the spotlight since two Spanish investment companies - Alteco and MAG Import - owning 31 percent of the French company filed for bankruptcy in October.

GE nominates Mary Schapiro to its board

(Reuters) - General Electric Co nominated Mary Schapiro, former chairman of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, to its board. Schapiro will stand for election at the company's annual meeting of shareholders on April 24, GE said on Monday.


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Saturday, March 9, 2013

Is 'Oz the Great and Powerful' too scary for kids?

By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, NBC News

OPINION: There's no question that the original "Wizard of Oz" features some scary scenes -- we list the five most traumatizing in this story. So parents can be forgiven for wondering: Should I take my child to the new prequel, "Oz the Great and Powerful"? Fair warning: It is rated PG, whereas for all its scares, the original film was rated G, so you've got to expect it's less kid-friendly.

Walt Disney Pictures

Sure, Finley, the flying monkey on the left, is cute as all get-out, but check out that beast on the right.

Warning: Plenty of spoilers for the new movie ahead.

1. Scarier flying monkeys
There is one friendly flying monkey in the new movie. Cute monkey Finley is rescued by James Franco's Wizard and becomes his pal. He's a pretty cute doe-eyed creature, but he doesn't represent the actual army of flying monkeys in the film. They're explained as "flying baboons" to distinguish them from the nicer-looking ones, and they're terrifying, with a much more demonic and threatening look than the 1939 flock. They zoom out of the mist, hunt for our heroes in caves, and generally up the scary factor of the originals by tenfold. Who looked at the original "Wizard of Oz" and said, "That film was great, but you know what it needed? Even scarier monkeys."

2. Witch weirdness
The three witches in this movie all start out appearing good, but we know that, other than Glinda, the other two have to make the leap to the dark side. And there's a very physical transformation of one of them that's pretty Jekyll-and-Hyde like in its painful-looking appearance. The scariest moment for a 5-year-old: When the witch's now-green hand suddenly grabs a table and her talon-like nails drag slowly and painfully into the wood. Like nails on a chalkboard with a satanic twist.

Walt Disney Pictures

For one 5-year-old, the witch's green, taloned hand dragging through a wooden table (you can see it in the previews too) was the film's scariest moment.

3. Glinda is tortured
We love Glinda. She's Glinda the Good! In the original movie, she just floats around in a big poofy prom dress and helps Dorothy out. (Though really, would it have hurt her to mention the thing about clicking your heels to take you home a little bit earlier?) Anyway, it's agonizing to see her chained between two posts so the evil witches can zap her with some kind of supernatural?electricity?and over again. She appears unharmed in the end and of course she triumphs, but that's a long drawn-out scene that is not easy to watch.

Walt Disney Pictures

Dear Glinda (Michelle Williams), we love you and don't like seeing you tortured.

4. Minor scares and a battle
There are some weird little scares throughout the film, some which appear to have been thrown in simply to take advantage of the 3-D. In perhaps the biggest jump-scare moment in the film, a random flower-thing with googly eyes leaps into James Franco's face. There are also little buzzing pixie sprites that gnaw at him in that same scene, but they're played for laughs. There's also a scary walk through a dark forest with a bunch of eyes lighting up in the trees behind. Yes, we saw this in "Snow White," but it was nerve-wracking there too. And there's a big battle scene, though it turns out the good army we see attacked is not anything that can be injured, and there's a nice "we won!" moment for the good guys.

5. The destruction of China Town
There's a new element in this Oz, a place called China Town, made entirely of china dolls, dishes and the like. We don't see the destruction happen, but it's shattered by the flying baboons and we do see the aftermath. And when we met the character China Doll, her legs have been broken off (they're fixed by the Wizard) and we learn her entire family was destroyed, though that's not dwelled on.

Walt Disney Pictures

China Girl's village of China Town is destroyed, though we don't see it happen onscreen.

6. 3-D
The movie's in 3-D, which not only costs you extra but features things randomly jumping out into the audience. Mostly those aren't too aggressive or scary. But for sensitive kids who don't want to wear the glasses or don't like the extra dimension (or parents who want a cheaper ticket price), seek out a theater playing the film without the 3-D.

7. Length
The original "Wizard of Oz" is only 1 hour, 45 minutes long. "Oz the Great and Powerful" is 2 hours, 10 minutes. That extra half-hour could've easily been cut, as there are numerous scenes where the film just kind of drags, and one child in our screening briefly fell asleep.

8. The good things
All that said, the film treats the legacy of "Wizard of Oz" with respect. It doesn't mess around with the legend we already know, and it's colorful and lively, with some beautiful scenes. China Girl is a darling new character and the Wizard and Glinda are good guides through this strange and bizarre land. Older kids will enjoy it, and it's a good idea to rewatch the original first and discuss the differences together afterwards.

Should you take your child?
This mom wouldn't recommend it for anyone under 5. For 5- to 7-year-olds, you'll need to use your own judgment. I took my 5-year-old after reading the related picture book with her and making sure she knew things ended happily. She had a few climb-in-mom's-lap moments, but they weren't always what I thought they would be. I don't think she understood the bit about Glinda or China Town, it was the witch's hand dragging her fingernails into the wooden table that scared her the most. Kids over 7, unless they're very sensitive, will probably understand that it's a movie, that good triumphs and it does end happily. I still wish they'd come out with a director's cut that chops out a half-hour of unnecessary exposition -- although it does make bathroom breaks easier.

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Malaysian troops attack armed Philippine group in Sabah

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysian troops backed by fighter jets stormed the camp of an armed Filipino group on Tuesday, trying to end a standoff on Borneo island after violence that killed at least 27 people and sparked fears of broader insecurity in the resource-rich region.

Jets bombed the area in Malaysia's eastern Sabah state for more than 30 minutes before hundreds of ground troops moved in to search for about 200 Filipinos believed to be hiding near a coastal palm-oil plantation, Malaysian officials said.

The outcome of the operation remained unclear more than 11 hours after it began. Malaysian officials said their forces suffered no casualties but they gave no details on the fate of the Filipinos, whose allies based in Manila claimed they had survived and were still resisting.

The government-run New Straits Times newspaper reported explosions at a site 30 km (19 miles) away from the main standoff.

After telling reporters earlier the operation had been successful, police said it was still going on and that gunmen could still be at large.

"The government has to take the right action in order to preserve the pride and sovereignty of this country," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a statement announcing the assault.

The group is demanding recognition and an increased payment from Malaysia for their claim as the rightful owners of Sabah, part of Borneo island and which the sultanate leased to British colonialists in the 19th century.

Malaysia has refused the demands and Manila has repeatedly told the group to put down its weapons and come home. But the violence has sparked a political crisis ahead of elections in both countries. Each government says it is investigating allegations of opposition involvement.

Najib, who faces a tough election within weeks, has come under pressure to take a firm stance against the group, which arrived by boat about three weeks ago claiming to be descendants of the southern Philippines' sultanate of Sulu.

The security headache could prompt him to delay the polls, which must be held by June, adding to nervousness among investors over what could be the country's closest ever election.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino has said he suspected his country's opposition backed the obscure group in an attempt to undermine him ahead of congressional elections in May.

The insecurity has disrupted operations in Sabah's huge palm oil industry. Prolonged trouble could dampen growing investor interest in energy and infrastructure projects in the state, although the main oil fields are far from the standoff.

Oil majors such as ConocoPhillips and Shell have poured in billions of dollars to develop oil and gas fields in Sabah. Chinese companies have been investing in hydro-power and coal mining.

The violence, which is occurring close to popular diving spots, could also hit tourism. The U.S. embassy in Malaysia issued a statement on Tuesday advising against travel to the affected area.

Two policemen were killed along with 12 militants when Malaysian security forces tried to tighten a cordon around the group on Friday. That sparked more violence over the weekend.


Aquino has come under pressure from opponents for supporting Malaysia's rejection of the group's claim to Sabah, which remains a dormant Philippine policy goal.

He in turn has suggested the political opposition encouraged the intrusion as a way of undermining a historic peace deal signed with Muslim rebels last year, calling it a "conspiracy".

Sulu is a Philippine island chain that lies between Sabah and the Philippines' Mindanao island. The sultan's family, the Kirams, are traditional rulers, with no formal political powers.

"The family of Sultan Jamalul Kiram could not possibly have settled on this course of action alone," Aquino said on Monday.

"All those who have wronged our country will be held accountable."

The Philippines has asked for a Philippine navy vessel to be allowed to provide humanitarian, medical and consular assistance and to take the armed group home.

For Malaysia, the crisis is complicated by the illegal immigration of Filipinos to Sabah, whose population has more than quadrupled since the early 1970s. The Philippine government says about 800,000 Filipinos now live there.

Sabah residents have been transfixed in recent weeks by a public inquiry into allegations that illegal immigrants were handed identity cards by the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) in a citizenship-for-votes scheme.

Much of the population in the area affected by the violence has cultural and family links to the southern Philippines -- an hour away by speedboat -- raising doubts over their allegiance.

That could hinder efforts to capture the gunmen and make immigration an awkward issue for Najib. Voters in Sabah, traditionally a bastion for the UMNO-led National Front coalition, could swing the election to the opposition if it can build on recent gains there.

Three Malaysian palm oil refineries with a combined capacity of 1.8 million tonnes were running at reduced capacity and are preparing to halt operations if the violence drags on, refinery officials with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

The refineries are owned by Singapore's Wilmar International and Malaysia's KL Kepong and Kwantas Corp. Sabah is Malaysia's top oil palm growing region, accounting for a quarter of national production.

Much of the palm oil from Sabah is shipped to China -- the world's second-largest consumer of edible oils.

(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage in Kuala Lumpur; Manuel Mogato and Rosemarie Francisco in Manila; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Dean Yates and Neil Fullick)


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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Commentary: Ending the energy 'Stone Age,' and other lessons from ...

Energy Secretary Steven Chu told this year's ARPA-E conference "The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones - we advanced to better solutions." (Photo via Department of Energy)

Energy Secretary Steven Chu told this year?s ARPA-E conference ?The Stone Age didn?t end because we ran out of stones ? we advanced to better solutions.? (Photo via Department of Energy)

EDITOR?S NOTE: Last week, Midwest Energy News reporter Dan Ferber spent three days near Washington, D.C., at the annual Energy Innovation Summit of the Advanced Research Projects Agency??Energy (ARPA-E).

Few vantage points are better for viewing the nation?s evolving energy landscape than the Energy Innovations Summit, ARPA-E?s annual conference, which took place three days last week at a convention center on the Potomac River, a few miles from the White House.

Although the conference sometimes seemed like a giant infomercial for ARPA-E, keynotes by senators, industrialists, mayors and a university president offered valuable insights, highlighting the the dramatic changes going on across the energy landscape, and the excitement over new and potentially game-changing technologies and the hurdles they face before they change the energy landscape.

It fell to the conference?s undisputed rock star, outgoing Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, to cast the energy challenge in the broadest terms. ?It?s not a choice between cutting carbon and emission and spending a lot of money or going in the direction we?re going. That?s a false choice. What ARPA-E is all about is what the DOE is all about: a transition to a better choice.?

That better choice requires new energy technologies, which is ARPA-E?s role. But to understand how those technologies fit into the broader energy landscape, the conference offered a variety of opinions from academics, technologists, financiers, and politicians.

People, money, and energy

Hans Rosling, a professor of global health at Sweden?s Karolinska Institute and founder of Gapminder, an NGO promoting sustainable global development, set the stage at the conference with a dynamic talk on the future of global energy demand.

One of the worst misconceptions about global energy demand, he said, is that it will grow in lockstep with the growing population in the developing world. ?People get healthy and educated first, then they get rich,? he said.

The bulk of the increased growth in energy demand this century will come not from the developed world, but instead from the middle-income countries?China, India, Brazil, and South Africa? as they grow richer. A diverse mix of energy, including nuclear, will be needed to supply that demand because fossil fuels will become scarcer, he said.

?Population growth is not the issue when it comes to energy. It?s economic growth,? he concluded.

Fracking our way to prosperity?

Fracking is the way to both energy and economic growth, former Indiana Governor and current Purdue University president Mitch Daniels told the ARPA-E crowd. The technologies that enable horizontal fracturing are ?the best break in American technology since the silicon chip,?

?The upside is huge. We?re talking cautiously 1-2 percent of the GDP,? he maintained.

The upside comes from a change in the trade balance, as cheap gas fuels resurgence in U.S. manufacturing, and with it jobs and an increase in government revenue. National security will also benefit by bringing energy production stateside, Daniels said.

?The problems, where they exist at all, are mitigatable,? Daniels maintained. Creating public policies that maximize natural gas extraction ?should be the easiest call since, oh, the Keystone Pipeline,? Daniels needled. ?This is a great course for the country, ? he said.

?We?ve got to do something now?

Natural gas is part of the solution, but far from all of it, said Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. Policies promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency are critical, and New York City had adopted a number of them, but natural gas is needed, too, he said.

That?s true, at least, until energy can be scored at the huge scale needed to power society fully with renewable energy.

?Until you discover the energy holy grail of being able to store electricity, you will always need backup.? But natural gas needs to be extracted responsibly, with the industry accepting ?sensible environmental safeguards,? Bloomberg said.

Bloomberg also talked about coal?s decline, and touted the Sierra Club?s activist campaign Beyond Coal, which he helped fund, for its advocacy for shutting down coal-fired power plants.

?It used to be said that coal is king, and it?s regrettable that coal is king in India and China, but here in the United States, the king is dead,? he said. ?Coal is a dead man walking.?

Solutions today require new energy technology, which is poised to take off, Bloomberg said. Bloomberg was a technology entrepreneur in the early 1980s, when he founded a company, known today as Bloomberg LP, to supply Wall Street analysts with up-to-the-minute business and financial information on their computer terminals.

?I think clean energy technology today is at the same stage that information technology was then,? Bloomberg said.

But the biggest need of all, Bloomberg told the policymakers, business people and technologists, was leadership in dealing with the dual challenges of climate change and energy.

?If we want to have a better world for our children and ourselves, we?ve got to do something now,? he said.

Shared risks, shared rewards

One thing we should do now is develop new paths to clean energy, Ellen Kullman, the chief executive officer of DuPont, the Wilmington, Delaware-based chemical-industry giant, told conference attendees.

?No modern habit is in greater need of innovation than energy use,? she said.

Since the 1990s, DuPont has invested heavily in areas such as materials science, and Kullman said that DuPont-made materials are making solar PV panels longer-lasting and able to harvest more of the sun?s energy. Nevertheless, some solar panel makers use lower cost, lower grade materials, which lead to inferior panels that end up harvesting less energy.

?Materials matter, and the solar market needs to embrace this,? Kullman said.

Biofuels matter, too, she added. DuPont has operated a demonstration-scale biorefinery in Vonore, Tennessee, since 2008, and plans to build the nation?s first commercial cellulosic biofuel plant in Iowa, Kullman said. This plant would take biomass from switchgrass or other crops and produce ethanol for transportation fuel. DuPont has teamed up with farmers, national labs, universities and start-up companies for this effort.

?We?ve all shared in the risks and we?ll all share the benefits,? Kullman said.

Moving energy technology to market

Dealing with growth in energy demand, and the challenges of climate change, will require many such innovations, said Cheryl Martin, ARPA-E?s deputy director. But rather than sitting back and waiting for discoveries to magically reach the market, ARPA-E helps its grantees take an active role.

Martin describes ARPA-E?s technology-development grants as ?small and catalytic,? and the agency expects its grantee to have a ?specified path to market.?

Sometimes grantees team up with a government agency, as when Kennewick, Washington, based Infinia Corporation, teamed up with the U.S. Navy, which is interested in cooling remote troop outposts with the company?s solar-powered air conditioner. Sometimes a large, established company might invest in an ARPA-E-funded startup.

Or, a university-based inventor or engineer might spin off a company, with ARPA-E?s help, and try to lure private investors. Seventeen companies have attracted more than $450 million in private funding to develop technologies that ARPA-E funded in the early stages, Martin said.

Because of the risky nature of the work, many of the projects ARPA-E funds will fail, Martin said. But with the right investment and the right attitude, some will succeed.

?The greatest discoveries take time, money and patience,? she said. ?After all, it took Christopher Columbus three funded trips to discover the New World.?

What are we thinking?

Such discoveries could move us out of an energy Stone Age and create ?better, cheaper solutions to meet our energy needs, Chu told attendees in his keynote lecture.

?The Stone Age didn?t end because we ran out of stones,? Chu said. ?We advanced to better solutions.?

It will take a great deal of funding to discover the path forward on energy, but with climate change intensifying, we have a moral responsibility to address it, Chu said. He showed on the hall?s giant screen the famous photo taken by the crew of Apollo 8 of the distant earth, with a bleak lunar landscape in the foreground and a gulf of blackness in between.

?We don?t want our children asking, What were our parents thinking? Didn?t they care about us??


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