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Reid: Senate to Vote on Extending Jobless Benefits.


Image: Reid: Senate to Vote on Extending Jobless Benefits

The Senate will vote next Monday on temporarily extending federal benefits for the long-term unemployed, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Reid, D-Nev., told The Associated Press he’s hopeful a bill co-sponsored by Nevada‘s Republican Sen. Dean Heller will be approved by the upper chamber, but he offered no prediction on whether it will pass muster in the House of Representatives.

“I don’t predict anything in the House,” Reid said Monday, describing the Republican-controlled House as a “black hole of legislation.”

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

But he praised Heller for the bipartisan bill he introduced with U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island. The measure would continue the federal jobless program for three months while a compromise is sought.

“I hope we can get that done,” said Reid, who has often been at odds with the conservative Heller.

“I’m happy to see Dean has joined us,” Reid added. “He’s broken away from the tea party folks who don’t want to do anything.”

When he introduced the bill, Heller said, “Providing a safety net for those in need is one of the most important functions of the federal government. As Nevada’s unemployment rate continues to top the charts nationwide, many families and individuals back home do not know how they are going to meet their basic needs.”

A two-year budget deal reached earlier this month failed to include an extension of jobless benefits for people who have been unemployed longer than six months. About 17,000 Nevadans lost benefits when the program expired Saturday. Nationally, 1.3 million were cut off from receiving unemployment.

Nevada officials estimate 800 Nevadans will lose benefits each week as they exhaust their 26 weeks of state-paid unemployment insurance unless Congress extends the federal program that was enacted in 2008 at the height of the recession when unemployment soared. It allowed the long-term unemployed in hard hit states like Nevada to receive benefits for up to 99 weeks. The duration was cut to 73 weeks last year.

Looking ahead to 2014, Reid said one of his priorities will be addressing the wealth gap between the rich, poor and middle class.

“The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, the middle class is getting squeezed and it’s just not fair,” said Reid, adding that raising the minimum wage would be another top priority, along with extending jobless benefits.

He said he’s scheduled to appear on a Sunday news show to outline his legislative goals in the midterm election year.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: Newsmax.com

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LIGNET: US Shift on Iran Forcing Saudis to Shore up Gulf Alliance.


Image: LIGNET: US Shift on Iran Forcing Saudis to Shore up Gulf Alliance

Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary General Abdul Latif Al Zayani, left, and Sheikh Sabah Al Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah, Kuwait’s minister for foreign affairs, attend the last session of the 34th GCC summit in Kuwait on Dec. 11, 2013. (AP)

Iran’s recent diplomatic breakthrough with the United States has invaded the comfort zone of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and forced it to embrace unification of militaries as well as true political and economic union. Rising suspicion of the Saudi push for closer solidarity could be linked to aggressive Iranian lobbying of several Gulf countries in recent months.

Click here to read the full analysis from top intelligence experts at LIGNET.com.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Pope Denounces Discrimination, Violence Against Christians.


Image: Pope Denounces Discrimination, Violence Against Christians

VATICAN CITYPope Francis on Thursday denounced discrimination against Christians, including in countries where religious freedom is in theory guaranteed by law.

He delivered his traditional noon prayer and address to thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square on the day the Roman Catholic Church commemorates St. Stephen, its first martyr.

The 77-year-old Argentine pope asked the crowd for a moment of silent prayer for “Christians who are unjustly accused and are subjected to every type of violence.”

Francis, celebrating his first Christmas season as pope, said “limitations and discrimination” against Christians was taking place not only in countries that do not grant full religious freedom but also where “on paper, freedom and human rights are protected.”

“This injustice should be denounced and eliminated,” he said.

Francis: A Pope for Our Time, The Definitive Biography 

Francis did not name any countries but the Vatican has long urged Saudi Arabia, the site of Islam’s holiest places, to lift a ban on Christians worshiping in public.This year there have been a number of incidents of intolerance and attacks against minority Christians in Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, and other countries where their rights are guaranteed by law.

Francis, departing from his prepared text, said he was sure that Christians suffering from either discrimination or violence were “more numerous today than in he early times of the Church.”

In the past, the Vatican has also expressed concern over what former Pope Benedict called “sophisticated forms of hostility” against Christians in rich countries, such as restricting use of religious symbols in public places.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

Report: Target Hackers Stole Encrypted Bank PINs.


Image: Report: Target Hackers Stole Encrypted Bank PINs

The hackers who attacked Target Corp. and compromised up to 40 million credit cards and debit cards also managed to steal encrypted personal identification numbers, says a senior payments executive familiar with the situation.One major U.S. bank fears the thieves will be able to crack the encryption code and make fraudulent withdrawals from consumer bank accounts, said the executive, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the data breach is still under investigation.

Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said “no unencrypted PIN data was accessed” and there was no evidence that PIN data had been “compromised.” She confirmed that some “encrypted data” was stolen but declined to say whether that included encrypted PINs.

“We continue to have no reason to believe that PIN data, whether encrypted or unencrypted, was compromised. And we have not been made aware of any such issue in communications with financial institutions to date,” Snyder said by email. “We are very early in an ongoing forensic and criminal investigation.”

The No. 3 U.S. retailer said last week that hackers stole data from as many as 40 million cards used at Target stores during the first three weeks of the holiday shopping season, making it the second-largest data breach in U.S. retail history.

Target has not said how its systems were compromised, though it described the operation as “sophisticated.” The Secret Service and the Justice Department are investigating. Officials with both agencies have declined comment on the investigations.

The attack could end up costing hundreds of millions of dollars, but it is unclear so far who will bear the expense.

While bank customers are typically not liable for losses because of fraudulent activity on their credit and debit cards, JPMorgan Chase & Co and Santander Bank said they have lowered limits on how much cash customers can take out of teller machines and spend at stores.

The unprecedented move has led to complaints from consumer advocates about the inconvenience it caused from the Thanksgiving holiday to the run-up to Christmas. But sorting out account activity after a fraudulent withdrawal could take a lot more time and be worse for customers.

JPMorgan has said it was able to reduce inconvenience by giving customers new debit cards printed quickly at many of its branches, and by keeping branches open for extended hours. A Santander spokeswoman was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Security experts said it is highly unusual for banks to reduce caps on withdrawals, and the move likely reflects worries that PINs have fallen into criminal hands, even if they are encrypted.

“That’s a really extreme measure to take,” said Avivah Litan, a Gartner analyst who specializes in cyber-security and fraud detection. “They definitely found something in the data that showed there was something happening with cash withdrawals.”

While the use of encryption codes may prevent amateur hackers from obtaining the digital keys to customer bank deposits, the concern is that the coding cannot stop the kind of sophisticated cyber-criminal who was able to infiltrate Target for three weeks.Daniel Clemens, CEO of Packet Ninjas, a cyber-security consulting firm, said banks were prudent to lower debit card limits because they will not know for sure whether Target’s PIN encryption was infallible until the investigation is completed.

As an example of potential vulnerabilities in PIN encryption, Clemens said he once worked for a retailer who hired his firm to hack into its network to find security vulnerabilities. He was able to access the closely guarded digital “key” used to unscramble encrypted PINs, which he said surprised his client, who thought the data was secure.

In other cases, hackers can get PINs by using a tool known as a “RAM scraper,” which captures the PINs while they are temporarily stored in memory, Clemens said.

The attack on Target began on Nov. 27, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday, and continued until Dec. 15. Banks that issue debit and credit cards learned about the breach on Dec. 18, and Target publicly disclosed the loss of personal account data on Dec. 19.

On Dec. 21, JPMorgan, the largest U.S. bank, alerted 2 million of its debit cardholders that it was lowering the daily limits on ATM withdrawals to $100 and capping store purchases with their cards at $500.

On Monday, the bank partly eased the limits it had imposed on Saturday, setting them at $250 a day for ATM withdrawals and $1,000 a day for purchases. The usual debit card daily limits are $200 to $500 for cash withdrawals and $500 for purchases, a bank spokeswoman said last week.

On Monday, Santander — a unit of Spain’s Banco Santander — followed suit, lowering the daily limits on cash withdrawals and purchases on Santander and Sovereign branded debit and credit cards of customers who used them at Target when the breach occurred.

Santander did not disclose the new limits, but said it was monitoring the accounts and issuing new cards to customers who were affected.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

New Deadline Hinted for Obamacare Signup.


Image: New Deadline Hinted for Obamacare Signup

The main website for enrollment under President Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law has drawn nearly 2 million visits, officials said Tuesday, in a last-minute rush to meet an ever-flexible deadline for people to obtain insurance coverage starting Jan. 1.Citing high traffic to the HealthCare.gov website and at call centers before Monday’s sign-up deadline, the government allowed people an extra day to complete their enrollment in time to be covered by New Year‘s Day.

In a blog post on the website Tuesday, the administration suggested additional flexibility without specifying a new deadline.

“Sometimes despite your best efforts, you might have run into delays caused by heavy traffic to HealthCare.gov, maintenance periods, or other issues with our systems that prevented you from finishing the process on time,” Tuesday’s blog post on HealthCare.gov said. “If this happened to you, don’t worry — we still may be able to help you get covered as soon as January 1.”

It was the administration’s latest move of the goalposts as it tries to recover from technical failures and political missteps that dogged the enrollment drive for weeks after it opened on Oct. 1.

Trying to make up for lost time, the administration has announced a series of last-minute changes and delays to get as many people as possible covered under the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s major domestic policy initiative.

Before Monday’s rush, more than 1 million people had signed up for private coverage through HealthCare.gov — which serves 36 states — and 14 state-run marketplaces, according to state and federal estimates.

The figure, though likely to climb by Christmas, is still short of previous estimates that 7 million people could enroll by the end of March, the last date to obtain health insurance coverage in 2014.

About one-third or more would need to be young, healthy adults whose payments into the system would help offset the costs of covering older, sicker people.

The problematic rollout of the healthcare law known as Obamacare, which was passed in 2010 and survived legal challenges, helped send Obama’s popularity ratings to record lows, and stepped up Republican efforts to gut the law and use it against Democrats in the 2014 congressional elections.

The more recent changes, which the administration has said are intended to show flexibility, have introduced a new element of confusion for consumers as well as health insurance companies, who have been pressed by the government to allow new members to pay, and even sign up, past Jan. 1 for retroactive coverage.

So far, the industry has agreed to extend the first payment deadline to Jan. 10.

“Health plans will continue to do everything they can to help consumers through the enrollment process and to mitigate potential confusion or disruption caused by all of these last-minute changes to the rules and deadlines,” said Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade and lobbying group.

The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to be enrolled in coverage by March 31 or face penalties that start at $95. This week’s deadline, which had already been moved to Dec. 23 from Dec. 15, applied to coverage starting on Jan. 1.

Last week, the administration said people whose plans were canceled because they did not meet new standards of coverage under the law would qualify for a “hardship” exemption that allows some people to avoid a penalty for not signing up for health insurance.

Several state-run exchanges have also moved their enrollment deadlines. New York and California, two of the largest, added a one-day grace period similar to that of the federal insurance marketplace.

Massachusetts said on Tuesday that it would allow sign-ups until Dec. 31, given heavy volume and technical problems that have hampered its exchange. Rhode Island, Oregon and Maryland had already extended their deadlines beyond Christmas.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

Netanyahu: Any US Spying on Israel Is Not ‘Acceptable to Us’.


Image: Netanyahu: Any US Spying on Israel Is Not 'Acceptable to Us'

JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, commenting on allegations the United States had spied on Israel’s leaders, said on Monday such activity was unacceptable and had no place in the allies’ close relationship.Documents leaked on Friday by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden showed the NSA and its British counterpart GCHQ had in 2009 targeted an email address listed as belonging to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and monitored emails of senior defense officials.

“With regard to things published in the past few days, I have asked for an examination of the matter,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks, in a clear reference to the alleged espionage.

He did not elaborate on whether Israel intended to ask Washington for clarifications.

“In the close ties between Israel and the United States, there are things that must not be done and that are not acceptable to us,” Netanyahu said, speaking to legislators from his right-wing Likud party.

Urgent: Do You Approve Or Disapprove of President Obama’s Job Performance? Vote Now in Urgent Poll 
On Sunday, several Israeli Cabinet members and lawmakers said disclosure of U.S. spying on Israel was an opportunity to press Washington to free jailed Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard.

Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, was sentenced to a life term in 1987 in the United States for spying for Israel. A succession of U.S. presidents have spurned Israeli calls for his pardon.

In what appeared to be an attempt to calm the clamor, Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel had constantly sought Pollard’s release and did not need any “special occasion” to discuss his case with Washington.

Israeli officials have played down the importance of any information the United States may have gleaned from its alleged espionage activities.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel had always assumed that even its allies spied on it.

A statement issued by Olmert’s office, said the reports, if accurate, referred to a public email address and that chances that any security or intelligence damage had been caused were minuscule.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

Israel Police Blame Palestinian Militants for Bus Blast Near Tel Aviv.


Image: Israel Police Blame Palestinian Militants for Bus Blast Near Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM — A pipe bomb believed to have been planted by Palestinian militants exploded on board a bus in central Israel just moments after it had been evacuated, police said, in the most serious attack inside Israel in more than a year.

The explosion came at a sensitive time in Mideast peace efforts. Israel and the Palestinians resumed talks last summer for the first time in nearly five years, and the U.S.-brokered negotiations have made little visible progress. The explosion threatened to further poison what has become a tense and negative atmosphere.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said there were no injuries in the blast, which took place in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam. The explosion blew windows out of the bus and charred the sides of the vehicle.

“Based on the findings at the scene by bomb disposal experts, it was a terrorist attack,” Rosenfeld said. “We’re continuing to search the area for suspects.”

Editor’s Note: ObamaCare Is Here. Are You Prepared?
Rosenfeld said the nature of the target and the nature of the device led authorities to determine that militants, not criminals, were behind the bombing. He declined to elaborate, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

He said the bomb was discovered in a bag on the bus. The driver quickly ordered passengers to get off, and the bomb exploded shortly after as a bomb squad expert was inspecting it. The police sapper was not injured but was taken to a hospital to be evaluated.

It was the most serious attack inside Israel since a bomb explosion wounded more than 20 people in Tel Aviv in November 2012. At the time, Israel was involved in heavy fighting with Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

A decade ago, Israel experienced a rash of Palestinian suicide bombings on buses, in restaurants and in other public spaces. More than 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis died in several years of fighting.

But tensions have subsided in recent years. The neighboring West Bank, however, has seen a recent uptick in Israeli-Palestinian violence, thought senior Israeli officials believe the various incidents there have not been connected to each other.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Source: Newsmax.com

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