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Chief Justice Roberts: Federal Courts Need More Funds.


Image: Chief Justice Roberts: Federal Courts Need More Funds

Congress and the White House need to restore funding to the nation’s federal courts to keep from undermining “the public’s confidence in all three branches of government,” Chief Justice John Roberts said Tuesday in his year-end report.

Roberts has made similar calls for more money in the past.

“I would like to choose a fresher topic, but duty calls. The budget remains the single most important issue facing the courts,” he said.

The courts have been severely affected by government cost-cutting, Roberts said.

“The combined effects since July 2011 of flat budgets followed by sequestration reduced on-board court staffing levels by 3,100 (14 percent) to about 19,000 employees — the lowest staffing level since 1997, despite significant workload increases over that same period — and reduced federal defender offices staffing by 11 percent in fiscal year 2013 alone,” he said.

What would happen if the sequestration cuts continue? If Congress instead freezes court funding at sequester level, it “would lead to the loss of an estimated additional 1,000 court staff,” Roberts said.

“The first consequence would be greater delays in resolving civil and criminal cases. In the civil and bankruptcy venues, further consequences would include commercial uncertainty, lost opportunities and unvindicated rights. In the criminal venues, those consequences pose a genuine threat to public safety.”

Court officials are calling for $7.04 billion for fiscal year 2014, which they calculate at less than two-tenths of 1 percent of total federal outlays.

“In the coming weeks, and into the future, I encourage the president and Congress to be attentive to the needs of the judicial branch and avert the adverse consequences that would result from funding the judiciary below its minimal needs,” Roberts said.

“The judiciary continues to depend on the vision and statesmanship of our colleagues in the executive and legislative departments. It takes no imagination to see that failing to meet the judiciary’s essential requirements undermines the public’s confidence in all three branches of government.”

The judiciary system also is working to save money by ensuring any new space requested by a judicial circuit is offset by an equivalent reduction in the same fiscal year. The courts also are looking to reduce their overall space by 3 percent by the end of fiscal 2018.

“The only exceptions from these policies are new courthouses and repair and alterations projects specifically approved by Congress,” Roberts said.

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

Source: Newsmax.com

Boehner Ends Rough Year on High Note.


Image: Boehner Ends Rough Year on High Note

It says a lot about House Speaker John Boehner‘s rough 2013 that even friends debate when the low point hit.

Some say it was Jan. 3, the first day of the 113th Congress. With the Ohio Republican’s family watching from the House gallery, a dozen defiant GOP lawmakers refused to back his bid to be re-elected speaker.

The mini-rebellion fell short, but it delivered an embarrassing rebuke from conservatives.

To others, the nadir came in September. That’s when Republicans ignored Boehner’s advice and embraced a politically disastrous strategy of partly shutting down the government in a futile effort to force repeal of President Barack Obama’s prized healthcare law.

Boehner, 64, still has serious problems with tea party conservatives inside and outside Congress that limit his power. But many say that he stabilized his standing among  Republicans in the final weeks of 2013 and that he ends the year stronger than ever with them.

“The speaker started out, like the Republican Party, really in a ditch,” said Ron Bonjean, a GOP consultant and former congressional leadership aide. By the time the year was over, Republican lawmakers had learned, “If they listen to him, he can guide them correctly.”

Boehner’s ups and downs underscore the difficulties of managing a narrow 232-201 GOP majority — with two vacancies. The 2010 and 2012 freshman classes’ tea party members would be tough for any leader to control, Democrats and Republicans agree.

October’s 16-day partial government shutdown ended in a Republican defeat that damaged Boehner’s party in public opinion polls but won him the respect of GOP colleagues. The 12-term House veteran let conservatives play out their ill-fated effort to dismantle the healthcare law, and his warnings proved correct.

At year’s end, House Republicans voted overwhelmingly in favor of a bipartisan budget deal that will likely avert a government closure for the next two years, enabling Republicans to spend the 2014 election year on offense, attacking Democrats over their unpopular healthcare law.

“I think his stock has risen tremendously, and certainly he has great security as our leader and our speaker,” conservative Rep. John Fleming, R-La., said of Boehner at the conclusion of the October shutdown.

“He needed to demonstrate, not only to our membership but probably to the Republican base outside Washington, that he was willing to go as far as possible and maybe farther than was prudent in pursuit of conservative goals,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., a Boehner supporter. “And he was spectacularly vindicated, where it ended up.”

Even so, Boehner’s relations with many conservatives remain icy. That’s a problem, considering the dozens of tea party-backed Republicans who sometimes abandon him on House votes and the GOP’s desire to motivate conservative voters for next year’s congressional races.

Boehner highlighted the schism between him and prominent conservative organizations twice this month, accusing groups like Heritage Action for America, the Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks of “misleading their followers” in hopes of driving up their own membership and raising money.

Such groups often pressure GOP lawmakers to oppose bills, including the recent budget deal, which Boehner strongly backed.

“He certainly ended the year on a sour note, declaring war not on national groups like FreedomWorks but on a huge constituency of voters that are a decisive factor in Republican elections,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks.

Democrats say Boehner is becoming the face of the deeply unpopular Congress, a clear political liability. They consider him a weak speaker who has little clout with tea party members and thus only tenuous control of the chamber.

On several crucial bills this year, they note, Boehner could get only a minority of House Republicans to vote for them and needed strong support from the Democratic side of the aisle to prevail.

Those included an October measure ending the government shutdown, a bill to provide billions of dollars in aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, and last January’s “fiscal cliff” law, preserving former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts except for the wealthiest Americans.

“Talk about leading from behind. It’s very clear that for most of this year, the far-right forces in his caucus have essentially led him,” said Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va.

As 2013 began, Obama had just won re-election easily and Democrats had gained a few seats each in the House and Senate. For Republicans, things then got really fractious.

On New Year’s Day, Congress approved the fiscal cliff bill — opposed by many Republicans because it allowed tax increases on high-income Americans. Boehner backed it but House Republicans overwhelmingly voted “no,” including the Nos. 2 and 3 GOP leaders, Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Kevin McCarthy of California.

That same week saw Boehner hammered by both parties for postponing a promised vote on Sandy aid, a package that was approved soon afterward.

As the year went on, there was a mix of GOP wins and losses.

Over opposition by most House Republicans, Congress extended the Violence Against Women Act, removing an issue that could have haunted GOP candidates. Lawmakers also voted to keep student loan rates low for now.

Congress stood by most of the automatic cuts triggered last spring in federal agency budgets — called the sequester — but made an exception for air traffic controllers.

The House also rejected a sweeping farm bill. And, though Boehner made supportive comments about helping children brought illegally into the United States, immigration legislation was divided up into piecemeal bills that never reached the House floor.

Then came the shutdown battle, which saw the House repeatedly pass bills that would reopen but also delay or debilitate the health care law — a tack Republicans eventually surrendered.

When House Republicans met privately before finally giving in, attendees say Boehner received a standing ovation — even though most ended up opposing the legislation.

“He was pretty frustrated during the shutdown,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., a Boehner friend from Burr’s House days. “But he was in fairly high spirits” by the time the House left town, Burr said.

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

Source: Newsmax.com

Putin Vows to Annihilate ‘Terrorists’ After Suicide Bombings.


Image: Putin Vows to Annihilate 'Terrorists' After Suicide Bombings

VOLGOGRAD, RussiaPresident Vladimir Putin on Tuesday vowed to annihilate all “terrorists” following two deadly bomb attacks in the southern Russian city of Volgograd that raised security fears ahead of the Winter Olympics.The uncompromising remarks in a televised New Year address were Putin’s first public comments since suicide bombers killed at least 34 people in attacks less than 24 hours apart on a railway station and a trolleybus on Sunday and Monday.

But after two decades of violence in the North Caucasus, Islamist militants continue to pose a threat beyond their home region. Russia’s Olympic Committee chief said no more could be done to safeguard the Games since every measure possible was already in place around Sochi, beneath the Caucasus mountains.

The bombings just ahead of Russia’s biggest annual holiday followed another suicide bus blast in Volgograd in October and came little more than a month before the start of Games on whose success Putin has staked his personal reputation.

“We will confidently, fiercely and consistently continue the fight against terrorists until their complete annihilation,” he said in remarks from the far eastern city of Khabarovsk, where he met victims of severe floods.

Acknowledging “problems and serious tests” in 2013, including the Volgograd bombings, he vowed to ensure the security in the year ahead, when Russia stages the Winter Olympics from Feb. 7-23.

Putin, who came to power when Boris Yeltsin announced his resignation on New Year’s Eve 14 years ago, won popularity early in his presidency by crushing efforts to forge an independent state in Chechnya but he has been unable to stop Chechen and other Islamist militants across the North Caucasus.

Police detained dozens of people in sweeps through Volgograd on Tuesday but there was no indication any were linked to the attacks, for which no one claimed responsibility.

Mourners laid flowers at the site of the bombing that tore the bus apart and left residents fearing further violence.

“I’m frightened,” said Tatyana Volchanskaya, a student in Volgograd, 400 miles northwest of Sochi. She said some friends were afraid to go to shops and other crowded places.

SOCHI SAID SECURE

Putin ordered tighter security nationwide after the blasts, but Russian Olympic chief Alexander Zhukov said no additional measures would be taken at Sochi: “As for the Olympic Games, all necessary security measures have been foreseen,” Interfax news agency quoted him as saying on Monday.

“Additional measures will not be taken in Sochi as a result of the terrorist act. Everything necessary has been done as it is.”

Putin has staked his prestige on the Games in Sochi, which lies at the Western edge of the Caucasus mountains and within the strip of land the insurgents want to carve out of Russia and turn into an Islamic state.

Insurgent leader Doku Umarov has urged militants to use “maximum force” to prevent the Games from going ahead.

Russia drove separatists from power in Chechnya in a war that boosted the popularity of Putin, a former KGB officer.

But the insurgency that spread across the North Caucasus region in the aftermath of that conflict has persisted despite Putin’s repeated, strongly worded pledges to eliminate the militants whose attacks have cast a shadow over his rule.

As prime minister in 1999, he vowed to wipe the militants out and in 2010, after female suicide bombers killed 40 people on the Moscow metro, he ordered police to find those who had directed the attacks and “scrape them from the bottom of the sewers.”

Less than a year later, in January 2011, a bomber from the North Caucasus killed 37 people at a busy Moscow airport.

The rail station bombing in Volgograd was the deadliest attack outside the North Caucasus since then, killing 18 people. Citing unnamed sources, Interfax said the suspected attacker was an ethnic Russian convert to Islam who moved to Dagestan where he joined militants early in 2012.

Investigators said they believed a male suicide bomber was also responsible for Monday’s morning rush-hour blast.

PUTIN’S LEGACY

Volgograd — formerly Stalingrad — is a city of a million and a transport hub for an area of southern Russia that includes the North Caucasus.

A car bomb killed a prosecutor’s assistant in Dagestan on Tuesday and two people were killed in a bomb blast there late on Monday, authorities said.

In Volgograd, more than 5,000 police and interior troops were mobilized in “Operation Anti-terror Whirlwind”, Interior Ministry spokesman Andrei Pilipchuk said. He said 87 people had been detained after they resisted police or could not produce proper ID or registration documents, and that some had weapons.

State television showed helmeted officers pushing men up against a wall. But there was no sign any were linked to the bombings or suspected of planning further attacks.

Itar-Tass news agency said police were focusing on migrant workers from the Caucasus and ex-Soviet states — groups that rights activists say face discrimination from police.

The success or failure of the Olympics will form a big part of the legacy of Putin, 60. He secured the Games for Sochi in 2007, during his first stint as president, and has not ruled out seeking a new six-year term in 2018.

Intended to showcase how Russia has changed since the collapse of Soviet communism in 1991, the Games have also been a focus for complaints in the West and among Russian liberals that Putin has stifled dissent and encouraged intolerance.

This month, Putin freed jailed opponents including oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the Pussy Riot punk band in what critics said was an effort to disarm Western criticism and improve his image.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

Rep. Westmoreland: NY Times Wants to ‘Absolve’ Clinton of Benghazi Blame.


Image: Rep. Westmoreland: NY Times Wants to 'Absolve' Clinton of Benghazi Blame

By Wanda Carruthers

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland joined Donald Trump Monday in claiming The New York Times is trying to “absolve” Hillary Clinton of any blame for the 2012 attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya to make it easier for her to run for president in 2016.

“I don’t know why they put it out, unless it was for political reasons,” the Georgia Republican said on “Fox & Friends,” referring to a Times report over the weekendclaiming that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups weren’t responsible for the attack.

The Times also reported, as the Obama administration initially claimed, that an American-made anti-Muslim video was partly responsible for setting off the violent outbreak in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012 that left U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans dead.

Westmoreland suggested the report is aimed at “laying the groundwork” for a presidential run by former Secretary of State Clinton, who Republicans blame for the lax security in Benghazi.

“This thing is eventually going to fall back on the State Department, when all the truth gets out there. Of course, Secretary Clinton was in charge at the time,” Westmoreland said.

“I think they’re just . . . trying to absolve her from the lack of security that was sent over there, the number of requests for security that was turned down. So, I think they’re just trying to take the pressure off her and the administration,” he added.

Earlier on “Fox & Friends,” Trump all but accused the Times of trying to help cover up what actually happened the night of the attack in Benghazi to make it easier for Clinton to make another run for the White House.

Westmoreland continued to maintain that the anti-Islam video “never came into play” in the Benghazi bombing, saying that watching a video “doesn’t give you instructions on how to shoot five mortar rounds.”

“If you go to some of the research, or the people that study these media, social media outlets, and stuff, there was nothing even on the radar in Libya or in Benghazi actually until the next morning,” he said, referring to some reports the video may have spurred a crowd to form and then attack the U.S. compound.

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© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Report: US, Libyan Forces Capture Tunisian Militant Leader.


Image: Report: US, Libyan Forces Capture Tunisian Militant Leader

TUNIS, Tunisia — Tunisian state media said the head of the country’s Islamist militants had been captured in Libya by U.S. and Libyan forces on Monday, though his organization denied he had been detained.

The U.S. army also said it had not played any part in any move against Ansar al Sharia leader Saifallah Benahssine — the man accused of inciting an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia in 2012.

Any U.S. involvement in an operation on Libyan soil would be highly sensitive. Libyan Islamists were furious at what they saw as Washington’s interference after American forces captured a top al-Qaida suspect in Tripoli in October.

If confirmed, the capture of such a high-ranking Tunisian militant in Libya would also highlight close ties between Islamist groups in North Africa.

After the fall of Moammar Gadhafi two years ago, Libya has drawn foreign militants because its weak central government, uncontrolled southern areas and porous borders to sub Saharan Africa allow arms and fighters to flow to regional hot spots.

Western powers have pledged to help Libya control its frontiers and train its nascent armed forces to build up its capacity to control the country’s territory.

Tunisia’s TAP agency, citing a senior security source, said Benahssine, also known as Abu Iyadh, had been arrested in the coastal city of Misrata on Monday morning.

“An authorized security source told TAP that Saifallah Benahssine, known as Abu Iyadh, has been arrested in Libya on Monday morning,” TAP said. “The source said special American forces arrested Abu Iyadh and other members of his group, helped by Libyan forces.”

The U.S. military said it had played no part in any operation, and U.S. security officials told Reuters that U.S. intelligence agencies and their personnel also were not involved.

Some U.S. officials believed that Abu Iyad had indeed been captured, while others said that reports of his capture had not been confirmed and cannot be considered reliable.

Libya’s LANA state news agency also published the TAP report on the capture. But there was no comment from the Libyan government.

Misrata officials denied he had been captured in their city.

“Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia denies any information stating that its prince, the Tunisian Abu Iyadh, may God protect him, has been captured,” the group said on its Twitter account.

Ansar al-Sharia was one of the hardline jihadist groups to emerge after the Tunisia’s revolt against its autocratic leader Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali three years ago when long-oppressed Islamist ultra-conservatives rose in influence.

Militant violence has also increased there since the government began a crackdown on the group this year, declaring it an outlawed organization.© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Source: Newsmax.com

Obama Battered by Healthcare, Shutdown, Surveillance Scandals.


Image: Obama Battered by Healthcare, Shutdown, Surveillance Scandals

By Todd Beamon

From Obamacare to sequestration to Iran to the 16-day government shutdown that cost American taxpayers $1.4 billion, 2013 marked the year of the scandal — domestically and internationally — for President Barack Obama.

The president’s year was so riddled with troubles because “the Obama White House isn’t nearly as transparent as they had bragged during two different campaigns,” Tobe Berkovitz, an associate professor of advertising at Boston University, told Newsmax. “The White House is so tight with letting any information out that once negative information goes out, the press and the public start to take more interest in it because usually there’s such tight control on everything.”

But the worst problem of all is Obamacare, Berkovitz said.

“That affects everybody — and healthcare and a family’s health, along with their economic security, are the most important things to Americans,” he told Newsmax. “You start messing with people’s health and their healthcare, that gets right to the core of what people care about.”

Here are some of the major scandals that rocked the Obama administration:

The Obamacare Rollout

After delaying the mandate for large companies under Obamacare, President Obama decided to proceed with the mandate for individuals on Oct. 1. The rollout was plagued by a dysfunctional website, HealthCare.gov, which serves 36 states that lack their own exchanges.

The site has experienced a plethora of technological glitches — and HealthCare.gov was shut down its first weekend to address these issues, and again in November.

Americans continue to have problems accessing the site — and concerns surrounding whether applications have been processed sufficiently, even whether Americans’ personal information is safeguarded, continue to dog the website.

President Obama promised that the site would be improved by Nov. 30 — and then even that deadline was extended by a day. HealthCare.gov crashed during a visit by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to a Miami hospital in November.

The glitches led the White House to postpone deadlines for Americans to apply for insurance that would start on Jan. 1 — from Dec. 23 to 11:59 p.m. on Christmas Eve.

The Big Obamacare Lie

In touting his signature domestic policy achievement, President Obama declared, “If you like your healthcare plan, you’ll be able to keep your healthcare plan, period.” He also said, “If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period.”

But millions of Americans have lost their healthcare coverage because the policies did not meet Obamacare’s requirements. The Heritage Foundation reported that 4.7 million insurance policies have been canceled or changed in 32 states.

The cancellations led Obama to apologize to Americans who lost their coverage due to the healthcare law and later urged Americans to not be discouraged in using Healthcare.gov.

But Americans have seen both their premiums and deductibles skyrocket.

Republicans continue to charge that Obamacare cannot be fixed and should be repealed. Last month, the GOP-controlled House passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan that would allow insurers to continue continue for another year selling policies that don’t meet Obamacare requirements.

It passed on a 261-157 vote, with 39 Democrats breaking ranks and supporting the bill. The day before the vote, President Obama promised that he would grant a one-year reprieve to Americans whose health policies had been canceled.

The Benghazi Coverup

The controversy surrounding the deaths of four Americans on Sept. 11, 2012, at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya spilled into 2013, as Republicans charged the Obama administration with covering up the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. citizens, including two former Navy SEALs.

News reports later surfaced that dozens of CIA operatives were on the ground during the attacks and that they were being polygraphed every month since January to determine whether anyone might be talking to Congress or the media.

The efforts were described in the news reports as intimidation — and even included threats that the careers of unauthorized leakers would be terminated.

Led by Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire — all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee — Republicans relentlessly pressured President Obama to make Benghazi survivors available to Congress for questioning.

Several CIA personnel, including former contractors, gave a closed-door briefing to the House Intelligence Committee last month. They told lawmakers they were well aware that the 9/11 anniversary could be a flashpoint and could spur increased hostilities against Western targets during that period, Fox News reports.

The new testimony apparently countered the findings of the Accountability Review Board, which concluded that the Benghazi annex and the State Department “were well aware of the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but at no time were there ever any specific, credible threats against the mission in Benghazi related to the Sept. 11 anniversary,” Fox reports.

That testimony has not quieted Republican calls for an investigation by a special prosecutor.

Five days after the 2012 attacks, Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, went on five Sunday morning talk shows and said that the incident began as a peaceful protest against an anti-Muslim film that was later “hijacked” by militants.

In addition, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained in her congressional testimony in January that her department was unable to obtain reliable information as the assaults were unfolding.

This week, Rice called Benghazi “a false controversy” in an interview with “60 Minutes”on CBS.

The IRS-Tea Party Scandal

In May, a Treasury Department Inspector General’s report revealed that tea party, conservative, and religious groups had been singled out for special scrutiny by the IRS for their applications for tax-exempt status between 2010 and through the 2012 presidential election.

The scrutiny involved IRS agents placing groups with words like “tea party and “patriot” in their names on a “be on the lookout” list for additional screening of applications for tax-exempt status.

President Obama fired Steven Miller, the head of the IRS, who apologized in testimony to the House Ways and Means Committee, calling it “horrible customer service.”

At least three other IRS officials were replaced or were put on administrative leave.

Lois Lerner, who oversaw the IRS division that targeted the groups, invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination in May and refused to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

She was placed on administrative leave with pay, and retired in September.

The IRS and the Obama administration were sued by 25 conservative groups in federal court over the additional scrutiny. An IRS agent told congressional investors in August that the agency was still targeting the groups.

NSA Surveillance

Widespread spying on Americans and world leaders was revealed in stolen documents that were leaked to news organizations in June by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor.

Snowden, 30, who now is living under temporary political asylum in Russia, smuggled the classified information out of the NSA’s operations center in Hawaii.

The leaks disclosed that the agency collected billions of data on Americans’ telephone and Internet activities daily. The NSA began the surveillance after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — and the activities were broadened under Obama.

Snowden’s disclosures prompted a maelstrom of criticism of the NSA and the White House.

They’ve even split the GOP — with Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, author of the Patriot Act, attacking the NSA while Rep. Peter King of New York vocally supported the surveillance efforts.

In a public hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the NSA “not wittingly” collected data on millions of Americans.

Clapper later called the statement “clearly erroneous” and apologized to committee chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

Seven House Republicans, including Sensenbrenner, have since called on the Justice Department to begin a criminal investigation into whether Clapper lied to Congress.

The firestorm led Obama to form an advisory panel that recommended this month that the NSA should have access to some records but that it should not be able to store them and should get court approval to search individual data.

The day before the report was released, a federal judge ruled that the NSA’s secret collection of telephone records was unconstitutional and that it violated privacy rights.

Budget/Sequester/Shutdown

Various budget battles with Congress dogged President Obama all year — from the Jan. 1 approval of the “fiscal cliff” deal to this month’s signing of the bipartisan two-year budget agreement.

The deal was sponsored by GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee, and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, who heads the Senate Budget Committee.

In the interim, however, Capitol Hill Republicans fought against the deep budget cuts scheduled to take effect through sequestration. The cuts were expected to slash the Pentagon’s budget so severely that even outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta decried them.

Other battles included the stalemate over defunding Obamacare in a continuing resolution to finance the government in which Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas spoke for 21 hours and 19 minutes against the healthcare law during a Senate floor debate and the skirmish over extending the nation’s debt ceiling, which led to a 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government in October that cost American taxpayers $1.4 billion.

The shutdown tarnished both Congress and the White House, with Republicans bearing the brunt of the ire from Americans in surveys. Obama did not escape culpability, either, as poll respondents attacked him for refusing to negotiate with Congress.

Putin-Syria

On the international front, President Obama was upstaged by Vladimir Putin in September when his Russian counterpart brokered a deal that led to Syria giving up its nuclear weapons stockpiles to international control.

Putin seized on an off-hand comment by Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria could avoid a U.S. missile attack by turning over the chemical weapons. The Russian president insisted that the deal would only work if the United States agreed not to use force.

The deal, signed last month, vaulted Putin into the world spotlight — Forbes magazine recently named him as the most influential person in the world. A Russian group even nominated the ex-KGB strongman for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Two days after proposing the Syrian deal, Putin slapped Obama again in an op-ed piece in The New York Times, saying Americans should oppose U.S. strikes in Syria. The article was published the morning after Obama made his case for limited strikes against Syria in a prime-time televised speech.

Iran

Critics continued to slam President Obama’s ineptitude in international affairs with the signing in November of the deal between Iran and world leaders requiring Tehran to curb some of its nuclear activities in return for $7 billion in sanctions relief.

The deal would lead to further talks on a final deal to ends Iran’s nuclear program.

Most Americans surveyed opposed the deal while Israel charged that it was a “historical mistake.” Republicans and Democrats blasted the accord as enabling Iran to continue its nuclear program while leaving the United States with less leverage.

Despite assurances from President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry that Iran would honor the agreement, a bipartisan group of 26 senators this month introduced legislation to toughen sanctions on Iran and compel the United States to support Israel if it launches a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian nuclear program.

Obama has threatened to veto the legislation.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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

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