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MSNBC’s Schultz Slams George Will for ‘Racist’ Attack on Detroit, ‘Blam[ing] Black People’

On Saturday's The Ed Show on MSNBC, host Ed Schultz went ballistic over conservative columnist and ABC commentator George Will blaming Detroit's bankruptcy on cultural problems, and charged that Will's comments were “about as insulting and as racist as it gets.” After playing a clip of Will from ABC's This Week show, Schultz ranted: read more

Syria refuses to allow aid into Homs

President says he will carry on fighting ‘foreign-backed terrorism’ as evidence of human rights abuses mounts Syria has again refused to allow aid into the destroyed suburb of Homs amid mounting evidence of human rights abuses, including the torture of victims at a hospital inside the city. A defiant President Bashar al-Assad said he was determined to go on fighting what he called “foreign-backed terrorism”. “The Syrian people, who have in the past managed to crush foreign plots … have again proven their ability to defend the nation and to build a new Syria through their determination to pursue reforms while confronting foreign-backed terrorism,” he said, according to the state news agency Sana. State television claimed residents were now slowly returning on foot to Baba Amr. It showed men, women and children trudging past ruined and bullet-marked buildings. There was also footage of a cramped tunnel which Damascus says was used to smuggle arms. But locals said the reports had been fabricated. Speaking via Skype from the Insha’at area, which neighbours Baba Amr, one resident, Sami, said: “No one has tried to go back there.” He said the accents of people interviewed on state TV suggested they were from coastal areas and not from Homs. “It makes me laugh when I see state TV,” he said. “We know that it is untrue.” A spokesman for the Red Cross said that despite the authorities giving permission for it to deliver aid and medical supplies to Baba Amr last Thursday, they were still being denied access on the grounds of security. Russia and China have made clear again that they are still standing by the regime in Damascus, while western leaders again ruled out a Libya-style military intervention. The White House said on Tuesday that the president, Barack Obama, was committed to diplomatic efforts to end the violence, saying Washington sought to isolate Assad, cut off his sources of revenue and encourage unity among his opponents. The United States is proposing a new security council resolution demanding an end to the violence in Syria, first by government forces and then by opposition fighters. Residents who fled Baba Amr spoke of bodies decomposing under rubble, sewage mixing with litter in the streets and a campaign of arrests and executions. “The smell of death was everywhere. We could smell the bodies buried under the rubble all the time,” said Ahmad, who escaped to Lebanon, according to agency reports. “We saw so much death that at the end the sight of a dismembered body … stopped moving us.” There was further violence reported across Syria. In Herak, in Deraa province, where the revolt erupted nearly a year ago, residents said armoured vehicles and tanks had massed on the western fringe of the city and in parts of the centre. There were raids reported in the city of Deir al-Zor. Activists also claimed attacks had continued in Rastan. Video footage emerged apparently showing a staff general who had defected to the Free Syrian Army in protest at the assault on the city. In it, Adnan Qassim Farazat, holding his identity card, said: “I declare my defection from the Syrian army to the Free Syrian Army, because of the artillery bombing against Rastan which is continuing violently.” He added: “Houses have been damaged and children and women were killed. This is not the right behaviour of the Syrian army.” Security forces also opened fire on Tuesday on protests in Douma, a suburb north-east of Damascus which was briefly held by the rebels in January, according to reports that could not be verified. Omer Hamza, an activist in Douma, claimed several tanks and armoured vehicles, and ten busloads of shabiha, or armed thugs, were seen in a village north of Yabrud, between Damascus and Homs. “A few houses were damaged and some people were detained,” he said. Four people were killed in Yabrud, he added. Once again three of the bodies were taken by the security forces, he said. A large funeral was held for the fourth victim, Burhan al-Sihli, whose body was recovered. Secretly shot video footage aired on Monday by Channel 4 showed what it said were Syrian patients tortured by medical staff at a state-run hospital in Homs. The video, which Channel 4 said it could not independently verify, showed wounded, blindfolded men chained to beds. A rubber whip and electrical cable lay on a table in one ward. Patients showed what looked like signs of severe beatings. “I have seen detainees being tortured by electrocution, whipping, beating with batons, and by breaking their legs. They twist the feet until the leg breaks,” the employee who made the video said. Syria Arab and Middle East unrest Middle East and North Africa Bashar al-Assad Luke Harding Mona Mahmood Matthew Weaver guardian.co.uk

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Vince Cable letter reveals cabinet unease over pace of economic recovery

Business secretary warns that the government lacks a ‘compelling vision’ beyond tackling Britain’s record fiscal deficit Cabinet unease over the slow pace of economic recovery burst into the open on Tuesday with the leaking of a letter by business secretary, Vince Cable, in which he warned that the government lacks a “compelling vision” beyond tackling Britain’s record fiscal deficit. To the irritation of chancellor, George Osborne, who warned that Britain should prepare for an austerity budget on 21 March, the business secretary told the prime minister in his letter that the government cannot rely on markets alone to revive the economy. Contents of the letter, sent to the prime minister and Nick Clegg on 8 February, were first leaked to the FT on 12 February. But the full version of the highly sensitive letter, in which Cable called on No 10 to accept that the Royal Bank of Scotland will have to be broken up, was published on Tuesday afternoon by the BBC. In the most sensitive section, Cable wrote: “I sense … that there is still something important missing: a compelling vision of where the country is heading beyond sorting out the fiscal mess; and a clear and confident message abut how we will earn our living in future … We can be more strategic and the economic backdrop will increase demands that we are ambitious.” Cable highlighted Lib Dem unease over a central plank of the chancellor’s economic strategy – that the private sector will pick up the slack as the public sector shrinks – as he warned that there are limits to what markets can achieve. “Market forces are insufficient for creating the long term industrial capabilities we need. Despite the biggest devaluation since the war, improvement in the UK’s trade balance has been disappointing. The Labour boom and bust hollowed out the supply chains on which exporters and inward investors depend. “And while controversy rages over bankers’ bonuses, the much bigger problem is the lack of confidence businesses have in their ability to find affordable financing for future investment. All in all, we must law out a strategic vision for where our future industrial capabilities should lie, and how to deliver it.” The letter was leaked hours after the business secretary said the Lib Dems were prepared to drop their opposition to scrapping the 50p top rate of tax if a tax on wealth, with a “mansion tax” on properties with more than £2m their preferred option. Cable told Radio 4′s Today programme: “If the 50p rate were to go – and I and my colleagues are not ideologically wedded to the 50p tax rate – if that were to go, it should be replaced by taxation of wealth, because the wealthy people of the country have got to pay their share, particularly at a time of economic difficulty. How exactly that is configured is a detailed matter for negotiation, but that principle must be upheld, and the mansion tax is actually a very economically sensible way of doing it. But there are different ways of approaching it.” The intervention by Cable caused some irritation in the Treasury which is bracing itself for a tough round of negotiations before the budget in the “quad”, the coterie of the cabinet’s most senior ministers. This group comprises of the prime minister, the chancellor, the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander, Osborne’s number two at the Treasury. Osborne is more open to the idea of a tax on wealth than the prime minister who is highly suspicious of increasing tax on property. The chancellor believes that the best bet is close down loopholes on stamp duty which allow millionaires to register new properties in the name of overseas companies. This means they pay 0.5% in stamp duty on properties worth more than £1m rather than the standard 5%. Osborne warned on Tuesday that there would be no “unfunded giveaways” in the budget. In a speech to the annual dinner of the EEF manufacturers’ organisation, he said: “By facing difficult decisions head on, we have won the credibility which will allow us to constrain inflationary pressure, support long term low interest rates and provided the stability that creates the space for private sector investment. I have a budget in two weeks’ time, I can tell you: we are not going to put that credibility and stability and low interest rates at risk. “The days of unfunded giveaways are over – and they’re not coming back in this budget. Everything has to be paid for.” Osborne risked a row with his coalition partners by calling on Britain’s industrialists to campaign in favour of one of the recommendations in the controversial Beecroft report on employment law. The venture capitalist argued in his report, commissioned by the Downing Street policy guru Steve Hilton, in favour of “compensated no fault-dismissal” for small businesses. The Lib Dems, who were wary of the Beecroft report, agreed to a consultation. Osborne said: “Plenty of trade unions and others will be submitting their evidence for why we shouldn’t do this. If you think we should, and it will increase employment, then don’t wait for someone else to send in the evidence. Send it in yourself.” The negotiations on the budget, in which the Treasury is expected to meet its forecast for a £127bn deficit in 2011-12 with a few billion pounds to spare, have highlighted divisions between the coalition partners and among the Tories. Vince Cable Economic policy George Osborne Liberal-Conservative coalition Tax and spending Conservatives Budget 2012 Budget Nicholas Watt Heather Stewart guardian.co.uk

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Leveson inquiry: concern over police evidence

Attorney general is examining the testimony of Sue Akers amid fears her comments were potentially in contempt of court The attorney general is examining whether the head of Scotland Yard’s investigation into illegal news gathering has prejudiced fair trials for any journalists involved through her evidence to the Leveson inquiry. Dominic Grieve’s office is scrutinising the testimony made by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers 10 days ago amid concerns that her comments were potentially in contempt of court. Akers is the head of three linked inquiries into phone hacking, alleged bribes and computer hacking. She said that the Sun newspaper was responsible for creating a “network of corrupted officials” and creating a “culture of illegal payments” to officials from the police, Ministry of Defence and other public bodies. In a statement about her investigation she included details of “multiple payments” by the Sun journalists to public officials, with one individual receiving £80,000, while one journalist, she said, drew more than £150,000 over the years to pay sources, including public officials. The stories that resulted from these disclosures were “salacious gossip”, she said, and not in the public interest. She also gave details of how the relative of one arrested public official acted as a conduit to hide the cheque payment to that individual. The Guardian understands the attorney general has received at least one complaint raising concerns that Akers’s evidence – given in the midst of a criminal inquiry – could be in breach of the Contempt of Court Act and could prejudice further legal action against any of the individuals arrested. Lawyers for the attorney are investigating. A spokeswoman for the attorney general told the Guardian: “Evidence given during the Leveson inquiry has been drawn to the attention of the attorney general’s office. The attorney general will consider the concerns raised.” Eleven Sun journalists have been arrested in relation to alleged bribes to public officials; all have been named in the media. None have been charged. The attorney general’s intervention comes as a former Met commissioner warned that the move to secrecy by Scotland Yard in the wake of the phone hacking scandal threatened to increase the chance of rioting on Britain’s streets. Lord Stevens, who ran the Met from 2000-05, told Lord Justice Leveson on Tuesday that the pendulum of police and media relations had swung too far away from openness. Stevens, who as Met commissioner introduced an open door policy for the media, said he would have picked up and “tirelessly” pursued the issues raised by the Guardian in 2009 about phone hacking at the News of the World. But he said the reaction to the hacking revelations had created an unhealthy fear of the press among police officers. “From what I have heard people are absolutely terrified of picking up the phone and speaking to the press in any way,” he said. “I don’t think that is healthy. The press has their job to do, they have delivered some outstanding work, there has to be a relationship with them for the right reasons.” He said that not engaging with the press put the police at risk of not being trusted, and in turn risked causing outbreaks of rioting. “Let me make this clear, in my view this is extremely damaging to British policing,” he said. “The media need to know what the police are doing. It is absolutely essential to have transparency and openness … If there’s no engagement then the police risk not being part of the community. This will ultimately result in them being distrusted … It is precisely in these conditions that public order outbreaks occur as community tensions are heightened and there is public concern over the actions of the police.” Lord Condon, the Met commissioner from 1993 to 2000, said there should not be an overly bureaucratic response to the phone hacking revelations. “I would be worried about anything which suggested that any contact between the police and the media was almost inherently wrong, that the media are given some sort of pariah status, and almost being in the same room, or within 50 yards of them, a police officer would be required to take a note,” he said. But Condon suggested that officers accepting hospitality from journalists was a dangerous area. “In my opinion hospitality can be the start of a grooming process which can lead to unethical or inappropriate behaviour.” Both said they favoured no editors during their tenure at the Yard and their relationships with the media during their tenure had always been entirely professional. Stevens, who wrote for the News of the World after retirement from the Met, said he stopped the column after the 2007 convictions of Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire over phone hacking. “I saw Colin Myler and Neil Wallis and told them I didn’t want to continue,” he said. “I never gave them reasons but from that night on I never saw them again.” Stevens said his decision to end the contract with the paper – which latterly was paying him £7,000 an article – was fuelled by other information he received about “some unethical behaviour in relation to one or two articles that had got headlines in the News of the World.” He did not elaborate. Leveson inquiry Phone hacking Sue Akers Newspapers & magazines National newspapers Newspapers Press intrusion Sandra Laville guardian.co.uk

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Iran ‘seeking to build nuclear weapon’, warns David Cameron

Prime minister says Iran is planning an ‘inter-continental nuclear weapon’ but urges Israel to give sanctions more time David Cameron has warned that Iran is seeking to build an “inter-continental nuclear weapon” that threatens the west, as he urged Israel to allow time for sanctions to force the Iranians to change their strategic stance. He was speaking after the cabinet was briefed for an hour by the national security adviser, Sir Kim Darroch, on the imminence of the threat to the UK posed by Iran. It is the first time Cameron has made such an explicit warning that Iran could endanger UK security, and has faint echoes of the warnings from Tony Blair’s government that Iraq could fire weapons of mass destruction with 45 minutes’ notice. It is understood that the government’s National Security Council is also looking at potential reprisals in the UK if Israel were to launch a pre-emptive strike against an Iranian nuclear weapons site. Cameron will be briefed by President Barack Obama next week on the US approach to any such strike when the two leaders meet in Washington. Speaking to MPs on the Commons liaison committee, the prime minister said Tehran’s ambitions were dangerous for the Middle East. But Cameron also added that Iran “is a danger more broadly, not least because there are signs that the Iranians want to have some sort of inter-continental missile capability. “We have to be clear this is a threat potentially much wider than just Israel and the region.” The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told an American Jewish group in Washington on Monday that diplomacy and sanctions had failed and that “none of us can afford to wait much longer” to act against Tehran. On Tuesday six global powers agreed to resume negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme, calling for “concrete and practical steps” to restore international trust in Tehran’s stated intentions. In a letter to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, said the negotiations should restart as soon as possible, at a venue to be decided. Writing on behalf of a negotiating group comprising the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany, Ashton said: “Our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, while respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy consistent with the NPT [nuclear non-proliferation treaty].” The last set of talks broke down in Istanbul in January last year. Western diplomats said Jalili refused at that meeting to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear programme or any confidence-building measures previously discussed, such as an exchange of Iranian enriched uranium for foreign-made fuel rods for the Tehran research reactor. At the meeting, the Iranian negotiator laid down preconditions for talks including the lifting of all sanctions and a guarantee that Iran could continue its nuclear programme, including the most controversial element, uranium enrichment. Tehran says the programme is for purely peaceful purposes, but the west and Israel allege it is a front for an effort to build a nuclear arsenal, or at least establish the capacity to build a bomb at short notice. Jalili’s reply to Ashton was delivered in February, four months after her proposal, suggesting talks on “a spectrum of issues” including “Iran’s nuclear issue”. French officials argued that in order to satisfy Israel that all was being done to resolve the nuclear crisis by peaceful means, the international response would have to make it absolutely clear that the talks would have to end with the “full implementation” of UN security council resolutions calling for the suspension of uranium enrichment. That language was spelt out in Ashton’s latest letter. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), presented to the agency’s board this week, said Iran had tripled its rate of production of 20%-enriched uranium – seen by the west as a particular proliferation threat – and reported that Iran had not co-operated with an inspection visit last month, refusing access to a sensitive military site known as Parchin. Iran is thought to have already developed a ballistic missile which can travel approximately 1,200 miles, but it is also working with the Koreans to turn this into a missile that can accommodate a nuclear warhead. Cameron stressed that Iran should not be seen as “a mini superpower” but as “a disastrous country” with mass unemployment and a dysfunctional economy. He said he still believed the track of sanctions should be pursued, arguing EU-wide sanctions were causing dislocation to the Iranian foreign exchange position and “should not be sniffed at”. He said the next step was to get the Indians and Chinese to also refuse to buy Iranian oil. “The more pressure we pile on Iran through sanctions the more incentive they have to take a different path – it is the best option we have”. The prime minister said that no plans were being laid at this stage to increase the UK military presence in the region. Iran Nuclear weapons Israel Middle East and North Africa David Cameron United States Julian Borger Patrick Wintour guardian.co.uk

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Allen Stanford guilty of $7bn Ponzi scheme

Financier faces up to 20 years in prison after jury finds him guilty of conspiracy and 12 other charges including obstruction Allen Stanford, the Texan financier, knight of Antigua, Washington power player and billionaire benefactor of English cricket, has been found guilty of orchestrating a $7bn Ponzi scheme. After a six-week trial in Houston, Texas, a jury found him guilty of conspiracy and 12 other criminal charges including obstruction. He was acquitted of one wire fraud charge. Stanford, who turns 62 on 24 March, faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced. The jury of eight men and four women had appeared to be deadlocked on Monday and had to be given instructions by the judge, David Hittner. Outside, family members had gathered to offer their support. “I’m hoping for the best,” Stanford’s 84-year-old father, James, told the Houston Chronicle as he waited for the verdict. “We support him 100%. In fact, 150%.” During the trial prosecutors argued that Stanford used his clients’ money to fuel his “lavish lifestyle and his loser companies” in a massive Ponzi scheme that spanned two decades. Stanford, they argued, conned investors into buying certificates of deposit, or CDs, from his bank on the Caribbean island nation of Antigua, telling them they were a safe investment. Instead the bank was “his own personal ATM”, the prosecutor William Stellmach said. By 2008 Stanford’s bank owed depositors more than $7bn that it did not have and Stanford had blown huge chunks of that cash on luxury yachts, private jets and cricket sponsorship. In damning testimony James Davis, Stanford Financial Group’s former chief financial officer, told jurors his boss was “the chief faker” – a man who threatened to fire anyone who questioned the $2bn prosecutors say he pocketed from his Antiguan bank. The picture that emerged during Davis’s testimony was one of a long spending spree to disaster. By the end of December 2008 Stanford International Bank had only $88m in cash, but claimed to hold $1bn in assets. As worried investors pulled out their cash, Davis told the court Stanford tried to use his beloved Antigua to bail him out. He cooked the books and 1,500 undeveloped acres Stanford had bought on the island for $64m were set to be valued at $3.2bn, Davis told the court. Stanford’s attorneys argued that the bank would be solvent today if the US government had not shut it down in February 2009. They did not put the businessman on the witness stand, although Stanford had reportedly wanted to testify. Allen Stanford United States Antigua & Barbuda Financial sector Dominic Rushe guardian.co.uk

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LulzSec leader Sabu was working for us, says FBI

Hacker – real name Hector Xavier Monsegur – helped US authorities bring charges against five others The world’s most notorious computer hacker has been working as an informer for the FBI for at least the last six months, it emerged on Tuesday, providing information that has helped contribute to the charging of five others, including two Britons, for computer hacking offences. Hector Xavier Monsegur, an unemployed 28-year-old Puerto Rican living in New York, was unmasked as “Sabu”, the leader of the LulzSec hacking group that has been behind a wave of cyber raids against American corporations including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, the intelligence consultancy Stratfor, British and American law enforcement bodies, and the Irish political party Fine Gael. It was revealed that he had been charged with 12 criminal counts of conspiracy to engage in computer hacking and other crimes last summer, crimes which carry a maximum sentence of 124 years and six months in prison. According to indictments filed in a Manhattan federal court, he secretly pleaded guilty on 15 August last year. Despite that, Sabu carried on with his aggressive online persona as the LulzSec “leader”, with the father of two going so far as to deny online – the day after his secret guilty plea – that he had “snitched” on his friends. His online “hacker” activity continued until very recently, with a tweet sent by him in the last 24 hours saying: “The feds at this moment are scouring our lives without warrants. Without judges approval. This needs to change. Asap.” In a US court document, the FBI’s informant – there described as CW – “acting under the direction of the FBI” helped facilitate the publication of what was thought to be an embarrassing leak of conference call between the FBI and the UK’s Serious and Organised Crime Agency in February. Officers from both sides of the Atlantic were heard discussing the progress of various hacking investigations in the call. A second document shows that Monsegur – styled this time as CW-1 – provided an FBI-owned computer to facilitate the release of 5m emails taken from US security consultancy Stratfor and which are now being published by WikiLeaks. That suggests the FBI may have had an inside track on discussions between Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and Anonymous, another hacking group, about the leaking of thousands of confidential emails and documents. The indictments mark the most significant strike by law enforcement officials against the amateur hacker groups that have sprung out of Anonymous. These groups, which include LulzSec, have cost businesses millions of pounds and exposed the credit card details and passwords of nearly 1 million people. An FBI official told Fox News, which broke the story: “This is devastating to the organisation … we’re chopping off the head of LulzSec.” But Graham Cluley, a consultant with the security company Sophos, warned news of the arrests, and of Monsegur’s betrayal, could trigger a wave of fresh attacks by furious hackers. “There are plenty of Anonymous sympathisers out there who will continue to steal information and pass it to Anonymous and WikiLeaks. LulzSec were more sophisticated than most, knew more about computer hacking. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t others out there with those skills too.” The five charged by US authorities on Tuesday – two in the UK, two in Ireland and one in Chicago – amounted to a sweep of names who are alleged to have carried out all of the most public hacking attacks in the past year. One of the people named in the indictment, Jake Davis, already faces a number of charges in the UK relating to alleged hacking by LulzSec. Davis, of Lerwick, Shetland, was on Tuesday charged in the US with two counts of computer hacking conspiracy. Ryan Ackroyd – a 23-year-old from Doncaster who is said to have used the names “kayla”, “lol” and “lolspoon” – was also charged on two counts of alleged computer hacking conspiracy. A statement from the US Attorney’s office in New York said that Ackroyd was being interviewed on Tuesday by the Metropolitan police. Each count of computer hacking conspiracy carries a sentence of up to 10 years in jail. Scotland Yard is also running parallel inquiries. One inquiry involves Ryan Ackroyd, Jake Davis, and two other people including a 17-year-old boy in connection with their alleged activities within LulzSec. Ackroyd was still being questioned on Tuesday night, and the 17 year old boy was charged with two computer conspiracy offences. It is understood that it is unlikely anyone would be extradited before the UK trials had concluded. LulzSec was a hacker “crew” of about 10 people whose infamous run began with an attack in May 2011 on the Fox.com site, and then on the US X-Factor competition for which they released passwords and profiles of 73,000 contestants. It quickly escalated to an attack against Sony Pictures, followed by a security company and a number of online games companies. But their downfall came after they hacked into InfraGard, a non-profit organisation affiliated with the FBI, and then attacked the websites of the CIA, the US Congress and the UK’s Serious Organised Crime Agency. LulzSec’s existing members began to worry about government retribution. Although they hacked into the News International systems on 18 July, changing the front page of The Sun’s website, the police and other hackers were on their tail. One called The Jester – believed to be a former member of the US military – who normally attacks jihadist websites, suggested on 24 June that Sabu was an IT consultant based in New York. The two Irish individuals charged are Darren Martyn, 25, of Galway, Ireland, on two charges of computer hacking conspiracy, Donncha O’Cearrbhail, 19, of Birr, Ireland, on one charge of computer hacking conspiracy and one charge of unlawfully intercepted wire communication, which carries a sentence of up to five years. O’Cearrbhail was arrested by Irish police on Tuesday. The fifth person charged is Jeremy Hammond, 27, of Chicago, US, who was arrested and charged on Monday for alleged offences relating to the December 2011 hacking of global intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting. He is charged with one count of computer hacking conspiracy, one count of computer hacking, and one count of conspiracy to commit access device fraud. LulzSec Hacking Anonymous FBI United States Internet Charles Arthur Dan Sabbagh Sandra Laville guardian.co.uk

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NBC Delights in Obama ‘Dealing With the Big Issues’ While GOP Suffers ‘Damage’

In the minutes prior to President Obama's Tuesday press conference, Meet the Press host David Gregory could barely contain his glee as he proclaimed those in the White House, “feel pretty good about how this Republican race is going for the President's reelection prospects, and there's nothing like being the president when the other guys are off fighting.” Gregory added that Obama, “can stand up and say, 'I'm actually dealing with the big issues,' and sort of frame the debate when everybody will be watching.” Correspondent Savannah Guthrie similarly chimed in: “…it has been corrosive on the Republican Party as a brand to go through this difficult nominating process….Anytime the president is appearing presidential, doing the work of the presidency, they like that contrast with what's happening in the Republican primary.” Guthrie's declaration was prompted by Nightly News anchor Brian Williams observing: “…poll numbers yesterday showed there's been some damage to the GOP brand, as everyone suspected. It has caused, you know, some erosion in how people feel about the Republican Party during this long, drawn-out campaign.” Following the press conference, Williams remarked: “…this was the advantage of not being engaged in this exhausting GOP campaign, the incumbent gets to sit back and take it in.”

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In light of Monday's school shooting in Ohio, CNN hyped the alarm of gun control activists over the repeal of a Virginia handgun regulation, and also evoked the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre where 33 students lost their lives. CNN's Kate Bolduan interviewed the father of a victim of the Tech shooting and asked him about his opposition to the handgun limit's repeal. She gave him a sympathetic interview but hosted no one from the other side to argue in favor of overturning the law. [Video below the break.] Governor Bob McDonnell (R-Va.) overturned the 19 year-old regulation on Tuesday, a law limiting handgun purchases to one per month. “He did so over the objections of families of students killed or hurt in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. How could we forget that?” Bolduan stated. She also captured the alarm of gun control activists. “And while all this is happening in Ohio,” she said of Monday's school shooting, “gun control activists fear Virginia has once again opened up the quote, unquote, 'Iron Pipeline',” she stated in reference to the I-95 corridor which is used for gun trafficking. Bolduan did quote one of the lawmakers in favor of the repeal, asking her guest to respond. However, the rest of her reporting and the interview itself was sympathetic with the opposition to Gov. McDonnell's repeal. A transcript of the segment, which aired on March 2 on Newsroom at 1:08 p.m. EST, is as follows: KATE BOLDUAN: Classes are back in session today at Chardon High School, for the first time since five students were shot in the school cafeteria Monday morning. A sixth was nicked in the ear by a bullet. Three students died, and the 17 year-old suspect now faces charges that range from aggravated murder to assault. T.J. Lane will be back in court next week. And while all this is happening in Ohio, gun control activists fear Virginia has once again opened up the quote, unquote, “Iron Pipeline.” That's a reference to the trafficking of guns up Interstate 95 from Virginia and other states to New York City, where the guns are resold or had been for a long time, or used in crimes. Crimes such as this deadly shooting of a New York police officer in December, and the attempted killing of a New York policeman just this week. One day after that attack, Virginia's governor signed a repeal of a 19 year-old law that limited handgun purchasers to one handgun a month. He did so over the objections of families of students killed or hurt in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. How could we forget that? My guest today lost his eldest daughter on that horrible day, and pleaded with Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia to leave the hand restriction in place. Peter Read, thank you so much for joining me this afternoon. First off, I guess, just I'd like to hear your reaction to the final decision that you know that the governor has repealed that handgun ban. PETER READ, father of Mary Karen Read: Kate, to me and to many of the family members from Virginia Tech, and the survivors, it's a huge disappointment. You might even say a slap in the face, because having lived through this, our primary motivation is we never want any other family or survivor to ever have to live through this again. And what the governor's done, despite our pleas, is put us back in the position of becoming a supplier for that Iron Pipeline you talked about, and of course for handgun violence within Virginia itself. So it was just hugely disappointing. BOLDUAN: Yeah, and Mr. Read, I'm sorry to interrupt. You had a chance to speak with the governor, along with other families of victims of the Virginia Tech shooting, before he had made his final decision or announced it. What did you say to him in that conference call? READ: I personally made a plea to him, as a fellow veteran, as a father of a daughter – the governor's daughter, by the way, was at Virginia Tech when officer Derek Crouse was shot to death last year, so I know he understands what we go through in these events. But I appeal to him not to do this, because it's bad on public policy grounds. It's certainly bad on political grounds, because two-thirds of Virginians support the one gun a month legislation. And it's the wrong thing to do. So I just made my best appeal to him, and he had given me two hours to talk to him almost five years ago after the Virginia Tech shooting. So I was hoping that we had a rapport to perhaps persuade him. Obviously, that didn't happen. BOLDUAN: And I do want to read a quote to you from the Republican state lawmaker who sponsored this repeal. He said – he was reported as saying, quote, “Criminals don't go into gun stores, stand there in the bright light, hand over their driver's license and stand there and wait for the vendor to see if they have a criminal record. If you really want to get after gun crime,” this lawmaker says, “you get after people who use guns illegally. You don't punish law abiding citizens.” What do you say to that? READ: Yeah. That's a statement made out of complete willful ignorance on his part. First of all, this law has never kept any law-abiding gun owner from buying any weapon he or she chose. If you have to buy more than 12 handguns in a year, my question is, what exactly are you doing? And if what you're doing is running a business, you need to have a federal firearms license. Second, the argument that criminals don't go to gun stores to guy guns is disproved by the fact that Virginia state police arrest criminals every year who go to gun stores to buy guns, because we have a robust action program here in Virginia that triggers it. And the police actually go to the gun stores, sometimes while the transaction is in progress. So, that's just complete willful ignorance on his part, doesn't hold any water at all. BOLDUAN: Now unfortunately, of course, Mr. Read, even having the – even when that handgun ban was in place, it was not able to prevent or protect your daughter from that horrible day back in April of 2007. It has been almost five years now since Mary Karen was killed. How are you and your family doing? READ: We are doing as well as you can expect our family to do. Of course, all of our other children are now almost five years older, so we have very busy lives. And we – you know, we work for them and, you know, we have all their normal activities. But Mary is still very much a part of our family. We remember her every night in their bed time prayers and my daughter, Colleen, who is almost 5, we have a picture of her, doesn't have a big sister to guide her through life anymore. And that hole is just there in our family, it's always going to be there. And that's the case for all the other families that lost children, fathers, loved ones, and the survivors carry that through the rest of their lives, too. BOLDUAN: No one forgets that day back in 2007, absolutely not. Thank you so much for your time. We wish you the absolute best to you and your family. Mr. Peter Read, thank you.

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Prison governor locks out probation staff in G4S joint bid to privatise jails

Bob Mullen acts at Lindholme, Moorland and Hatfield prisons to protect commercial confidentiality of rival public sector bid The governor of three prisons in South Yorkshire has ordered all probation staff off the premises after discovering that the local probation trust had formed an alliance with the private security company, G4S, to take over the running of his jails. Bob Mullen, who is in charge of Lindholme, Moorlands and Hatfield prisons, told South Yorkshire probation trust last Friday that he was excluding all probation staff to protect the commercial confidentiality of the rival public sector bid to run the cluster of jails near Doncaster. “The probation staff in the public sector prisons were effectively marched off the premises and had their identity badges and keys taken away and were effectively locked out of their place of work,” reports an internal probation service email seen by the Guardian. The row is an embarrassment for the largest single prison privatisation programme, under which the justice secretary, Ken Clarke, has ordered that the management of nine prisons be put out to competition. Mullen’s decision means that all probation work inside the three prisons has been suspended, jeopardising rehabilitation work with the 2,000 inmates including the preparation of parole dossiers. It has triggered urgent talks this week at the Ministry of Justice where it is believed that Steve Wagstaffe, the director of public sector prisons, refused to overturn the decision. “It is not known at this stage how the prisons intend to deliver the services currently performed by our staff and we are trying to maintain a professional working relationship with our key contacts in each of the three locations while a resolution is being sought,” Jan Hannant of the South Yorkshire probation trust told staff in an internal bulletin. “This decision has come as a complete surprise to the trust and we are working hard to try and resolve this situation at the earliest opportunity.” Internal memos show that probation officers believe the “retaliatory action” by the prison governor is a “direct consequence of the decision by South Yorkshire probation trust to jump into bed with G4S”. Harry Fletcher of Napo, the probation union, said: “This is an unprecedented and unparalleled decision. There is a clear conflict of interest for the probation trust. We are appalled that the publicly run trust is entering into an agreement with a privately run company to make profits from publicly owned jails. The decision should be reversed without delay.” A Ministry of Justice statement said: “Arrangements are in place to ensure that probation staff are able to undertake their duties and we are confident that the situation will be resolved swiftly. There is no risk to the public.” Talks between all the parties involved to try to resolve the situation have been arranged for later this week. The running of the South Yorkshire cluster of three prisons had been put out to tender as part of the largest wave of prison privatisation so far. Nine prisons are involved in this round of prison competition, which was launched last July. HM Prison Service is bidding for the 15-year contracts to run all the jails in partnership with Mitie Group, an outsourcing and energy services company. But the decision by the probation trust to sign a “teaming agreement” with G4S is believed to be unprecedented and appears to have taken the justice ministry by surprise. What is different about the bid is that the probation trust will not be a sub-contractor to the private security company but will have a seat on the G4S board and be involved in managing the prisons. It is believed that South Yorkshire probation trust has submitted plans not only to manage offenders and run programmes to reduce reoffending rates as part of the joint G4S bid, but also on the wider management of the jails. “This is not a sub-contracting situation but us going into business with G4S. I can’t see how this will benefit our members and I think they will struggle with the notion of bidding against public sector prisons,” said a union source at South Yorkshire probation trust. The justice ministry’s competition strategy makes clear that the nine jails being put out to tender out of 136 prisons in England and Wales are only a first wave. The public sector is expected to win some of the bids. The strategy document said that grouping some of the prisons together, as in South Yorkshire, “enhances the potential for innovative delivery models and economies of scale”. Prisons and probation UK criminal justice Privatisation Economic policy G4S G4S Alan Travis guardian.co.uk

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