TBR News October 12, 2017

Oct 12 2017

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C., October 12, 2017: “The unemployment figures for the United States are different depending on the source. Officially, they are relatively low but actually they are about 95 million unemployed. And the beginning of the introduction of robots to assembly lines will further increase that number. On the other hand, manufacturers will welcome robots because they are dependable, do not need sick leave, have no company medical insurance or union fees to worry about. Robots are not cheap but in the long run, manufacturers find them great money savers. But do the bosses realize that if a person is not employed, he usually cannot afford to buy the bosses’ products. And the number of unemployed will grow and eventually prove to be an indigestible mass in the body politic.”


Table of Contents

  • Equifax takes down web page after report of new hack
  • How Catalonia Pulled Off Its Independence Vote from Spain Using “Pizza” Code Words and Secret Schemes
  • Spanish police used excessive force in Catalonia during referendum – HRW
  • Turkey: US sacrifices a ‘strategic partner’ for ambassador, says Erdogan
  • Moscow may demand U.S. cut diplomatic staff in Russia to 300 or below: RIA
  • California Wildfires Burn ‘Faster Than Firefighters Can Run’
  • Far-right Reichsbürger movement much larger than initially estimated
  • Armed Ground Robots Could Join the Ukrainian Conflict Next Year
  • How Robot Armies Will Work
  • Trump’s Iran plans driving EU toward Russia and China: Germany
  • The Travels of Gold
  • Hyatt Hotels discovers card data breach at 41 properties
  • Astronomers find half of the missing matter in the universe


Equifax takes down web page after report of new hack

October 12, 2017

by John McCrank


NEW YORK (Reuters) – Equifax Inc said on Thursday it has taken one of its customer help website pages offline as its security team looks into reports of another potential cyber breach at the credit reporting company, which recently disclosed a hack that compromised the sensitive information of more than 145 million people.The move came after an independent security analyst on Wednesday found part of Equifax’s website was under the control of attackers trying to trick visitors into installing fraudulent Adobe Flash updates that could infect computers with malware, the technology news website Ars Technica reported.

“We are aware of the situation identified on the equifax.com website in the credit report assistance link,” Equifax spokesman Wyatt Jefferies said in an email. “Our IT and security teams are looking into this matter, and out of an abundance of caution have temporarily taken this page offline.”

The Atlanta-based company, which has faced seething criticism from consumers, regulators and lawmakers over its handling of the earlier breach, said it would provide more information as it becomes available.

As of 1:15 p.m. (1715 GMT), the web page in question said: “We’re sorry… The website is currently down for maintenance. We are working diligently to better serve you, and apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. We appreciate your patience during this time and ask that you check back with us soon.”

Equifax shares were down 1.2 percent at $109.18 in early afternoon trading.

Randy Abrams, the independent analyst who noticed the possible hack, said he was attempting to check some information in his credit report late on Wednesday when one of the bogus pop-up ads appeared on Equifax’s website.

His first reaction was disbelief, he said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” he recalled thinking. Then he successfully replicated the problem at least five times, making a video that he posted to YouTube.

Equifax’s security protocols have been under scrutiny since Sept. 7 when the company disclosed its systems had been breached between mid-May and late July.

The breach has prompted investigations by multiple federal and state agencies, including a criminal probe by the U.S. Department of Justice, and it has led to the departure of the company’s chief executive officer, chief information officer and chief security officer.

As a credit reporting agency, Equifax keeps vast amounts of consumer data for banks and other creditors to use to determine the chances of their customers’ defaulting.

Reporting by John McCrank; Editing by Bill Rigby


How Catalonia Pulled Off Its Independence Vote from Spain Using “Pizza” Code Words and Secret Schemes

October 12 2017

by Zach Campbell

The Intercept

I arrived at the polling station on the night before Catalonia was set to vote in a contested referendum on the region’s independence from Spain. A Spanish court had declared the referendum illegal, and Madrid had sent thousands of riot police to Catalonia to shut down the vote. By midnight, workers at the polling station closed the building’s corrugated metal gate and sealed us in until morning, or until the police arrived. Inside, we waited for whichever came first.

The vote was organized in secret. The organizers spoke and texted in code: In this polling station — a community center in Barcelona, called Foment Martinenc — and others in the area, ballot boxes were called pizzas and the ballots, napkins. The government representative who officially opened the voting center was called “la pizzera” — the pizza maker. The organizers who drove from polling station to polling station, to make sure each center had enough pizza and napkins, were called Telepizzas, after a cheap pizza delivery chain. Central Barcelona was divided among five Telepizzas.

When Catalonia voted on Sunday, October 1, ordinary voters in polling centers across the region used unconventional tactics to organize a referendum in the face of a heavy crackdown from the central Spanish government. It was a day of tension and drama, as Catalans voted for succession by 90 percent (though most “no” voters abstained), and Spanish police reacted with force. This week, Catalan president Carles Puigdemont said he had the mandate to declare independence for the region and signed a declaration doing so — but soon after he suspended the effects of the referendum in favor of dialogue with Spanish authorities.

The October 1 clashes drew international attention to the referendum. But Catalan citizens had been preparing this vote for months.

The weekend before the referendum, police in Catalonia were given an order to shut down spaces to be used as polling stations. In response, ordinary citizens began occupying places like Foment Martinenc to keep them open. At another nearby polling station in Barcelona, an elementary school, organizers spontaneously held a weekend full of events and invited residents to camp out at the school. In a nearby city, voters organized a weekend-long tournament of rock-paper-scissors, advising participants that it might last a while, and to bring camping gear. Others were more direct, calling for a “territorial defense” of voting centers. Whether subtle, absurd or explicit, the idea was clear, said Lluís Rotger, an organizer at Foment Martinenc: “any activity to keep the polling stations open.”

Ballots and ballot-boxes were targets for Spanish police in the lead-up to the vote. Police raided Catalan media, print shops and other businesses in search of voting materials, seizing millions of ballots and hundreds of ballot boxes in each bust. After the initial seizures, the Catalan government ordered new ballot boxes from China to be delivered to a city in southern France, where ballots were being printed. Activists then drove the voting materials across the border into Spain and hid them however possible.

“People hid the material in their houses, cars, underground — it was up to their imagination,” Rotger told me. He explained that, among organizers, information about the vote was given out on a need-to-know basis. “Even the ballot boxes,” he said, “I didn’t know who had them, nor when they would arrive.”

Foment Martinenc is in a quaint residential neighborhood just outside the center of Barcelona. On the morning of the vote, the center was buzzing with activity. Poll workers opened the metal gate at 5 a.m., and a large crowd of people had already gathered outside. It was still dark out, and it was raining. The police were due to begin evicting polling stations one hour later, and organizers were rushing to prepare the space.

But where were the ballot boxes? Another organizer at Foment, Daniel Rofín, said he had no idea. Because the referendum organization was so secretive, Rofín explained, neither did anyone else at the polling station.

Soon there was a commotion outside, and a small sedan pulled up to the entrance of Foment. The crowd outside parted to make a path to the door. Two women opened the car’s trunk and pulled out four large masses wrapped in black trash bags, and shuttled them inside. Both women quickly got back in their car and sped away. The pizzas had arrived.

he organizers of the referendum in Catalonia had the odds stacked against them from the beginning. As they laid plans for a vote, a Spanish court declared it unconstitutional and ordered police to seize voting materials. Soon after, Spanish military police arrested 14 Catalan government employees, effectively decapitating the official organization of the vote. After the arrests, Spanish press ran with headlines that the referendum had been “disassembled” and “neutralized,” and that “democracy had been restored in Catalonia.”

But the preparations continued, and so did the crackdown. Police blocked 140 pro-referendum websites and prohibited the national post office from mailing any election materials. The weekend of the referendum, three-fourths of all Spanish riot police were in Catalonia. The night before the vote was to take place, Spanish military police raided the Catalan government’s data and digital communications hub. Their objective was to take offline the Catalan census and voting rolls, as well as the webpages for the voting centers. That night, a government spokesperson in Madrid announced that the referendum had been “nullified.”

And yet, on October 1, Catalonia held a referendum. The vote was plagued with technical and logistical issues and boycotted by a large segment of the population, but many others were able to cast a vote. People waited in line for hours to do so while Spanish police went from location to location in a brutal operation that injured over 800 voters and closed nearly 100 voting centers. Social networks were saturated with photos and videos of police wielding nightsticks at unarmed protestors and of bloodied faces outside public schools, and then of police walking away with voting materials.

At Foment Martinenc, after a few technical hiccups, voting started around 10:30 a.m. and lasted until the night. Poll workers made sure to keep a large group of people outside the voting center throughout the day, made up of those who had already voted, or those still waiting to do so.

“The idea was to always have people outside protecting the door,” Rotger explained. “Whenever we thought Policía Nacional or Guardia Civil might come, all the old people and kids were brought inside.”

“The first people they’re going to beat are the ones outside,” he added.

The organizers at Foment had different plans in case the police showed up. They had found hiding places for the ballot boxes inside the community center. Another plan was to smuggle the ballot boxes out of Foment in trash bags and to hide them in a nearby shop. Rotger says that he even brought a large hiking backpack with him. If the other options didn’t work, he planned to just grab the votes and run.

Such schemes were enacted all over Catalonia. In one town, activists hid the ballot boxes and started playing dominos when police arrived. In another, the vote recount was held in a church during mass.

At Tomás Moro, a school in the outskirts of Barcelona, poll workers hid the real ballot boxes and used two ballot boxes full of blank paper as decoys for the police to take.

“The police came with six vans and broke open the two doors [to the school] with crowbars and hammers,” recalled Anna Sajurjo, one of the poll workers present. “They took the two ballot boxes that were on the tables, full of blank votes.” Once the police left, Sajurjo added, voting resumed at Tomás Moro.

Even Puigdemont, the Catalan president, had to trick the Spanish police in order to vote. A helicopter from the military police was following his convoy of cars as he went to vote. Reports later surfaced that the convoy stopped under a bridge so the president could switch cars and go cast his ballot in another town, without alerting the police that were hovering above.

The Spanish police never showed up at Foment Martinenc, though there were regular visits from the Catalan police, called the Mossos d’Esquadra. Early in the morning, two Mossos officers walked towards the community center, one holding a document in his hand. As the police approached, the crowd linked arms and began shouting “you will not pass.” After a few seconds, the police turned around and walked away. The Mossos would repeat this exercise once every two hours throughout the day.

Josep Lluís Trapero, head of the Mossos d’Esquadra, had ordered police to evict voting centers, following the court order, but told them not to use violence and not to not disturb public order – in contrast to the behavior of the Spanish forces. After the referendum, politicians in Madrid were quick to criticize the Mossos for not acting more aggressively, and a Spanish court has said publicly that it is investigating Trapero for sedition.

Daan Everts, a former Dutch ambassador who has monitored over two dozen elections around the world, said that “the use of force displayed by the Spanish police has no place in established democracies.” Everts, who brought a team of 20 observers with him to Catalonia in September, said he has never seen anything like this month’s referendum.

“It has been exceptional in all aspects,” he said. “There was very active prevention, prohibition from the Spanish government, so nothing was normal.”

Sitting in his temporary office in a posh neighborhood in Barcelona, Everts rattled off a laundry list of technical issues with the vote. The Catalan election commission worked in secrecy. There was little transparency in the voting protocols. Poll centers were intermittently open and closed due to technical issues, and most were missing some essential voting materials at points throughout the day.

In one-quarter of the polling stations visited, Everts said, voting had to be stopped temporarily so poll workers could hide voting materials from the police.

Still, Everts was quick to add what his team of observers didn’t see: evidence of vote fraud, in the form of ballot stuffing, doctoring vote counts, and other efforts to tip the final result. But because of opposition from the Spanish government, he said, “It was very messy by definition.”

After spending most of the day of the vote at Foment Martinenc, I decided to go visit other polling stations in the neighborhood. It was around 7 p.m., one hour before the polls were officially supposed to close.

There were around two hundred people gathered outside another nearby polling center when David Fernandez, a former local politician from a far left separatist party in Catalonia, came outside. The crowd cheered. “We have to defend the votes, and we need you to help. Let’s go for a walk. Don’t ask questions,” Fernandez told the group, who all seemed to instantly understand what was about to happen.

A line of people then exited the school, carrying multiple ballot boxes among them. The crowd massed around them, and began chanting protest slogans as they walked. As people on the balconies above us started filming and taking photos, chants of “we voted” and “the streets will always be ours” slowly changed to one unified chant of “don’t film!” The crowd seemed to know how exposed they were.

This was the fourth escape plan among the polling stations in the area, Rotger, the poll worker at Foment Martinenc, explained. One of the stations was on a narrow pedestrian street and had only one entrance. Poll workers all assumed that the Spanish police would raid while they were counting votes, and decided to stop voting an hour early and move all of the ballot boxes to the most protected polling station. As polling workers carried the last boxes into the voting center to be counted, a large crowd swarmed in front of the door, blocking the entrance. The riot police never showed up.

The contested vote set off a week of protests. The day after the referendum, people clogged the street outside the headquarters for the Spanish police in downtown Barcelona. Flag-wielding separatists squared up against Spanish riot police with shields and tear gas cannons, until local police came to diffuse the situation. The next day, Catalan labor unions called a general strike, and for a day the streets of every Catalan city were packed with people protesting police violence. The following weekend, 350,000 Spanish nationalists filled the streets of Barcelona, many having bussed in from all over Spain. While most separatist demonstrators have been peaceful, even in the face of Spanish police provocation, the nationalist march was marked by violent clashes with bystanders and the occasional fascist flag and Nazi salute.

The tone of the protests was a far cry from the scene at Foment Martinenc on the eve of the referendum. There, there were no flags and no talk of political parties. The center was filled with Catalans of all political stripes; people seemed more concerned with their ability to vote than what would happen afterwards. Yet as we waited, a few people watched videos that had been shared on social media days earlier, of military police leaving from cities all over Spain to come stop the vote in Catalonia. In the videos, crowds had gathered to see the police off, waving Spanish flags and chanting “go get them!”

A few of those watching, in a moment of introspection, wondered out loud when it had become about “us” and “them.” The chanting crowds in the video seemed a harbinger of the clashes that were to come.


Spanish police used excessive force in Catalonia during referendum – HRW

October 12, 2017


Human Rights Watch says Spanish national police used “excessive force towards peaceful Catalans expressing their political opinion.” The group shared accounts of witnesses, including a 70-year-old woman, who said they were dragged, pushed and beaten during rallies.

“Spanish police engaged in excessive force when confronting demonstrators in Catalonia during a disputed referendum, using batons to hit non-threatening protesters and causing multiple injuries,” a report by Human Rights Watch released on Thursday says.

The human rights NGO analyzed photos and videos released by media and uploaded on social networks from the day of the referendum, October 1.

The content appears to show examples of “disproportionate use of force” against peaceful demonstrators “expressing their political opinion,” HRW says.

“The police may well have had the law on their side to enforce a court order but it didn’t give them the right to use violence against peaceful protesters,” according to Kartik Raj, Western Europe researcher at HRW.

The group said it spoke to witnesses in Girona, a city in north-western Catalonia, as well as two villages in Girona and Barcelona provinces.

“They grabbed me by the wrists, lifted me and pushed me, and then they threw me into the yard in front of the church, and I landed on the poor woman who was already there. Then I got pushed down the stairs and felt the kicks and punches coming in. Everything hurts,” Jordi Puig de Llivol, a 31-year-old auto service technician from the village of Fonollosa, recalled.

“Two civil guards grabbed me, dragged me away and pushed me to the floor. And then I felt a body land on me…. Luckily I only broke my wrist! … I felt so helpless,” Magdalena Clarena, 70, who is also from Fonollosa, said.

Georgina Vinyals, 34, from Girona, said she was standing behind the front line of protestors outside a local school, when police started hitting them.

“I was hurt then. My neck is now in a collar and I hurt my elbow.”

When Spanish national police attempted to shut down a polling station in Aiguaviva village, Jaume Mas, a 52-year-old technical engineer, started speaking Spanish to them.

“I repeated three times, in Spanish, to be sure it was in a language they understood… They answered us with batons and pepper spray. Not even one word from them,” he said.

At least 893 people reported injuries, according to Catalonia’s Health Department.

Madrid insists that the actions of Civil Guard and National Police were “prudent, appropriate and proportionate to the objective of ensuring compliance with the law and the rights of all citizens.”

HRW said that Spain is party to the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and thus has obligations linked with the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and use of force by law enforcement.

On Tuesday, Catalan leaders signed what they called “a declaration of independence,” suspending it temporarily to facilitate dialogue with Madrid.

On Wednesday, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy gave the Catalan authorities eight days to confirm whether they had declared independence. Formal confirmation from Barcelona is required to invoke Article 155 of the Spanish constitution, which allows Madrid to strip Catalonia of its broad autonomy.

Turkey: US sacrifices a ‘strategic partner’ for ambassador, says Erdogan

Turkey’s president called Washington’s actions in the wake of a controversial arrest “unacceptable.” Amid accusations of harboring a suspected Gulenist, US diplomats have denied hiding him at the consulate in Istanbul.

October 12, 2017


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday said Washington was undermining its relationship with military ally Turkey by supporting the US ambassador to Turkey, John Bass, in a growing spat.

The two NATO countries have watched relations deteriorate after Turkish police last week arrested a locally hired US consulate worker who Ankara accused of having links to Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Muslim preacher blamed for a failed coup last year.

The arrest prompted Washington to stop issuing non-immigrant visas from its embassy and consulates in Turkey, while Ankara responded in kind hours later.

“Let me be very clear, the person who caused this is the ambassador here. It is unacceptable for the United States to sacrifice a strategic partner to an ambassador who doesn’t know his place,” Erdogan said in a speech to provincial governors.

“If the ambassador in Ankara is leading the grand United States, then shame on you,” Erdogan added. “Someone should have said: ‘You cannot treat your strategic partner this way, you can’t behave like this.'”

‘No one’s hiding’

Earlier this week, Turkish prosecutors summoned another local employee working at the US consulate in Istanbul. Police later detained his wife, his son and his daughter for questioning.

Erdogan claimed on Thursday that US diplomatic staff in the country were hiding the local employee in the consulate, but Ambassador Bass denied the allegations, saying: “No one’s hiding at any of our facilities.”

Last month, Washington froze arms sales to Erdogan’s bodyguards after they clashed with Kurdish protesters during the Turkish president’s official visit to the US for a meeting with his American counterpart.

Since a failed coup in July 2016 that left more than 240 people dead, Turkey has detained at least 50,000 people and suspended 150,000 more from work for suspected links to Gulen. The US has refused to extradite the Muslim preacher who has denied any involvement in a conspiracy to topple the Turkish government.


Moscow may demand U.S. cut diplomatic staff in Russia to 300 or below: RIA

October 11, 2017


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia does not rule out ordering the United States to cut its diplomatic staff in Russia to 300 people or fewer, RIA news agency quoted senior Foreign Ministry official Georgy Borisenko as saying on Wednesday. In July, Moscow told the United States to slash the number of its diplomatic and technical staff working in Russia by around 60 percent, to 455, in a further sign of souring relations.

The figure of 455 was meant to mirror the total number of Russian diplomats working in the United States, but also included Russian nationals working at the United Nations in New York, Borisenko, head of the Foreign Ministry’s North America Department, told RIA.

“The fact that in the summer we took into account the people working for Russia’s mission at the U.N., this was good will,” Borisenko said.

“If they haven’t appreciated this, we have the full right to reduce … the number of U.S. diplomats,” he said, adding that Moscow could stop taking Russian U.N. staff into account when calculating what parity between the two countries meant.

“In this case, the number of American personnel in Russia should decline to a level of 300 or below.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said Washington hoped that complying with the Russian requirements would mean both countries could stop trading retaliatory measures, RIA later reported.

“The deterioration of relations does not serve the interests of either side. We hope that the downward trend in relations has come to an end,” RIA quoted embassy spokeswoman Maria Olson as saying.

Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Andrew Osborn/Mark Heinrich


California Wildfires Burn ‘Faster Than Firefighters Can Run’

October 11, 2017

by Thomas Fuller and Richard Perrez Pena

New York Times

GLEN ELLEN, Calif. — Hundreds of sleep-deprived, stubble-faced firefighters, their yellow coats layered with soot, assembled here Wednesday to hear their commanders say what they already knew: The fires that have devastated California’s wine country were still spreading, nowhere near containment, and the crews battling the blazes were stretched to their limits.

“I wish I could say the cavalry is coming — it’s not,” Battalion Chief Kirk Van Wormer of Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency, told the gathering of firefighters, flecks of ash raining down on them. “Look to your left and look to your right. Those are the people you are responsible for right now.”

Fanned by warm, dry winds, the fires have grown so big, so fast, that the immediate goal fire officials set was not so much to stop the spread as to slow it, to channel it away from threatened cities and towns, and to save lives. Saving homes and businesses was secondary.

Fourteen people have been confirmed killed by the fires in Sonoma County, Sheriff Robert Giordano said on Thursday — one more than the day before. That raised the death toll across Northern California to 24.

“So far, in the recoveries, we have found bodies that were almost completely intact, and we have found bodies that were nothing more than ash and bones,” Sheriff Giordano said. In some cases, he said, the only way to identify the victims was by the serial numbers stamped on artificial joints and other medical devices that were in their bodies.

Statewide, 22 major fires burned on Wednesday, having consumed 170,000 acres since the outbreak began on Sunday night. By Thursday morning, several of the fires had grown, and new ones had flared up.

The hardest-hit region, in Napa and Sonoma Counties, where the sun was an orange dot in a leaden haze, had nine major blazes Thursday morning, up from six on Wednesday, and the area burned grew to more than 120,000 acres, up from 91,000, Cal Fire reported. The agency said that the 34,000-acre Tubbs Fire, which has burned parts of the city of Santa Rosa and threatened Geyserville, was 10 percent contained, but most of the other blazes in wine country were 3 percent contained or less.

Officials threw out sobering figures on the scale of the devastation, with the caveat that the numbers were just estimates, sure to rise when the crisis has abated enough to allow an accurate damage assessment. Thousands of structures have been destroyed, many more are threatened, and tens of thousands of people have been displaced.

“These fires are literally just burning faster than firefighters can run,” Mr. Pimlott said. Wind-whipped embers leapfrogged past the exhausted fire crews, he said, so “we are attacking many, many new fires that we put out while they are still small.”

Almost 8,000 state and local firefighters battled the blazes, using more than 550 fire engines, 73 helicopters and more than 30 airplanes, state officials said, with additional crews and 320 more fire engines en route from neighboring states and from federal agencies. But vast as the resources were, they clearly were not enough.

The standard practice in a California wildfire is for firefighters to work 24-hour shifts, and then have 24 hours off. But many firefighters in Sonoma and Napa have had no real rests for days, catching a few hours of sleep on the ground or in their trucks.

We’ve got guys who have been working 80 hours straight,” said Capt. Sean Norman, the deputy head of operations for the Sonoma Valley fires. “You’ve got to have a fifth gear. You’ve got to have the two C’s: Commitment and caffeine.”

Giving units their assignments, he instructed them how to call in air tankers to drop water or fire retardant, and implored them to stay safe. “We don’t have the resources to anchor and defend,” Captain Norman told them.

With wind gusting from the north, fire crews primarily formed lines along the southern flanks of the fires, often carrying heavy gear through rugged terrain, trying to slow or stop the spread. They doused the flames and threatened vegetation with hoses, and firefighters and National Guard troops used bulldozers, shovels and axes to clear brush and trees, to create fire breaks.

With a major wildfire fanned by high winds, firefighters can often do little more than focus on saving lives, experts said. That can include performing a kind of triage, deciding which structures to save and which to let burn.

“The biggest part of the playbook is that you focus on public safety and not fighting the fire,” said J. Keith Gilless, dean of the College of Natural Resources at the University of California, Berkeley. “Your capacity on really extreme fire behavior — and this was really extreme fire behavior — is really quite limited. This is about as complex a situation as you are going to find.”

The wind defeats the usual strategy, to create a perimeter — a path around the fire that has been stripped of fuel — and then close in on the flames from there. If a fire is described as 10 percent contained, that means that 10 percent of the perimeter has been established. In Napa, the largest of the fires is described as only 3 percent contained.

“You have to just wait for Mother Nature to take a rest before you can flank the fire and put a perimeter around it,” said Bob Roper, a consultant and former fire chief in Ventura County, Calif. He added that ordinarily, fire commanders can call on resources from around the state to fight a major blaze, but having so many places in flames at once limits their ability to do that.

In Bennett Valley near Santa Rosa, a ranch owner had left the sprinklers on before fleeing, and even as a fire engulfed a nearby mountain and spread toward the ranch, black and white cows grazed in an untouched pasture nearby. A few firefighters doused the property perimeter, but within minutes, small, new patches of flame flared up; it had been like that for days, hindering progress, and making it impossible to defend each structure.

“The biggest thing is the sheer volume of fire we have,” said Kevin Burris, acting captain of the Petaluma Fire Department, who said the fires were the worst he had seen in 15 years on the job. Soot covered his face, and he said he had slept just five hours in the previous four days.

Mr. Van Wormer, the Cal Fire battalion chief, said optimal staffing for a fire of 20,000 acres is 1,000 firefighters. In Sonoma Valley, where more acreage than that has burned, he said there were 464 firefighters, including about 60 state prison inmates.

“We are not giving people rest,” he said. “Exhaustion is a huge problem.”

With no reports of lightning strikes in recent days, fire officials said their investigations are likely to conclude that human activity caused the fires. One possibility they are investigating is that power lines or other parts of the electrical grid ignited vegetation; a number of lines in the region went down, but it is not clear whether that happened before or during the burning.

In April, California’s Public Utilities Commission fined the Pacific Gas and Electric Company $8.3 million for failing to properly clear vegetation around a power line in the Sierra Nevada, sparking a fire in 2015 that burned more than 70,000 acres, killed two people, and destroyed 550 homes. The state has been trying to force the company to pay $90 million in firefighting costs.

Thomas Fuller reported from Glen Ellen, and Richard Pérez-Peña from New York. Henry Fountain and Hiroko Tabuchi contributed reporting from New York, and Adam Nagourney from Los Angeles.


Far-right Reichsbürger movement much larger than initially estimated

The Reichsbürger scene could be much larger than first thought, according to German intelligence officials. Some 15,000 identify with the self-governing movement, around 1,000 of whom have a license to possess firearms.

October 12, 2017


Germany’s Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) on Thursday said it had underestimated the number of people affiliated with self-governing groups, such as the far-right Reichsbürger scene.

A speaker for Germany domestic intelligence agency confirmed a report, first published in the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel, that revealed authorities estimate the number of Reichsbürger, which roughly translates as “Citizens of the Reich,” to be around 15,000.

The number represents a significant step-up from previous estimates. Figures disclosed for last year put the number at around 10,000.The latest intelligence also shows that around 900 of those affiliated with the Reichsbürger movement have been identified as far-right extremists, while 1,000 have a license to own firearms.

The radical Reichsbürger movement subscribes to the idea that the 1937 borders of the German Empire still exist and that the modern-day Federal Republic of Germany is an administrative construct and still occupied by the Western powers.

A self-governing threat

The BfV has described the movement as “referring to a historical German Reich, to conspiratorial arguments or to its own definition of natural order.” Those who protect the Reichsbürger constitution “fundamentally reject the state, its representatives and the entire legal system.”

However, while easily dismissed as crackpots, many Reichsbürger ascribe to right-wing, anti-Semitic and Nazi ideologies. The movement gained significant traction after a member shot dead a  policeman  in Bavaria in October last year.

BfV President Hans-Georg Maassen on Thursday said authorities would concentrate their efforts in cracking down on the Reichsbürger scene. The danger posed by the movement becomes particularly apparent “when the Reichsbürger believe they have to resort to force to oppose legitimate police and judicial operations,” he said.



Armed Ground Robots Could Join the Ukrainian Conflict Next Year

October 10, 2017

by Patrick Tucker


Ukrainian military leaders and defense industry officials showed off their experimental Phantom robot on Monday at the Association of the U.S. Army show in Washington, D.C. It has an extendable frame that can be outfitted with treads like a tank or with six wheels, and armed with anti-tank weapons, grenade launchers, or machine guns. Currently in testing, the Phantom could be sent into action against Russian-backed forces as early as next year, they said.

Russia, too, has a wide array of ground bots it could dispatch to the conflict, though Moscow has not signaled its readiness to do that. But Russian drones of the flying variety have been used to tremendous effect there. They identify enemy positions to target fires. They hijack cell-tower signals to deliver false messages and texts, an effect experienced by Ukrainian soldiers and even NATO soldiers outside the country.

Meanwhile, the Russians have been quite up-front about using ground robots in Syria, although Russian media outlets reporting on their missions have been all over the map. Such unmanned ground vehicles, or UGVs, include the Platforma-M, the Nerehta, and the Uran-9. Still, the Russians are not known to have deployed UGVs in the destabilization war against their Western neighbor.

“What’s interesting about the Ukrainian conflict is that it’s the Ukrainian side that is developing unmanned systems it thinks will help it fight. Phantom is one such machine,” said Samuel Bendett, an associate research analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses’ International Affairs Group.

The Phantom — occasionally spelled “Fantom” in promotional literature — was designed with input from frontline Ukrainian troops who have been slugging it out against Russian forces.

Maj. Gen. Andriy Kovalchuk, the chief of staff and first deputy commander of Ukraine’s Airborne Armed Forces, described hard lessons about defending their products and weapons from Russian forces, and particularly highly sophisticated electronic warfare attacks.

In the early days of the conflict, “civilians were trying to make something that can stand against Russian electronic warfare systems,” he said through an interpreter. Since then, he said, scores of small business have propped up to productize hard-won info on Russian electronic warfare artifacts.

Three-plus years of those difficult experiences are embedded in the robots like the Phantom. It has a backup microwave communication link and can return to its last waypoint when the link to the operator is jammed or severed. If all else fails, or the electronic warfare environment is too tough to allow and wireless control, you can also steer the robot with a 7 kilometer cable, like a 19th-century diver connected to the surface via a breathing tube—which goes to show how, in warfare, every step forward can be a step back

 How Robot Armies Will Work

by Jonathan Strickland


The Terminator” showed us a future where battalions of sentient, humanoid robots wage war on mankind. While that vision is still well within the realm of science fiction, many countries are looking into creating robot soldiers, including the United States. In fact, in 2001, the Floyd D. Spence National Defense Authorization Act set a goal for the U.S. Armed Forces — create an unmanned combat vehicle force that would account for one third of all vehicles in operation. So far, the robot designs don’t resemble the Terminator, but they can be just as lethal.The robots are divided into four categories:

  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) designed for surveillance and reconnaissance missions
  • Small Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) that can enter hazardous areas and gather information without risking the lives of soldiers
  • Multifunctional Utility/Logistics and Equipment (MULE) vehicles designed to provide combat support in conflict situations
  • Armed Robotic Vehicles (ARV) that weigh 9.3 tons and can either carry powerful weapons platforms or sophisticated surveillance equipment

The MULE and ARV vehicles might mark the beginning of a new kind of warfare. There are three proposed versions of the MULE, all of which will roll around on wheels. Two of the variants, a transportation vehicle that could carry more than a ton of equipment and a vehicle designed to detect and disable anti-tank landmines, are similar to current military robots. The third variation is an Armed Robotic Vehicle-Assault-Light (ARV-A-L) device. It will have a reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition (RSTA) package and integrated weapons. In other words, this robot is similar to a human soldier who can engage the enemy in combat.

The ARV robots are less like soldiers and more like tanks. In fact, the Army’s intention is to use the ARV-A robots as support for manned vehicle missions. The commander of a tank squadron, for example, could use ARV-A robots to extend his team’s area of influence without the need for more soldiers. The robots could take the most dangerous positions and provide support whenever the manned vehicles enter a combat situation.

Due to budget cuts, many of the more expensive initiatives included in FCS may need to be postponed indefinitely. The MULE and ARV vehicles fall into this category. As a result, it may be several years before we see U.S. robots being used as combatants in war scenarios. Still, the U.S. military is determined to continue investing in robots with the hope that one day robots can take the place of human soldiers in dangerous situations.

In this article, we’ll look at how these robots will work, and how robot soldiers might change the face of warfare forever.

In the next section, we’ll look at the role of the robot soldier.

The U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) plan is a comprehensive strategy to upgrade the nation’s military systems across all branches of the Armed Forces. The plan calls for an integrated battle system — a fleet of different vehicles that will use up to 80 percent of the same parts, new unattended sensors designed to collect intelligence in the field, and unmanned launch systems that can fire missiles at enemies outside the line of sight and several robots.


Trump’s Iran plans driving EU toward Russia and China: Germany

October 12, 2017


BERLIN (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s expected move to “de-certify” the international nuclear deal with Iran is driving a wedge between Europe and the United States and bringing Europeans closer to Russia and China, Germany said on Thursday.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has spoken out repeatedly against Trump’s likely step, but his latest comments aimed to spell out the impact it would have in starker terms.

“It’s imperative that Europe sticks together on this issue,” Gabriel, a Social Democrat, told the RND German newspaper group. “We also have to tell the Americans that their behavior on the Iran issue will drive us Europeans into a common position with Russia and China against the USA.”

Trump is seen unveiling a broad strategy on confronting Iran this week, likely on Friday, including a move to de-certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 accord, which he has called an “embarrassment” and the “worst deal ever negotiated.”

Senior U.S. officials, European allies and prominent U.S. lawmakers have told Trump that refusing to certify the deal would leave the U.S. isolated, concede the diplomatic high ground to Tehran, and ultimately risk the unraveling of the agreement.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog has repeatedly certified that Iran is adhering to restrictions on its nuclear energy program mandated by the deal to help ensure it cannot be put to developing atomic bombs.

Signed by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China, the European Union and Iran, the deal lifted sanctions on Tehran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear work.

Germany has close economic and business ties with Russia, although relations have soured since Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region. Berlin is also working to expand ties with China.

Gabriel is expected to leave his post in coming months since his Social Democrats have vowed to go into opposition after slumping badly in the Sept. 24 election, opting not to reprise an awkward “grand coalition” with Merkel’s conservatives.

Gabriel on Monday urged the White House not to jeopardize the nuclear agreement, saying such a move would worsen instability in the Middle East and could make it more difficult to halt nuclear arms programs in other countries.

In the interview released on Thursday, he said the nuclear agreement was being treated “like a football” in U.S. domestic politics, but the issue could have serious consequences.


The Travels of Gold

October 12, 2017

by Christian Jürs

In a US State Department report of 1947 it was estimated that after World War II the Germans still controlled about 750 German subsidiaries in Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden and their assets in these countries amounted to $27 million in Portugal, $90 million in Spain, $250 million in Switzerland and $105 million in Sweden.

The Swedes became significant players in this field after World War I when many German companies, who manufactured and sold items of a military nature which were forbidden by the Versailles Dictate, sought the cover of neutral nations such as Holland, Switzerland and Sweden to continue with the building of submarines, aircraft and military hardware.

The most significant Swedish banking house which was involved in the concealment of German assets was the Enskilda Bank, which was controlled by the Wallenberg family. This family started in the banking business in 1856 when André Oscar Wallenberg founded Sweden’s first privately owned bank, the Enskilda Bank, and the Wallenberg family eventually grew into the most powerful and influential family in Sweden. During World War I, the family acted as representatives for various German firms and after the German defeat became even more active in assisting German industry conceal the true ownership of various overseas holdings which also included extremely valuable industrial patents.

During the course of World War II, the neutral Swedes sold iron ore to the Germans, constructed naval vessels in their shipyards and sold the Germans an enormous number of vital ball bearings used primarily by the military. Although the Swedish companies producing these bearings were partially owned by German interests, the Swedes purported that they were the sole owners of the factories involved and produced reams of spurious documents to aid their claims.

The allies were furious with Sweden but were unable to halt the flow of strategic war material to their enemies. Threats were made and US military officials seriously suggested bombing the guilty Swedish plants. Fortunately, their suggestions were ignored but an angry Roosevelt administration hurled threats of blacklisting and seizure of Swedish holdings in the United States.

John Foster Dulles, brother of Allen Dulles, the OSS chief in Switzerland and later Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, headed the legal team in the United States which was able to mitigate any substantive punishments. The Swedes agreed to extend large credits to Stalin, then a Roosevelt ally, and the threats gradually began to vanish. Several years after the war when Stalin’s Soviet Union was viewed by the US as an enemy, pressure was again made on the Swedes to stop selling vital war material to Stalin.

As the Swedes had ignored repeated Allied orders to stop selling to the Germans, they also ignored US orders to stop the Soviet-Swedish trade.

After the war, the US believed that the Third Reich had shipped over $21 million in gold, most of which had been looted, to Sweden. The Swiss, according to the same report, received over $378 million during the same period.

The lower figure is not accurate and German secret records indicate that over $200 million were sent to Sweden. Some of this, 13 tons of gold, was returned to various European countries when it could be identified as having come from Belgium and the Netherlands, but the rest has officially remained unaccounted for.

Ascertaining the origin of bar gold is not difficult. Different state banks refine their gold holdings and add small but controlled amounts of various metals such as silver and platinum to the molten gold prior to its being poured into ingots and stamped with official markings. Gold which has been re-refined and has had the identifying additives removed or altered does not lend itself to easy identification.



Hyatt Hotels discovers card data breach at 41 properties

October 12, 2017


(Reuters) – Hyatt Hotels Corp (H.N) said on Thursday it had discovered unauthorized access to payment card information at certain Hyatt-managed locations worldwide between March 18, 2017 and July 2, 2017. Hyatt said the incident affected payment card information, such as, cardholder name, card number, expiration date and internal verification code, from cards manually entered or swiped at the front desk of certain Hyatt-managed locations. (bit.ly/2yHBSfr)

The owner of Andaz, Park Hyatt and Grand Hyatt chain of hotels said a total of 41 properties were affected in 11 countries, with China accounting for 18 properties, the most among impacted countries.

Seven Hyatt properties were affected at U.S. locations, including three in Hawaii, three in Puerto Rico and one in Guam.

The Chicago, Illinois-based company said its cyber security team discovered signs of the unauthorized access in July and launched an internal investigation, completed on Thursday, that resolved the issue and took steps to prevent this from happening in the future.

This is not the first time Hyatt is facing data breach problem at its hotels.

In late 2015 Hyatt said its payment processing system was infected with credit-card-stealing malware, that had affected 250 hotels in about 50 countries.

Reporting by Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru


Astronomers find half of the missing matter in the universe

Scientists produce indirect evidence of gaseous filaments and sheets known as Whims linking clusters of galaxies in the cosmic web

October 12, 2017

by Hannah Devlin

The Guardian

It is one of cosmology’s more perplexing problems: that up to 90% of the ordinary matter in the universe appears to have gone missing.

Now astronomers have detected about half of this missing content for the first time, in a discovery that could resolve a long-standing paradox.

The conundrum first arose from measurements of radiation left over from the Big Bang, which allowed scientists to calculate how much matter there is in the universe and what form it takes. This showed that about 5% of the mass in the universe comes in the form of ordinary matter, with the rest being accounted for by dark matter and dark energy.

Dark matter has never been directly observed and the nature of dark energy is almost completely mysterious, but even tracking down the 5% of ordinary stuff has proved more complicated than expected. When scientists have counted up all the observable objects in the sky – stars, planets, galaxies and so on – this only seems to account for between a 10th and a fifth of what ought to be out there.

The deficit is known as the “missing baryon problem”, baryons being ordinary subatomic particles like protons and neutrons.

Richard Ellis, a professor of astrophysics at the University College London, said: “People agree that there’s a lot missing, raising the question where is it?”

The distribution of galaxies in the universe follows a web-like pattern and scientists have speculated that the missing baryons could be floating in diffuse gaseous filaments and sheets linking the galaxy clusters in the cosmic web.

Theoretical calculations suggest these gaseous threads, known as the warm–hot intergalactic medium, or the Whim, ought to be around a million degrees celsius. A mist of gas at this temperature is too cold to emit X-rays that could be spotted by ordinary telescopes from the Earth – but not cold enough to absorb significant amounts of light passing through it.

“The trouble is, it’s in this unusual temperature regime where we can’t see it,” said Ellis.

Now two separate teams of scientists, one at the University of Edinburgh, the other at the Institute of Space Astrophysics in Orsay, France, have produced compelling indirect evidence for the Whim. Both teams relied on the fact that when radiation travels through a hot gas, it is scattered, meaning that the Whim ought to appear as a dim outline in the cosmic microwave background.

The scientists overlaid observations of the cosmic background radiation, made by the Planck space observatory, and the most detailed three dimensional map of the cosmic web, created by the Sloane Digital Sky Survey (SDSS). They hypothesised that if there were gas threads linking galaxy clusters, these should show up in the Planck data.

The Edinburgh team found the regions between galaxies appeared to be about six times as dense as the surrounding bits of space and when summed up, these gaseous threads could amount to about 30% of the ordinary matter in the universe. The French teams’ calculation came out at slightly less than this, but the numbers are consistent.

Ellis, who was not involved in either project, describes the findings as “inspirational”. “These two papers have been very prominently discussed and people are excited,” he added. “The Whim is out there.”

The initial measurements still do not account for all the ordinary matter, and some believe the remaining portion could be made up by exotic unobserved objects such as black holes or dark stars. Cosmologists are also still yet to discover the nature of dark matter, which makes up even more of the universe.





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