Thursday, January 27, 2011

News that are only hours old

Iran's Press TV has British bank account frozen: report

LONDON — Iran's state-run news channel Press TV has had its British bank account frozen, a report said on Thursday.

The English language channel, which is headquartered in Tehran but also has an office in London, has seen its main trading account at the National Westminster Bank suspended, Britain's Times newspaper reported.

The bank will shortly close the account, the paper reported. A spokesman for the bank declined to tell the paper why it was taking the action.

Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British prime minister Tony Blair who works for Press TV and recently converted to Islam, blasted the move as a "politically motivated act," in comments to the paper.

It was "intended to cripple a thriving British company whose programmes and news bulletins shed light on areas of policy which certain agencies would sooner keep in the dark," she said.

Matthew Richardson, Press TV's legal adviser, was cited as saying that NatWest had refused to explain why it had frozen the account. "They're not giving any reason why they've done it," he said.


Russia calls for NATO probe into Iran cyber strike

BRUSSELS — Russia called on NATO on Wednesday to launch an investigation into the computer worm that targeted a Russian-built Iranian nuclear power plant, saying the incident could have triggered a new Chernobyl.

Russia's envoy to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, said the Stuxnet virus caused centrifuges producing enriched uranium at the Bushehr plant to spin out of control, which could have sparked a new "Chernobyl tragedy," the 1986 nuclear meltdown in Ukraine.

"The operators saw on their screens that the centrifuges were working normally when in fact they were out of control," Rogozin told reporters after a regular meeting with ambassadors from the 28-nation Western alliance.

"NATO should get down to investigating this matter," he said, adding that he was interested to know if the German firm which built the centrifuges, Siemens, was probing the matter.

Russia is helping Iran build a nuclear power plant in the southern city of Bushehr for civilian use.

Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that the Stuxnet attack did not affect the country's nuclear programme, including Bushehr.

"I don't think there will be problems in that area. The Bushehr nuclear power plant will be operational and there will not be a second Chernobyl," ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said during a visit to Moscow.

The New York Times reported last week that US and Israeli intelligence services collaborated to develop the destructive computer worm in a bid to sabotage Iran's efforts to make a nuclear bomb.

US Deputy Defence Secretary William Lynn told reporters during a visit to Brussels this week that there were "ongoing forensics efforts to understand the issues" related to Stuxnet but refused to say more.

In November Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad admitted problems caused by malware, in an apparent reference to the computer virus Stuxnet, but said they had been resolved.


NY Times details rocky relationship with WikiLeaks

WASHINGTON — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange resembles a character from a detective novel and is "elusive, manipulative and volatile," the executive editor of The New York Times says in an upcoming book.

"Open Secrets: WikiLeaks, War and American Diplomacy," a digital book featuring an introduction by Times executive editor Bill Keller and contributions from other Times reporters goes on sale Monday.

The Times described the e-book, which will cost $5.99 and be sold through online bookstores from Amazon, Apple and others, as the "definitive chronicle of the WikiLeaks documents' release and the controversy that ensued."

In his introduction, excerpts of which were posted online by the Times, Keller traces the start of the tumultuous relationship between the newspaper and Assange, the Australian-born founder of WikiLeaks.

Keller said it was Alan Rusbridger, editor of Britain's The Guardian, who convinced Assange in June last year to involve the Times in publication of the secret US military documents on Afghanistan and Iraq obtained by WikiLeaks.

"The adventure that ensued over the next six months combined the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of handling a vast secret archive with the more mundane feat of sorting, searching and understanding a mountain of data.

"As if that were not complicated enough, the project also entailed a source who was elusive, manipulative and volatile," he said, and "government officials who sometimes seemed as if they couldn't decide whether they wanted to engage us or arrest us."

the newspaper "was never asked to sign anything or to pay anything."

Keller said the reporters who worked with Assange on the documents came to think of him as "smart and well-educated, extremely adept technologically

Over time, the relationship with Assange went "from wary to hostile," Keller said, adding that the WikiLeaks founder particularly disliked a Times profile of Manning and one about himself.

Keller said Assange decided to cut the Times out of the release of the stash of US diplomatic cables but the Guardian turned them over anyway.

Ahead of the release, the Times held a meeting at the State Department with "unsmiling" officials from the White House, State Department, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, FBI and Pentagon, he said.

Daily conference calls were subsequently arranged, he said, and the Times "relayed the government's concerns, and our own decisions regarding them, to the other news outlets."

Keller also said he would oppose any attempt to prosecute Assange on First Amendment grounds.

"While I do not regard Assange as a partner, and I would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism, it is chilling to contemplate the possible government prosecution of WikiLeaks for making secrets public," he said.

Within hours of going online, Keller's article drew condemnation from WikiLeaks.

"NYTimes does another self-serving smear. Facts wrong, top to bottom. Dark day for US journalism," WikiLeaks said in a Twitter message.


Nissan turns new Leaf with all-electric car

YOKOSUKA, Japan — At first glance Nissan's Oppama plant looks like any other. But a closer look reveals workers inserting lithium-ion batteries and electric motors in every sixth vehicle on the production line.

Oppama is home to the production of Nissan's all-electric Leaf, key to the green ambitions of the Japanese auto giant and its French partner Renault, which have sunk four billion euros ($5.5 billion) into the project.

On a rolling conveyor belt, Leaf frames sit alongside conventional petrol models as workers alternate quickly between them, inserting battery packs and electric motors shuttled to them in an automatic cart.

After 16 hours on the production line, the frames have been fitted with their own exhaust-free chassis and electric power units and are ready for rigorous testing.

"We can produce both types of models at the same time as the assembly process is not that different between the two engine types," says plant manager Seiji Honda on the sidelines of a press tour of the facility.

But Nissan hopes that the automobile -- whose name is an acronym for Leading Environmentally-friendly Affordable Family car -- will be a milestone in the industry's efforts to move on from its petrol-reliant past.

Billed as the first mass-produced electric vehicle available globally, 6,000 Leafs had been pre-ordered in Japan and 20,000 in the United States before the car's official launch last month.

The Leaf is selling for 2.98 million yen (36,350 dollars) in Japan and about 25,280 dollars in the United States, once government tax breaks designed to promote green cars are taken into account.

The car is also on sale in Portugal, with deliveries scheduled to begin in select European markets in the coming months.

It can be charged in eight hours at home on a standard plug, or in 30 minutes at a dedicated quick-charging station, for a range of roughly 200 kilometres (125 miles), according to Nissan.

The Leaf emits none of the tailpipe pollutants that have covered city skies in smog and is touted as a step forward from petrol-electric hybrids produced by the likes of Toyota, which makes the best-selling Prius.

However, the pace of production for Nissan's environmental flagship has been slow.

Japanese media reported that only 60 Leafs had been delivered by Nissan in Japan as of January 14, far short of the 6,000 orders it has promised to fulfil by the end of March.

Nissan has denied any delay and says it is simply taking a cautious approach to ensure quality control and will eventually ramp up production to meet its delivery deadline.

"We are working hard to eventually produce 50,000 units per year," said Nissan vice president Toshiharu Sakai.

The plant has already made a total of about 3,000 Leaf cars since starting production in late October, plant manager Honda said.

"We have trained our assembly line employees on how to put the Leaf together and have just hired a score of extra workers on the site" where approximately 2,100 people are employed, says Honda.

Oppama will be solely responsible for global Leaf production until a new plant in Smyrna, in the US state of Tennessee, opens in 2012 with a maximum capacity estimated at 150,000 units per year.

The automaker also aims to start production at Sunderland, northeast England, from 2013 with a capacity for 50,000 vehicles annually.

Battery modules and other precision parts specific to the Leaf are assembled in automated factories nearby "in order to reduce logistics costs", said Sakai.

By relying on cheaper robots to produce parts such as the Leaf battery, Nissan says it is mitigating the impact of a strong yen, which has prompted companies to consider moving production overseas to remain competitive.

And against cheaper competition, Nissan's Leaf project faces various challenges according to analysts who say the vehicle's production cost means it is unlikely to give an initial boost to the automaker's earnings.

The company has nevertheless gambled that its electric car will take off globally and help drive a fledgling market.

Toyota aims to launch its own electric car by 2012 but has put its immediate focus on new hybrid models, to build on its success with the Prius.


US must accept blame for financial crisis: panel

WASHINGTON — The United States as a nation must accept blame for causing the financial crisis that engulfed the global economy and cost millions of jobs, a US government-appointed panel reported Thursday.

After 18 months spent reviewing millions of pages of documents, interviewing more than 700 witnesses, and holding 19 days of public hearings, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission concluded bankers, lawmakers and regulators all contributed to the ethical and professional failings that plunged the world into financial panic.

But, it said, the American public, which over decades had saddled itself with unserviceable debt, was also at fault.

"As a nation, we must also accept responsibility," the report read. "Collectively, but certainly not unanimously, we acquiesced to or embraced a system, a set of policies and actions, that gave rise to our predicament."

"This financial crisis was avoidable. The crisis was the result of human action and inaction, not Mother Nature or computer models gone haywire," the report concluded.

Heaping blame on protagonists on Wall Street and in Washington who "ignored warnings, and failed to question, understand and manage the evolving risks within the system," the commission, tasked by Congress and President Barack Obama, said "theirs was a big miss, not a stumble."

The report catalogs, in more than 400 pages, how the mortgage bubble grew, burst and came to infect banks' balance sheets thanks to the magnifying effect of complex financial derivatives.

"Trillions of dollars in risky mortgages had become embedded throughout the financial system."

The report concluded big-name banks -- from Citigroup to Lehman Brothers -- as well as lenders like AIG and Fannie Mae, "acted recklessly, taking on too much risk, with too little capital."

The panel painted a bleak picture of corporate culture that placed "risk justification" before "risk management" and where bonuses encouraged quick deals for short-term gains, without regard for the consequences.

The report also lambasted the "Federal Reserve's pivotal failure to stem the flow of toxic mortgages" through its policies of low interest rates and failure to set adequate standards for lending.

Government regulators, they said, "were not at their posts," instead depending on a misplaced faith that markets would "self-correct" and financial institutions would police themselves.

"We do not accept the view that regulators lacked the power to protect the financial system."

But the panel's conclusions were not reached unanimously. The six Democrat-appointed members of the panel endorsed the final text and four Republicans dissented.

That partisan backing is likely to blunt the impact of the report, which comes after US lawmakers have moved to overhaul Wall Street and a host of books and autobiographies have chronicled events in detail.

But its authors said they hoped the study would help people understand how the crisis could have been avoided.

"The greatest tragedy would be to accept the refrain that no one could have seen this coming and thus nothing could have been done. If we accept this notion it will happen again."

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posted by u2r2h at 10:16 AM


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