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NEWS   FRIDAY, DECEMBER  19,2014   NEWS

Sony’s Surrender Will Strengthen Hackers
Sony’s shock decision to scrap the Dec. 25 release of its controversial movie “The Interview” will strengthen hackers, experts warn, fueling debilitating cyberattacks on other high-profile firms. Still reeling from a crippling Nov. 24 hack, Sony Pictures Entertainment announced Wednesday that it had canceled “The Interview’s” Christmas Day release after a number of movie chains said that they would not show the film. “The Interview,” which pokes fun at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, is believed to have prompted last month’s devastating attack on the studio and subsequent threats to movie theaters. Sony’s shock decision to scrap the Dec. 25 release of its controversial movie “The Interview” will strengthen hackers, experts warn, fueling debilitating cyberattacks on other high-profile firms. Fox News
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Rand Paul Breaks With Rubio And Bush Over Cuba
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the latest potential presidential candidate to weigh in on policy changes to Cuba and the libertarian leaning Republican's position splits from other Republicans who are also considering a presidential run. Paul told Tom Roten of News Talk 800 in West Virginia that the 50-year embargo "just hasn't worked" and normalizing relations with the island nation is "probably a good idea." "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship," he said. Potential challengers, Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, both of Florida, denounced President Barack Obama's decision to open diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also slammed the deal. MSNBC

Government Regulations Hamper Hiring, Economic Growth
American manufacturers are longing to invest and create new jobs to fuel American growth but are being held back by costly regulations coming from Washington and uncertainty about what lies ahead, the head of the nation’s biggest manufacturing trade group said. National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons said the regulatory burden that amounts to a $2.02 trillion charge on the U.S. economy was built up over several presidencies and by both parties, but Obama administration policies on taxes, health care and ozone and carbon emissions have only added to the problem. Washington Times

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Rand Paul Breaks With Rubio And Bush Over Cuba
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the latest potential presidential candidate to weigh in on policy changes to Cuba and the libertarian leaning Republican's position splits from other Republicans who are also considering a presidential run. Paul told Tom Roten of News Talk 800 in West Virginia that the 50-year embargo "just hasn't worked" and normalizing relations with the island nation is "probably a good idea." "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship," he said. Potential challengers, Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, both of Florida, denounced President Barack Obama's decision to open diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also slammed the deal. MSNBC

Government Regulations Hamper Hiring, Economic Growth
American manufacturers are longing to invest and create new jobs to fuel American growth but are being held back by costly regulations coming from Washington and uncertainty about what lies ahead, the head of the nation’s biggest manufacturing trade group said. National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons said the regulatory burden that amounts to a $2.02 trillion charge on the U.S. economy was built up over several presidencies and by both parties, but Obama administration policies on taxes, health care and ozone and carbon emissions have only added to the problem. Washington Times

Oil-Led Slump Spurring Fastest Investor Exit From Commodities Since 2008
Investors are exiting commodities at the fastest pace in six years, betting a slump in prices isn’t over as corn, oil and gold drop close to their cost of production. Open interest in raw-material futures and options is down 6.5 percent since June, heading for the biggest second-half slump since 2008, exchange data show. U.S. exchange-traded products tracking metals, energy and agriculture saw net withdrawals of $169.4 million in 2014, marking the first two-year slump since the funds were created a decade ago. Commodities are under pressure from many sides. Collapsing oil prices are driving bearish sentiment because energy is used to produce or deliver almost everything, according to Societe Generale SA. Low inflation and higher interest rates create an “ugly scenario” for gold, says Bank of America Corp. And weaker currencies in countries that produce everything from soybeans to iron ore mean supplies will continue to climb, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. predicts. Bloomberg

Secret Service Needs Outsider As Leader
An external review of the Secret Service says the next director should be hired from outside the insular agency. The Homeland Security Department released an executive summary of the assessment on Thursday. The review was led by four former officials, two who served under President Barack Obama and two from the administration of former President George W. Bush. It was launched after a security breach at the White House in September. Many of the recommendations have been made in previous reviews of the agency but not carried out. The panel says some recommendations date back to the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Las Vegas Sun

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Government Regulations Hamper Hiring, Economic Growth
American manufacturers are longing to invest and create new jobs to fuel American growth but are being held back by costly regulations coming from Washington and uncertainty about what lies ahead, the head of the nation’s biggest manufacturing trade group said. National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) President and CEO Jay Timmons said the regulatory burden that amounts to a $2.02 trillion charge on the U.S. economy was built up over several presidencies and by both parties, but Obama administration policies on taxes, health care and ozone and carbon emissions have only added to the problem. Washington Time

High Schoolers Wise Up About Social Media When Applying For Colleges
High schoolers are increasingly aware that those embarrassing Facebook posts or tweets could cost them a shot at getting into their dream college. The test prep company Kaplan found that only 16 percent of the 403 colleges surveyed found anything troubling in the social media posts they viewed -- a drop from 50 percent a year ago. That decline comes as the survey found more colleges are factoring social media into the application process: 35 percent in the latest survey compared to only 9 percent six years ago. CBS

Fed Grants Banks Two-Year Delay of Volcker Ban On Private Funds
Banks got a reprieve from the Volcker Rule that will let them hold onto billions of dollars in private-equity investments for at least two more years. The Federal Reserve granted the delay today after banks said selling the stakes quickly might force them to accept discount prices. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has $7 billion invested in private equity, while Morgan Stanley has $2.5 billion, according to securities filings. The extension to July 2017 will let the banks get out of their investments “in an orderly manner,” the Fed said in its order. It will “reduce the potential disruptive effects that significant divestitures of covered funds could have on markets,” the order said. Bloomberg

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Democratic Lawmakers Warn Against Investment Rules In Trade Pacts
Some Democratic lawmakers have urged the U.S. administration to exclude foreign investment protections from major free trade agreements, warning they might undermine buffers against future financial crises and hurt public support for trade deals. Rules allowing foreign companies to sue host governments for unfair treatment have become contentious after recent high-profile cases, such as tobacco company Phillip Morris's challenge to Australia's plain packaging laws for cigarettes.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, a staunch advocate for tougher scrutiny of Wall Street, said such rules would expose "critical" U.S. financial regulations to challenge and dissuade policymakers from writing rules that impact foreign banks. Reuters

Gallons Of Water To End Drought
Eleven trillion gallons — that's the amount of water that NASA scientists say would be needed to replenish key California river basins in what they're calling the first-ever estimate of the water necessary to end an episode of drought. That 11 trillion gallons is the deficit in normal seasonal levels that NASA said a team found earlier this year in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, using Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites. The GRACE data, presented Tuesday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, showed those river basins losing about 4 trillion gallons per year — more than state residents use annually, NASA said. MSNBC

White House Threatens ‘Proportional’ Response To North Korea Cyberattacks
The White House said Thursday that President Obama’s national-security team is considering a “proportional response” to the cyberattack on Sony Pictures, but stopped short of publicly blaming North Korea for the attack. “This is a matter that is still under investigation,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest. “Before we start publicly speculating about a response, it’s appropriate that we allow the investigation to move forward.” He said Mr. Obama’s national-security advisers are “considering a range of options” in response to the attack, but are also mindful of “important strategic considerations.” Washington Times

Obama: Jeb Bush Has ‘Every Right’ to Run for President in 2016
President Obama says he “loves” the Bush family personally and that former Florida governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Jeb Bush has “every right” to run in 2016. But he made sure to praise his former secretary of state as well, adding that Hillary Clinton would make an “excellent president.” “The Bush family, I love personally,” Obama told ABC “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir in an exclusive interview. “They are good people. Jeb's father, George H.W. has been here many times, in some cases with Jeb. And they are a great family, wonderful people. Obviously I have a lot of disagreements with Jeb and his brother on policy. But I think they have every right to do what they think is best.” ABC

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Congress Again Buys Abrams Tanks The Army Doesn't Want
The new defense spending bill includes $120 million for tanks that the Army has repeatedly said it doesn't want. For three years, the Army in numerous Congressional hearings has pushed a plan that essentially would have suspended tank building and upgrades in the U.S. for the first time since World War II. The Army suggested that production lines could be kept open through foreign sales. Each time, Congress has pushed back. Last week, Congress won again in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015. Fox News

Watch Out World: North Korea Deep Into Cyber Warfare
North Korea is one of the world's poorest countries, seen as well behind most everyone when it comes to most technologies and much more. Hacking may not be one of them. Scant resources or not, a defector who once worked as a computer expert for the North Korean government says that it has a vast network of hackers devoted to cyberwarfare against perceived enemies of the Stalinist state. Jang Se-yul, who defected from North Korea seven years ago, told CNN that he thinks there are 1,800 cyberwarriors in the agency stationed around the world. But he says even the agents themselves don't know how many others work for the secretive group, called Bureau 121, whose mission is to "conduct cyberattacks against overseas and enemy states." CNN

The Debilitating Outbreak Sweeping The Americas
Its name means "bending over in pain." It has no treatment or vaccine. Its symptoms resemble Dengue fever. And it has infected more than 1 million people -- 155 of them fatally -- since spreading to the Americas one year ago. The mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has long been diagnosed in travelers returning from countries in Asia and Africa, where the disease is widespread. But in December 2013, the first people infected by mosquitoes local to the region were reported on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. This was the first outbreak of the debilitating disease in the Western Hemisphere, health officials said. CNN

After Obama’s Shift On Cuba, Some Say Iran Should Be Next
Shortly after President Obama announced his sweeping policy shift on Cuba, proponents of engagement with Iran said Tehran should get the same treatment. In a series of tweets, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its president, Trita Parsi, highlighted various remarks Obama made in his televised noon announcement and asked why they should not also apply to Iran. “What Obama has now courageously done on Cuba, he should also do on Iran,” tweeted Parsi. “The last 2 years of Obama’s presidency might just become the most exciting ones ...” “Just like with Cuba, positive movement on Iran can happen when President’s free from domestic restraints. And it will happen.” CNS News

Obama's Flight Expenses Alone Over $1.1 Million For CA Fundraising In October
President Barack Obama’s fundraising trips in October to cities in California cost taxpayers a total of $1,176,120.90 in flight expenses alone, according to records obtained from the U.S. Department of the Air Force by the investigative group Judicial Watch. “On October 9, Obama attended a fundraiser party hosted by Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow in Los Angeles,” states Judicial Watch. “He also attended a closed-door ‘roundtable’ fundraiser at the home of restaurateur Michael Chow. A second event shielded from the public was scheduled for October 11 in San Francisco.” Judicial Watch submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of the Air Force on Oct.  20, 2014 and received the records on Dec. 8, 2014. They showed that the transportation for Obama to Los Angeles on Oct. 9 for the Gwyneth Paltrow fundraiser cost taxpayers $1,011,051.30 and the transportation to San Francisco on Oct. 10 for the secret fundraiser cost taxpayers $165,069.60. CNS News

Ford Expands Takata Driver-Side Air Bag Recall In U.S.
Ford Motor Co on Thursday expanded the recall of older-model Mustang cars that have driver-side Takata air bags with inflators, to include about 502,500 vehicles.
Ford was one of five automakers asked by U.S. regulator National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month to expand a recall of vehicles with possibly defective driver-side Takata Corp air bags beyond a limited area with high humidity. Takata has said that extended exposure to high humidity could cause the inflators to malfunction, causing metal shrapnel to be launched at vehicle occupants when these air bags inflate. Reuters
 
 

Rand Paul Breaks With Rubio And Bush Over Cuba
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the latest potential presidential candidate to weigh in on policy changes to Cuba and the libertarian leaning Republican's position splits from other Republicans who are also considering a presidential run. Paul told Tom Roten of News Talk 800 in West Virginia that the 50-year embargo "just hasn't worked" and normalizing relations with the island nation is "probably a good idea." "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship," he said. Potential challengers, Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, both of Florida, denounced President Barack Obama's decision to open diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also slammed the deal. MSNBC

A Post-Election Flurry: Obama Tests His Powers
President Barack Obama is using a streak of recent activism to shake up the governing status quo and create a new normal for his successors. Obama has taken aggressive steps on immigration, Internet access, climate change and Cuba. With them, he is laying down a foundation that while fragile and subject to change is defining how he enters the final two years of his presidency and what he leaves for the next White House occupant. Aides and advisers say that even if Obama's actions can be undone, he is giving the public a taste of change that would be difficult to reverse. His actions have also exposed cracks in the Republican Party, particularly on immigration and his new Cuba outreach. Las Vegas Sun

Congress Again Buys Abrams Tanks The Army Doesn't Want
The new defense spending bill includes $120 million for tanks that the Army has repeatedly said it doesn't want. For three years, the Army in numerous Congressional hearings has pushed a plan that essentially would have suspended tank building and upgrades in the U.S. for the first time since World War II. The Army suggested that production lines could be kept open through foreign sales. Each time, Congress has pushed back. Last week, Congress won again in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015. Fox News

Watch Out World: North Korea Deep Into Cyber Warfare
North Korea is one of the world's poorest countries, seen as well behind most everyone when it comes to most technologies and much more. Hacking may not be one of them. Scant resources or not, a defector who once worked as a computer expert for the North Korean government says that it has a vast network of hackers devoted to cyberwarfare against perceived enemies of the Stalinist state. Jang Se-yul, who defected from North Korea seven years ago, told CNN that he thinks there are 1,800 cyberwarriors in the agency stationed around the world. But he says even the agents themselves don't know how many others work for the secretive group, called Bureau 121, whose mission is to "conduct cyberattacks against overseas and enemy states." CNN

The Debilitating Outbreak Sweeping The Americas
Its name means "bending over in pain." It has no treatment or vaccine. Its symptoms resemble Dengue fever. And it has infected more than 1 million people -- 155 of them fatally -- since spreading to the Americas one year ago. The mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has long been diagnosed in travelers returning from countries in Asia and Africa, where the disease is widespread. But in December 2013, the first people infected by mosquitoes local to the region were reported on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. This was the first outbreak of the debilitating disease in the Western Hemisphere, health officials said. CNN

After Obama’s Shift On Cuba, Some Say Iran Should Be Next
Shortly after President Obama announced his sweeping policy shift on Cuba, proponents of engagement with Iran said Tehran should get the same treatment. In a series of tweets, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its president, Trita Parsi, highlighted various remarks Obama made in his televised noon announcement and asked why they should not also apply to Iran. “What Obama has now courageously done on Cuba, he should also do on Iran,” tweeted Parsi. “The last 2 years of Obama’s presidency might just become the most exciting ones ...” “Just like with Cuba, positive movement on Iran can happen when President’s free from domestic restraints. And it will happen.” CNS News

Obama's Flight Expenses Alone Over $1.1 Million For CA Fundraising In October
President Barack Obama’s fundraising trips in October to cities in California cost taxpayers a total of $1,176,120.90 in flight expenses alone, according to records obtained from the U.S. Department of the Air Force by the investigative group Judicial Watch. “On October 9, Obama attended a fundraiser party hosted by Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow in Los Angeles,” states Judicial Watch. “He also attended a closed-door ‘roundtable’ fundraiser at the home of restaurateur Michael Chow. A second event shielded from the public was scheduled for October 11 in San Francisco.” Judicial Watch submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of the Air Force on Oct.  20, 2014 and received the records on Dec. 8, 2014. They showed that the transportation for Obama to Los Angeles on Oct. 9 for the Gwyneth Paltrow fundraiser cost taxpayers $1,011,051.30 and the transportation to San Francisco on Oct. 10 for the secret fundraiser cost taxpayers $165,069.60. CNS News

Ford Expands Takata Driver-Side Air Bag Recall In U.S.
Ford Motor Co on Thursday expanded the recall of older-model Mustang cars that have driver-side Takata air bags with inflators, to include about 502,500 vehicles.
Ford was one of five automakers asked by U.S. regulator National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month to expand a recall of vehicles with possibly defective driver-side Takata Corp air bags beyond a limited area with high humidity. Takata has said that extended exposure to high humidity could cause the inflators to malfunction, causing metal shrapnel to be launched at vehicle occupants when these air bags inflate. Reuters

The Debilitating Outbreak Sweeping The Americas
Its name means "bending over in pain." It has no treatment or vaccine. Its symptoms resemble Dengue fever. And it has infected more than 1 million people -- 155 of them fatally -- since spreading to the Americas one year ago. The mosquito-borne Chikungunya virus has long been diagnosed in travelers returning from countries in Asia and Africa, where the disease is widespread. But in December 2013, the first people infected by mosquitoes local to the region were reported on the Caribbean island of Saint Martin. This was the first outbreak of the debilitating disease in the Western Hemisphere, health officials said. CNN

After Obama’s Shift On Cuba, Some Say Iran Should Be Next
Shortly after President Obama announced his sweeping policy shift on Cuba, proponents of engagement with Iran said Tehran should get the same treatment. In a series of tweets, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its president, Trita Parsi, highlighted various remarks Obama made in his televised noon announcement and asked why they should not also apply to Iran. “What Obama has now courageously done on Cuba, he should also do on Iran,” tweeted Parsi. “The last 2 years of Obama’s presidency might just become the most exciting ones ...” “Just like with Cuba, positive movement on Iran can happen when President’s free from domestic restraints. And it will happen.” CNS News

Obama's Flight Expenses Alone Over $1.1 Million For CA Fundraising In October
President Barack Obama’s fundraising trips in October to cities in California cost taxpayers a total of $1,176,120.90 in flight expenses alone, according to records obtained from the U.S. Department of the Air Force by the investigative group Judicial Watch. “On October 9, Obama attended a fundraiser party hosted by Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow in Los Angeles,” states Judicial Watch. “He also attended a closed-door ‘roundtable’ fundraiser at the home of restaurateur Michael Chow. A second event shielded from the public was scheduled for October 11 in San Francisco.” Judicial Watch submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of the Air Force on Oct.  20, 2014 and received the records on Dec. 8, 2014. They showed that the transportation for Obama to Los Angeles on Oct. 9 for the Gwyneth Paltrow fundraiser cost taxpayers $1,011,051.30 and the transportation to San Francisco on Oct. 10 for the secret fundraiser cost taxpayers $165,069.60. CNS News

Ford Expands Takata Driver-Side Air Bag Recall In U.S.
Ford Motor Co on Thursday expanded the recall of older-model Mustang cars that have driver-side Takata air bags with inflators, to include about 502,500 vehicles.
Ford was one of five automakers asked by U.S. regulator National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month to expand a recall of vehicles with possibly defective driver-side Takata Corp air bags beyond a limited area with high humidity. Takata has said that extended exposure to high humidity could cause the inflators to malfunction, causing metal shrapnel to be launched at vehicle occupants when these air bags inflate. Reuters

Rand Paul Breaks With Rubio And Bush Over Cuba
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the latest potential presidential candidate to weigh in on policy changes to Cuba and the libertarian leaning Republican's position splits from other Republicans who are also considering a presidential run. Paul told Tom Roten of News Talk 800 in West Virginia that the 50-year embargo "just hasn't worked" and normalizing relations with the island nation is "probably a good idea." "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship," he said. Potential challengers, Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, both of Florida, denounced President Barack Obama's decision to open diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also slammed the deal. MSNBC

A Post-Election Flurry: Obama Tests His Powers
President Barack Obama is using a streak of recent activism to shake up the governing status quo and create a new normal for his successors. Obama has taken aggressive steps on immigration, Internet access, climate change and Cuba. With them, he is laying down a foundation that while fragile and subject to change is defining how he enters the final two years of his presidency and what he leaves for the next White House occupant. Aides and advisers say that even if Obama's actions can be undone, he is giving the public a taste of change that would be difficult to reverse. His actions have also exposed cracks in the Republican Party, particularly on immigration and his new Cuba outreach. Las Vegas Sun

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Rand Paul Breaks With Rubio And Bush Over Cuba
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is the latest potential presidential candidate to weigh in on policy changes to Cuba and the libertarian leaning Republican's position splits from other Republicans who are also considering a presidential run. Paul told Tom Roten of News Talk 800 in West Virginia that the 50-year embargo "just hasn't worked" and normalizing relations with the island nation is "probably a good idea." "If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn't seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship," he said. Potential challengers, Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, both of Florida, denounced President Barack Obama's decision to open diplomatic and economic ties with Cuba. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also slammed the deal. MSNBC

A Post-Election Flurry: Obama Tests His Powers
President Barack Obama is using a streak of recent activism to shake up the governing status quo and create a new normal for his successors. Obama has taken aggressive steps on immigration, Internet access, climate change and Cuba. With them, he is laying down a foundation that while fragile and subject to change is defining how he enters the final two years of his presidency and what he leaves for the next White House occupant. Aides and advisers say that even if Obama's actions can be undone, he is giving the public a taste of change that would be difficult to reverse. His actions have also exposed cracks in the Republican Party, particularly on immigration and his new Cuba outreach. Las Vegas Sun

Congress Again Buys Abrams Tanks The Army Doesn't Want
The new defense spending bill includes $120 million for tanks that the Army has repeatedly said it doesn't want. For three years, the Army in numerous Congressional hearings has pushed a plan that essentially would have suspended tank building and upgrades in the U.S. for the first time since World War II. The Army suggested that production lines could be kept open through foreign sales. Each time, Congress has pushed back. Last week, Congress won again in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015. Fox News

Watch Out World: North Korea Deep Into Cyber Warfare
North Korea is one of the world's poorest countries, seen as well behind most everyone when it comes to most technologies and much more. Hacking may not be one of them. Scant resources or not, a defector who once worked as a computer expert for the North Korean government says that it has a vast network of hackers devoted to cyberwarfare against perceived enemies of the Stalinist state. Jang Se-yul, who defected from North Korea seven years ago, told CNN that he thinks there are 1,800 cyberwarriors in the agency stationed around the world. But he says even the agents themselves don't know how many others work for the secretive group, called Bureau 121, whose mission is to "conduct cyberattacks against overseas and enemy states." CNN

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Iran To Conduct 'Massive' Military Exercise
Iran will conduct a large-scale military exercise in the south of the country beginning Dec. 25, a senior Iranian military commander announced Thursday. The seven-day war game, codenamed "Mohammad Rasolallah," will involve the Army, Navy, Air Force, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and the Basij (Volunteer) Force, Army Brig. Gen. Abdolrahim Mousavi told reporters. "New weapons and tactics will be tested and evaluated in the war games," he added. Navy Commander Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari said tests would include assessing the capability of Iran's "surface-to-surface, surface-to-sea, surface-to-air and air-to-surface missiles." UPI News

World Leaders Hail U.S.-Cuba Deal As Overdue
The historic announcement normalizing diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba was praised by governments around the world Thursday.
Joint declarations by President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro on Wednesday proclaimed the start of a mutual effort to abandon what Obama called a "rigid and outdated policy" of Cuban isolation. The normalization is expected to lead to improved trade and visitation between the two countries, hostile to one another for over 50 years, although a U.S. embargo remains in place. UPI News

US: We Won't Support Palestinian UNSC Resolution On An Israeli Withdrawal
The US on Thursday said it plans to veto a Palestinian UN Security Council resolution setting a three-year timetable for Israel and its security forces to withdraw from the West Bank. “We have seen the draft. It is not something we would support,” US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. “We think others feel the same and are calling for further consultations. The Palestinians understand that. You may have also seen [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas speak to this earlier today.... They support continued consultations and they are not pushing for a vote on this now.” Jerusalem Post

Israel Dismisses Palestinian Peace Deal Plan As 'Gimmick'
Isreal says a Palestinian effort to set a three-year deadline for it to end its occupation of Palestinian territories is a "gimmick". A draft resolution, submitted by Jordan to the UN Security Council, also calls for a peace accord within a year. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that without Israel's consent, nothing would change. Jordan has indicated it will not seek a quick vote, opening the way for further discussion. The US - which has vetoed previous resolutions it considers hostile to its ally Israel - said on Thursday it would not support the move. BBC

Mount Sinjar: Islamic State Siege Broken
Kurdish forces in northern Iraq are claiming their biggest victory yet against Islamic State (IS) militants. They say they have broken the IS siege of Mount Sinjar, where thousands of Yazidis and other displaced Iraqis have been trapped since August. IS controls a swathe of Iraq and Syria, where it has declared a caliphate. Meanwhile, the Pentagon's most senior officer says US air strikes have killed several high-ranking IS military leaders in Iraq. The Kurdish offensive against IS forces besieging Mount Sinjar began early on Wednesday with the most intensive round of air strikes yet by US and coalition forces - 45 in all. BBC

US Backed Talks Between Jihadi Clerics And Isis In Effort To Save Hostage’s Life
US counter-terrorism officials backed a high-stakes negotiation involving two of the world’s most prominent jihadi clerics as well as former Guantánamo detainees in an attempt to save the life of an American hostage held by Islamic State, the Guardian can reveal. Emails seen by the Guardian show how tentative talks with the spiritual leadership of Isis to secure the release of Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig began in mid-October and ran for several weeks, with the knowledge of the FBI.
Kassig – who converted to Islam while imprisoned for more than a year – was the most recent western hostage to be killed by Isis. The jihadi group announced his death on 16 November with a typically grisly video. Guardian

President Obama Signs Bill Authorizing Sanctions Against Venezuela
President Barack Obama has signed legislation into law allowing him to sanction Venezuelan government officials who were involved in a crackdown on anti-government protesters. The bill authorizes sanctions that would freeze the assets of and ban visas for anyone accused of carrying out acts of violence or violating the human rights of those opposing the South American nation’s socialist government. Last summer, the State Department imposed a travel ban on Venezuelan officials who were accused of abuses during street protests that left dozens of people dead. Guardian

EU Court Rules That Fatness 'Can Constitute A Disability’
Fatness "can constitute a disability" for the purposes of European Union equality at work legislation, Europe's highest court has ruled. The judgment means British companies will be required to treat obese workers as "disabled", providing them with larger seats, special parking spaces and other facilities. “Obesity can constitute a ‘disability’ within the meaning of the Employment Equality Directive,” the European Court of Justice ruled. “While no general principle of EU law prohibits, in itself, discrimination on grounds of obesity, that condition falls within the concept of ‘disability’ where, under particular conditions, it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers.” Telegraph

Republicans Threaten To Stop US Embassy Opening In Cuba
The backlash against a deal for the United States to reopen its embassy in Havana and thaw its relations with Cuba is underway in Florida, where Republicans are threatening to use their control of the Senate to sabotage the plans. President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that he was ending America’s five-decade policy of isolating Cuba and that he hoped to reinstate full diplomatic relations with the communist island “in the coming months”. While the President’s political opponents are unable to stop him from formally restoring US ties with its communist neighbour, they can throw up practical hurdles to slow down or even derail the détente. Telegraph

UN Launches Appeal For Life-Saving Aid To Millions Of Syrians, Support To Host Communities
As Syria’s war rages on into its fifth year, the needs for food, shelter and medicine are astronomical, several United Nations agencies said today as they launched a major appeal, requesting over $8.4 billion to help nearly 18 million people in Syria and throughout the region. Presented to donors at a meeting in Berlin, the 2015 appeal incorporates, for the first time, development aspects in addition to the life-saving humanitarian needs of over 12 million displaced people inside Syria, and the millions of Syrian refugees scattered throughout the region and the countries that host them. UN News

UN Officials Urge Reforms, Fight Against Drug Trade To Ensure Country’s Security
As Afghanistan builds upon recent political developments, including the formation of a unity government, the country’s authorities and the international community must not ignore the immense challenges that lie ahead, from simmering insecurity to an escalating drug crisis, two senior United Nations officials declared today during their briefing to the Security Council. “The upsurge in insurgent violence and concomitant increase in civilian casualties, the deepening budgetary shortfall, and delays in critical government appointments remind us that tackling these challenges will require collective determination and renewed focus,” Special Representative of the Secretary-General and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Nicholas Haysom told the 15-member Council. “The Afghan people deserve nothing less.” UN News

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