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  • These GIFs Show How Much American Politics Has Changed Since The 1900s

    map2

    Today, Democrats dominate densely populated urban centers and the coastal regions of the U.S., while Republicans cover America’s vast interior. For most of us, that is the only political reality we have known. However, it is a development of the last century. 

    The map above, created by Arizona State University’s Jonathan Davis, shows just how much the American political landscape has changed. The map shows the election results in the House of Representatives for every election since 1918.

    Perhaps the most glaring change is that Democrats used to dominate the Southern states. That began to shift, however, with the Civil Rights Act of 1967. During the signing of the bill, President Lyndon B. Johnson famously told Bill Moyers, "I think we just delivered the South to the Republican party for a long time to come." While Johnson was right, interestingly, the change was gradual in the House of Representatives, where the Democrats' Southern stronghold was slowly eroded over the course of 30 to 40 years. 

    Here are a few of the other developments that you can see in the map:

    1920s-1930s: The Great Depression And The New Deal

    1930s 

    Republicans dominated the electoral landscape in the 1920s with the country electing three consecutive Republican presidents (Harding, Coolidge, Hoover). However, the aftermath of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 moved the country to the left in 1930 and, as the Depression wore on, the country turned more and more Democratic. The real changeover happened in the 1934 midterm elections, during Franklin Roosevelt’s first term, when the American people voted heavily Democratic in a show of support for the New Deal.

    1990s: The Republican Revolution

    1990s

    In the 1994 midterm election, the first of Bill Clinton’s presidency, the Republicans made huge gains in the House and Senate, picking up 54 and 8 seats respectively. The event was termed the Republican Revolution or the Gingrich Revolution (because Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House as a result of the election). The election put the Republicans in control of Congress for the next three elections. 

    Gerrymandering 

    Another interesting development on the map is the way gerrymandering — the practice of redrawing the boundaries of congressional districts to benefit one party or demographic over another — has completely changed the map of the U.S.. While the practice has been around since the inception of the country, it has been increasingly used in the last 50 years to draw ridiculously shaped, often non-contiguous districts that blatantly disadvantage a political party.  

    This is what the districts in the U.S. looked like in 1918:1918 political map

    This is what it looked like in 2012, when the country is carved up like a jigsaw puzzle:

    2000 political mapHere's the full map animation:

    This post was originally published at 9:00 a.m. ET.

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  • America Must Stand Up To Cyberattacks

    Kim Jong Un computer hacking

    As a steady flow of information about the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures has been revealed, we have watched with shock and increasing concern as American lives and our values have been threatened by a narcissistic dictator. As the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, we don’t agree on every issue—but we are in complete agreement that our national response to this chilling threat must be clear and unequivocal, so that we continue to zealously protect our freedoms and principles, most notably the freedom of speech.
     
    The F.B.I. has confirmed our suspicions that a group known as “The Guardians of Peace”—a front group for the North Korean government and its dictator, Kim Jong Un—hacked into Sony’s internal emails, released a trove of embarrassing and salacious communications, and divulged sensitive information about Sony employees because the North Korean government did not approve of its movie, The Interview.  On December 16, the hackers escalated their cyber-war by threatening physical harm to those who intended to see the movie itself, which led to Sony initially canceling the release of the movie.  However, Sony has now decided to release it to a limited number of theaters. 
     
    This is not the first time terrorist groups and foreign governments have used intimidation to attempt to destroy our freedoms and way of life. On the eve of World War II, the German government issued various threats to prevent Charlie Chaplin from directing and producing The Great Dictator, a thinly veiled satire of the antics and excesses of Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini.  Paramount Pictures ultimately released the movie to great popular and critical acclaim, both in the U.S. and abroad.
     
    The 9/11 attacks were aimed at New York and Washington because the terrorists wanted to shut down our nation’s centers of finance and government. However, Americans stood unified and sent a clear and resolute signal that we would not be intimidated.  Our nation’s airports quickly reopened, as did Wall Street and the Pentagon, and Congress continued to represent the will of the American people without pause.

    The cyber-attacks and terror threats associated with The Interview represent the latest twist on earlier efforts at intimidation - the combination of the threat of physical violence with the use of the modern tools of cyber warfare and social media. A tyrant who severely oppresses his own people has used technology to both infiltrate a company and threaten physical harm to Americans who choose to watch a film that doesn’t meet his approval.  Whether or not we like the plot, production, or tone of a creative product, each and every one of us has a stake in ensuring that our freedom of speech is not abridged by either our own government or by a foreign government.

    The United States must stand firm against this type of aggressive attack on our freedom of speech. Otherwise these actions will have a chilling effect on the availability of information and creative works in the future and will embolden North Korea and other copycats to act again. We must not allow terrorists and foreign governments to dictate what Americans can or cannot say, watch, produce, or distribute.

    Ultimately, this and other cyber-attacks point to the need for a robust national security apparatus, including strong cybersecurity, to protect Americans not just from bodily harm, but from threats aimed at restricting our freedoms.  Congress and the Administration should work to ensure that we have in place the appropriate sanctions against North Korea and that we are using all available tools to combat attacks like this. The more we can do to detect and intercept threats from our enemies, the more we will be able to protect our cherished liberties.

    The threat to Americans who wish to see this film is not the last time that thugs and tyrants will seek to challenge our character and our creativity.  But we are united in our resolve to defend our freedoms against all threats, foreign and domestic.  In the past, we have stood together—ignoring the petty and partisan differences that too often divide us.  Again, we must stand together to send the strong message that the United States will never yield to those wishing to silence our freedoms.
     
    Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) is Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee.

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  • The NYPD Is Facing A Wave Of Violent Threats Against Officers

    NYPD Officers Shooting

    The New York City Police Department has arrested six people in the past five days for making threats against officers.

    These arrests have come out of "about 40 threat investigations" the NYPD launched following the killing of two officers on Dec. 20 by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who made social media postings tying the shooting to recent controversies involving the deaths of unarmed African American men at the hands of police officers in New York and Ferguson, Missouri. 

    "All threats against members of the NYPD are taken seriously and are investigated immediately to determine the credibility and origin of the information. So far, we have assessed hundreds of online postings and calls to 911 and 311 that have resulted in about 40 threat investigations, of which about half have been closed or referred to other agencies," the NYPD's public information office said in a statement sent to Business Insider on Thursday.

    In light of the threats, the statement said "officers are advised to remain vigilant at all times."

    "Additionally, security measures will continue to be assessed and police resources will be deployed accordingly," the statement said. "However, we continue to ask that the public, upon becoming aware of any threats, immediately report the information to the police."

    The NYPD also provided information about the six people arrested for allegedly threatening officers in recent days.

    According to the department, an 18-year-old man named Devon Coley was arrested Monday morning in Brooklyn and charged with two counts of making a terroristic threat. Officer Mason, who works with the NYPD's deputy commissioner for public information, said Coley posted "remarks and photos on Facebook regarding shooting members of the 73rd Precinct" in Brooklyn.

    On Monday evening, the NYPD said a 52-year-old Manhattan man named Robert Bowman was arrested and charged with filing a false report. Mason said Bowman "made a bogus 911 call stating that people were going to come to Staten Island and shoot officers."

    The NYPD also said a 16-year-old boy was arrested on Tuesday evening in Brooklyn and charged with making a terroristic threat. According to Mason, the teenager made "a Facebook post where he stated, 'Let's kill cops.'"

    An hour after the teenager was arrested on Tuesday, the department said a 46-year-old Staten Island man named Roberto Labita was arrested and charged with filing a false report. Mason said he "made a false 911 call stating that someone made threats about killing cops."

    On Wednesday, the department said a 41-year-old Manhattan man named Tyrone Melville was arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat and two difference counts of aggravated harassment. Reuters reported the police said Melville allegedly called the 84th precinct in Brooklyn where the two slain officers were based and asked if bullets were removed from the dead men so he "could kill more cops."

    A little over three hours after Melville was arrested on Wednesday, the NYPD said a 26-year-old Brooklyn man named Jose Maldonado was arrested and charged with making a terroristic threat. According to Reuters, the department said Maldonado posted pictures of weapons and threats to kill police officers on his Facebook page

    Tensions have been high for police around the country since widespread protests began after an officer in Ferguson shot and killed an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown in August. The demonstrations intensified last month after a grand jury declined to indict the officer. 

    The nationwide protests about police violence have also been fueled by an incident that occurred in New York in July where a man named Eric Garner died while being taken into custody for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on Staten Island. Garner's arrest was videotaped and the footage showed an officer seemingly placing him in a banned chokehold. Earlier this month, a grand jury declined to indict that officer, which led to a new round of protests in New York and around the country. 

    Brinsley referenced both Brown and Garner's deaths in social media posts prior to killing the two officers. 

    New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) discussed the deaths of the officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, in a speech on Monday. In those remarks, the mayor encouraged people to report any threats against the police.

    "If anyone of bad intent threatens a police officer – on the internet or anywhere else – anyone who hears such a threat must deliver that information immediately to the NYPD, must turn that individual in," de Blasio said.

    Ramos' funeral is set to be held on Saturday and Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to attend. Plans for Liu's funeral have not yet been set. 

     

     

     

     

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  • 100 Years Ago, Enemies In The Great War Stopped Fighting To Celebrate Christmas Together

    Christmas Truce 1914 World War I German Saxon soldiers

    On Christmas Day in 1914, German, British, and French soldiers left their trenches along the western front of World War I to observe the holiday in peace.

    In the midst of war, soldiers laid down their arms to sing Christmas carols, play soccer, and barter with the cigarettes and sweets they'd received in care packages from the nations they served.

    The event would later be treated in numerous films, documentaries, and books — although often with rose-colored glasses.

    British Army Captain Edward Hulse captured some of the now-famous halt in hostilities — which he called "the most extraordinary Christmas in the trenches you could possibly imagine" — in letters to his mother.

    At 8:30 that morning, four unarmed German soldiers left their trenches to approach their British enemies, only to be intercepted by a few suspicious British soldiers. One of the Germans "started off by saying that he thought it only right to come over and wish us a happy Christmas, and trusted us implicitly to keep the truce," Hulse wrote.

    Christmas Truce 1914 photoThe soldiers make small talk — "their spokesman" had left a girlfriend and a three-horsepower motorbike in England — but their interactions still fell within the context of the ongoing war. "[The Germans] praised our aeroplanes up to the skies," Hulse wrote, "and said that they hated them and could not get away from them."

    The motion for peace came on German initiative. On Christmas Eve, decorated trees began to pop up from their trenches, followed by signs reading "You No Fight, We No Fight."

    To various degrees across the front, German and British troops put down their weapons and fraternized. In some places, the truce was just an opportunity for each side to bury the dead strewn in no man's land, the stretch of earth between opposing trenches. In other places along the front, the fighting continued.

    Overall, the truce was a heartening case study in the nature of human beings and their capacity to wage war on one another.

    "By midday," the narrator of a BBC documentary on the event explains, "nearly half the British frontline army is involved in the truce," though how widespread the suspension of the war really was on December 25, 1914 remains in dispute.

    Illustrated London News Christmas Truce 1914Historians explain that the Truce came during a period in the fighting when a "‘live and let live’ attitude developed in certain areas of the trench system," the BBC reports.

    "So much interchange had occurred across the line by early December" that a general "issued a directive unequivocally forbidding fraternization," writes Stanley Weintraub in Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce.

    The general's concern was that bonding "discourages initiative in commanders, and destroys the offensive spirit in all ranks ... Friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices and the exchange of tobacco and other comforts, however tempting and occasionally amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited."

    British German troops World War I TruceIt went on nonetheless, as the Truce itself shows. This might have been because of existing rifts between the rank and file and their leadership. Indeed, the Truce was a push by lowly privates, many of them shipped to the frontline against their will and fighting the war out of resignation rather than nationalistic fervor.

    "Many on both sides focused more on trying to stay warm and dry, securing food, and avoiding death than pursuing the aims of their generals," according to The Encyclopedia of World War I's entry on the Christmas Truce.

    The "dangers" of peace may not have been purely imagined for the political and military leadership that believed in the necessity of fighting the Great War. As Weintraub writes, past truces in military history did not have the same scale, duration, or "potential to become more than a temporary respite," as that of the Great War's first Christmas. It was "seemingly impossible to have happened without consequences for the outcome of the war."

    But that wasn't to be. World War I would only end in 1918, leaving 16 million dead across Europe and the Middle East. Mustard gas and the machine gun would become the hallmarks of a protracted war so brutal that many expected it to be history's last major conflict, a cataclysm that would make war appear too mutually destructive to merit a place in the modern world.

    Even the history of the Christmas Truce itself shows that this was a vain hope. A weak attempt at repeating the truce was made in 1915, but a tradition would not take hold due to "the high numbers of dead and hardened attitudes on both sides but also because of actions of senior commanders."

    In December 1915, the British command even ordered artillery fire to mark every daylight hour, "and threats to court martial fraternizers and shoot deserters [had] put the final block on any contact," according to the BBC's documentary.

    But 100 years later, the Christmas Truce remains a bright spot in an otherwise bleak conflict that ushered in many aspects of modern war.

    SEE ALSO: The myths of the 1914 Christmas Truce

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  • 5 Momentous Military Events That Took Place On Christmas Day

    Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_by_Emanuel_Leutze,_MMA NYC,_1851

    Christmas is one of the most celebrated holidays on earth. But that doesn't mean that conflicts simply freeze every December 25th. 

    Here's a look at some of the major military events that have fallen on Christmas, a date with a surprisingly rich history.

    1776 — George Washington Crosses The Delaware River

    Important events in both of America's most formative wars — the Revolutionary War and the Civil War — took place on Christmas.

    Washington led his troops across a 300-yard stretch of the Delaware River in the dead of night between December 25 and 26, 1776. The surprise move would put Washington's men a 19-mile march away from a garrison of Hessians (German mercenaries hired by the British to help them in their effort to retain a hold on the rebelling colonies) that the Continental Army took completely by surprise.

    The Hessians' quick surrender at the Battle of Trenton would be the first of two rebel victories in New Jersey (the other being the Battle of Princeton a week later) as the Continental Army regained control of the colony. This effectively reversed the British drive that had pushed the rebels across New Jersey in the previous months. The daring crossing of the Delaware ended up being one of the turning points of the war.

    1868 — US President Andrew Johnson pardons former Confederate soldiers

    Nearly a century later, on Christmas Day of 1868, US president Andrew Johnson extended a full pardon and amnesty "to all and to every person who, directly or indirectly, participated in the late insurrection or rebellion".

    The internecine war had ended more than three years earlier, taking more American lives than any other conflict in history. But Union general Ulysses S. Grant's scorched earth tactics late in the war left much of the south in ruins, and the country emerged from the war in a state of deep division.

    President Andrew JohnsonJohnson had been a Tennessee congressman, senator, and governor before joining Lincoln's presidential ticket.  He was tipped in part to attract southern votes. Yet at war's end he seemed bent on imposing harsh conditions on the defeated half of the country.

    The day after being sworn in as the nation's president, he asserted that "treason must be made infamous, and traitors must be impoverished."

    But according to the History Department at North Carolina State University, Attorney General James Speed tempered Johnson's punitive intentions: "Mercy must be largely extended. Some of the great leaders and offenders only must be made to feel the extreme rigor of the law," Speed advised.

    Southerners enjoyed only conditional and limited pardoning (depending on their station during the war) — at least until this blanket amnesty on "the 25th day of December, A. D. 1868."

    1914 — German, British, and French soldiers make temporary peace to celebrate Christmas together

    On Christmas Day in 1914, the first Christmas of World War I, soldiers left their trenches to observe the holiday in peace.

    In the midst of war, soldiers laid down their arms to sing Christmas carols, play soccer, and barter with the cigarettes and sweets they'd received in care packages from the nations they served.

    Christmas Truce 1914 photo

    In some places, the truce was limited to an occasion for each side to bury their dead strewn in no man's land, the stretch of earth between opposing trenches that too often served as a killing field. In others, the skirmishing continued.

    But some made the Christmas Truce of 1914 what it was: An odd yet heartening case study in how people react to the pressures of war.

    1941 — Japan seizes control of Hong Kong at the expense of the United Kingdom.

    Japanese Soldiers Hong Kong 1941 World War II

    Japan's aggression during World War II began well before the attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1931, Imperial Japan invaded Manchuria, a vast coastal region in northeast China. In 1937, it made advances on the rest of the country as well.

    But it wasn't until 1941 that Tokyo confronted the West with its imperial ambitions.

    And though American involvement started with the Pearl Harbor attack, the surprise assault was immediately followed by Japan's invasion of Hong Kong, a British holding, in late 1941.

    Hong Kong British Prisoners Japan World War IIHundreds died in the eighteen-day battle for Hong Kong, and more were wounded or incarcerated in POW camps. Some would never return.

    Japan announced the surrender of the colony by radio broadcast on Christmas Day, 1941.

    1941 — Admiral Émile Muselier captures Saint Pierre and Miquelon, an archipelago near Canada, for the Free French Forces

    World War II Free French Saint Pierre Islands Admiral MuselierThe North American continent does not feature as a hot spot in the events of World War II.

    But soon after France's fall to the Nazis, the colonial governor of a few small islands off the coast of Newfoundland started working with the resistance.

    Writing back to the Vichy government — the Nazi's puppet regime in France — Baron Gilbert de Bournat wrote of "British pressure to rally to the British or de Gaullist causes."

    That pressure would have found sympathizers on the islands. Its population was originally mobilized, in 1939, to help defend France's mainland, and some ship-owners docked there refused to return to Vichy France.

    On Christmas Eve, 1941, a small task force under Admiral Émile Muselier stormed the island under the cover of night. They met no resistance and the island's administrative centers were taken within an hour, eliminating what otherwise could have served as a Nazi outpost deep among Allied nations while giving the Free French cause legitimacy.

    "By five minutes past midnight on December 25 the story of the invasion was telegraphed to Canadian and American newspapers," according to Douglas Anglin's "Free French Invasion: The St. Pierre and Miquelon Affaire of 1941".

    SEE ALSO: US troops have been at war on Christmas since the nation's founding

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  • US Military Says ISIS Is Lying About Shooting Down A Jordanian F-16 In Syria

    isis pilot

    US Central Command released a statement on Wednesday afternoon disputing a claim made by the jihadist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS and ISIL) that they shot down a Jordanian F-16 aircraft earlier in the day. 

    "Evidence clearly indicates that ISIL did not down the aircraft as the terrorist organization is claiming," the statement said.

    Islamic State fighters in the Syrian city of Raqqah released photos showing a man they identified as a captured Jordanian pilot. The Jordanian Armed Forces, which are part of the international coalition fighting ISIS, confirmed one of its warplanes went down on a mission in the area. 

    CENTCOM's statement included a quote from General Lloyd J. Austin III, who is overseeing the American military operations against ISIS. Though Austin confirmed a Jordanian pilot was captured by the group, he suggested the F-16 crashed on its own.

    "The Jordanians are highly-respected and valued partners and their pilots and crews have performed exceptionally well over the course of this campaign," Austin said. "We strongly condemn the actions of ISIL which has taken captive the downed pilot.  We will support efforts to ensure his safe recovery, and will not tolerate ISIL's attempts to misrepresent or exploit this unfortunate aircraft crash for their own purposes."

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  • Top MLB Agent: Obama's Cuba Deal Leaves The Baseball World With A 'Sea Of Unanswered Questions'

    Fidel Castro Baseball

    Despite America's embargo against Cuba, baseball has been one of Havana's major exports.

    However, its not clear whether the historic thaw in relations between the two countries that began this month will lead to an even bigger baseball boom. 

    One top agent who spoke to Business Insider said, so far, the policy shift has left the baseball world with a "sea of unanswered questions."

    Cuba has a long baseball tradition and several players who were born there have defected to the United States in spite of the tension between the two nations and to play Major League Baseball. According to the Baseball Almanac, there are 31 active Cuban players in the MLB, including the stars Yasiel Puig and Rusney Castillo.

    Given Cuba's history of producing top baseball talent, President Barack Obama's Dec. 17 announcement the US will begin "normalizing" relations with the island following a prisoner exchange left many in baseball wondering whether the policy shift will have an impact on the game.

    Shortly after Obama's announcement on Dec. 17, the MLB's public relations department released a short statement on Twitter that said they did not have "sufficient details" about the deal to determine how it would effect the league's teams.  

    Indeed, while the White House has been clear about the main elements of the policy,  the specific regulations that will implement the changes have not been revealed yet. The Treasury Department, which administers and enforces the US sanctions on Cuba and will be making the regulatory changes, declined to comment on this story.

    Ron Shapiro, the chairman of the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, is a baseball agent who currently represents Minnesota Twins star Joe Mauer and has a slew of Hall of Famers among his former clients. Shapiro discussed the Cuba deal and its potential impact on the MLB with Business Insider this week.  

    Yasiel PuigOverall, Shapiro said the deal left baseball with a "sea of unanswered questions at this point, which will resolve themselves in time." 

    Shapiro noted the specific components of the policy shift still have yet to be finalized.

    "First of all, things have to be worked out more completely at the governmental level," explained Shapiro. "We've got the breakthrough, but obviously there's unfinished business in resolving what it all means at that level."

    He also described the many different questions the MLB, agents, and players will have to deal with once they know the specific regulatory changes. 

    "Baseball then will have to analyze everything from its draft, its relationship with teams over there, when and if players come here the rules it will abide by in respecting the contract issues over there," Shapiro said. "I mean, there's just an array of things that have to be resolved. And agents will have to be careful because the Players Association may have to decide on some things with respect to players over there and whether they have any rights under the collective bargaining agreement, or when they have rights and how they're dealt with."

    Despite the remaining questions, an improved US relationship with Cuba clearly has a lot of potential for the MLB. 

    Fidel Baseball Mural CubaShapiro said he would expect teams to develop training and recruitment programs in Cuba, which he noted is a "fertile" source of baseball talent because "they play the game from childhood." He also suggested Cuba could be a strong market for the MLB.

    "Clearly Cuba, as demonstrated by the number of Cubans in major league baseball already today is a fertile ground for talent," Shapiro told BI. "It's also a fertile ground for the MLB product, whether it be via television or other means. So there's a lot to be explored."

    Shapiro said Cuba is clearly a "great pool" of talent due to the "significant number" of current MLB players who are from here and the fact "the games that have been played over there are pretty significant in terms of fan interest and the effectiveness of players." He predicted the Cuba deal will eventually lead to more Cuban talent playing in the US.

    "Cuba is a partially tapped source that will be more fully tapped now," Shapiro said.

    SEE ALSO: HERE COME THE CUBAN CIGARS

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  • Rouhani's Façade Is Crumbling

    hassan rouhani

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected largely on the premise that he's a moderate. But his 2015 budget proposal suggests that he's more interested in preserving the repressive regime than moving the country toward the middle.

    Emanuele Ottolenghi and Saeed Ghasseminejad, both fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, write in the Wall Street Journal that while Rouhani did soften sanctions on Iran and help lead the country on a path out of recession, his 2015 budget is great for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), intelligence branches, and clerical courts that serve the repressive regime of Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei.

    There's some increased healthcare spending built into the budget to help appease middle- and lower-class Iranians, but the budget also includes an increase in government tax revenue and defense spending and a substantial reduction in bread subsidies.

    "Rouhanomics," therefore, "isn’t a recipe for economic growth but for balancing middle-class discontent," according to the op-ed.

    Ottolenghy and Ghasseminejad write:

    Not only is Rouhanomics going to inflict economic pain on the very constituency that swept the new president to power, but it will also empower the regime apparatus tasked with taming the inevitable discontent of Mr. Rouhani’s constituents. ... 

    The bottom line is that Mr. Rouhani’s budget appears aimed at streamlining public spending without cutting off welfare completely, but at the same time strengthening the institutions tasked with internal repression and external adventurism.

    This increase in defense spending comes at a time when oil revenues — which are estimated to account for about a third of the public budget — are dropping significantly.

    Meanwhile, activists say the number of executions and political prisoners hasn't changed much during Rouhani's tenure, and the press is still heavily restricted.

    "After a year in office, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has achieved a steady thaw in relations with the West but failed so far to deliver on campaign promises of more freedom at home," Babak Dehghanpisheh of Reuters reported in September.

    Khamenei Meets Rouhani IranHardline Iranians are still restricting political and social freedoms. For example, earlier this year, several young Iranians got suspended sentences of six to 12 months in jail and 91 whip lashes for making a music video for Pharrell Williams' "Happy" that showed women without hijabs dancing with men, according to Reuters.

    Abbas Milani, director of the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University, told Reuters in September that Rouhani doesn't consider internal human rights issues to be a high priority right now and is instead focusing on diplomatic relations with the West — one area where he has made tangible progress.

    The US greatly upgraded its relations with Iran last year. A phone call between Rouhani and President Barack Obama represented the first time US and Iranian leaders had spoken since the 1979 Iranian revolution. Obama and Rouhani discussed Iran's nuclear program.

    Iran and Western nations haven't reached a deal yet on Iran's nuclear program. The talks have been extended into next year.

    iran talks kerryMeanwhile, the foreign arm of the IRGC has been running the Assad regime's campaign against secular and Islamist rebels in Syria. The Iran-backed government in Damascus continues to rain barrel bombs on civilian areas while Al Qaeda's Syrian affiliate routs US-backed rebels, ISIS runs a self-declared caliphate, and Tehran sends fighters from multiple countries to bolster Assad.

    The IRGC has also co-opted the government in neighboring Iraq, where Shia militias — some of them backed by Iran — are using the fight against the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) to burn Sunni communities to the ground. Iran is also running Baghdad's air war.

    "The United States is not the first player in Iraq. Iran is the first player in Iraq. They think Sunni fighters will be like militias for the Sunnis," Najim al Jabouri, a retired Iraqi army general who is now a fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, told Jonathan Landay of McClatchy last month. "I think Iran is working very hard to stop the United States' strategy in Iraq."

    Now that Rouhani's own budget reflects the power of the IRGC, Ottolenghi and Ghasseminejad note that the people "in the West, and inside the country, who had entertained illusions of reform will be disappointed."

    SEE ALSO: Iran's Military Mastermind Is 'The Leader Of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, And Yemen'

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  • HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: See The Presidents' Christmas Cards From Coolidge To Obama

    Obama 2011 WHCards

    During the holidays, it seems that everyone sends and receives greeting cards.

    Presidents are no exception. 

    For more than 80 years, sitting US Presidents have sent out Christmas cards and holiday greetings cards to staff and important supporters across the country. Who gets the cards changes from year to year, but each card is unique.

    With the help of the White House Historical Association, we have pulled together 64 White House holiday cards from the past 88 years. Happy holidays!

    Calvin Coolidge, 1927



    Herbert Hoover, 1929



    Herbert Hoover, 1932



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  • Stop Saying North Korea Didn't Hack Sony

    kim jong un

    At this point, anyone who doubts that North Korea helped hack Sony is disagreeing with several top cybersecurity firms and the US intelligence community.

    Nevertheless, many smart people are highly skeptical that a tinpot dictatorship with almost no internet connectivity could compromise an American-based subsidiary of a multinational corporation.

    The prevailing alternative theories — detailed by oft-cited security researcher Bruce Schneier — include that independent North Korean nationals hacked Sony, that a Sony insider ("Sony's Snowden") did it on their own, or that hacktivist pranksters did it for the lulz (ie, for a good bit of sadistic fun).

    While all are possibilities, there is no conclusive evidence corroborating any of these theories.

    On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence suggesting North Korean involvement.

    What We Know

    On Nov. 24, computer screens of Sony employees flashed a warning indicating the company's computer systems had been compromised and data had been stolen.

    Sony's systems were subsequently crippled. A unknown group calling itself GOP claimed credit for the hack.

    GOP sony hack Over the next few weeks, all hell broke loose in the entertainment world. Hackers dumped information online and news organizations scrambled to cover every possible angle. Threats of violence against movie theaters led to Sony canceling the Dec. 25 theatrical release of "The Interview," a film in which Seth Rogen and James Franco play talk show hosts enlisted by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

    (Sony backpedaled by offering the film to independent theaters, and the movie will now be distributed via YouTube.)

    American officials concluded that North Korea was “centrally involved,” and intelligence officials told The New York Times that the US intelligence community "concluded that the cyberattack was both state-sponsored and far more destructive than any seen before on American soil."

    The FBI's public assessment, undertaken with assistance from other intelligence services such as the NSA, cited technical analysis of the code and overlap of techniques used in previous attacks of this kind.

    Immediately after the attack, cybersecurity experts began looking at the code and techniques involved in the breach. Kaspersky Lab and other cyber security firms found that the malware involved in the Sony incident is capable of wiping disk drives and other data. Kaspersky dubbed the malware "Destover," noting that similar malware had been used in previous attacks.

    Computer researcher Kurt Baumgartner, drawing on Kaspersky's initial investigation, detailed how the Destover malware used in the Sony hack looks a lot like two previous "wiper" attacks: One called "Shamoon," which targeted 30,000 Saudi Aramco workstations in 2012, and another called "Dark Seoul," which targeted South Korean banks and two of the country's top broadcasters the following year.

    Mystery_3Furthermore, Kaspersky notes that the defacement placed on Sony employee computers is similar to the warning message in the "Dark Seoul" attack, even down to the skull icons.

    An assessment by HP published on Dec. 19 detailed how "several factors support that North Korea played a role in the attacks."

    HP noted that "it is difficult to discern whether the regime acted alone. It is plausible that the actors responsible for this attack relied on the assistance of an insider."

    Jason Lancaster, senior threat intelligence analyst at HP, noted to Business Insider that "the system that was used by the author of the malware use in the Sony case was compiled on a windows system with a Korean language set, specifying its keyboard. ... So the keyboard for the system that was used to compile this malware ... was done in the same way as other malware associated to it."

    Investigative journalists at Krebs on Security noted that like DarkSeoul, "the Destover wiper executables were compiled somewhere between 48 hours prior to the attack and the actual day of attack."

    And CrowdStrike, a security firm that focuses heavily on identifying attribution and actors behind major cybercrime attacks, had independently concluded that North Korea orchestrated the hack before the FBI officially blamed Pyongyang.

    “We have a high-confidence that this is a North Korean operator based on the profiles seen dating back to 2006, including prior espionage against the South Korean and US government and military institutions,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, chief technology officer and co-founder at CrowdStrike.

    “These events are all connected, through both the infrastructure overlap and the malware analysis, and they are connected to the Sony attack,” Alperovitch added. “We haven’t seen the skeptics produce any evidence that it wasn’t North Korea, because there is pretty good technical attribution here.”

    Despite these assertions from experts and officials in the know, the frank skepticism persists:

    "I worry that this case echoes the 'we have evidence — trust us' story that the Bush administration told in the run-up to the Iraq invasion," Schneier writes.

    As skeptics come to terms with the evidence pointing to North Korea, which may have had help from other groups, statements like these will not age well.

    Armin Rosen contributed to this report.

    SEE ALSO: Here's North Korea's Over-The-Top Official Statement On The Sony Hack

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  • President Obama Made One Of History's Greatest Stock Market Calls In March 2009

    obama new york stock exchange traders

    US presidents don't usually talk about stocks.

    But when they do, everyone listens. Because, who wouldn't love to remind everyone that the President of the United States, like us, is terrible at making stock market calls.

    However, it turns out that President Barack Obama made one of the most perfectly timed market calls in the history of market calls.

    In a July note to clients, Goldman Sachs' David Kostin remembers that time Obama talked about stocks. From the note:

    Some investors may remember Obama’s previous equity valuation comment from March 3, 2009 when the S&P 500 traded at 696: ”On the other hand, what you're now seeing is profit and earnings ratios are starting to get to the point where buying stocks is a potentially good deal if you've got a long-term perspective on it.” Since his observation, the S&P 500 has soared by 185% and this week reached a new all-time high of 1988.

    March 3 was six days before the S&P 500 hit an intraday low of 666. This was a time when naysayers were saying Obama's radicalism was killing the stock market.

    On Tuesday, the S&P closed at a record 2,082. That's a solid 200% gain in a little under 6 years.

    That was a pretty extraordinary call.

    obama stocks

    So, what now?

    Unfortunately, we don't pay Obama to advise on the tactical asset allocation decisions for our investment portfolios.

    He did, however, offer some long-term wisdom during a July interview with CNBC's Steve Liesman.

    “My estimation is you've got a lot of savvy investors out there," he said. "You got people who recognize that what goes up can come down as well. I'll leave it up to them to make determinations about whether valuations and stock prices are too high. I'm more concerned about the day-to-day fundamentals. And if we get those fundamentals right, then I'm pretty confident that we can do very well in the next decade.”

    SEE ALSO: Ex-White House Press Secretary Jay Carney Was Right About The Russian Stock Market

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  • Putin's Extraordinary Path From Soviet Slums To The World's Stage

    putin china first lady

    Vladimir Putin may be the wild card in world affairs right now, but he didn't gain that influence overnight.

    The Russian President's ascension to power is filled with spies, armed conflicts, oligarchs, oil and (of course) judo.

    So here's how a onetime "nobody" climbed up the ranks to become the "World's Most Powerful Person."

    Vladimir Putin was born in Leningrad on Oct. 7, 1952.

    Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is the only child of a decorated war veteran and factory worker in the slums of Leningrad. He grew up in a Soviet Union styled communal apartment with two other families — as was typical at the time.

    Source: Encyclopedia, TIME



    As a teen Putin worked at his school's radio station, where he reportedly played music by the Beatles and other Western rock bands.

    The photographer Platon — who took Putin's infamous Time Magazine cover in 2007 — said that Paul is Putin's favorite Beatle, and "Yesterday" is his favorite song.

    However, "by [Putin's] own account, his favorite songs are Soviet standards, not Western rock. He has been deeply conservative his whole life," Karen Dawisha wrote in her new book, "Putin's Kleptocracy." 

    Source: Encyclopedia



    Early on in life, Putin got into judo. He was his university's judo champion in 1974.

    Former deputy finance minister and first deputy chairman of the Central Bank Sergey Alaksashenko believes that Putin's love of judo says something about his foreign policy.

    "Unlike chess, a judo fighter should not wait for the opponent's move. His strategy is to wait until he gets a chance to execute a single quick move — and then take a step back. Successful judo fighters must anticipate their opponents' actions, make a decisive, preemptive move and try to disable them," he wrote in the Moscow Times.

    Source: Encyclopedia



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  • The 10 Most Important Things In The World Right Now

    FloodHello! It's Christmas Eve. But first, here's what you need to know.

    1. Sony Pictures has reversed its decision to pull "The Interview" from all theatres and said the film will now play in more than 200 cinemas around the US on Christmas Day, a move that was praised by the White House.

    2. Standard & Poor's said there's at least a 50% chance that Russia's credit rating will be lowered below investment grade, also known as junk, within 90 days.

    3. South Korean officials charged Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and the head of its domestic partner with illegally operating rental cars as taxis, Bloomberg reports.

    4. Former US President George H. W. Bush was admitted to a Texas hospital Tuesday night suffering shortness of breath.

    5. Coca-Cola is reportedly planning to cut as many as 2,000 jobs globally in the coming weeks, in addition to getting rid of executive perks and holiday parties, as part of a plan to save $3 billion in its annual budget.

    6.The Navy SEAL who says he shot Osama Bin Laden, 38-year-old Robert O'Neill, is reportedly under investigation for leaking secrets.

    7. Australian police arrested two men in Sydney on Wednesday, with one allegedly in possession of documents connected to a planned terrorist attack on government targets.

    8. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was reelected by parliament on Wednesday, paving the way for him to launch a new cabinet with a new defence minister.

    9. The United Nations' disaster chief has warned of more natural catastrophes in the coming decades.

    10. At least 100 people were stranded by floods at a resort in a Malaysian national park, which is experiencing its heaviest rainfall in more than four decades.

    And finally ... 

    An Italian circus is in trouble for disguising chow chow puppies as pandas by dying them black and white.

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  • 10 Things You Need Know In Markets Today

    Coke

    Good morning! Here's what you need to know.

    The Dow Tops 18,000. The Dow rose above 18,o00 for the first time ever on Tuesday after data showed the US economy grew at its fastest rate in more than a decade for the third quarter. 

    Traders Smell Trouble Ahead. "The series of short-term rallies and selloffs has revived memories of events before the 'Black Monday' crash of October, 1987, and more recently the global crisis of the past decade," Reuters warns. Larry McDonald, senior director and head of U.S. strategy at Newedge in New York added: "Our systemic risk indicators are showing a very high scoring in terms of risk. I think we are anywhere from two to eight weeks away from the big one – a fall of 10% or more."

    Sony Will Release "The Interview" After All. The controversial film will show in more than 200 independent theatres across the United States

    Britain's Recovery Hits A Bump. The Financial Times said it's unlikely that the UK economy will grow by 3% overall in 2014, after figures published on Tuesday showed GDP growth was slower then expected, falling from an original estimate fo 3% to 2.6% in the third quarter.

    Uber CEO Indicted In South Korea. "South Korean prosecutors have indicted the local subsidiary of U.S. taxi-hailing service provider Uber and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick for violating a law governing public transport," Reuters said.

    Lukoil Sells Its Stake In Venezuela Project To Rosneft. Russia's second-largest oil producer said on Monday that it had sold its 20% share in a major project developing oil in the Orinoco basin to state-controlled oil company Rosneft. Lukoil wants to focus on other projects, Reuters said.

    Coca-Cola Is Axing Thousands Of Jobs. The beverage giant reportedly plans to cut up to 2,000 jobs globally in the coming weeks as part of a plan to shave $3 billion off its annual budget.

    Iron Ore Is Set For Another Rough Year. Morgan Stanley analysts have cut their long-term price target for the metal to $70 a tonne amid increased Australian production and weaker Chinese demand. The prediction also carries bad news for smaller producers. "Many of the mining operations that emerged over the past decade are unviable at current prices. The most exposed of these include low-grade iron ore operations in Hebei province, northeast China; and small operations in Australia and Brazil," analysts said. 

    Asian Markets Closed Up. Japan's Nikkei closed up 1.24%. The Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed up 0.07%.

    US Markets. The US stock markets will close at 6 p.m. GMT (1:00 p.m. ET) on Wednesday and they will be closed all day Thursday.

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  • Obama Applauds Sony's Decision To Release 'The Interview'

    obama clapping

    Last Friday, President Obama criticized Sony in a press conference for pulling "The Interview" from theaters after threats from hackers.

    Obama said Sony "made a mistake," explaining, "I wish [Sony] had spoken to me first. I would have told them do not get into a pattern where you're intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks."

    the interview movie poster

    Despite Sony CEO Michael Lynton disputing the president's comments, many industry insiders argued that Obama's strongly-worded remarks would ultimately force the studio to release the controversial film one way or another.

    By Tuesday, Sony announced that "The Interview" would get its Christmas Day release after all, showing in more than 200 independent theaters across the country.

    The White House was very happy with Sony's decision, and released the below statement:

    The president applauds Sony’s decision to authorize screenings of the film. As the president made clear, we’re a country that believes in free speech and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film and we welcome that outcome.

    "The Interview" stars Seth Rogen and James Franco were also thrilled by the news:

    Seth Rogen and James Franco star in "The Interview," about two journalists recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The Pyongyang government denounced the film as "undisguised sponsoring of terrorism, as well as an act of war" in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon back in June.

    Since then, a group of hackers calling themselves "Guardians of Peace" hit Sony Pictures Entertainment with an unprecedented and devastating series of cyber attackswhich led to the release of thousands of sensitive emails of Sony executives and threats that the hackers would release more if the film's release wasn't canceled.

    SEE ALSO: Here Are All The Theaters Showing 'The Interview' Christmas Day

    MORE: Obama May Have Forced Sony To Release 'The Interview'

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  • Former President George H.W. Bush Hospitalized In Texas

    george h.w. bushFormer 41st US President George H.W. Bush, 90, was hospitalized in HoustonTexas, late on Tuesday after experiencing shortness of breath, a spokesman said in a statement.

    On Tuesday evening, the former president "was taken by ambulance to the Houston Methodist Hospital as a precaution," according to his spokesman, Jim McGrath. Bush "will be held for observation, again as a precaution," McGrath said in a statement.

    bush and bush h.w.Bush's latest health scare comes two years after he was struck by illness during the 2012 holiday season and ended up spending seven weeks in a Houston hospital for bronchitis and related ailments. 

    The former president grew so ill during his previous hospitalization that he was believed at one point to be near death. He recovered and was discharged in mid-January of 2013.

    Bush, who suffers from Parkinson's disease, cannot use his legs, but celebrated his 90th birthday by skydiving in Kennebunkport, Maine with the Army's Golden Knight parachute team.

    bush skydiveWhite House spokesman Eric Schultz released a statement late Tuesday saying that President Barack Obama was made aware of Bush's hospitalization. "President Obama and the First Lady send their good wishes to the former President and the entire Bush family during this holiday season," Schultz said.

     

    (Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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  • The Wildest Story In The Republican Party Right Now

    Michael Grimm

    By January 2016, the last Republican congressional seat in New York City may very well be occupied by an admitted tax fraudster, a district attorney at the center of the nationwide controversy over alleged police brutality, or one of the GOP's most promising rising stars.

    One thing's for certain, it's going to be one of the next year's best political storylines to watch. 

    On Tuesday, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-New York) pleaded guilty to tax fraud charges stemming from a Manhattan health food restaurant he co-owned from 2007-2010. Grimm, whose district includes Staten Island and parts of Brooklyn, could face jail time. 

    This sets up an intriguing scenario. Democrats have called for Grimm's resignation and, with another federal investigation into his campaign finances looming in the background, GOP House leadership may decide to push him out to avoid tarnishing their "new American Congress."

    If Grimm is expelled, it would set the stage for an election featuring a fascinating selection of Republican candidates — the "rising star," Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R), and the embattled prosecutor, Dan Donovan. And, naturally, with a scandal damaging the GOP incumbent, Democrats are drooling over the prospect of picking up the seat. 

    Grimm doesn't seem likely to walk away without a fight. After making his guilty plea, Grimm, who is infamous for his temper, indicated he has no plans to resign.

    Still, the decision may not be Grimm's to make.

    A local GOP insider noted House Speaker John Boehner may decide he "can't have it," because Grimm is a black mark on the Republican brand.

    "Even though he's the only representative in the city with their majority, it becomes a cost benefit analysis and they might cut him loose," the insider said in a phone conversation Tuesday. 

    New York election law expert Jerry Goldfeder of the Stroock law firm told Business Insider that House Republican leadership could expel Grimm. They also have several options to put pressure on him. 

    "They could strip him of his seniority, committee memberships, etc.," Goldfeder explained in an email. 

    In spite of Grimm's aggressive personality, the Republican insider suggested Grimm would give in and resign himself in the face of opposition from GOP leaders. They speculated he might prefer to make his own resignation and avoid the embarrassment that would come with an expulsion or other punishments.

    "I think there's a distinct possibility the pressure becomes too much from national Republicans and they force him out," the insider said. 

    According to Goldfeder, Grimm, who will be sentenced on June 8, could technically still remain in the House if he is sent to jail. However, Goldfeder predicted Grimm would almost surely be ousted if his sentence includes jail time.

    "As a practical matter, if he gets jail and refuses to resign they will undoubtedly expel him," wrote Goldfeder. 

    So far, Republican House Speaker John Boehner hasn't hinted at how he plans to deal with Grimm. On Tuesday morning, Boehner's spokesman, Michael Steel, released a statement indicating the speaker would need to speak with Grimm before making any decision public. 

    Grimm did not talk with Boehner by the end of the day.

    A Democrat in the district told Business Insider they doubt Grimm will leave office on his own. Still, they suggested the guilty plea would kill his chances of being re-elected in 2016.

    "In my experience with this guy, he's a narcissistic sociopath. He's not going anywhere unless he's forced to," said the Democrat. "That being said, he's got a short shelf life no matter what."

    If Grimm leaves his seat before his term ends at the end of 2016, there will be a special election to replace him where local leaders from each party pick the candidates.

    Business Insider spoke to a slew of local political insiders and observers to see who is likely to be on the ballot — either in an early special election or in a 2016 race against a scandal-scarred Grimm.

    Nicole MalliotakisAll of them identified the same two names as the most likely entrants on the Republican side – Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R) and Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan.

    Several sources have said in recent months that they believe Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R) is the top candidate to replace Grimm. Malliotakis, a telegenic 34-year-old, has been recognized as a "rising star" by national conservative groups and media outlets

    "Right now, we're thinking that the smart money is probably on Assemblywoman Malliotakis," a knowledgeable Republican source said when asked about possible successors for Grimm on Tuesday. "She's someone who certainly would outgrow the Assembly in time."

    However, while Malliotakis might be able to win the district in 2016, she might not be the local GOP's first choice if Grimm is ousted and there is a special election. Three separate sources who spoke to Business Insider on Tuesday indicated Malliotakis has a terrible relationship with Staten Island's Richmond County Republican Committee. 

    "They cannot stand her," the Democrat said.

    They went on to explain some of the reasons for the bad blood between Malliotakis and the local Republican Party.

    "She's her own worst enemy because, one, she's not a team player. Two, she takes credit for other peoples' work, which is a cardinal sin in this business, and she's transparent in her ambitions," the Democrat said. "She's done nothing to endear herself to them."

    The GOP insider echoed this assessment and added Malliotakis hasn't gotten along with state Republican officials.

    "Clearly she wants it," said the insider. "She's got unending ambition, but she hasn't played well in Albany or locally."

    Malliotakis reportedly discussed a potential run for the seat with donors and the National Republican Congressional Committee after Grimm was first indicted in April. At the time, Malliotakis said she remained "focused" on her current position. However, she did not deny she was laying groundwork for a campaign. Malliotakis did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider on Tuesday.

    Dan DonovanAlong with Malliotakis, Donovan seems to be one of the leading options Republicans have to replace Grimm – and sources said he would be far likelier to be the local party's first choice for a special election.

    The GOP insider said he would "have the immediate support" of the local party and "all the elected officials on Staten Island" if he wanted to run to succeed Grimm. According to the Democrat in the district, Donovan would be a "perfect" choice for Republicans if they want to hold on to Grimm's seat. 

    "If he wants it, it's his," they said.

    Donovan has found himself at the center of a national controversy in recent months. As district attorney, Donovan is the prosecutor who did not secure a grand jury indictment against a police officer who was videotaped putting an unarmed African American man, Eric Garner, in a chokehold in August.

    Garner, who was being arrested for selling untaxed cigarettes, died while being taken into custody. Protests erupted around the country after the grand jury's decision not to indict was announced earlier this month and Donovan's handling of the case has been criticized. He has attempted to defend himself by arguing he cannot discuss the case in detail due to confidentiality laws surrounding grand jury proceedings.

    The GOP insider acknowledged Donovan has "taken a hit on Garner," though they described this as unfair "because he can't tell you what happened in the grand jury."

    Garner Police Protests While they admitted the case hurt Donovan somewhat, the insider predicted his role in it might actually improve Donovan's standing among Staten Island's conservative base. They suggested this phenomenon could be amplified by the fact the killing of two NYPD officers on Saturday by a gunman who expressed sympathy with those who protested the grand jury decision caused the "pro cop" sentiment on Staten Island to increase.

    "The righteous anger in the majority of Staten Island is pro cop," said the insider. "It is boiling over and the anger is in the pro cop community, it's in Danny's base."

    They also noted black voters on Staten Island have historically low turnout and don't "come out en masse in non-presidential years."

    Grimm gave the Republicans a third straight win in the district when he won his re-election race this year by a wide margin. Despite this streak, Democrats still have their eye on the seat. In fact, it was one of their top priorities this year

    Several sources also identified two candidates, Michael McMahon and Assemblyman Michael Cusick (D), when Business Insider asked which Democrats might run for Grimm's seat — either in 2016 or a special election. And despite the recent spate of GOP victories in the district, local politicos said neither Democrat should be counted out. 

    The GOP insider described Cusick as "universally the most liked" Democrat on the island.

    "He's just a good guy," they said. "He's the guy who always wanted this seat." 

    The Democrat agreed Cusick has had his eye on Grimm's job "forever" and suggested the only question is whether he thought the timing was right. 

    A major factor in whether Cusick decides to make a run for the seat will be whether McMahon also enters the fray. McMahon previously represented the district for one term before being defeated by Grimm amid the Tea Party wave in the 2010 midterm elections.

    The Democrat said McMahon has "not made any secret of the fact that he is interested" in running for his old office. And the GOP insider said they think McMahon would be "the last person standing" if party leaders were left with a choice between him and Cusick as he would give Democrats "their best chance of winning."

    Neither McMahon or Cusick responded to requests for comment from Business Insider on Tuesday. 

    The GOP insider predicted McMahon could outmaneuver Cusick in an internal struggle, but they also questioned whether he would  throw his hat into the ring. According to the insider, McMahon, who was criticized by some in his own party for his handling of the race against Grimm, might not want to try again "particularly if it's against Danny Donovan."

    "McMahon/Donovan, that's a doozy," they said. "That's a heavyweight fight."

    As of now, Grimm is scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 6. 

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  • The Navy Seal Who Says He Shot Bin Laden Is Reportedly Now Under Investigation

    rob oneill navy seal

    The Navy Seal who revealed himself as the man who shot Osama bin Laden is being investigated by military police for leaking secrets, according to reports.

    Robert O’Neill, 38, who unveiled himself as the member of the Seal Tea Six team who killed the terror leader in a 2011 raid, is accused of revealing classified details of the raid, prompting a probe by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS)

    Depending on the outcome of the investigation, he could face criminal charges from the elite federal bureau, according to the Daily Beast.

    Mr O’Neill faced a backlash from former comrades angered both by his disputed version of events inside the al-Qaeda chief’s Pakistan compound in March 2011 and his decision to go public.

    In a letter to serving members of the Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Teams, commonly known as Seals, Rear Admiral Brian Losey, Commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC), and Force Master Chief Michael Magaraci suggested they should consider themselves “quiet professionals” who do not seek glory for missions.

    Mr O’Neill, of Butte, Montana, served more than a dozen tours of duty in active combat, including Iraq and Afghanistan, undertaking 400 separate combat missions.

    For his service he has been decorated 52 times, up to the level of senior chief petty officer before he left. He was awarded two Silver Stars - the military's third highest honor - as well as four Bronze Stars with Valor.

    He was the lead jumper on the Maersk Alabama, the ship taken over by Somali pirates, whose rescue turned into the Oscar-winning movie Captain Phillips.

    It has been reported that his decision to speak out was prompted by losing some of his military benefits by quitting the als after 16 years rather than completing a full 20 years of service.

    rob oneill fox news

    However, fellow Seals have questioned Mr O'Neill's story and there are now three different versions circulating of who delivered the fatal shot that took down America’s public enemy number one during the raid conducted by more than 20 commandos moving rapidly through the hide-out in darkness wearing night-vision goggles.

    Mr O'Neill is now the second Seal of the 23 involved in the raid to make his identity public.

    Fellow Seal Matt Bissonnette has also claimed to be the man who fired the fatal shot, and wrote a book about his exploits.

    Mr Bissonnette is already under investigation for revealing technical aspects of special operations in his book, No Easy Day, which he did not run past military censors before publication.

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  • South Korean Columnist: U.S. Shouldn't Ratchet Tension Up Over 'One Low-Class Comedy Film'

    the interview james francoWhile North Korea has denied its involvement, the U.S. government has accused the reclusive country as the force behind the recent Sony hack. President Barack Obama said in a press conference that the U.S. will “respond proportionately,” escalating tension between the two countries.

    During this whole debacle, the South Korean press has largely remained mum, only offering basic coverage on what’s been said in the U.S. media. The prevailing theory is that South Koreans see the Sony hack as an American problem rather than something directly affecting them. 

    But after things seemed to get a little out of hand over the weekend — like when people floated the possibility of putting North Korea back on the list of countries sponsoring terrorism — the South Korean press has been chiming in.

    One of the more controversial columns came from Bae Myung Bok of Joongang Ilbo, who wrote, “The worst comedy would be North Korea and the U.S. taking tension to the extreme over one low-class comedy film.”

    He added, “What the U.S. needs now is the ability to calm down and keep its presence of mind — and wisely solve the issue, like any superpower would do.”

    His basic premise is that the U.S. is accusing North Korea based on circumstantial evidence. He points out there hasn’t been a single mention of “evidence” in the FBI statement (it only says it has enough “information”). In fact, he says this is the first time the U.S. has actually named a country in a state-sponsored cyber attack. 

    This isn’t the first time we've heard this argument. Some U.S. publications like the Foreign Policy and Huffington Post wrote similar columns, while many security experts have argued it’s hard to conclude North Korea as the definitive perpetrator of the Sony hacks yet. 

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  • It's Alarmingly Easy To Take North Korea's Internet Offline

    Kim Jung Un North Korea Computers

    The Sony hacking saga took an even stranger turn yesterday when North Korea lost internet access for roughly 9 1/2 hours. The cause of the outage can't be conclusively determined.

    But it appears likely that the country's paltry web infrastructure — which consists of a mere four networks and just over 1,000 IP addresses — was the target of a distributed denial of service attack (DDOS) conceivably motivated in some way by the events surrounding last month's Sony breach and the controversy surrounding The Interview.

    The North Korean outage was both an utterly empty gesture and evidence of how nearly anyone can spark a potential international incident if sufficiently motivated to do so.

    There are few countries where the internet is less embedded in daily life than North Korea, where web access is severely curtailed and internet outages have almost no practical impact on the vast majority of the population. And the country's network is so underdeveloped, and so unprotected, that any actor capable of launching a moderately-sized DDOS attack could potentially take it down.  

    "The pool of people who could do this is prohibitively large," Doug Madory, the director of internet analysis at Dyn Research and the analyst who first spotted the outage, told Business Insider when asked to speculate as to who could be responsible. While cautioning that the cause of outage still isn't known, Madory says that the "the set of actors, nation states, hacker groups or just angst-ridden teenagers that know maybe too much about computers" is incredibly vast, and would even include people without the technical know-how to attack North Korea on their own.

    "It's a commoditized service," Madory said of DDOS attack capabilities. "It could be someone with no skills and just a credit card who knows how to purchase this service and direct it at an external router interface of North Korea."

    Madory speculates that North Korea's entire internet infrastructure handles about as much volume as a mid-sized office in the United States. The trouble is that a country with nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and a standing army of around 700,000 personnel is probably much easier to take offline than the average American retail chain.

    North Korea at nightThe US State Department's pointed refusal to deny responsibility for the outage shows how even a technically simple hack can take on global significance when nation states are involved. An unsophisticated DDOS attack — one that wasn't even waged by the US, in all likelihood — was almost immediately framed as part of a larger geopolitical faceoff between the US and North Korea. 

    The reality is much more mundane. North Korea's web infrastructure is small and highly vulnerable. 

    Dyn Research North Korea graphNorth Korea's connection to the global internet comes entirely through China Unicom, a state-owned telecom giant based in neighboring China. If the outage was the result of a DDOS attack, China Unicom would have seen it unfold in real time and might even have information that would help identify the culprits. Both the company and its state owner have remained silent. 

    The entirety of North Korea's global web traffic is directed through China Unicom routers in Shenyang, an industrial city about 110 miles west of the North Korean border. 

    "It doesn't seem like there's not a lot of diversity in the physical path going between China and North Korea," Madory explained. 

    There's only one route, at least speaking in more figurative, networking terms. "When you look at their autonomous system, there's a single peer and a single path to the Internet," Jason Lancaster, a senior threat analyst at Hewitt-Packard, explained to Business Insider. An autonomous system is a meta-network usually under the management of a single entity or authority. The AS is one of the broader internet's principle units of organization.

    The entirety of web traffic in North Korea falls under a single AS, which communicates with only one other AS that belongs to China Unicom.  "That link logically is a single path," Lancaster told Business Insider.

    That doesn't mean that it's physically a single cable or just one room of routers or servers: it isn't publicly known how many fiber-optic cables run under the Chinese-Korean border. There's circumstantial evidence to suggest the link isn't built to handle a high volume of traffic, suggesting a limited physical as well infrastructure.

    But that makes sense, because North Korea's web presence is very small. AS131279, the AS covering North Korea's connection to the global web, is the 29,517th largest in the world by number of IP addresses hosted. It hosts 1,024 IP addresses, 4 networks, 18 domains — and, tantalizingly, a single adult domain.

    To get an idea of just how small North Korea's internet is, compare the activity on North Korea's AS to the China Unicom "backbone" AS with which it's linked

    The country's internet connection isn't just paltry. It's also poorly secured. "We have not observed any sort of advanced controls in place," says Lancaster, "and previously when there's been attacks or outages and these sorts of things they weren't particularly well-managed."

    This chart from Dyn Research shows that North Korea is far from the only country vulnerable to an attack that could knock the country off ot he internet for some period of time. The map organizes countries "according to the Internet diversity at the international frontier," with the darker-shaded countries depending on fewer connections to the global web, as of November of 2012. 

    Screen Shot 2014 12 23 at 5.17.48 PM
    As the map suggests, we may be in an era where an unaccountably vast range of individuals and groups can wage a successful and anonymous attack on a country's vital infrastructure with relatively little trouble.

    And one of those countries has proven a willingness to mount provocative attacks against US-based businesses — and to possess an illicit nuclear arsenal as well. Yesterday's outage shows that it's perilously easy to take a belligerent rouge-state offline, another troublesome variable in the cyber-standoff unfolding across the Pacific. 

    SEE ALSO: Look at how bizarre North Korea's internet is

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