News & Current Affairs

December 30, 2008

US consumer confidence plummets

US consumer confidence plummets

Shoppers at a J C Penney store

US consumers are increasingly gloomy about economic prospects

US consumer confidence has unexpectedly dropped to a record low in December, in the face of the US economic slowdown and continuing job cuts.

The index fell to 38, from November’s revised 44.7 figure, though it had been expected to rise.

The dismal job market appears to have outweighed falling oil prices in consumers’ minds, analysts said.

Meanwhile, October house prices in 20 US cities fell by a record yearly rate, according to a key home price survey.

Falling confidence

According to the Conference Board, those respondents saying jobs were “hard to get” rose to 42% in December – up from 37.1% in November, while those claiming jobs were “plentiful” dropped to 6.2% from 8.7%.

The proportion of consumers anticipating an increase in their incomes decreased to 12.7% in December from 13.1% in November.

And those claiming business conditions were “bad” increased to 46% in December from 40.6% in November, while those saying business conditions were “good” declined to 7.7% from 10.1%.

The survey is based on a representative sample of 5,000 US households.

Separately, house prices in 20 US cities fell by a record annual rate of 18.04% in October, according to the The S&P/Case-Shiller home price survey.

Record falls

The index shows that prices of homes is continuing to fall across the US with many areas showing record price falls.

David Blitzer, of Standard & Poor’s said that “home prices are back to their March 2004 levels”.

October’s annual fall was more than had been expected by analysts, who had been predicting a 17% drop.

The city which showed the biggest price-fall was Phoenix, where home prices plunged 32.6% in the year to October – followed by Las Vegas, which was down 31.7% and San Francisco, down 31%.

Overall, house prices for the 20 metropolitan areas in the survey fell 18.04% in the year to October, the largest drop since its inception in 2000.

The annual fall in prices for the top 10 metropolitan areas was 19.06%, its biggest decline in its 21-year history.

Both indices have now recorded annual declines for 22 consecutive months.

Prices in the 20-city index have dropped more than 23% since their peak in July 2006, while the 10-city index has fallen 25% since its peak in June 2006.

None of the 20 cities saw annual price gains in October – for the seventh consecutive month.

‘Decline slowing’

Wall Street’s reaction to this latest housing survey was initially muted, as November figures on the depressed state of the housing market have already been published.

Last week, figures from the Commerce Department showed that sales of new homes in the US had slowed to their lowest level in 17 years in November, while new home prices had dropped by the biggest amount in eight months.

Tim Ghriskey of Solaris Asset Management in Bedford Hills, said this survey was “pretty much right in line with expectations but very depressed”.

“There are signs we believe that the decline in housing prices is slowing and we’re in a bottoming process but clearly this does show that housing prices continue to decline significantly,” he said.

The US housing market is in the worst downturn since the Great Depression as a huge supply of unsold homes, the credit squeeze and record mortgage foreclosures has pushed down home prices.

Economists believe the market will not begin to recover until home prices fall far enough to stimulate demand, which has dropped off precipitously.

Advertisements

October 4, 2008

OJ Simpson convicted of robbery

OJ Simpson convicted of robbery

OJ Simpson has been found guilty on 12 charges of armed robbery, conspiracy to kidnap and assault with a deadly weapon by a court in the US city of Las Vegas.

The former US football star and actor was accused of robbing two sports memorabilia dealers a year ago.

The armed robbery charges carry a mandatory jail sentence, and kidnapping carries a possible life term.

Simpson, 61, who denied the charges, was acquitted of murder in 1995 in what was dubbed “the trial of the century”.

CHARGES AGAINST OJ SIMPSON
Conspiracy to commit a crime: guilty
Conspiracy to kidnap: guilty
Two counts of first degree kidnapping: guilty
Burglary in possession of a deadly weapon: guilty
Two counts of armed robbery: guilty
Two counts of assault with a deadly weapon: guilty
Two counts of coercion with use of a deadly weapon: guilty

The charges in the latest trial centred on an incident in the Palace Station hotel in Las Vegas in September 2007.

Simpson was accused – and convicted – of kidnapping two sports memorabilia dealers and holding them in the hotel.

The former National Football League running back seized the pair in an attempt to reclaim items in their possession related to his sporting career, which Simpson claimed still belonged to him.

Handcuffed

Asked by reporters on his way into court for the latest verdict, which was read late on Friday night local time, Simpson said he was prepared for the judgement.

“You gotta be ready,” the former Buffalo Bills star running back told journalists.

OJ Simpson in 2006

Inside the court both Simpson and his accomplice, Clarence Steward, were found guilty on all charges by the Las Vegas jury.

Simpson blew out his cheeks and nodded as the verdicts were read out.

He was then led away with his hands cuffed by police. He will be sentenced in December.

The judge refused to grant him bail pending sentencing.

In his previous trial, Simpson was accused of murdering his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.

The not-guilty verdict came 13 years to the day before his conviction in Las Vegas, and shocked many in America.

Mr Simpson was later found liable for the deaths in a civil case and ordered to pay $33.5m (£19m) to Mr Goldman’s family.

August 9, 2008

Clinton says she wants Obama to win White House

Clinton says she wants Obama to win White House

LAS VEGAS – Hillary Rodham Clinton told an exuberant crowd Friday she wants Barack Obama to win the White House, even though he dashed her own presidential dreams — and she wants her supporters to vote that way, too.

“Anyone who voted for me or caucused for me has so much more in common with Sen. Obama than Sen. McCain,” Clinton told her cheering audience in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. “Remember who we were fighting for in my campaign.”

Though she has endorsed her former rival, the speech was Clinton’s first appearance at a rally for Obama since the two appeared together in Unity, N.H., in June.

In another sign of growing detente between the House of Clinton and the House of Obama, Democrats said Bill Clinton would speak on the third night of this month’s national convention in Denver.

The Clinton’s’ efforts on Obama’s behalf may ease worries within the party that bad feelings from the long primary battle might erupt at the convention.

She said Friday that “we may have started on two separate paths, but we are on one journey now.” She said her long primary campaign against the Illinois senator showed her “his passion, his determination, his grace and his grit.”

The crowd let her know they still held her in high regard. They cheered Obama’s name and waved his campaign signs, but no mention of him won as loud a roar as Clinton’s introduction.

Still, she kept her focus on making his case, mentioning key Democratic issues where Obama and McCain would differ — U.S. Supreme Court nominations and health care reform, for example.

She noted Democrats have had difficultly reaching the White House recently and said Obama would need a surge in turnout — and registration — to win in November.

“Which is why Sen. Obama needs all of us, he needs us working for him,” she said.

Some of her backers have complained loudly about the way the only female candidate was treated during the primaries. And Clinton supporters have succeeded in getting language into the draft of the Democratic Party platform that says, “We believe that standing up for our country means standing up against sexism and all intolerance. Demeaning portrayals of women cheapen our debates, dampen the dreams of our daughters and deny us the contributions of too many. Responsibility lies with us all.”

The platform committee will be reviewing the draft Saturday in Pittsburgh.

After weeks of private talks about exactly what the Clintons will do at the national convention, no decision has been reached on whether delegates will actually hold a roll call vote that includes her candidacy.

Such a move could disrupt or distract from the point of the convention — showing a unified party raring to return a Democrat to the White House.

On the other hand, she has suggested that letting her supporters whoop and holler for her might provide a catharsis and help the party move on.

“It’s as old as, you know, Greek drama,” Sen. Clinton told supporters in a recent speech to a private gathering, which was later posted on the Web.

In this particular drama, the Clinton’s insist they are doing everything they can to get her supporters on board with Obama. Any reluctance, she says, is not hers, but comes from those who committed to her historic bid and are still unhappy that she did not prevail.

Clinton did not mention any convention disputes in her remarks Friday. She later told reporters the two campaigns were still in negotiations.

“We’re going to have a very clear message about how the campaign will cooperate and how the convention will be conducted when it’s appropriate to make that announcement,” she said.

Clinton and Obama may be on the same team, but in the past week they seemed to be running in different directions.

In political terms, one candidate’s catharsis is another’s car wreck. Conventions at which the party appears divided can prove disastrous to the nominee’s chances in the general election.

Obama told reporters Thursday he thought the negotiations with Clinton aides had gone “seamlessly,” but he also rejected the notion that there might be a need for emotional release on the part of some Democrats.

“I don’t think we’re looking for catharsis,” said Obama. “I think what we’re looking for is energy and excitement.”

Giving both Clintons big speeches at the convention may help generate excitement, but it also gives them a lot of attention at a gathering that’s supposed to be about the nominee, Obama.

And Bill Clinton in particular has at times seemed grudging in his praise of the man who stopped his wife’s able ascent.

Asked earlier this week if Obama was ready to be president, Clinton gave a philosophical, not political answer.

“You could argue that no one’s ever ready to be president. I mean, I certainly learned a lot about the job in the first year. You could argue that even if you’ve been vice president for eight years that no one can ever be fully ready for the pressures of the office and that everyone learns something, and something different. You could argue that,” Clinton said.

The Clinton’s argued through much of the primary that she, a former first lady, was ready to be president on “Day One,” suggesting Obama was not.

The Obama campaign is pretty tired of that argument, particularly since it has become a key refrain of Republican John McCain.

August 7, 2008

Net address bug worse than feared

Net address bug worse than feared

Courtesy BBC

Computer keyboard, BBC

Attackers could use the loophole to redirect web users to fake sites

A recently found flaw in the internet’s addressing system is worse than first feared, says the man who found it.

Dan Kaminsky made his comments when speaking publicly for the first time about his discovery at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas.

He said fixes for the flaw in the net’s Domain Name System (DNS) had focused on web browsers but it could be abused by hackers in many other ways.

“Every network is at risk,” he said. “That’s what this flaw has shown.”

The DNS acts as the internet’s address books and helps computers translate the website names people prefer (such as bbc.co.uk) into the numbers computers use (212.58.224.131).

Mr Kaminsky discovered a way for malicious hackers to hijack DNS and re-direct people to fake pages even if they typed in the correct address for a website.

In his talk Mr Kaminsky detailed 15 other ways for the flaw to be exploited.

Via the flaw hi-tech criminals or pranksters could target FTP services, mail servers, spam filters, Telnet and the Secure Socket Layer (SSL) that helps to make web-based transactions more secure.

“There are a ton of different paths that lead to doom,” he said.

‘Hype’

But the DNS threat was played down by net giant VeriSign which issues many of the security certificates used in SSL. It told BBC News its system was “not vulnerable”.

The Silicon Valley company looks after two of the net’s 13 DNS root servers. It also controls the computers that contain the master list of domain name suffixes such as .com and .net

Ken Silva, CTO VeriSign

“If there is a silver lining in all of this, it’s that users will become more aware and more consious of who they do business with.”

Ken Silva, chief technology officer at Verisign, said: “We have anticipated these flaws in DNS for many years and we have basically engineered around them.”

He believed there had been “some hype” around how the DNS flaw will affect consumers. He added that while it was an interesting way to exploit DNS on weak servers, there were other ways to misdirect people that remained.

Mr Silva said he was concerned that people would read too much into the doom and gloom headlines that have surrounded the discovery of the DNS flaw.

“It’s been overplayed in a sense. I think it has served to confuse the consumer into believing there is somehow now a way to misdirect them to a wrong site.

“The fact of the matter is that there have been many ways like phishing attacks to misdirect them for a long time and this is just yet another of those ways that will be surgically exploited.”

Security gap

Mr Kaminsky kept news of the flaw out of the public domain for months after its discovery to give companies time to patch servers.

Mr Kaminsky said that 75% of Fortune 500 companies have fixed the problem while around 15% have done nothing.

Major vendors like Microsoft, Cisco, Sun Microsystems and others have issued patches to close the security hole.

“The industry has rallied like we’ve never seen the industry rally before,” said Mr Kaminsky.

Student using laptop, BBC

Computer users need to be educated to surf the superhighway more safely

DNS attacks are not new but Mr Kaminsky is credited with discovering a way to link some widely known weaknesses in the system so that the attack now takes seconds instead of days or hours.

“Quite frankly, all the pieces of this have been staring us in the face for decades,” said Paul Vixie, president of the Internet Systems Consortium, a non-profit that makes the software run by many of the world’s DNS servers.

Mr Silva at VeriSign said even though patches have been put in place, this doesn’t mean users can sit back and relax.

“The biggest gap in security rests between the keyboard and the back of the chair,” he said.

“The look and feel of a website is not what a consumer should trust. They should trust the security behind that website and do simple things like use more secure passwords and change their password regularly.”

Mr Silva said education is fundamental in making the net a safer place.

“We have been trained since we were young to lock the door to our house, our car. We take these sensible security measures in the environment we are functioning in.

“Yet when it comes to computer safety we forget to look both ways before crossing the internet highway.”

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.