- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sony cancels release of “The Interview” after unprecedented attack by N Korea cyberterrorists

NEW YORK (AP) - A U.S. official says North Korea perpetrated an unprecedented act of cyberwarfare against Sony Pictures that exposed tens of thousands of sensitive documents and escalated to threats of terrorist attacks that ultimately drove the studio to cancel all release plans for “The Interview,” the film at the heart of the attack.

Federal investigators have now connected the Sony Pictures hack to the isolated communist nation, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to openly discuss an ongoing criminal case.

Earlier in the day, the besieged company said it was canceling the Christmas Day release of “The Interview.” It cited the threats of violence against movie theaters and decisions by the largest multiplex chains in North America, one after another, to pull the film from its screens.

The attack is unprecedented and possibly the costliest for a U.S. company ever, says Avivah Litan, a cybersecurity analyst at research firm Gartner.

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Historic US-Cuba deal to patch long-broken relations could lead to flow of money and people

WASHINGTON (AP) - After a half-century of Cold War acrimony, the United States and Cuba moved on Wednesday to restore diplomatic relations - a historic shift that could revitalize the flow of money and people across the narrow waters that separate the two nations.

President Barack Obama’s dramatic announcement in Washington - seconded by Cuban President Raul Castro in Havana - was accompanied by a quiet exchange of imprisoned spies and the celebratory release of American Alan Gross, a government contract worker who had been held in Cuba for five years.

The shift in U.S.-Cuba policy was the culmination of 18 months of secret talks between the longtime foes that included a series of meetings in Canada and the personal involvement of Pope Francis at the Vatican. It also marked an extraordinary undertaking by Obama without Congress’ authorization as he charts the waning years of his presidency.

“These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked,” Obama declared at the White House. “It’s time for a new approach.”

Obama spoke as Castro was addressing his nation in Havana, where church bells rang and school teachers paused lessons to mark the news. Castro said that while the U.S. and Cuba remain at odds on many matters, “we should learn the art of living together in a civilized manner in spite of our differences.”

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2 years after telling aides to think big, Obama turns new page with Cuba - much like Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) - Fresh off his 2012 re-election victory, President Barack Obama summoned senior advisers to a series of meetings, asking them to “think big” about a second-term agenda, including the possibilities of new starts with long-standing U.S. foes such as Iran and Cuba. Two years later, after painstaking secret diplomacy on separate but surprisingly similar tracks, efforts with Tehran and Havana are in full swing.

The nuclear negotiations with Iran continue and are far from a guaranteed success. But Wednesday’s announcement that the U.S. and Cuba will normalize relations after more than 50 years of hostility suggests one of the last chapters of the Cold War may be closing.

The U.S. outreach to Cuba started cautiously in 2013 in the early months of Obama’s second term, predicated on the idea that no improvement was possible unless the communist government released American contractor Alan Gross, arrested and imprisoned in Cuba on espionage charges.

In their first conversation after Obama named John Kerry his new secretary of state, the two discussed Gross’ ongoing incarceration in Cuba and their broader dissatisfaction with America’s policy toward the island. Kerry quickly enlisted the assistance of the Vatican, one of the few institutions in the world broadly respected in the U.S. and Cuba. The Roman Catholic Church’s help would prove significant.

Behind the scenes, Obama began putting the wheels of his secret diplomacy in motion, according to senior administration officials. They weren’t authorized to publicly provide a diplomatic timeline and demanded anonymity.

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Cubans cheer Raul Castro’s announcement of renewed relations with United States

HAVANA (AP) - Bells tolled in celebration and teachers halted lessons midday as President Raul Castro told his country Wednesday that Cuba was restoring relations with the United States after more than a half-century of hostility.

Wearing his military uniform with its five-star insignia, the 83-year-old leader said the two countries would work to resolve their differences “without renouncing a single one of our principles.”

Havana residents gathered around television sets in homes, schools and businesses to hear the historic national broadcast, which coincided with a statement by U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington. Uniformed schoolchildren burst into applause at the news.

At the University of San Geronimo in the capital’s historic center, the announcement drew ringing from the bell tower. Throughout the capital, there was a sense of euphoria as word spread.

“For the Cuban people, I think this is like a shot of oxygen, a wish-come-true, because with this, we have overcome our differences,” said Carlos Gonzalez, a 32-year-old IT specialist. “It is an advance that will open the road to a better future for the two countries.”

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14 employees at ‘filthy’ pharmacy charged in meningitis outbreak that killed 64 patients

BOSTON (AP) - Mold and bacteria were in the air and on workers’ gloved fingertips. Pharmacists used expired ingredients, didn’t properly sterilize them and failed to test drugs for purity before sending them to hospitals and pain clinics. Employees falsified logs to make it look as if the so-called clean rooms had been disinfected.

Federal prosecutors leveled those allegations in bringing charges Wednesday against 14 former owners or employees of a Massachusetts pharmacy in connection with a nationwide meningitis outbreak that killed 64 people.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz called it the biggest criminal case ever brought in the U.S. over contaminated medicine.

The 2012 outbreak was traced to tainted drug injections manufactured by the now-closed New England Compounding Center of Framingham.

Barry Cadden, a co-founder of the business, and Glenn Adam Chin, a supervisory pharmacist, were slapped with the most serious charges, accused in the racketeering indictment of causing the deaths of 25 patients in seven states by acting with “wanton and willful disregard” of the risks.

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Analysis: Cuba and US move to end half-century feud

MEXICO CITY (AP) - After 53 years of hostility between the United States and Cuba, the timing to make amends was perfect for both governments.

The breakthrough in US-Cuban relations came with the release of American Alan Gross and an unnamed US intelligence agent, and the freeing of three jailed Cuban agents. The longtime enemies announced they would move toward full diplomatic relations, and Washington said it would ease economic and travel restrictions.

The surprise moves come as President Barack Obama is turning his attention to legacy issues, and Raul Castro is trying to boost his nation’s economic fortunes in the face of stalled reforms and falling oil prices that have hit his allies hard.

“After today, everything changes,” said Carlos Alzugaray, a former Cuban diplomat who lives on the island and has close relations with the Castro government.

“This promises to be the biggest shift in our relations in 50 years,” said Ted Henken, an analyst and author of “Entrepreneurial Cuba,” which examines the economic and social changes Castro has instituted since taking over from his more famous brother in 2006.

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AP source: US investigators link NKorea to Sony hacking, expecting formal announcement

WASHINGTON (AP) - A U.S. official says federal investigators have now connected the Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. hacking to North Korea and are expected to make an announcement in the near future.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to openly discuss an ongoing criminal case.

Until Wednesday, the Obama administration had been saying it was not immediately clear who might have been responsible for the computer break-in. North Korea has publicly denied it was involved.

The unidentified hackers had demanded that Sony cancel its upcoming release of the movie “The Interview,” a comedy that included a gruesome scene depicting the assassination of North Korea’s leader. Sony on Wednesday canceled the Dec. 25 release after the hackers had released sensitive corporate files stolen in the break-in.

___ Sony cancels ‘The Interview’ Dec. 25 release after theaters pull showings following threats

NEW YORK (AP) - Under the threat of terrorist attacks from hackers and with the nation’s largest multiplex chains pulling the film from their screens, Sony Pictures Entertainment took the unprecedented step of canceling the Dec. 25 release of the Seth Rogen comedy “The Interview.”

The cancellation, announced Wednesday, was a startling blow to the Hollywood studio that has been shaken by hacker leaks and intimidations over the last several weeks by an anonymous group calling itself Guardians of Peace.

A U.S. official said Wednesday that federal investigators have now connected the Sony hacking to North Korea and are expected to make an announcement in the near future. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to openly discuss an ongoing criminal case.

Sony said it was cancelling “The Interview” release “in light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film.” The studio said it respected and shared in the exhibitors’ concerns.

“We are deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie, and in the process do damage to our company, our employees, and the American public,” read the statement. “We stand by our filmmakers and their right to free expression and are extremely disappointed by this outcome.”

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Fed promises ‘patient’ approach in determining when to raise interest rates

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Federal Reserve is edging closer to raising interest rates from record lows given a strengthening U.S. economy. But it will be “patient” in deciding when to do so.

That was the message sent Wednesday as the Fed ended a meeting amid heightened expectation about a forthcoming rate increase. At a news conference afterward, Chair Janet Yellen said she foresaw no rate hike in the first quarter of 2015.

The Fed said in a statement that a “patient” approach to raising rates is consistent with its previous guidance that it would keep its key rate near zero for a “considerable time.”

Yellen said the strength of U.S. economic data and the level of inflation, not a calendar date, will dictate when it raises rates. At a time of global economic turmoil and collapsing oil prices, she stressed that the Fed was making no policy changes.

“The Fed is sending the message that the broader U.S. economy is on the path toward healing,” said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities. “They don’t know how fast it will heal, but it’s on the mend.”

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New York moves to ban fracking over health, economic questions; environmentalists cheer

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - Handing environmentalists a breakthrough victory, New York plans to prohibit fracking for natural gas because of what regulators say are its unexplored health risks and dubious economic benefits.

New York, which overlies part of the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation that has led to a drilling boom in Pennsylvania and other nearby states, has banned shale gas development since 2008, when the state began an environmental review of the drilling technique also known as hydraulic fracturing.

Wednesday’s announcement, though not final, means a ban is all but etched in stone.

“Never before has a state with proven gas reserves banned fracking,” said Deborah Goldberg, an attorney with Earthjustice, adding that the decision “will give courage to elected leaders throughout the country and world: Fracking is too dangerous and must not continue.”

Industry and its supporters expressed outrage at the decision.


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