Monday, September 1, 275760

Random Disclaimer: This blog is GRIMDARK AS FUCK

9/23/14 EDIT: For in-depth video game information for various obscure RPGs, check out my gaming blog at

5/29/12 EDIT: I've just created a new blog exclusively for ponies and pony-related news, WITHOUT the stressful news articles on this blog.  It's no Equestria Daily, nor will it ever be, but it's still a pony blog. Feel free to check it out if you please...

If you're a brony and a Final Fantasy fan, and you want to play a game that combines ponies with Final Fantasy, I just thought you might like to know that an excellent fan game called Pony Fantasy 6 was released a few days ago.

If you are interested in this game, and would like to give it a try, please follow this link...

This blog contains some controversial posts concerning certain political issues and depressing news stories. If you find some of the content on my blog too controversial for your liking, or you're simply interested in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, go to That is my DailyMotion channel that is filled with every episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic so far. If a new epsisode of MLP:FiM comes on, expect to see it on there within a few hours. It might help to take the edge off from hearing or seeing too much stressful stuff (i.e. some of the posts on my blog), and you may walk away with the realization that not ALL things pertaining to My Little Pony suck. In fact, in the case of FiM, it's AWESOME.

BTW, since DailyMotion absolutely ADORES putting ads all over the place, often ruining perfectly good videos by placing ads at the beginning, end, and occasionally, even the MIDDLE of many videos, please consider installing Adblock Plus for maximum pony enjoyment. DailyMotion can be a great deal better and more enjoyable than YouTube, but only if you use Adblock to get around the horribly annoying ads.

If you're interested in MLP:FiM, but you don't want to go to DailyMotion, either because of the annoying random ads or because the videos play slower there than on other sites, there are dozens, if not hundreds of channels on YouTube that have the entire first and second seasons uploaded to their channels, and they're all ad-free, too. I was planning on creating another YouTube channel to upload pony videos to, but it wouldn't allow me to upload videos past 15 minutes unless I gave a mobile phone number, and I don't have a mobile phone, and I'm NOT breaking these videos into parts.

If ponies aren't your thing, I understand. At any rate, I cannot stress enough that there are PLENTY of depressing pieces of news and controversial opinions about certain subjects on here. But if you can get past this disclaimer, you might find that this blog is fairly interesting and informative. I do my best to post interesting articles from various news sources, many of which provide a glimpse into the harsh realities of the world. Some of them may be easily accessed by searching your favorite news site or clicking on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, etc, whereas some other news stories are less known for various reasons.

Just know what you're getting yourself into before you traverse my blog. While "GRIMDARK AS FUCK" is overselling it a bit, there is some HIGHLY depressing stuff on this blog, and I do use plenty of profanity in some of my posts.

BTW, I've noticed a few people have been searching for "Rainbow Dash Attack", basically a ponified version of the popular Adult Swim Flash game "Robot Unicorn Attack". If you want to play "Rainbow Dash Attack", follow the link below.

If you just want to play the original version, Robot Unicorn Attack, feel free to follow this link...

Saturday, December 31, 275555

A veritable encyclopedia of important links, including search engines, Pastebins, proxies, alternative news sources, etc.

Alternative Search Engines
009  (google)
011  (file search)
012  (library search engine)
019  (file search)
020 (free books)
021  (file search)
022 (file search)
025 (hide my ass)

Thursday, December 30, 99999

Saturday, March 6, 99999

A wealth of information about the Deep Web Part 2 (More information, slightly less disturbing shit, 56K WARNING)

The average person is only aware of a fraction of the Internet.

There is more content out there than any conventional browser can access. These sites are termed
"Deep Web" or "Undernet." They exist outside the scope of Google, Facebook, and your RSS reader. It's the digital equivalent of a thriving city that's been domed over and cordoned off.

These sites are locked down so tightly that you need a special browser to access them. It's called the Tor browser, and it offers you an entirely new way of connecting to the Internet.

Where conventional web browsers like Chrome and Firefox make no effort to conceal your location
or identity, Tor is built upon the idea of preserving anonymity as aggressively as possible.

What is Tor?

Tor, originally an acronym for "The Onion Router," is an anonymity network designed to keep your identity and location completely secure as you browse the web. When you use the Tor browser (a free download), volunteer servers around the world route your internet traffic from server to server before finally delivering you your content. On top of this evasive routing, data is encrypted a number of times as it travels to you.

Exploring the Deep Web

Michael Bergman of BrightPlanet puts it succinctly: "Searching on the Internet today can be compared to dragging a net across the surface of the ocean. While a great deal may be caught in the net, there is still a wealth of information that is deep, and therefore, missed."

Using the Tor browser unlocks the door to a whole weird and wild world you never would have guessed existed online. Where Google helps you find the needle, Tor lets you "explore the haystack."

There is lots of promise in Tor's value – people use it to protect their communications, to research
sensitive topics, and to access information they might otherwise not have access to (if a country is behind a firewall, for example). By guaranteeing such a high level of anonymity, Tor lends itself well to information freedom activists, libertarians, and those who simply want to take their Internet safety to the extreme.

But with such anonymizing power made available for free, some less-than-legal (and even downright malicious) operations claim to operate successfully.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Behind The Veil Part 5: Comcast Metrics For All Employees As Simple As ABC, Always Be Closing

In the ongoing fallout Comcast is facing due to the high-pressure sales tactics of their non-sales employees, the company has consistently indicated that these employees are not behaving in a manner consistent with the company's wishes. The common thread in most of these stories consists of customer service duties being handled by customer retention reps as often as not and complaints or attempts to cancel service being met with sales pitches instead of service. Comcast has specifically indicated that these examples are outside of the way they train employees to conduct their business.

Comcast, as it turns out, is completely full of shit. The latest reveal via past and current Comcast employees spilling their guts to The Verge is all about employee metrics. And it seems that Comcast sees everyone as part of the sales team.
Guidelines for repair reps, which show how a trouble call can be segued into a sales call, are part of S4, Comcast's "universal call flow." S4 is an evaluative measurement to ensure that all agents "give every customer a great call experience every time." It stands for: start, solve, sell, summarize. Part S3, or "sell," includes four parts: "transition to relevant offer," "present offer," "overcome objections," and "proactively close sale."
That's not even a retention rep being trained in that document; it's a repair tech. Because, hey, the thing I most want when Comcast's service is failing is the person fixing it to sell me more of that failing service. This is the kind of pressure tactics that lead repair calls down the dark path to an angry customer who likely subsequently finds out that Comcast has a monopoly on service in their area. Where are my free-market conservative friends on this stuff? This is supposed to be in your wheelhouse!

It doesn't get any better for customer service reps.
Similarly, a scorecard for customer service reps in the Pennsylvania area shows that sales are explicitly worth 18 percent of an agent's performance. Sales are measured again in the general customer service "Pinnacle" metric, which is worth 27 percent. An excerpt from the Pinnacle guidelines says "Sales/Conversion" is one of eight categories measured in an employee's interaction with a customer.
A fifth of a customer service reps performance is judged on their salesmanship. Let that sink in for a moment and then remind yourself of this fact the next time you call for a complaint or help with your service. That person you're speaking to is being judged on whether they can sell you on something when they're supposed to be helping you.

You can see the full dump of the metrics documents here, but don't eat much before you go looking. You may not be able to keep your meal down.

Behind The Veil Part 4: Customer Trying To Cancel Service Is Put On Hold Until Comcast Office Closes

Between trying to negotiate disputed charges with increased levels of internet service, releases of customer retention employee handbooks that are hella damning, and the release of a recording with a customer retention rep that alarmed even the most cynical of us, Comcast hasn't had an easy go of it lately. Two things have become pretty clear as these stories have rolled out to the public. First, thou shalt always record your conversations with Comcast reps (local/stupid two-party consent laws apply) or thou shalt be forever filled with regret. Second, Comcast really needs to change the way its customer service reps handle calls.

And perhaps now we're seeing evidence that a change has indeed been implemented. Though, the process of simply putting cancelling customers on hold until the office closes probably won't win Comcast any brownie points.
That's Aaron Spain of Chicago (holla!), who waited on hold with Comcast about as long as it takes some people to run a marathon, three and a half hours. Upon notifying Comcast that he was trying to cancel his service, he was in fact put on hold long enough that the Comcast offices had closed while the elevator music continued to play. Aaron confirmed this by calling back into Comcast with a different phone and getting the automated message that all the people tasked with helping him cancel his service had gone home for the day.

Now, you might be wondering why someone would wait on hold for three and a half hours with Comcast to begin with. I like to think that Aaron saw this as some kind of completely idiotic test of wills between a megalithic corporation and himself, and he'd be damned if he wasn't going to win. Call it the Chicago spirit. Call it boredom. Call it the opportunity for a great YouTube video.

Whatever you call it, don't call Comcast about it, because they'll put you on hold until they leave for the day.

Behind The Veil Part 3: Comcast Rep Confirms That You Should Always Record Customer Service Calls

As you probably know by now, Comcast has been in the news quite a bit lately for all the wrong reasons. It started with a recorded call of one Comcast customer attempting to cancel his service before being passed over to a "customer retention" representative who had watched entirely too much Boiler Room. Comcast made a great deal of noise about how this wasn't how they told their reps to conduct their business, which, thanks to the Verge's call for input from past and current Comcast employees, was shown pretty conclusively to a complete lie. It's been a pretty, nice, little lesson in why breeding the kind of monopoly that Comcast tends to hold in many areas of this country is a really crappy idea. The other lesson that this should be teaching all of us is the importance of recording customer service calls with Comcast*.

And that appears to apply even for customers of Comcast that aren't trying to flee their brand of customer service. Tim Davis uploaded a (NSFW due to language) recording to YouTube of a couple of conversations he had with Comcast's customer service.

If you can't listen to the audio, or want a quick breakdown: Tim had moved recently and chose to relocate his Comcast service because, according to the video, he didn't have a choice due to a lack of competitive providers. I've gone through this myself several times in Chicago; it sucks. In any case, he did the internet portion of the install himself, as I too have done several times. All went well until a few weeks later when he was experiencing intermittent outages. An initial call with Comcast confirmed the problem was with the wiring outside the home, not the internal setup. Tim recorded that conversation, including when a Comcast rep confirmed that there is no charge to have a technician do work on outside lines to provide adequate service. Makes sense. A tech comes out, fixes the outside line issue, tests the network inside the home to assure connectivity is restored, and leaves. Then this happens.
All is fine until a week or two later when Davis receives a bill that includes $99.99 for "Failed Self Install," another $32 for "Failed Video [Self Install Kit]," and $49.95 for "Wireless Network SET Up." That's $181.94 in total. But, insists Davis, the problem wasn't that he failed to do the self-install correctly or that there was a failed self-install kit, since the problem involved cables entering his property that he never touched. Similarly, the tech never set up or did anything with Davis's WiFi system, so the set-up charge is bogus.
When Tim calls up to dispute the charges, he's told several things. First, the rep applies a "discount" that wipes out about fifty dollars. Then she insists she cannot apply any credits because all of the tech's service charges are valid, despite Tim informing her of both the recording of the call with the other rep that said there would be no charge and the fact that the tech would have had to have the apartment landlord's approval to access what the tech claimed he'd worked on. Instead of applying a credit, she suggests she upgrade his internet for a year for free instead, which would be of a $60 or so value. $121 or $60 in temporary service upgrades...guess which Tim wanted? He insisted the bogus charges to be credited back to him. The rep then claims she'd get back to him. When she did, she confirmed that everyone on the planet should be recording their calls to Comcast's customer service.
She eventually calls back later than planned, and after escalating his call one final time she tells him that the full $82 will actually be credited back to his account. When Davis asks why she couldn't simply do that during the earlier call, her explanation is enough to make you pound your head through a wall in frustration.

"We try to negotiate, and again, that is a valid charge," she answers. "But since I advised my manager that there is a recording and you were misinformed, then she's the one who can approve that $82."

Seemingly flabbergasted, Davis asks to confirm, "You're telling me that if I didn't have a recording of that call, you wouldn't have been able to do it?"

"Yes, that is correct," answers the rep, confirming that the only way to get Comcast to erase a bogus charge from your account is to have recorded evidence that you were promised in advance that the call would be free.
Everyone got that? Customer service reps dealing with disputed charges will try to "negotiate" with you and you only have a chance at legitimate recourse if you record all your calls with them. Keep digging, Comcast. I don't think the grave is big enough yet.

* Oh, but if you're recording your call, you may want to pay attention to the local laws about such things.

Behind The Veil Part 2: Let's All Look At Comcast's Customer Retention Playbook For Its Employees!

Following one Comcast customer-retention rep's brave attempt to set the record for the most annoying cancellation call, The Verge put out a call for past and current Comcast employees to weigh in on just how rare or frowned-upon this sort of thing is. As the initial submissions noted, this sort of thing isn't so much frowned-upon as it is, oh, let's call it super-actively encouraged. So much so, in fact, that the latest confession dump on The Verge includes Comcast's employee handbook for customer retention reps, and it's exactly as infuriating as you think it is.
A current employee at Comcast who participated in the Comcast Confessions series provided The Verge with a copy of the 20-page guidelines the company uses for evaluating retention specialists. The guidelines are divided into 13 sections:

1. Greet customer clearly
2. Clarify reason for call
3. Relate and empathize
4. Take control
5. Set the agenda
6. Ask targeted questions
7. Consider unstated needs / active listening
8. Take ownership / make offer
9. Overcome objections
10. Close the save
11. Confirm details
12. End on a positive note
13. Documentation
It has all the hallmarks of a playbook designed to piss off and annoy someone who wants to cancel service. Legislated courtesy followed by manufactured empathy that devolves into the assertion of the rep's dominance on the call, all leading to a close of the "save." If you're not in some kind of sales role, this list probably doesn't look familiar to you. I've been in sales all of my life, however, and this is the kind of playbook you get in a sales role at a faceless mega-corporation. Trust me, it's as frustrating for the sales person as it is for the customer. But you know what this isn't? Customer service for someone looking to cancel their damned account.

But the handbook does offer indirect advice on how to get past these Comcast retention people in the form of what "objections" cannot be resolved with some contrived buddy-talk and a "special" offer.
Save Attempt is Not Applicable in the Following Scenarios

-Customer is moving in with an existing Comcast customer (CAE must verify Comcast services active at new address)
-Customer is moving to a non-Comcast area (CAE must verify by looking up zip code)
-Account holder is deceased / incapacitated
-Temporary / seasonal disconnect and Seasonal Suspend Plan is not available in their area
-Natural disaster
-Customer doesn't know what address they're moving to
So, if you're a Comcast customer looking to cancel your service, your playbook is quite clear. Once you are transferred to customer retention, you say the following: "I am cancelling my service because my home was hit by a tornado, flinging me out of the window and into an unknown address that I'll be sharing with someone who already has Comcast service. Also I'm dead."

Happy cancelling, folks!

Behind The Veil: Comcast Techs Detail How Customer Service Is Really All Just 'Sales'

By now you've surely heard the story of Ryan Block's recorded attempt to cancel his Comcast service, which resulted in one of the most infuriating 3rd person experiences I've ever witnessed. On top of that, we wondered recently whether some of the claims made in the call, chiefly revolving around Comcast's status as the speediest internet provider out there, might land the company in legal trouble. Both stories essentially stem from a supposed customer service rep behaving more like a used car salesman than anything remotely resembling an agent that might assist with the cancellation of service. The problem with these kinds of stories is that they're usually written off as one-time occurrences, with the company in question insisting this isn't how it typically does business. Comcast did just that, suggesting they might need to re-train some employees at some call centers to get them back on the company line.

Fortunately for us, there are enterprising journalists like the folks at The Verge, who put out a call for current and former Comcast employees to tell the story behind the veil. The result is pretty much what you'd expect: Block's call wasn't a deviation from company policy, it was just the application of company policy on steroids. There are several examples here, with a promise of more to come, but they pretty much tell the same story.
Mark Pavlic was hired as a customer account executive at Comcast in October 2010 after graduating from a technical institute. He figured he’d be troubleshooting TV, phone, and internet service, but most of his month-long training focused on sales. Every day when he walked into the call center, he’d see a whiteboard with employee names and their RGUs, or revenue generating units. Pavlic’s call center in Pittsburgh is operated by Comcast, but the company also uses third-party and international call centers. Exact training and incentive structures vary by call center, and on whether employees are working on business services or residential services. Our interviews revealed a common thread across facilities: what often started out as a carrot — bonuses for frontline employees who made sales — turned into a stick, as employees who failed to pitch hard enough or meet their quotas were chastised, or worse.
Worse meaning getting fired, basically. Such was the case with Brian Van Horn, who had been hired by Comcast to be a billing specialist and had been employed for 10 years. He detailed how the culture and policies he was tasked with changed over the years, getting more aggressive and less cooperative with cancellations. Eventually, he had scripts designed to overcome objections, repeatedly, rather than comply with the customer's requests. Despite his being good at the aspects of the job he'd actually been hired for, things didn't go well.
Van Horn says he "couldn’t sell water to a man dying of thirst in the desert," but his other metrics were good: he had high scores on "first call resolution," meaning that customers’ issues were often fixed in a single call, as well as "attaboys," where a customer asked to speak to a supervisor in order to compliment him for a job well done. But after repeated reprimands for low sales, Van Horn was fired.
These stories aren't just coming from former employees who were fired or quit, by the way. Current employees, including at least one from the same call center than handled the infamous Block call, weighed in as well.
[The rep who spoke to Block] was placed on leave, pending investigation. His desk is still set up, which means he still works for us. Yes, he is a good salesperson. I mean if you don’t have stellar numbers, you get fired. One of the issues with [the recorded call] is he actually did his job, just went WAY overboard with it. According to our retention handbook, he did not violate any of the things that can end your employment.

-Retention supervisor, 2012-present, Colorado
So much for all of this being some overly zealous employee going rogue. The question that arises with this kind of thing, particularly with Comcast operating a multi-tiered group of call centers, some outsourced, some not, is whether the company has become too unwieldy to actually meet customer requests. It's fine for a company to work to retain customers, but that's typically done by providing great service, not irritating the shit out of anyone who doesn't think your company's poop doesn't stink. Far from too big to fail, Comcast, recently in massive merger discussions, may be getting too big to succeed.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Cardiorespiratory fitness can delay male, age-associated blood pressure hikes

WASHINGTON (Sept. 15, 2014) — A man's cardiorespiratory fitness can drastically delay the natural, age-associated increase of his blood pressure over his adult life span. According to a study published today in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, men with higher fitness levels experience a delay in the development of hypertension when compared to those with lower fitness levels.

Exercise is well-established as a method to prevent heart disease, and it is a component of an overall healthy life. But this study examined whether a man's improved fitness level delays the age ranges for naturally-occurring systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) hypertension in males. The SBP number, or the top number in a blood pressure reading, indicates the force of each heart beat as it contracts and pushes blood through the arteries to the rest of the body. The DBP pressure number, or the bottom number in a blood pressure reading, indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart is at rest between beats.

"Since regular physical activity is the primary and most modifiable determinant of fitness level, our results underscore the importance for a man to increase his regular physical activity to prevent his natural, aging-related rise in blood pressure," said study co-author Junxiu Liu, M.D., PhD candidate, Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

Data analysis reveals that the average low fit male's SBP begins to increase to prehypertension levels (120 mmHg) about the age of 46 while his DBP begins to increase to prehypertension levels (80 mmHg) about the age of 42. However, this study suggests that those men with a high fitness level are likely to reach the age at which normal SBP increases about a decade later, approximately at age 54, while the DBP does not reach prehypertension level until advanced ages (approximately at age 90).
This implies that improving fitness levels may reduce the duration of elevated blood pressure.

"We now know that a man's hypertension development may be delayed by improving his fitness levels. In other words, men with higher fitness levels experienced normal systolic blood pressure increases later in life than those with low fitness levels, said study co-author Xuemei Sui, M.D., MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Exercise Science, Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, Columbia, S.C.

Liu said, "To move out of the low fit category, men should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity of physical activity such as brisk walking, jogging, running, etc weekly. This level of activity or exercise is the current recommendation from the United States Department of Health and Human Services."

Researchers studied 13,953 men between the ages of 20 and 90 who were free of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer over a 36-year period (1970-2006) to determine whether there is a relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and the increase in blood pressure with age. This data was drawn from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study where the participants completed from three to 28 follow-up medical examinations during the specified time frame (The mean was 3.8). Fitness was measured by a strenuous cardiovascular treadmill exercise stress test. A cardiovascular exercise stress testing in conjunction with ECG has been established as one of the focal points in the diagnosis and prognosis of cardiovascular disease.

"Also interesting to note is that when we examined the percentage of body fat data, the systolic and diastolic numbers were not significantly changed," Sui said. "These results support our hypothesis that a man's age-related blood pressure rise was independent of his percentage of body fat."

Approximately one-third of American adult males have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Genetics aside, arterial and arteriolar stiffness are the main factors contributing to the natural increase in a male's blood pressure.

The research sample for this study included only men. The effects of cardiorespiratory fitness on a woman's age-associated blood pressure increases were not researched in this study.

"We will investigate this topic in the near future." Sui said.

EEG study findings reveal how fear is processed in the brain

DALLAS, TX – September 12, 2014 - An estimated 8% of Americans will suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at some point during their lifetime. Brought on by an overwhelming or stressful event or events, PTSD is the result of altered chemistry and physiology of the brain. Understanding how threat is processed in a normal brain versus one altered by PTSD is essential to developing effective interventions.
New research from the Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas published online today in Brain and Cognition illustrates how fear arises in the brain when individuals are exposed to threatening images. This novel study is the first to separate emotion from threat by controlling for the dimension of arousal, the emotional reaction provoked, whether positive or negative, in response to stimuli. Building on previous animal and human research, the study identifies an electrophysiological marker for threat in the brain.
"We are trying to find where thought exists in the mind," explained John Hart, Jr., M.D., Medical Science Director at the Center for BrainHealth. "We know that groups of neurons firing on and off create a frequency and pattern that tell other areas of the brain what to do. By identifying these rhythms, we can correlate them with a cognitive unit such as fear."
Utilizing electroencephalography (EEG), Dr. Hart's research team identified theta and beta wave activity that signifies the brain's reaction to visually threatening images.
"We have known for a long time that the brain prioritizes threatening information over other cognitive processes," explained Bambi DeLaRosa, study lead author. "These findings show us how this happens. Theta wave activity starts in the back of the brain, in it's fear center – the amygdala – and then interacts with brain's memory center - the hippocampus – before traveling to the frontal lobe where thought processing areas are engaged. At the same time, beta wave activity indicates that the motor cortex is revving up in case the feet need to move to avoid the perceived threat."
For the study, 26 adults (19 female, 7 male), ages 19-30 were shown 224 randomized images that were either unidentifiably scrambled or real pictures. Real pictures were separated into two categories: threatening (weapons, combat, nature or animals) and non-threatening (pleasant situations, food, nature or animals).
While wearing an EEG cap, participants were asked to push a button with their right index finger for real items and another button with their right middle finger for nonreal/scrambled items. Shorter response times were recorded for scrambled images than the real images. There was no difference in reaction time for threatening versus non-threatening images.
EEG results revealed that threatening images evoked an early increase in theta activity in the occipital lobe (the area in the brain where visual information is processed), followed by a later increase in theta power in the frontal lobe (where higher mental functions such as thinking, decision-making, and planning occur). A left lateralized desynchronization of the beta band, the wave pattern associated with motor behavior (like the impulse to run), also consistently appeared in the threatening condition.
This study will serve as a foundation for future work that will explore normal versus abnormal fear associated with an object in other atypical populations including individuals with PTSD.

US government threatened to prosecute beheaded journalist Steven Sotloff's parents if they paid ransom - family spokesman

The parents of murdered journalist Steven Sotloff, who was killed by Islamic State extremists, were warned by the White House that they could face criminal prosecution if they paid a ransom to free their son, the family spokesperson told Yahoo News.
According to Barak Barfi, a friend of Sotloff who is serving as a spokesman for his family, the Sotloffs met with a White House counterterrorism official last May.
"The family felt completely and utterly helpless when they heard this," Barfi said, adding that the journalist's father was "shaking" after the meeting with the National Security Council official.
Barfi also said that he was at a separate meeting with State Department officials, one of whom mentioned the "material support" law several times and made it "clear" that ransoms to terrorists could result in criminal prosecutions.
The Obama administration follows a strict policy regarding such payments. Viewing it as a form of material aid to terrorist organizations, such money transfers could be considered a violation of federal laws.

News of Sotloff's parents alleged warning came shortly after the mother of James Foley, another journalist murdered at the hands of Islamic State militants, told media that US officials repeatedly warned their family they may face criminal charges for supporting terrorism, when they considered paying a ransom.
US threatened Foley family over Islamic State ransom, slain journalist’s mother says

"We were told that several times and we took it as a threat and it was appalling," Foley's mother Diane said in an interview with ABC News.
The Sotloffs "heard the same thing the Foleys did," their spokesman said in his statement to Yahoo News. The families of three other hostages being held by the militants were also at the White House meeting, according to Yahoo News sources.
"We have found that terrorist organizations use hostage taking and ransoms as a critical source of financing for their organizations and that paying ransoms only puts other Americans in a position where they're at even greater risk," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a press briefing. He declined to discuss conversations that administration officials had with the families.
News of the Sotloffs' alleged statement broke while ISIS jihadists released a video which purports to show the beheading of yet another hostage, 44-year-old British aid worker David Haines.
Islamic State claims execution of UK hostage David Haines, releases video

Two US and several British hostages still remain in ISIS captivity.

An image grab taken from a video released by the Islamic State (IS) and identified by private terrorism monitor SITE Intelligence Group on September 2, 2014, purportedly shows 31-year-old US freelance writer Steven Sotloff (AFP Photo)
An image grab taken from a video released by the Islamic State (IS) and identified by private terrorism monitor SITE Intelligence Group on September 2, 2014, purportedly shows 31-year-old US freelance writer Steven Sotloff (AFP Photo)
The 31-year-old Steven Sotloff was captured in August 2013 while reporting from Aleppo in Syria. The Israeli-American was beheaded in early September this year by the Islamic State during a gruesome execution recorded on film and uploaded to the web. Sotloff became the second journalist after James Foley who was publicly murdered by the terrorists.
Sotloff's parents have declined any media interviews since the execution of the first US journalist. The family's last public address was a video message, in which Steven's mother asked an ISIS' caliph not to "punish my son for matters he has no control over."
Later statements from the family came through their spokesperson Barak Barfi. "We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess - fear," one of the messages read by Barfi, said.
Earlier this week, Barak Barfi, who acts not only as a representative for the Sotloffs, but also is a research fellow at the New America Foundation, told CNN that Steven Sotloff was sold to Islamic State militants before they eventually beheaded him.
Sotloff was sold to ISIS by ‘moderate’ Syrian rebel group, family spokesman says

Announcing a military campaign to destroy the terrorist organization, US President Barack Obama called the murders of Foley and Sotloff "acts of barbarism." A State Department spokesperson has previously said that "this government undertook every single opportunity to find and bring home these American citizens that are being held by ISIS."

‘They thought she was a prostitute’: LA police handcuff Django Unchained actress kissing her white partner

Photo from Facebook page
African-American Django Unchained actress Daniele Watts said she was “handcuffed and detained” by LA police when she was kissing her white partner in a public place. She claims the officers mistakenly took them for a prostitute and her client.
Daniele Watts was sitting in a car and kissing Brian James Lucas in Studio City, California, when someone apparently thought showing their public affection was inappropriate. When a Los Angeles Police Department officer approached, they demanded the couple’s IDs.
Daniele, who was at that time on the sidewalk talking on the phone with her father, refused to do it.
“I knew that I had done nothing wrong, that I wasn’t harming anyone, so I walked away,” Watts wrote on her Facebook account.
A couple of minutes later, two officers handcuffed and detained her in the back of a police car.
“Today I was handcuffed and detained by two police officers from the Studio City Police Department after refusing to agree that I had done something wrong by showing affection, fully clothed, in a public place,” wrote Watts.

Retrial begins for Detroit cop who killed 7-year-old in ‘Reality Show Shooting’

Jury selection began Monday in the retrial for a Michigan police officer accused of killing a 7-year-old girl during a 2010 raid on her house while being followed by a reality-TV camera crew. The cop is charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Joseph Weekley was charged with involuntary manslaughter for shooting Aiyana Stanley-Jones as she slept on a couch the night of May 16, 2010. Weekley was among a group of Detroit officers executing a search warrant on a home where they hoped to find a 17-year-old murder suspect. They threw a flash grenade inside the home hoping the bright light, smoke and vibrations would confuse the occupants before the officers entered.

Stanley-Jones was shot seconds later, with Weekley later testifying that he heard a noise from the couch “like somebody’s out of breath” before Aiyana’s grandmother, Mertilla Jones, attempted to push the gun away. Jones denied she made a move for the gun and claimed police intentionally murdered Stanley-Jones.

A member of the Detroit Police Special Response Team at the time, Weekley was trailed by a crew filming for the television show, “The First 48.” The A&E reality show, in the vein of “Cops,” follows simultaneous murder investigations and depicts real-life scenarios from an investigator’s perspective.
“I replay this every day in my head,” Weekley testified in his first trial. “There’s nothing else I could have done differently.”
Jurors deadlocked on Weekley’s fate during his 2013 trial, which was subsequently declared a mistrial in June of that year. The jury deliberated for three days before admitting they could not come to an agreement.

Aiyana Jones (Image from / photo copyrighted by Jones family)
Aiyana Jones (Image from / photo copyrighted by Jones family)

Last Wednesday, Wayne County Judge Cynthia Hathaway refused to grant a delay in Weekley’s retrial until 2015. Defense lawyer Steven Fishman had asked for the postponement “to preserve Officer Weekley’s right to a fair and impartial jury” in the aftermath of the “media frenzy” over an officer-involved shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Fishman believed that this summer’s coverage could harm his client’s chances, the Detroit Free Press reported.

In a court filing, Fishman said references to Aiyana’s death have popped up in local news stories about the Ferguson shooting and the use of military gear by police departments. He also referred to a case from the 1990s in which a higher court said that one factor that could spoil a jury pool was “inflammatory publicity.”

Ron Scott, with the Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality, criticized how much time has passed between the girl’s killing and the second trial.
“It’s taken too long,” he told the Freep.

Along with involuntary manslaughter ‒ a felony ‒ Weekley also faces charges of careless discharge of a firearm causing death, a misdemeanor.

Navy nurse faces expulsion after refusing to force feed Gitmo detainees

A Navy nurse who refused to force feed hunger-striking Guantanamo detainees over the summer, once threatened with court-martial, could now lose his career.

READ MORE: Military lawyer resigns in protest of ‘show trial’ of accused 9-11 mastermind

The nurse, a Navy lieutenant who has never been publicly identified, refused to force feed hunger strikers shortly before July 4 at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay prison complex. The decision reportedly followed months of him carrying out the painful procedure.

A Navy commander on Monday said he asked the board to determine whether the nurse should be allowed to stay in the US Navy.

“I can tell you right now that, after reviewing the investigation that was conducted in Guantánamo, I recommended that the officer be required to show cause for retention in the Navy. I chose not to do the court-martial route,” the nurse’s commander, Navy Capt. Maureen Pennington, told the Miami Herald.

It has been noted that a Board Inquiry, or administrative review, can keep details of the incident secret.
A military trial, however, would have brought up questions about the military’s hunger strike policy and a debate about the medical ethics over force feeding.

Pennington is the commanding officer for the nurse – one of more than 100 nurses from the Naval Health Clinic New England.

If the nurse is fired, any pension benefits will be forfeited.

“It’s kind of out of my hands now; ultimately the Secretary of the Navy will have the final say on this,” Pennington said. “The review, which could last about nine months, entitles the nurse to get an attorney and call witnesses to a closed hearing to argue why he should be allowed to remain in the service.”

READ MORE: Is it necessary to torture me?’ Gitmo prisoner demands 'civilized' force-feeding

The incident was first revealed during a call between a hunger-striking prisoner, Abu Wael Dhiab, and his lawyer, Cori Crider from the London-based legal defense group Reprieve.

Dhiab described how the nurse abruptly refused to force feed the prisoners and disappeared from
detention center duty.

Crider called the nurse the first known US military conscientious objector in the 18-month-long hunger strike.

According to the Miami Herald, Crider said Dhiab quoted the nurse as announcing: “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act.”

Dhiab, a Syrian who was cleared for transfer from Guantanamo in 2010, has been hunger striking to protest his continued detention and is challenging the force feeding policy in federal court.

At the height of the hunger strike campaign, 100 detainees refused to eat, according to the US military –and at one point 46 detainees were treated with force feeding tubes.

READ MORE: Painful force-feeding procedure caused Gitmo detainee to cough up blood
A leaked document of the military’s standard operating procedures for force feeding detainees was also leaked, and US rapper Yasiin Bey (Mos Def) posted a video on YouTube experiencing the procedure.

Texas gun shop stirs controversy with ‘Obama family beheading’ sign

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Image from

A Texas gun shop known for its controversial signs has managed to raise eyebrows once again by criticizing President Barack Obama and bringing up the gruesome issue of beheadings to do it.
Outside of the Katy, Texas-based Tactical Firearms, the company currently has a sign asking, “Does one of Obama’s family members have to be beheaded for ‘change’ to happen?”
The sign, of course, is up in the midst of American grieving and anger over the beheadings of two American journalists at the hands of Islamic State extremists. Over the weekend, the group also claimed to execute a British aid worker.
Despite the controversial nature of the sign, the company’s CEO, Jeremy Alcede, defended the content as well as the general decision to put it up.
“I look and see what’s going on throughout the week, realize what’s an issue, what needs to be fixed, and if I think it’s important then that’s what I’ll voice my opinion,” Alcede said to Houston-based KHOU.
Alcede also claimed the sign could be used by parents as an educational tool.
“You should show them [children] the news and say, ‘This is reality, kids. Beheadings happen, but they shouldn’t.’”
This is not the first time that Tactical Firearms has made waves in the community – and around the country – for its contentious signs. In the past, its posted statements such as, “Guns are cheap compared to Obamacare and have better coverage,” as well as “Perry gets indicted and Obama does not. I call bull**** and demand impeachment.”

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Image from
The company has even targeted Congressman, like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
“Harry Reid said our border is secure. Did they legalize crack in Washington,” a past sign read.
As far as the most recent statement is concerned, Marco Romero of Katy told KHOU the sign was in “pretty poor taste,” although she defended the company’s right to express its views.
On Facebook, meanwhile, commenters were far more supportive.
“You’re speaking what many, many, many are thinking. Thank you!” wrote a Facebook user named Zo Zo.
“Love ur signs and keep up the good work waking up America,” added Jessica Adkins.

Justice Dept. launches new intel-gathering program to ‘counter extremism’

The US Department of Justice said it is launching a national pilot program in a number of cities to try and detect American extremists interested in joining terrorist organizations and fighting in countries like Syria and Iraq.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said in a video message Monday that the program is designed to bring together community representatives, public safety officials, religious leaders, and US attorneys to “improve local engagement ... counter violent extremism ... and – ultimately – to build a broad network of community partnerships to keep our nation safe.”

According to Holder, the department is teaming up with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center for the purpose.

Today, few threats are more urgent than the threat posed by violent extremism,” Holder said in the video posted on the Justice Department’s website. “And with the emergence of groups like ISIL [ISIS/The Islamic State], and the knowledge that some Americans are attempting to travel to countries like Syria and Iraq to take part in ongoing conflicts, the Justice Department is responding appropriately.”

Which cities will participate in the program was not shared by the Justice Department, nor were details of how widespread the problem of recruitment is.

Earlier this month, Matt Olsen of the National Counterterrorism Center told The Guardian that fewer than 100 Americans have traveled to Syria to fight alongside various rebel factions and the splinter ISIS group, and a Defense Department spokesman estimated that the Islamic State counts perhaps a dozen Americans in its ranks.

Last week, a 19-year-old Colorado woman “pleaded guilty to trying to help the Islamic State group,” the Associated Press reported. According to the report, the woman’s plea deal “requires her to give authorities information about other Americans with the same intentions.”

READ MORE: ISIS daily profits from oil, theft, human trafficking exceed $3mn – report

Already, since 2012, our U.S. Attorneys have held or attended more than 1,700 engagement-related events or meetings to enhance trust and facilitate communication in their neighborhoods and districts. This innovative new pilot initiative will build on that important work,” said Holder.

And the White House will be hosting a Countering Violent Extremism summit in October to highlight these and other domestic and international efforts. Ultimately, the pilot programs will enable us to develop more effective – and more inclusive – ways to help build the more just, secure, and free society that all Americans deserve,” he added.

American-Muslim Civil rights groups spoke out when it was revealed the FBI and local police departments such as the NYPD were carrying out surveillance on, monitoring and entrapping their communities since 9/11. They say Islam itself is seen by these agencies as a threat to US national security.

READ MORE: Bloomberg stands by spying on Muslims

Given the lack of any substantive responses from this administration about the FBI’s surveillance and infiltration of Muslim communities, and the lack of concern for civil liberties, many will wonder whether this is another opportunity to covertly collect intelligence,” Fahd Ahmed, director of the DRUM - South Asian Organizing Center, told RT America.

A series of stories published by the AP and based on confidential NYPD documents previously revealed how the department sought to infiltrate dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups in New York and elsewhere. The leaks became the basis of several lawsuits seeking an end to unlawful surveillance.