National Higher Eduction Fund shows nurse earning RM27.4mil


Auditor Rpt 2013Malaysia’s Auditor-General’s Report 2013

THE National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) was found to have “illogical” records of parents of loan applicants with a nurse said to be earning RM27.4mil.

PTPTN1“Information of parents or guardians’ salary is important to determine the eligibility of the loan applicant. However, it was found that there were 384 record of salaries which were illogical compared to their job,” the Auditor-General’s Report said.

Among others, it showed that a policeman earned RM1.98mil; while a clerk was paid just RM34 and a settler got a paltry RM2. The report also discovered 921 duplicated records, with students having between two and seven similar accounts.

In its reply, PTPTN said that it would sort out its data on borrowers’ information in its master file.

The archiving process is expected to finish by June

On another matter, the Auditor-General also criticised the agency for equipping its officers with both a personal computer and laptop, a move which cost more than RM100,000 in leasing fees. Yet, the 104 computers were left unused in storerooms.

“An officer should be alloted only one laptop which can be used both in the office or outside. Such a move could save PTPTN RM1.4mil in cost in three years.”

The report said PTPTN branches in Pahang, Sarawak, Perak and Negri Sembilan had 49 desktops and seven laptops left in the storerooms.

In its reply, PTPTN explained that 87 out of 104 computers had been installed in stages at its branches while the rest were used to facilitate the printing of National Education Savings Scheme deposit cards at all PTPTN counters.

As for the Prisons Department, it was ticked off for keeping its bread-making equipment at inappropriate places such as car parks.

The equipment was meant for its Bread Industry Self-Sufficiency Pro­gramme where prisoners could acquire new skills.

However, an audit on five prisons showed that the machines were not properly kept.

In its response on Feb 4, the department said the machines had been moved to a safer place and that the rusty ones had been cleaned up.

Health offices used funds meant for poor kids on own meals

PETALING JAYA: Money meant for food to feed malnourished children was instead spent on buying meals such as nasi lemak, kuih and teh tarik to be served at meetings by three district health offices.

The abuse is one of the key highlights of the 2013 Auditor-General’s Report which listed 283 issues related to wastage of funds, poor rev­­e­n­ue and asset management, negligence as well as weak planning and monitoring of projects.

The shocking discovery showed that RM87,851 out of RM923,000 meant to feed poor rural children was misspent by the Jerantut, Gua Musang and Kota Kinabalu health offices, causing a public uproar.

The report pointed out that the funds were also misused by the three health offices to buy curtains, hampers for cooking programmes, and replica models of food items such as biscuits, nasi goreng, and nasi lemak.

Souvenirs, t-shirts for a choir group, as well as the rental of canopies for a family day were also among the items purchased.

Discrepancies were also found between the prices of food items in the tender documents and invoices.

As a result of the discovery, the Health Ministry set up an internal investigation committee on Feb 27 to investigate and reprimand the officers involved.

Suhakam commissioner James Nayagam described the abuse involving hungry children as a serious crime that should be investigated by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

“This is corruption no matter how you cut the cake, because money meant for hungry children was used to feed those who were supposed to take care of them,” said Nayagam who has worked with children’s organisations for the past 33 years.

The report said that the weight recovery of the children in the Health Ministry’s Rehabilitation Programme for Malnourished Children, which started in 1989, also did not reflect the targets set.

The underweight children were found to have only achieved normal weight after a year and not within the six to 12 months promised by the programme.

A total of 8,556 children were in the programme between 2011 and 2013 with an allocation of RM66.51mil.

All the youngsters were supposed to receive food baskets comprising food items and multivitamins worth RM150 each under the programme.

The food baskets provided 104% of their calorie needs and 222% of their protein needs.

The report said some of the health offices went over the RM150 budget in buying the food items for the children due to the rise in the price of goods and the higher cost of certain items in rural areas.

A total of RM238,213 was overspent on the food baskets, with the Tawau health office found to have overspent by RM88.80 per basket.

The report said the ministry after being queried had set up an internal investigation committee on Jan 27 and that the probe on the matter was expected to be finished by the end of February.

The ministry had also explained to the auditors that it needed to spend not just on the malnourished children’s programme but on other programmes as well.

The report in its recommendations said officers must have a good grasp of financial regulations to ensure that allocations were spent according to the rules.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam, when contacted, declined to comment, saying his ministry would issue a statement in due time.

- Contributed b by RAZAK AHMAD,MAZWIN NIK ANIS and G. SURACH The Star/Asia News Network

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China ship detected ‘pulse signals’ are consistent with MH370 aircraft black box


MALAYSIA-CHINA-AVIATION-AUSTRALIA-FILESThis photograph taken on July 24, 2013 shows crew members standing on the deck of the vessel “Haixun 01″

Chinese patrol ship picks up signal in Indian Ocean

< Video China’s patrol ship, the Haixun 01, has picked up pulses with a frequency of 37.5 kilo hertz in the …

MH370 search: Signal detectedconsistentwith black box, says Australian ex-military chief

Chinese aircraft spots new floating objects in search of MH370

A Chinese air force plane searching for missing Malaysian passenger jet MH370 spotted a number of white floating objects in the search area Saturday.

Planes and ships continue criss-cross search grid fo flight MH370 in Indian ocean | Watch News Videos Online
 
PERTH, Australia — A Chinese ship involved in the hunt for the missing Malaysian jetliner reported hearing a “pulse signal” Saturday in southern Indian Ocean waters with the same frequency emitted by the plane’s data recorders, as Malaysia vowed not to give up the search for the aircraft.

The Australian government agency coordinating the search for the missing plane said early Sunday that the electronic pulse signals reportedly detected by the Chinese ship are consistent with those of an aircraft black box. But retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, the head of the search coordination agency, said they “cannot verify any connection” at this stage between the electronic signals and the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Military and civilian planes, ships with deep-sea searching equipment and a British nuclear submarine scoured a remote patch of the southern Indian Ocean off Australia’s west coast, in an increasingly urgent hunt for debris and the “black box” recorders that hold vital information about Malaysia Airlines Flight 370′s last hours.

After weeks of fruitless looking, the multinational search team is racing against time to find the sound-emitting beacons in the flight and cockpit voice recorders that could help unravel the mystery of the plane’s fate. The beacons in the black boxes emit “pings” so they can be more easily found, but the batteries only last for about a month.

A Chinese ship that is part of the search effort detected a “pulse signal” in southern Indian Ocean waters, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported. Xinhua, however, said it had not yet been determined whether the signal was related to the missing plane, citing the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center.

Xinhua said a black box detector deployed by the ship, Haixun 01, picked up a signal at 37.5 kilohertz (cycles per second), the same frequency emitted by flight data recorders. Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, confirmed that the frequency emitted by Flight 370′s black boxes were 37.5 kilohertz and said authorities were verifying the report.

Earlier Saturday, Xinhua reported that a Chinese military aircraft searching for the missing aircraft spotted “white floating objects” not far from where the electronic signals were detected.

Finding floating wreckage is key to narrowing the search area, as officials can then use data on currents to backtrack to where the plane hit the water, and where the flight recorders may be.

Houston said the Australian-led Joint Agency Coordination Centre heading the search operation could not yet verify the Chinese reports and had asked China for “any further information that may be relevant.” He said the Australian air force was considering deploying more aircraft to the area where the Chinese ship reportedly detected the sounds.

“I have been advised that a series of sounds have been detected by a Chinese ship in the search area. The characteristics reported are consistent with the aircraft black box,” Houston said, adding that the Australian-led agency had also received reports of the white objects sighted on the ocean surface about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from where the electronic signals were detected.

“However, there is no confirmation at this stage that the signals and the objects are related to the missing aircraft,” Houston said.

Still, Malaysia’s defense minister and acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, was hopeful. “Another night of hope – praying hard,” he tweeted in response to the latest discoveries.

There are many clicks, buzzes and other sounds in the ocean from animals, but the 37.5 kilohertz pulse was selected for underwater locator beacons on black boxes because there is nothing else in the sea that would naturally make that sound, said William Waldock, an expert on search and rescue who teaches accident investigation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.

“They picked that (frequency) so there wouldn’t be false alarms from other things in the ocean,” he said.

Honeywell Aerospace, which made the boxes in the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, said the Underwater Acoustic Beacons on both the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder operate at a frequency of 37.5 kilohertz plus or minus 1 kilohertz.

Waldock cautioned that “it’s possible it could be an aberrant signal” from a nuclear submarine if there was one in the vicinity.

If the sounds can be verified, it would reduce the search area to about 10 square kilometers (4 square miles), Waldock said. Unmanned robot subs with sidescan sonar would then be sent into the water to try to locate the wreckage, he said.

John Goglia, a former U.S. National Transportation Safety Board member, called the report “exciting,” but cautioned that “there is an awful lot of noise in the ocean.”

“One ship, one ping doesn’t make a success story,” he said. “It will have to be explored. I guarantee you there are other resources being moved into the area to see if it can be verified.”

The Boeing 777 disappeared March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing with 239 people aboard. So far, no trace of the jet has been found.

Hishammuddin, the Malaysian defense minister, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that the cost of mounting the search was immaterial compared to providing solace for the families of those on board by establishing what happened.

EPA/ABIS JULIANNE CROPLEY/AUSTRALIAN DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCE

EPA/ABIS JULIANNE CROPLEY/AUSTRALIAN DEPARTMENT OF DEFENCEA handout picture made available by the Australian Department of Defense (DOD) on 02 April 2014 shows the HMAS Success searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, at sea in the southern Indian Ocean, 31 March 2013. 

“I can only speak for Malaysia, and Malaysia will not stop looking for MH370,” Hishammuddin said.

He said an independent investigator would be appointed to lead a team that will try to determine what happened to Flight 370. The team will include three groups: One will look at airworthiness, including maintenance, structures and systems; another will examine operations, such as flight recorders and meteorology; and a third will consider medical and human factors.

The investigation team will include officials and experts from several nations, including Australia – which as the nearest country to the search zone is currently heading the hunt – China, the United States, Britain and France, Hishammuddin said.

Officials have said the hunt for the wreckage is among the hardest ever undertaken, and will get much harder if there are no confirmed debris sightings and the beacons fall silent before they are found.

If that happens, the only hope for finding the plane may be a full survey of the Indian Ocean floor, an operation that would take years and an enormous international operation.

Hishammuddin said there were no new satellite images or data that can provide new leads for searchers. The focus now is fully on the ocean search, he said.

Two ships – the Australian navy’s Ocean Shield and the British HMS Echo – carrying sophisticated equipment that can hear the recorders’ pings returned Saturday to an area investigators hope is close to where the plane went down. They concede the area they have identified is a best guess.

Up to 13 military and civilian planes and nine other ships took part in the search Saturday, the Australian agency coordinating the search said.

Because the U.S. Navy’s pinger locator can pick up signals to a depth of 6,100 meters (20,000 feet), it should be able to hear the plane’s data recorders even if they are in the deepest part of the search zone – about 5,800 meters (19,000 feet). But that’s only if the locator gets within range of the black boxes – a tough task, given the size of the search area and the fact that the pinger locator must be dragged slowly through the water at just 1 to 5 knots (1 to 6 mph).

Australia’s Houston acknowledged the search area was essentially a best guess, and noted the time when the plane’s locator beacons would shut down was “getting pretty close.”

The overall search area is a 217,000-square-kilometer (84,000-square-mile) zone in the southern Indian Ocean, about 1,700 kilometers (1,100 miles) northwest of the western Australian city of Perth.

Nick Perry and Eileen Ng, Associated Press
Ng reported from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Associated Press writers Gillian Wong in Kuala Lumpur, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, Kristen Gelineau and Rohan Sullivan in Sydney, and Joan Lowy in Washington contributed to this report.

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This 2011 photo provided by Sylvain Pascaud shows the ship Alucia and the REMUS 6000 robot sub during the search for Air France Flight 447….

Chinese tourists abducted by Philippine terrorists, to sour ties with China?


Philippines Kidnapping_Gao

PERTH: Malaysia is not ruling out the possibility that the latest abduction case at a resort off Semporna was a deliberate act to sour the country’s relations with China, says Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

He said the fact that one of those kidnapped was a Chinese national could complicate the situation further following the disappearance of MH370, which had mostly Chinese nationals on board.

“There may be those who are attempting to drive a wedge between China and us. They may be trying to take advantage of the situation,” Najib said after a bilateral meeting with his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott at the Commonwealth Parlia­mentary Office here.

Najib, however, believes ties with China will remain strong despite the kidnap incident.

Najib said Malaysia had sought the cooperation of Filipino authorities on the matter, while police were investigating how the incident could have happened.

A news portal had reported that rebel group Abu Sayyaf was responsible for the abduction.

Filipino military sources told Rappler.com that the two women were taken by six former Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) members who had joined Abu Sayyaf.

In Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman has ordered that all available resources be directed towards solving the kidnapping case at a resort in Sem­porna.

He said the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) director-general Datuk Mohammad Mentek had briefed him on the kidnapping.

Kidnappers suspected to be Philippine militants

<< Video For the latest on the kidnapping, let´s go live to James Chau in the Malaysian capital Kuala L…

RM11.5mil the usual price for non-Filipino hostage

PETALING JAYA: The notorious Abu Sayyaf group believed to be responsible for the abduction of a Chinese and Philippine national in Sabah used to demand up to US$3.5mil (RM11.5mil) for the release of non-Filipino citizens, said a security analyst.

Prof Dr Aruna Gopinath who specialises in maritime security said the separatist group based at Basilan in the southern Philippines would typically charge a lower rate of three million pesos (RM219,000) for the release of Filipino citizens.

“The Abu Sayyaf are only interested in money and a ransom will have to be paid before they release their hostages,” she said.

Aruna said a Philippine reporter she knew was kidnapped by the group in 2011 and was held captive for 90 days.

“She met the Abu Sayyaf leaders in Basilan for an interview but was instead kidnapped by them, kept under guard in a house and given only water and two bananas three times a day.”

Philippines Kidnapping_Map

Aruna said a Philippine congressman eventually agreed to pay the ransom of three million pesos after which her friend was let go.

Another Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) breakaway group that specialises in kidnapping is the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters which Malaysian authorities must be alert for, said Aruna.

In a related development, the Associated Press quoted a Philippine intelligence official yesterday as confirming that the kidnapping was the work of the Abu Sayyaf group.

He said Abu Sayyaf leaders were angry because they were not brought into the peace deal between the Philippine government and MILF.

The most recent in a long list of abductions blamed on the Abu Sayyaf prior to the incident in Sabah on Wednesday was the reported kidnapping of an elementary school principal in Basilan on Monday.

- The Star/Asia News Network

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Search for missing MH370 jet could turn on robot subs


 

MH370_Robot SubsThis 2011 photo provided by Sylvain Pascaud shows the ship Alucia and the REMUS 6000 robot sub during the search for Air France Flight 447. Unmanned subs, also called autonomous underwater vehicles or AUVs, played a critical role in locating the wreckage of the lost Air France jet, two years after it crashed in the middle of the south Atlantic. The find allowed searchers to recover the black boxes that revealed the malfunctions behind the tragedy. Sylvain Pascaud, Associated Press
Two miles down or more and darker than night, the ocean becomes a particularly challenging place for human searchers.If the wreckage of a missing Malaysian airliner rests somewhere in the Indian Ocean’s depths, then investigators will likely need to entrust the hunt at least partly to robot submarines and the scientists who deploy them to scan remote swaths of the seafloor.

Such unmanned subs, called autonomous underwater vehicles or AUVs, played a critical role in locating the carcass of a lost Air France jet in 2011, two years after it crashed in the middle of the south Atlantic. The find allowed searchers to recover the black boxes that revealed the malfunctions behind the tragedy.

That search keyed off critical information: The search area for the Air France jet was much smaller than that for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, and the first pieces of wreckage were recovered within days of the crash.

Even then, it required two years and four deep water search missions before a team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, using an AUV equipped with side-scan sonar, located the jet about 12,800 feet (3,900 meters) underwater.

“Air France 447 is a bit different from Malaysian Air 370 in that we had a few more clues to work with,” said Dave Gallo, who led the search team from Woods Hole, located on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod. The independent research institution has offered its services to investigators but has not been asked to join the current search effort.

Before unmanned subs can be sent down to look for the Malaysian jet, the search zone must be narrowed considerably. That depends on finding wreckage on the surface. Officials cautioned Wednesday that search planes, which have scoured the ocean for more than three weeks without finding any sign of the downed jet, aren’t certain to find any wreckage and that investigators may not be able to determine the reason for its disappearance.

The size of the search area changes daily because of factors such as currents; on Wednesday it was 85,000 square miles (221,000 square kilometers).

But if investigators can zero in on an approximate crash location, they will likely turn to AUVs to begin the methodical task of tracking back and forth across miles of ocean floor in search of anomalies that might be wreckage.

“I like to think of it as mowing the lawn. You want to cover every bit of it,” Gallo said.

“You need a little bit of luck and a lot of prayer that the oceans are going to cooperate, and then off you go.”

The unmanned subs used by the Woods Hole team were developed as tools to research and monitor relatively shallow coastal waters, measuring variables like salinity and temperature over wide areas for hours on end. But AUVs are increasingly harnessed to perform some of the most demanding underwater jobs.

The U.S. Navy uses them to search for underwater mines because they can stay below the surface of even very cold water much longer than any diver, without the worry of exposing a human to danger. Energy companies employ unmanned subs to survey the floor at underwater drill sites.

In 2009, California’s Waitt Institute sent down a pair of AUVs that surveyed more than 2,000 square miles of South Pacific ocean bottom over 72 days in an unsuccessful search for Amelia Earhart’s plane.

The area off western Australia where search planes and aircraft are looking for the Malaysian jet slopes from about 2,600 feet (800 meters) to about 9,800 feet (3,000 meters) deep. But part of the zone drops into the narrow Diamantina trench, about 19,000 feet (5,800 meters) down.

“Let’s hope the wreck debris has not landed over this escarpment. It’s a long way to the bottom,” said Robin Beaman, a marine geologist at Australia’s James Cook University.

The U.S. Navy last week sent a Bluefin-21 autonomous sub to Australia to prepare for an eventual deep water search. That sub can dive to about 14,800 feet (4,500 meters). The largest unmanned subs used by Woods Hole researchers are built to reach depths of about 19,700 feet (6,000 meters).

Searchers can also use tethered submersibles, towed by ships from cable that allows for real-time data transmission to the surface and a continuous supply of power to the vehicle. But it is a very slow process. AUVs can scan a larger area more quickly, without being affected by conditions on the surface. But they must be brought back to the surface to recharge, and for researchers to download and analyze their data.

Even so, they are much better suited to the job of deep water search than any manned sub, whose descents are limited by air, light and power, as well as safety concerns, said William Sager, a professor of marine geophysics at the University of Houston.

Sager recalled that in 2000, when he climbed aboard a sub and ventured 5,600 feet (1,700 meters) down to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, all those factors limited time on the sea floor to just four hours, moving at a crawl. A researcher looking out a porthole into even the clearest water with a very bright light can’t see beyond 100 feet, he said.

Unmanned subs are far more flexible. When Woods Hole engineers built their first REMUS 6000 sub a little more than a decade ago, they tested it off the Bahamas by driving it down a trench the scale of the Grand Canyon, said Chris von Alt, who led the team that developed the craft and then co-founded Hydroid Inc., the Massachusetts manufacturer of the subs.

The REMUS sub — nearly 13 feet long, 1,900 pounds and mustard yellow — is equipped with sonar that can be programmed to capture images of vast stretches of seafloor and the objects resting there. Powered by a lithium battery, the unmanned subs stay below the surface for 20 to 24 hours. Scientists on the surface are now able to modify instructions to the sub via an acoustic link that allows them to look at bits of data gathered by the vehicle, von Alt said.

But they don’t know what the sub has found until it surfaces and its data is fully downloaded to a computer.
The task requires patience and, for researchers whose livelihoods are focused on ocean life, a willingness to harness their expertise in a grim but necessary pursuit of answers.

“That’s why you do it,” von Alt said. “One of (the reasons) is, ‘Why did it happen?’ But the other is to get closure for the families who have suffered through the tragedy.”

- Contributed by AP writers Adam Geller and Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand and videographer Steve Andrada in Woods Hole, Mass.

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Disturbing legal implications on sedition and ‘fatwa’ in Malaysia


Karpal_Kassim AhmadKassim Ahmad & Karpal Singh Two recent cases raise the issue of what amounts to sedition and why one can’t question or challenge a ‘fatwa’.

THE recent conviction of Karpal Singh under the Sedition Act and the charging of Kassim Ahmad under the Federal Territories Syariah offences law raise some disturbing questions with serious implications as to where we are headed as a democratic nation.

First, let us look at the Sedition Act. The trouble with this law, a remnant of British colonialism, is two-fold. First, its basic premise is that criticism of authority should be controlled. This in itself is already an affront to democracy.

Second is its open-ended nature. Just what exactly amounts to sedition, for example. However, up until the Karpal Singh case, I thought there was one defence in the Sedition Act that was pretty strong.

Something is not seditious if you are pointing out that the object of your criticism has done something wrong, especially in the context of their constitutional limitations. This appears so clear to me that it seemed unlikely any court could find a way around it.

Alas, that is exactly what seems to have happened to Karpal. He basically said that the decision made by the Sultan of Perak of choosing a new Mentri Besar for the state in 2009 could be questioned in court.

I can’t for the life of me see what is seditious about that. Is the Sultan limited by the Constitution and the law in the discharge of his powers? Yes, of course he is. And if there is a dispute as to whether he acted lawfully or not, could he not be questioned? Again, of course he should, for we live in a constitutional and not an absolute monarchy.

And lastly, if there is to be a questioning of the acts of a member of the royalty, is there a lawful manner with which this can be done? Again the answer is yes, because we have the Special Court which was designed specifically for the royals and inserted into our Constitution by the Government.

Even within the authoritarian nature of the Sedition Act, there seem to be limits as to what can be deemed seditious. I thought those limits were clear enough. It appears that I am wrong.

What is of concern is that even when an act clearly falls within the allowable limits of a law, this does not appear to make any difference at all. Thus, the reach of a poor law becomes even greater and all that much more oppressive.

The second thing I want to talk about is the charging of Kassim Ahmad. This case raises some serious problems with some of the Syariah laws we have in this country.

According to the Syariah Offences law of the Federal Territories, it is an offence to question and speak in contradiction to a fatwa made by the mufti.

This fatwa need not be gazetted, that is to say made into law, just its mere exclamation is enough to give it weight of law. Needless to say, fatwas which have been gazetted can’t be questioned either.

Firstly, one wonders why one can’t question or challenge a law? If a fatwa is gazetted and made into law, what makes it different from any other law? Why can’t it be challenged? I can criticise the Contracts Act so why can’t I criticise any other thing which affects my life?

But what is really disturbing is the fact that a fatwa, which is after all merely an opinion, can carry the weight of law even without going through the legislative process of debate and voting. This in effect means that one person’s words suddenly become akin to a law for we cannot challenge it and if we do we can face a fine and jail.

This is frightfully undemocratic and can lead to some horrific scenarios. What if a mufti passes a fatwa saying that any sort of dissension against the civil government is wrong?

According to the Federal Territories law, any challenge of fatwa can be punished. What kind of democracy are we living in if a person’s statement by itself can have such authority?

Much has been said about how Malaysia is edging towards a more liberal and open democracy. Laws have been repealed or changed and steps (albeit baby steps) have apparently been taken.

What these two events show is that there are still some very undemocratic laws in existence, they are still being used and any hope that we are becoming more democratic is hopelessly naïve.

Brave New World by Azmi Sharam

> Azmi Sharom (azmisharom@yahoo.co.uk) is a law teacher. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Searching the vast seabed of jet hunt zone mostly flat with one trench for MH370


MH370_SeabedThis undated graphic provided by Commonwealth of Australia (Geoscience Australia) Dr. Robin Beaman

WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Two miles beneath the sea surface where satellites and planes are looking for debris from the missing Malaysian jet, the ocean floor is cold, dark, covered in a squishy muck of dead plankton and — in a potential break for the search — mostly flat. The troubling exception is a steep, rocky drop ending in a deep trench.

The seafloor in this swath of the Indian Ocean is dominated by a substantial underwater plateau known as Broken Ridge, where the geography would probably not hinder efforts to find the main body of the jet that disappeared with 239 people on board three weeks ago, according to seabed experts who have studied the area.

Australian officials on Friday moved the search to an area 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of a previous zone as the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continued to confound. There is no guarantee that the jet crashed into the new search area. Planes that have searched it for two days have spotted objects of various colors and sizes, but none of the items scooped by ships has been confirmed to be related to the plane.

The zone is huge: about 319,000 square kilometers (123,000 square miles), roughly the size of Poland or New Mexico. But it is closer to land than the previous search zone, its weather is much more hospitable — and Broken Ridge sounds a lot craggier than it really is.

And the deepest part is believed to be 19,000 feet within the range of American black box ping locators on an Australian ship leaving Sunday for the area and expected to arrive in three or four days.

Formed about 100 million years ago by volcanic activity, the ridge was once above water.

Pulled under by the spreading of the ocean floor, now it is more like a large underwater plain, gently sloping from as shallow as about 2,625 feet to about 9,843 feet deep. It got its name because long ago the movement of the Earth’s tectonic plates separated it from another plateau, which now sits about 1,550 miles to the southwest.

Much of Broken Ridge is covered in a sediment called foraminiferal ooze, made of plankton that died, settled and was compacted by the tremendous pressure from the water above.

“Think like it’s been snowing there for tens of millions of years,” said William Sager, a professor of marine geophysics at the University of Houston in Texas.

Like snow, the layer of microscopic plankton shells tends to smooth out any rises or falls in the underlying rock. In places, the layer is up to half a mile deep.

But if the fuselage of the Boeing 777 did fall on to Broken Ridge, it would not sink much into the muck.

“The surface would be soft, it would squeeze between your toes, but it’s not so soft that you would disappear like snow,” Sager said. “Something big like pieces of an airplane, it’s going to be sitting on the surface.”

Searchers will be hoping that if the latest area turns out to be where the plane crashed — and that remains educated guesswork until searchers can put their hands on aerial debris sightings and check what it is — the fuselage did not go down on the southern edge of Broken Ridge.

That’s where the ocean floor drops precipitously — more than 2 1/2 miles in places, according to Robin Beaman, a marine geologist at Australia’s James Cook University. It’s not a sheer cliff, more like a very steep hill that a car would struggle to drive up. At the bottom of this escarpment is the narrow Diamantina trench, which measurements put as deep at 19,000 feet, though no one is sure of its greatest depth because it has never been precisely mapped.

“Let’s hope the wreck debris has not landed over this escarpment — it’s a long way to the bottom,” Beaman said.

The Diamantina trench, named after an Australian navy vessel, is one of the deeper sections of the parts of the oceans that surround Antarctica, according to Mike Coffin, the executive director of the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at Australia’s University of Tasmania.

The trench’s rocky crags and crannies would make it difficult for ships using instruments like side-scanning sonar or multi-beam echo sounders to distinguish any debris from the crevices.

Searchers will especially be hoping to locate the jet’s two “black boxes,” which recorded sounds in the cockpit and data on the plane’s performance and flight path that could help reconstruct why it diverted sharply west from its overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8. The black boxes were designed to emit locator pings for at least 30 days, and are projected to lose battery power — and thus their pings — by mid-April.

The pinger can be heard as far as 2 1/2 miles away, but the distance can vary widely, depending on the state of the sea and the wreckage location, said Joseph Kolly, director of research and engineering for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. Black boxes can get buried or muffled by other wreckage, and thermoclines, which are layers of water with great variations in temperature, can refract the signal, he said.

The sediment on Broken Ridge is unlikely to inhibit the ping — but on the escarpment or in the trench, rocks could scatter the sound, making it harder to detect, according to Mike Haberman, a research scientist specializing in acoustics at the University of Texas, Austin.

To pinpoint the ping they hear from the surface, searchers likely will run a submersible equipped with sonar several hundred feet above the ocean floor. The unmanned underwater vehicle will putter along at a slow jog, able to “see” objects on the floor that may seem out of place. But its vision is limited — in a day it could cover an area only about the size of Manhattan, Sager said.

The observations stored in the vehicle’s memory can be accessed only by bringing it to the surface.

Under the best conditions, to survey the entire new search area could take between three months and up to nearly two years, depending on the quality of data needed to identify the debris, according to calculations by David T. Sandwell, a professor of geophysics who specializes in seafloor mapping at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

Because it is such a painstaking — and expensive — process, most mapping has been focused on things that people consider useful, like underwater shipping hazards and potential oil deposits. With nothing much to interest people in the this part of the Indian Ocean, the maps tend to follow features like the volcanically active mid-ocean ridges, leaving big blank spaces in between.

There are 50-mile-wide strips of the search area where no shipboard measurements have been taken and scientists use less detailed satellite measurements and educated guesswork to depict what the floor actually looks like.

Precisely what the seafloor looks like in detail in the area of the new search is another in a long line of Flight 370 mysteries.

By JUSTIN PRITCHARD AND NICK PERRY  The Associated Press

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Obama’s secretive TPPA is driven by self-interest, patents and trade protectionism leading to costly medicines…


Barack Obama’s response to public criticism on the US trade deals with Europe and Asia-Pacific is less than convincing.

UNITED States President Barack Obama will soon be making a trip to Asian countries, including Malaysia. The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) will be on his agenda, just as the Trans­atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was a priority during his trip to Europe last week.

The TTIP is the agreement the US and European Union are negotiating — a counter­part to the TPPA that the US is negotiating with 11 Asian and Pacific countries, including Malaysia.

At a live-TV press conference in the Netherlands, Obama responded to strong public criticism against the TTIP and TTPA.

There is no point worrying about the provisions having effects on consumer and environmental protection until the deal is done, he said. Consumer and environmental protection would in fact be strengthened by trade deals.

“I spent my whole political life fighting for consumer protection,” he said, adding there is no ground for worries that companies can take action to weaken consumer and environmental protection.

The President’s comments on the TTIP presumably apply also to the TPPA since both contain similar provisions, and the criticisms from US and other lawmakers and NGOs also apply to both. Consumer and health groups have indeed been vocal in their criticisms and protests against the TPPA and TTIP.

They include Public Citizen, an organisation of America’s leading consumer advocate Ralph Nader, and Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the Nobel Prize winning medical group.

In Malaysia, groups representing consumers, patients, health and the environment, including the Consumers Association of Penang, Malaysian Council for Tobacco Cont­rol, the Malaysian Aids Council and several patients’ organisations, have been actively campaigning against the TPPA.

Obama’s response will not assure the critics. His first point, that there is no point worrying until the deal is done, will hit a raw nerve.

Lawmakers, including in the US Congress, and NGOs in countries involved in the two trade deals, have been disgruntled that the talks are held in secret and that they don’t have access to the texts.

The secrecy of the negotiations, the inability of the public to give feedback, and the lack of legitimacy of the process, is one of the maj­­or criticisms against these two trade deals.

Nevertheless, there is enough information, from leaked chapters, and from provisions in existing US free trade agreements, for the public to have a good idea what the trade deals entail. Obama’s advice that there is no point worrying until the final texts are revealed is likely to earn scorn rather than an assurance.

Second, the critics have good reasons to be worried or outraged.

These agreements would make it very difficult or even impossible for patients and government health authorities to have access to the much cheaper generic versions of the medicines, because of the tighter patent reg­ime the US is proposing in the TPPA.

As a result, millions of patients could be deprived of life-saving drugs since they, and their governments, cannot afford to buy the branded products.

According to MSF, the first generation of HIV drugs have come down in price by 99% over the last decade, from US$10,000 (RM33,000) per person per year in 2000 to roughly US$60 (RM196) today.

This is due to generic production in India, Brazil and Thailand, where these drugs were not patented.

This dramatic price drop enabled HIV/AIDS treatment to be scaled up for over six million people in developing countries.

According to MSF, the US proposals in the TPPA would cause many problems.

These would include extending the term of the patents beyond the already lengthy 20 years, the provision of “data exclusivity” (which will require generic companies to undertake their own costly clinical trials), and widening the scope of what medicines are patentable.

In Malaysia, several patient and medical groups in 2012 issued a joint statement opposing the US proposals, which they say will reduce access to medicines.

“We categorically oppose US demands for longer and stronger patents on medicines and medical technologies that are essential to save Malaysian lives,” said leaders of six groups.

The groups involved include the National Cancer Society Malay­sia, Breast Cancer Wel-fare Association, Malaysian AIDS Council, Malaysian Treatment Access and Advocacy, Malaysian Thoracic Society and Malaysian Mental Health Association.

They said that cancers require affordable chemotherapy medicines.

HIV second line medicines like Kaletra are required to save lives, and are often out of reach to persons living with HIV.

Many other conditions depend on generic medicines, such as cancer, tuberculosis, malaria and diabetes. They asked that the US proposals be rejected.

But it is not only medicines that are affected. Consumers of information, media and books too will be affected by tighter copyright laws that are likely to result in more expensive use of information materials and the Internet.

Health groups such as the Malaysian Council for Tobacco Control point out that measures to control cigarette sales, such as requiring plain packaging, will be threatened as the tobacco companies can sue the governments for affecting their revenues.

Under an investor-state dispute system (ISDS) in the TPPA, foreign investors can sue governments in an international tribunal, on grounds that their future revenues are affected by new policies.

Many cases against governments for their health and environmental policies have been already brought by companies under free trade agreements that contain this ISDS, and other bilateral investment treaties.

A tobacco firm has sued Australia and Uruguay for their plain-packaging policy.

A Swedish company made a US$2bil (RM6.5bil) claim against the German government for its policy to phase out nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear accident.

Germany has told the European Commission to exclude the ISDS mechanism in the TTIP, and the Commission has suspended negotiations with the US on ISDS.

In the TPPA, however, the ISDS is still the lynchpin of the whole agreement, as it is a strong enforcement mechanism that hangs over the heads of governments that naturally do not like being sued by companies in an international tribunal for millions or billions of dollars.

Thus, Obama’s assurances that there should be no worries about companies taking action on governments for their consumer and environmental policies ring hollow when many such actions have already been taken under existing US FTAs and other treaties.

Contributed by Global Trends Martin Khor The Star/Asia News Network

The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own. 

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  2.  TPPA negotiations hot up in early 2014
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    6. TPP affecting health policies?
    7. ASEAN plans world’s largest trading bloc in Asia, RCEP …

Be wary of virtual money! First Bitcoin launched in Malaysia


Bitcoin_Gold_giant bubbleBitcoin: the new gold or a giant bubble?

 

PETALINGJAYA: Malaysians have been warned against investing in virtual or Internet money as their savings could be wiped out if the exchange is hacked or runs into financial troubles.Over the last month, two major Bitcoin exchanges in Japan and Canada have gone offline, filed for bankruptcy or closed down after claiming more than US$500mil (RM1.6bil) in losses due to hacking.

In light of the controversy, Bank Negara has advised the public to be cautious of the risks involved in using digital currency, stressing that Bitcoin is not recognised as legal tender in Malaysia.

“The Central Bank does not regulate the operations of Bitcoin. The value is subject to fluctuations, (hence) the value of the investments may not be preserved,” an official told Sunday Star.

China, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Germany, France and Russia, have also issued similar warnings or banned the use of virtual currency. In Singapore, there are plans to regulate virtual currency exchanges and vending machines to address concerns that they could be used for money laundering or to fund terrorism activities.

A check by Sunday Star shows that in Malaysia, there are at least 12 local Bitcoin-related groups on Facebook, including Malaybtc Bitcoin, Bitcoin Malaysia #1 Group, Bitcoin Malaysia Open Group, Bitcoin Malaysia (Trader), Cryptocurrency Malaysia (Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, etc) and Malaysia Bitcom Info.

Last week, Bitcoin rolled out its first auto vending machines (AVM) at the Bangsar Shopping Complex in Kuala Lumpur and Gurney Plaza in Penang. Singapore-based Numoni Pte Ltd, which developed and launched the AVMs here, estimated that there were some 2,000 Bitcoin users in Malaysia and was targeting to install 100 Bitcoins AVMs within three years.

Its CEO Norma Sit said that Bitcoins were still in demand despite different countries deliberating its acceptance.

“The AVM lets the public buy small amounts of Bitcoin, which in many countries, is seen as an international voucher that can be used to barter for goods online,” she said.

Bitcoin Malaysia founder Colbert Low said Bitcoin had many unreported successes but was unfairly put in a bad light because of the recent controversy outside of Malaysia.

On March 10, Mt Gox, the world’s biggest Bitcoin exchange filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States, two weeks after its Tokyo-based exchange reportedly took its entire operation offline and filed for bankruptcy in Japan after claiming to have lost around US$500mil (RM1.6bil) to hacking.

Admitting that there were failures in companies and individuals that provided Bitcoin services, Low stressed that the Mt Gox case was “not Bitcoin” but specific to the exchange.

He described Bitcoin as a “building block for the future” and an innovative decentralised payment system software.

“Currency pricing is just one feature.

“Using it as a speculative tool for investment is up to the individual. Due diligence is needed and you cannot blame Bitcoin for losses suffered,” he said, cautioning that like any new technology, there are risks involved and bugs to fix.

Contributed by Christina Chin The Star/Asian News Netowork

Bitcoin_AVM-malaysiaFirst Bitcoin AVM launched in M’sia

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore-based payment transaction provider Numoni Pte Ltd has introduced the first Bitcoin auto vending machines (AVM) in Malaysia.

One month after it launched its Bitcoin AVM in Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, Spain in February 2014, Numoni has installed its Bitcoin AVMs in Bangsar Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur and at Gurney Plaza in Penang.

Earlier this year, Bank Negara Malaysia issued a statement announcing that the Bitcoin is not recognised as legal tender in Malaysia.

“The Central Bank does not regulate the operations of Bitcoin. The public is therefore advised to be cautious of the risks associated with the usage of such digital currency,” it had said.

Called the Numoni Nugen B2-Spirit machine, Numoni had also earlier launched its machines at four prominent locations in Singapore where people can transact.

Numoni CEO Norma Sit said while different countries are deliberating over the acceptance of Bitcoin, Bitcoin remains in demand.

“The Numoni Bitcoin Vending Machines enables the public to participate in buying small amounts of this crypto-currency that is seen in many countries as an international voucher that can be used to barter for goods online. The machines, which are assembled in Malaysia in our Senai factory, was fully developed by Numoni in Singapore since 2012,” Sit said in a statement.

Numoni targets to install 10 Bitcoin AVMs nationwide within one year and 100 AVMs within three years.

Bitcoin, a digital crypto currency, had taken centrestage on financial news recently with much focus on issues surrounding Mt Gox, a Bitcoin Exchange based in Tokyo, that was reportedly hacked. Nonetheless, investors and industry players continue to strongly support the virtual currency that is today one of the largest in the world.

Numoni has appointed BTC Future Sdn Bhd for the distribution of Bitcoin AVMs in Peninsula Malaysia.

The Numoni machines can be deployed to sell prepaid airtime and other voucher products on connection with telco gateways. Numoni will work with other industry partners in Malaysia to enable the sale of prepaid airtime on the Nugen machines with an intended roll-out in 2014.

The Numoni Bitcoin AVM reads the user’s Bitcoin QR Code, and completes the request to purchase with the insertion of fiat money. The Numoni Bitcoin AVMs can be linked to multiple Bitcoin Exchanges enabling the machines to present the best available price at the time of the requested transaction to Bitcoin customers.

Customers can buy and sell Bitcoins at Numoni Bitcoin AVMs. The machine enables users to sell their Bitcoins through a simple cash-out process working with retail merchants’ cash-out-points. Numoni has selected not to implement the cash-out mechanism in Singapore or Malaysia.

“From inception, Numoni understood that virtual currencies and mobile wallets will have tremendous impact on daily lives, in light of the incredible global penetration of mobile phones that today reaches all communities,” said Sit.

Sit added that it was a matter of time before virtual currencies are adopted to make life easier for billions who remain underserved by banks and financial institutions.

- Sunbiz@thesundaily.com

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Bitcoin creator mystery, who is the Face Behind the Bitcoin?

 

Bitcoin creator mystery, who is the Face Behind the Bitcoin?


BitcoinThis story has been appended to include a statement from Dorian Nakamoto received on March 19th when Newsweek was first contacted directly by Mr. Nakamoto’s attorney, denying his role in Bitcoin. 

Satoshi Nakamoto stands at the end of his sunbaked driveway looking timorous. And annoyed.

He’s wearing a rumpled T-shirt, old blue jeans and white gym socks, without shoes, like he has left the house in a hurry. His hair is unkempt, and he has the thousand-mile stare of someone who has gone weeks without sleep.

He stands not with defiance, but with the slackness of a person who has waged battle for a long time and now faces a grave loss.

Two police officers from the Temple City, Calif., sheriff’s department flank him, looking puzzled. “So, what is it you want to ask this man about?” one of them asks me. “He thinks if he talks to you he’s going to get into trouble.”

“I don’t think he’s in any trouble,” I say. “I would like to ask him about Bitcoin. This man is Satoshi Nakamoto.”

“What?” The police officer balks. “This is the guy who created Bitcoin? It looks like he’s living a pretty humble life.”

I’d come here to try to find out more about Nakamoto and his humble life. It seemed ludicrous that the man credited with inventing Bitcoin – the world’s most wildly successful digital currency, with transactions of nearly $500 million a day at its peak – would retreat to Los Angeles’s San Gabriel foothills, hole up in the family home and leave his estimated $400 million of Bitcoin riches untouched. It seemed similarly implausible that Nakamoto’s first response to my knocking at his door would be to call the cops. Now face to face, with two police officers as witnesses, Nakamoto’s responses to my questions about Bitcoin were careful but revealing.

Tacitly acknowledging his role in the Bitcoin project, he looks down, staring at the pavement and categorically refuses to answer questions.

“I am no longer involved in that and I cannot discuss it,” he says, dismissing all further queries with a swat of his left hand. “It’s been turned over to other people. They are in charge of it now. I no longer have any connection.”

Nakamoto refused to say any more, and the police made it clear our conversation was over.

But a two-month investigation and interviews with those closest to Nakamoto and the developers who worked most frequently with him on the out-of-nowhere global phenomenon that is Bitcoin reveal the myths surrounding the world’s most famous crypto-currency are largely just that – myths – and the facts are much stranger than the well-established fiction.

Video: Leah McGrath Goodman discusses her article

Far from leading to a Tokyo-based whiz kid using the name “Satoshi Nakamoto” as a cipher or pseudonym (a story repeated by everyone from Bitcoin’s rabid fans to The New Yorker), the trail followed by Newsweek led to a 64-year-old Japanese-American man whose name really is Satoshi Nakamoto. He is someone with a penchant for collecting model trains and a career shrouded in secrecy, having done classified work for major corporations and the U.S. military.

Standing before me, eyes downcast, appeared to be the father of Bitcoin.

Not even his family knew.

Satoshi Nakamoto in Lancaster, Calif. Credit: Photo via Photobucket.com via Satoshi Nakamoto (Wagumabher) Satoshi Nakamoto in Lancaster, Calif. Credit: Photo via Photobucket.com via Satoshi Nakamoto (Wagumabher) 
 

There are several Satoshi Nakamotos living in North America and beyond – both dead and alive – including a Ralph Lauren menswear designer in New York and another who died in Honolulu in 2008, according to the Social Security Index’s Death Master File. There’s even one on LinkedIn who claims to have started Bitcoin and is based in Japan. But none of these profiles seem to fit other known details and few of the leads proved credible. Of course, there is also the chance “Satoshi Nakamoto” is a pseudonym, but that raises the question why someone who wishes to remain anonymous would choose such a distinctive name. It was only while scouring a database that contained the registration cards of naturalized U.S. citizens that a Satoshi Nakamoto turned up whose profile and background offered a potential match. But it was not until after ordering his records from the National Archives and conducting many more interviews that a cohesive picture began to take shape.

Two weeks before our meeting in Temple City, I struck up an email correspondence with Satoshi Nakamoto, mostly discussing his interest in upgrading and modifying model steam trains with computer-aided design technologies. I obtained Nakamoto’s email through a company he buys model trains from.

He has been buying train parts from Japan and England since he was a teenager, saying, “I do machining myself, manual lathe, mill, surface grinders.”

The process also requires a good amount of math, something at which Nakamoto – and his entire family – excels. The eldest of three brothers who all work in engineering and technical fields, Nakamoto graduated from California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, Calif., with a degree in physics. But unlike his brothers, his circuitous career path is very hard to trace.

Nakamoto ceased responding to emails I’d sent him immediately after I began asking about Bitcoin. This was in late February. Before that, I’d also asked about his professional background, for which there is very little to be found in the public record. I only received evasive answers. When he asked about my background, I told him I’d be happy to elaborate over the phone and called him to introduce myself. When there was no response, I asked his oldest son, Eric Nakamoto, 31, to reach out and see whether his father would talk about Bitcoin. The message came back he would not. Attempts through other family members also failed.

After that, Nakamoto disregarded my requests to speak by phone and did not return calls. The day I arrived at his modest, single-family home in southern California, his silver Toyota Corolla CE was parked in the driveway but he didn’t answer the door.

At one point he did peer out, cracking open the door screen and making eye contact briefly. Then he shut it. That was the only time I saw him without police officers in attendance.

“You want to know about my amazing physicist brother?” says Arthur Nakamoto, Satoshi Nakamoto’s youngest sibling, who works as director of quality assurance at Wavestream Corp., a maker of radio frequency amplifiers in San Dimas, Calif.

“He’s a brilliant man. I’m just a humble engineer. He’s very focused and eclectic in his way of thinking. Smart, intelligent, mathematics, engineering, computers. You name it, he can do it.”

But he also had a warning.

“My brother is an asshole. What you don’t know about him is that he’s worked on classified stuff. His life was a complete blank for a while. You’re not going to be able to get to him. He’ll deny everything. He’ll never admit to starting Bitcoin.”

And with that, Nakamoto’s brother hung up.

His remarks suggested I was on the right track, but that was not enough. While his brother suggested Nakamoto would be capable of starting Bitcoin, I was not at all sure whether he knew for certain one way or the other. He said they didn’t get along and didn’t speak often.

I plainly needed to talk to Satoshi Nakamoto face to face.

Bitcoin is a currency that lives in the world of computer code and can be sent anywhere in the world without racking up bank or exchange fees, and is then stored on a cellphone or hard drive until used again. Because the currency resides in code, it can also be lost when a hard drive crashes, or stolen if someone else accesses the keys to the code.

“The whole reason geeks get excited about Bitcoin is that it is the most efficient way to do financial transactions,” says Bitcoin’s chief scientist, Gavin Andresen, 47. He acknowledges that Bitcoin’s ease of use can also lead to easy theft and that it is safest when stored in a safe-deposit box or on a hard drive that’s not connected to the Internet. “For anyone who’s tried to wire money overseas, you can see how much easier an international Bitcoin transaction is. It’s just as easy as sending an email.”

Even so, Bitcoin is vulnerable to massive theft, fraud and scandal, which has seen the price of Bitcoins whipsaw from more than $1,200 each last year to as little as $130 in late February.

The currency has attracted the attention of the U.S. Senate, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Reserve, the Internal Revenue Service, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which in October shuttered the online black market Silk Road and seized its $3.5 million cache of Bitcoin. “The FBI is now one of the largest holders of Bitcoin in the world,” Andresen says.

In recent weeks, a revived version of Silk Road as well as one of Bitcoin’s biggest exchanges, Tokyo-based Mt. Gox, shut down and filed for bankruptcy after attacks by hackers drained each of millions of dollars.

Andresen, a Silicon Valley refugee in Amherst, Mass., says he worked closely with the person “or entity” known as Satoshi Nakamoto on the development of Bitcoin from June 2010 to April 2011. This was before the rise of today’s multibillion-dollar Bitcoin economy, boosted last year by the unexpected, if cautious, endorsement of outgoing Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke, who said virtual currencies “may hold long-term promise.”

Since then, Bitcoin ATMs have been cropping up across North America (with some of the first in Vancouver, British Columbia; Boston; and Albuquerque, N.M.) while the acceptance of Bitcoin has spread to businesses as diverse as Tesla, OkCupid, Reddit, Overstock.com and Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s aviation company, which has said it will blast people into space if they cough up enough Bitcoin.

“Working on Bitcoin’s core code is really scary, actually, because if you wreck something, you can break this huge $8 billion project,” says Andresen. “And that’s happened. We have broken it in the past.”

For nearly a year, Andresen corresponded with the founder of Bitcoin a few times a week, often putting in 40-hour weeks refining the Bitcoin code. Throughout their correspondence, Nakamoto’s evasiveness was his hallmark, Andresen says.

In fact, he never even heard Nakamoto’s voice, because the founder of Bitcoin would not communicate by phone. Their interactions, he says, always took place by “email or private message on the Bitcointalk forum,” where enthusiasts meet online.

“He was the kind of person who, if you made an honest mistake, he might call you an idiot and never speak to you again,” Andresen says. “Back then, it was not clear that creating Bitcoin might be a legal thing to do. He went to great lengths to protect his anonymity.”

Nakamoto also ignored all of Andresen’s questions about where he was from, his professional background, what other projects he’d worked on and whether his name was real or a pseudonym (many of Bitcoin’s devotees use pseudonyms). “He was never chatty,” Andresen says. “All we talked about was code.”

Andresen, an Australian who graduated from Princeton with a Bachelor’s in computer science, eventually became Nakamoto’s point person on a growing team of international coders and programmers who worked on a volunteer basis to perfect the Bitcoin code after its inauspicious launch in January 2009.

Andresen originally heard about Bitcoin the following year through a blog he followed. He reached out to Nakamoto through one of the Bitcoin founder’s untraceable email addresses and offered his assistance. His initial message to Bitcoin’s inventor read: “Bitcoin is a brilliant idea, and I want to help. What do you need?”

Andresen says he didn’t give much thought to working for an anonymous inventor. “I am a geek,” he says simply. “I don’t care if the idea came from a good person or an evil person. Ideas stand on their own.”

Other developers were driven by “enlightened self-interest,” profit or personal politics, he says. But nearly all were intrigued by the promise of a digital currency accessible to anyone in the world that could bypass central banks at a time when the global financial system was on life support. In this respect, the launch of Bitcoin could not have been better timed.

In 2008, just before Bitcoin’s official kickoff, a somewhat stiffly written, nine-page proposal found its way onto the Internet bearing the name and email address of Satoshi Nakamoto.

The paper proposed “electronic cash” that “would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution,” with transactions time-stamped and viewable to all.

The masterstroke was replacing the role of banks as the trusted middlemen with Bitcoin users, who would act as sentinels for the integrity of the system, verifying transactions using their computing power in exchange for Bitcoin.

Bitcoin production is designed to move at a carefully calibrated pace to boost value and scarcity and remain inflation proof, halving its quantity every four years, and is designed to stop proliferating when Bitcoins reach a total of 21 million in 2140. (Bitcoins can be divided by up to eight decimal places, with the smallest units called “satoshis.”)

“I got the impression that Satoshi was really doing it for political reasons,” says Andresen, who gets paid in Bitcoins – along with a half-dozen other Bitcoin core developers working everywhere from Silicon Valley to Switzerland – by the Bitcoin Foundation, a nonprofit working to standardize the currency.

He doesn’t like the system we have today and wanted a different one that would be more equal. He did not like the notion of banks and bankers getting wealthy just because they hold the keys,” says Andresen.

Holding the keys has also made early comers to Bitcoin wealthy beyond measure. “I made a small investment in Bitcoin and it is actually enough that I could now retire if I wanted to,” Andresen says. “Overall, I’ve made about $800 per penny I’ve invested. It’s insane.”

One of the first people to start working with Bitcoin’s founder in 2009 was Martti Malmi, 25, a Helsinki programmer who invested in Bitcoins. “I sold them in 2011 and bought a nice apartment,” he says. “Today, I could have bought 100 nice apartments.”

Communication with Bitcoin’s founder was becoming less frequent by early 2011. Nakamoto stopped posting changes to the Bitcoin code and ignored conversations on the Bitcoin forum.

Andresen was unprepared, however, for Satoshi Nakamoto’s reaction to an email exchange between them on April 26, 2011.

“I wish you wouldn’t keep talking about me as a mysterious shadowy figure,” Nakamoto wrote to Andresen. “The press just turns that into a pirate currency angle. Maybe instead make it about the open source project and give more credit to your dev contributors; it helps motivate them.”

Andresen responded: “Yeah, I’m not happy with the ‘wacky pirate money’ tone, either.”

Then he told Nakamoto he’d accepted an invitation to speak at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters. “I hope that by talking directly to them and, more importantly, listening to their questions/concerns, they will think of Bitcoin the way I do – as a just-plain-better, more efficient, less-subject-to-political-whims money,” he said. “Not as an all-powerful black-market tool that will be used by anarchists to overthrow the System.”

From that moment, Satoshi Nakamoto stopped responding to emails and dropped off the map.

Nakamoto's house Nakamoto’s house

Nakamoto’s family describe him as extremely intelligent, moody and obsessively private, a man of few words who screens his phone calls, anonymizes his emails and, for most of his life, has been preoccupied with the two things for which Bitcoin has now become known: money and secrecy.

For the past 40 years, Satoshi Nakamoto has not used his birth name in his daily life. At the age of 23, after graduating from California State Polytechnic University, he changed his name to “Dorian Prentice Satoshi Nakamoto,” according to records filed with the U.S. District Court of Los Angeles in 1973. Since then, he has not used the name Satoshi but instead signs his name “Dorian S. Nakamoto.”

Descended from Samurai and the son of a Buddhist priest, Nakamoto was born in July 1949 in the city of Beppu, Japan, where he was brought up poor in the Buddhist tradition by his mother, Akiko. In 1959, after a divorce and remarriage, she immigrated to California, taking her three sons with her. Now age 93, she lives with Nakamoto in Temple City.

Nakamoto did not get along with his stepfather, but his aptitude for math and science was evident from an early age, says Arthur, who also notes, “He is fickle and has very weird hobbies.”

Just after graduating college, Nakamoto went to work on defense and electronics communications for Hughes Aircraft in southern California. “That was just the beginning,” says Arthur, who also worked at Hughes. “He is the only person I have ever known to show up for a job interview and tell the interviewer he’s an idiot – and then prove it.”

Nakamoto has six children. The first, a son from his first marriage in the 1980′s, is Eric Nakamoto, an animation and 3-D graphics designer in Philadelphia. His next five children were with his second wife, Grace Mitchell, 56, who lives in Audubon, N.J., and says she met Nakamoto at a Unitarian church mixer in Cherry Hill, N.J., in the mid-1980s. She recalls he came to the East Coast after leaving Hughes Aircraft, now part of Raytheon, in his 20s and next worked for Radio Corporation of America in Camden, N.J., as a systems engineer.

“We were doing defensive electronics and communications for the military, government aircraft and warships, but it was classified and I can’t really talk about it,” confirms David Micha, president of the company now called L-3 Communications.

Mitchell says her husband “did not talk much about his work” and sometimes took on military projects independent of RCA. In 1987, the couple moved back to California, where Nakamoto worked as a computer engineer for communications and technologies companies in the Los Angeles area, including financial information service Quotron Systems Inc., sold in 1994 to Reuters, and Nortel Networks.

Nakamoto, who was laid off twice in the 1990s, according to Mitchell, fell behind on mortgage payments and taxes and their home was foreclosed. That experience, says Nakamoto’s oldest daughter, Ilene Mitchell, 26, may have informed her father’s attitude toward banks and the government.

A libertarian, Nakamoto encouraged his daughter to be independent, start her own business and “not be under the government’s thumb,” she says. “He was very wary of the government, taxes and people in charge.”

She also describes her father as a man who worked all hours, from before the family rose in the morning to late into the night. “He would keep his office locked and we would get into trouble if we touched his computer,” she recalls. “He was always expounding on politics and current events. He loved new and old technology. He built his own computers and was very proud of them.”

Around 2000, Nakamoto and Grace separated, though they have never divorced. They moved back to New Jersey with their five children and Nakamoto worked as a software engineer for the Federal Aviation Administration in New Jersey in the wake of the September 11 attacks, doing security and communications work, says Mitchell.

“It was very secret,” she says. “He left that job sometime in 2001 and I don’t think he’s had a steady job since.”

When the FAA contract ended, Nakamoto moved back to Temple City, where for the rest of that decade things get hazy about what kind of work he undertook.

Ever since Bitcoin rose to prominence there has been a hunt for the real Satoshi Nakamoto. Did he act alone or was he working for the government? Bitcoin has been linked to everything from the National Security Agency to the International Monetary Fund.

Yet, in a world where almost every big Silicon Valley innovation seems to erupt in lawsuits over who thought of it first, in the case of Bitcoin the founder has remained conspicuously silent for the past five years.

“I could see my dad doing something brilliant and not accepting the greater effect of it,” says Ilene Mitchell, who works for Partnerships for Student Achievement in Beaverton, Ore. “But I honestly don’t see him being straight about it. Any normal person would be all over it. But he’s not totally a normal person.”

Nakamoto’s middle brother, Tokuo Nakamoto, who lives near his brother and mother, in Duarte, Calif., agrees. “He is very meticulous in what he does, but he is very afraid to take himself out into the media, so you will have to excuse him,” he says.

Characteristics of Satoshi Nakamoto, the Bitcoin founder, that dovetail with Dorian S. Nakamoto, the computer engineer, are numerous. Those working most closely with Bitcoin’s founder noticed several things: he seemed to be older than the other Bitcoin developers. And he worked alone.

“He didn’t seem like a young person and he seemed to be influenced by a lot of people in Silicon Valley,” says Nakamoto’s Finnish protégé, Martti Malmi. Andresen concurs: “Satoshi’s style of writing code was old-school. He used things like reverse Polish notation.”

In addition, the code was not always terribly neat, another sign that Nakamoto was not working with a team that would have cleaned up the code and streamlined it.

“Everyone who looked at his code has pretty much concluded it was a single person,” says Andresen. “We have rewritten roughly 70 percent of the code since inception. It wasn’t written with nice interfaces. It was like one big hairball. It was incredibly tight and well-written at the lower level but where functions came together it could be pretty messy.”

Satoshi Nakamoto’s 2008 online proposal also hints at his age, with the odd reference to “disk space” – something that hasn’t been an issue since the last millennium – and older research citations of contemporaries’ work going back to 1957.

The Bitcoin code is based on a network protocol that’s been established for decades. Its brilliance is not so much in the code itself, says Andresen, but in the design, which unites functions to reach multiple ends. The punctuation in the proposal is also consistent with how Dorian S. Nakamoto writes, with double spaces after periods and other format quirks.

In the debate between those who claim Nakamoto writes curiously “flawless English” for a Japanese man and those who contend otherwise, writing under both names can swerve wildly between uppercase and lowercase, full spellings and abbreviations, proper English and slang.

In his correspondences and writings, it has widely been noted that Satoshi Nakamoto alternates between British and American spellings – and, depending on his audience, veers between highly abbreviated verbiage and a more formal, polished style. Grace Mitchell says her husband does the same.

Dorian S. Nakamoto’s use of English, she says, was likely influenced by his lifelong interest in collecting model trains, many of which he imported from England as a teenager while he was still learning English.

Mitchell suspects Nakamoto’s initial interest in creating a digital currency that could be used anywhere in the world may have stemmed from his frustration with bank fees and high exchange rates when he was sending international wires to England to buy model trains. “He would always complain about that,” she says. “I would not say he writes flawless English. He will pick up words and mix the spellings.”

Eric, Nakamoto’s oldest son from his first marriage, says he remains torn over whether his father is the founder of Bitcoin, noting that messages from the latter appear more “concise” and “refined than that of my father’s.”

Perhaps the most compelling parallel between the two Nakamotos are their professional skill sets and career timeframes. Andresen says Satoshi Nakamoto told him about how long it took him to develop Bitcoin – a span that falls squarely into Dorian S. Nakamoto’s job lapse starting in 2001. “Satoshi said he’d been working on Bitcoin for years before he launched it,” Andresen says. “I could see the original code taking at least two years to write. He had a revelation that he had solved something no one had solved before.”

Satoshi Nakamoto’s three-year silence also dovetails with health issues suffered by Dorian S. Nakamoto in the past few years, his family says. “It has been hard, because he suffered a stroke several months ago and before that he was dealing with prostate cancer,” says his wife, who works as a critical-care nurse in New Jersey. “He hasn’t seen his kids for the past few years.”

She has been unable to get Nakamoto to speak with her about whether he was the founder of Bitcoin. Eric Nakamoto says his father has denied it. Tokuo and Arthur Nakamoto believe their brother will leave the truth unconfirmed.

“Dorian can just be paranoid,” says Tokuo. “I cannot get through to him. I don’t think he will answer any of these questions to his family truthfully.”

Of course, none of this puts to rest the biggest question of all – the one that only Satoshi Nakamoto himself can answer: What has kept him from spending his hundreds of millions of dollars of Bitcoin, which he reaped when he launched the currency years ago? According to his family both he – and they – could really use the money.

Andresen says if Nakamoto is as concerned about maintaining his anonymity as he remembers the answer might be simple: He does not want to participate in the Bitcoin madness. “If you come out as the leader of Bitcoin, now you have to make appearances and presentations and comments to the press and that didn’t really fit with Satoshi’s personality,” he says. “He didn’t really want to lead it anymore. He was pretty intolerant to incompetence. And he also realized the project would go on without him.”

On the other hand, it is possible Nakamoto simply lost the private security keys to unlock his Bitcoin and cash in on his riches. Andresen, however, says he doubts it. “He was too disciplined,” he says.

If Nakamoto ever sells his Bitcoin fortune, he would likely have to do so at a legitimate Bitcoin bank or exchange, which would not only give away his identity but alert everyone from the IRS to the FBI of his movements. While Bitcoin lets its users conduct transactions anonymously, all transactions can be viewed transparently online – and everyone is watching Nakamoto’s Bitcoin to see if he spends it, says Andresen.

For his part, Andresen says he is inclined to respect Nakamoto’s anonymity. “When programmers get together, we don’t talk about who Satoshi Nakamoto is,” he says. “We talk about how we should have invested in more Bitcoin. I mean, we’re curious about it, but honestly, we really don’t care.”

Calling the possibility her father could also be the father of Bitcoin “flabbergasting,” Ilene Mitchell says she isn’t surprised her father would choose to stay under cover if he was the man behind this venture, especially as he is currently concerned about his health.

“He is very wary of government interference in general,” she says. “When I was little, there was a game we used to play. He would say, ‘Pretend the government agencies are coming after you.’ And I would hide in the closet.”

Forensic analysts Sharon Sergeant and Barbara Mathews contributed to research for this piece.

Contributed by  Leah McGrath Goodman Newsweek Mar 6, 2014

Newsweek issued a statement about this article on March 7, 2014

*** Dorian Nakamoto’s Statement Recieved on March 19, 2014:Bitcoin_Nakamoto

My name is Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto. I am the subject of the Newsweekstory on Bitcoin. I am writing this statement to clear my name.

I did not create, invent or otherwise work on Bitcoin. I unconditionally deny the Newsweek report.

The first time I heard the term “bitcoin” was from my son in mid-February 2014. After being contacted by a reporter, my son called me and used the word,which I had never before heard. Shortly thereafter, the reporter confronted me at my home. I called the police. I never consented to speak with the reporter. In an ensuing discussion with a reporter from the Associated Press, I called the technology “bitcom.” 

I was still unfamiliar with the term.My background is in engineering. I also have the ability to program. My most recent job was as an electrical engineer troubleshooting air traffic controlequipment for the FAA. I have no knowledge of nor have I ever worked on cryptography, peer to peer systems, or alternative currencies.

I have not been able to find steady work as an engineer or programmer for ten years. I have worked as a laborer, polltaker, and substitute teacher. I discontinued my internet service in 2013 due to severe financial distress. I am trying to recover from prostate surgery in October 2012 and a stroke I suffered in October of 2013. My prospects for gainful employment has been harmed because of Newsweek’s article.

Newsweek’s false report has been the source of a great deal of confusion and stress for myself, my 93-year old mother, my siblings, and their families. I offer my sincerest thanks to those people in the United States and around the world who have offered me their support. I have retained legal counsel. This will be our last public statement on this matter. I ask that you now respect our privacy.

Dorian Satoshi Nakamoto
Temple City, California
March 17, 2014

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Chinese families stage mass walkout, demanded China’s inquiry into mysterious Flight MH370


MH370_Chinese walk outLone voice: The Malaysian delegation listening to the Chinese committee member talk in the hotel ballroom in Beijing. – AFP

BEIJING: Family members of Chinese passengers on board MH370 staged a mass walkout during a briefing by a high-level Malaysian delegation here.

A member of the committee that represents the relatives had asked them to leave the Lido Hotel ballroom as a show of discontent.

The families are convinced that the Malaysian authorities were hiding facts concerning the airliner, which had gone missing with 239 passengers and crew members.

Delegation members had just finished answering questions posed to them by the families a day earlier when the committee member stood up and addressed the crowd.

“Have you heard any updates related to our loved ones from the delegation?” he asked. “Have you heard any answers from the delegation in response to our key queries?”

The crowd shouted “No” in unison.

The man then asked the family members to leave the ballroom and to go “discuss the next course of action” with the committee in another room.

He stressed that the families should do so voluntarily.

After all the relatives had left, the man posed several questions to the delegation and then concluded with: “You have seen from the incident today that the Chinese people and the next-of-kin are united.

“What you are hiding now will ultimately see the light of the day. There will certainly be people who will receive due punishment.”

Despite the awkwardness of the situation, members of the delegation remained seated at the front of the ballroom.

They were Malaysian ambassador to China Datuk Iskandar Sarudin, Royal Malaysian Air Force air operations commander Lt-Jen Datuk Seri Ackbal Abdul Samad, Department of Civil Aviation air traffic services director Ahmad Nizar Zolfakar and representatives from Malaysia Airlines.

Lt-Jen Ackbal then spoke to the man.

“We would like to ask you how we can move forward from here. We have been trying our best to keep you updated and we have nothing to hide.

“We are telling you what we can tell. There are a few ongoing inquiries and we can only reveal information that will not jeopardise the investigations,” he said.

The representative retorted: “I do not want to hear you saying that you need to go back and check when we ask you simple questions.

“You no longer have to protect the safety of hostages. Which one do you put first, national interest or (the) search and rescue mission?”

After that, the man asked the delegation and news media to leave the ballroom because the families wanted the place for a closed-door meeting.

As the family members started streaming back in, the delegation and newsmen stood up and left.

Yesterday’s meeting was the sixth between the delegation and the families; one session lasted seven hours without a break.

Sources: The Star/Asia News Network

Chinese MH370 relatives demand Beijing probe 
- The Economic Times:

MH370_Chinese demand Inquiry
The document, sent to Beijing’s special envoy in Kuala Lumpur, denounced Malaysia’s handling of the search and asked the Chinese government to set up its own “investigation office”.

Read more at: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/32831901.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium=text&utm_campaign=cppst

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