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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “New media gurus launch Upworthy – their ‘super-basic’ internet start-up” was written by Ed Pilkington, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 15.48 UTC

As Upworthy’s launch editors openly admit the first offering from the new website is “super-basic”. It contains nothing more, so far, than a mission statement and a couple of links relating to the Trayvon Martin story.

But as any start-up entrepreneur will tell you, you’ve got to begin somewhere. Upworthy’s founders hope that Monday’s modest offering will snowball into a website that becomes “the place to find awesome, meaningful, visual things to share”.

So why should this attempt at aggregation prove any more successful than the myriad other start-ups that never quite make it? Well, the track record of its founders certainly make Upworthy worth watching, even if it doesn’t guarantee success.

The mission statement is written with trademark satirical touch by the Onion’s former editor Peter Koechley. The other two founders are Chris Hughes, who was in at the beginning of Facebook and used the ample proceeds recently to buy the New Republic magazine, and Eli Pariser, president of the left-wing internet campaign MoveOn.

The founders are remaining annoyingly coy about their aspirations for Upworthy, formerly known as Cloud Tiger Media, so we have to rely on the mission statement to divine their intentions. It sums up their hopes with the phrase “I can haz meaning” stamped over a cute picture of a cat.

They want to bring together content that is “awesome”, “meaningful” and “visual” and make it viral through sharing across social media – hence the name Upworthy. By so doing, they want to help fight the inanity of internet content, of which only 0.1% – by their estimation – actually matters.

It’s too early to tell whether their offering will rise to the surface amid the sea of competing porn, adverts on how to get a flat belly in 30 days and – yes – pictures of cute cats. But at least now we have a URL, and that’s a start.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘Taliban sympathiser’ arrest prompts new questions about FBI tactics” was written by Paul Harris in New York, for guardian.co.uk on Monday 26th March 2012 16.01 UTC

The arrest of a Pittsburgh man described as a Taliban sympathiser has sparked allegations that the FBI deployed a notorious confidential informant used in previous controversial stings on suspected Muslim radicals.

Khalifah al-Akili, 34, was arrested in a police raid on his home on March 15. He was later charged with illegally possessing a gun after having previous felony convictions for drug dealing. However, at his court appearance an FBI agent testified that al-Akili had made radical Islamic statements and that police had uncovered unspecified jihadist literature at his home.

But, in a strange twist, al-Akili’s arrest came just days after he had sent out an email to friends and local Muslim civil rights groups complaining that he believed he was the target of an FBI “entrapment” sting. That refers to a controversial FBI tactic of using confidential informants – who often have criminal records or are paid large sums of money – to facilitate “fake” terrorist plots for suspects to invent or carry out.

In the email – which was also sent to the Guardian before al-Akili was arrested – he detailed meeting two men he believed were FBI informants because of the way they talked about radical Islam and appeared to want to get him to make jihadist statements. According to his account, one of them, who called himself Saeed Torres, asked him to buy a gun. Al-Aikili said he refused. The other, who was called Mohammed, offered to help him go to Pakistan for possible Islamic radical training. Al-Akili also refused.

In the email al-Akili recounted that he obtained a phone number from Mohammed and put it into Google. The search returned a reference to the case of the Newburgh Four, where an FBI confidential informant called Shahed Hussain helped secure the convictions of four men for attempting to blow up Jewish targets in the Bronx.

Hussain’s actions became notorious among civil rights groups due to the incentives he deployed on his targets, who were local black Muslims in the impoverished town of Newburgh. They included offering one suspect $250,000, a car and a free holiday. Al-Akili said he also found a picture of Shahed Hussain on the internet and realised it was the same man as “Mohammed”.

Al-Akili concluded his email by saying: “I would like to pursue a legal action against the FBI due to their continuous harassment and attempts to set me up.” The Guardian contacted al-Akili by email and on March 14 by phone and al-Akili agreed to talk more to the Guardian about his belief that he was being set up by Hussain. But he was arrested the next day and has been denied bail as a potential threat to the public, keeping him in jail.

Al-Akili’s lawyer Mike Healey believes that the FBI may have been monitoring al-Akili’s emails, and possibly his phone, and then rushed to arrest him once Hussain had been identified and al-Akili had effectively gone public with his fears.

Healey questioned why the FBI would use Hussain, who has also been widely criticised for his role in another “entrapment” case in Albany, New York, which resulted in the jailing of a local imam and a pizza shop owner. “What are they doing bringing him here? I am amazed they would use someone like that,” he said.

Yet, despite being painted in court as a dangerous radical Islamist, the only charges brought against al-Akili were for firing a rifle – which Healey said was owned by a friend – at a local shooting range almost two years ago in June 2010. Al-Akili faces the prospect of a hefty jail sentence if found guilty.

A spokesman for the FBI declined to comment on whether the agency had been using Shahed Hussain as a confidential informant in Pittsburgh.

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Obama: US and China will co-ordinate response to North Korea rocket launch” was written by Justin McCurry in Osaka, for The Guardian on Monday 26th March 2012 13.39 UTC

The US and China have agreed to co-ordinate their response if North Korea goes through with a planned rocket launch next month, a day after Barack Obama urged Beijing to use its influence to rein in its unpredictable ally.

Speaking at the start of a two-day summit on nuclear security in the South Korean capital, Seoul, the US president said China and the US had a shared interest in preventing nuclear proliferation.

“We both have an interest in making sure that international norms surrounding non-proliferation, preventing destabilising nuclear weapons, is very important,” he said.

Obama and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, did not elaborate on how they would respond to a North Korean missile launch, which is expected to take place between 12 and 16 April to coincide with the centenary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.

“The two leaders agreed to co-ordinate closely in responding to this potential provocation, and if necessary consider what steps need to be taken following a potential launch,” a senior White House aide told Reuters.

But the early show of unity is a step forward after the US leader chided China, North Korea’s biggest benefactor, on Sunday for failing to exert more pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

During bilateral talks on Monday, Hu told Obama that the North Korean issue remained “very sensitive”, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency. “We do not hope to see a reversal of the hard-won momentum of relaxation of tension on the [Korean] peninsula,” Hu was quoted as saying.

But Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said North Korea had previously ignored Chinese concerns about its nuclear and missile programmes.

“China has expressed those concerns before and North Korea has continued on with its behaviour,” he said. “China needs to look at whether it needs to be doing more above and beyond the types of messages and warnings it’s been giving to the North Koreans.”

South Korea and Japan have said they will shoot down the missile if it passes over their territory. “We are preparing measures to track the missile’s trajectory and shoot it down if, by chance, it deviates from the planned route and falls into our territory,” a South Korean defence ministry spokesman said.

The North insists that the rocket, whose main component has reportedly been moved to a launch site in the country’s north-west, is designed to carry an observation satellite into orbit.

The US, South Korea and Japan, however, say the launch would violate a UN ban on missile activity as the same technology could be used to develop long-range missiles, including those capable of striking the US mainland, possibly within five years.

The show of unity by the US and China, however ambiguous, will not be welcomed in Pyongyang, according to North Korea experts.

Shin Jong Dae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, says North Korean provocations are partly motivated by a desire to divide the US and China over their response.

“North Korea doesn’t want to see an improvement in Sino-US relations, so to rupture relations between China and US, it opts for military adventurism, just as it did with the sinking of the Cheonan, bombing Yeonpyeong island and conducting missile tests,” he said.

Shin added that China’s main concern was avoiding political instability in the North. “The best-case scenario for China is a stable North Korea without nuclear weapons. The worst-case scenario is an unstable North Korea. But if China can’t achieve that ideal, then it will at least try to avoid the worst possible alternative. That means it will tolerate a North Korea with nuclear weapons, as long as it remains stable.”

The planned launch has put on hold a deal reached last month that would have required North Korea to suspend long-range missile tests and its uranium enrichment programme in return for 240,000 tonnes of US food aid.

In a speech to students at Hankuk University in Seoul, Obama warned North Korea’s new leadership under Kim Jong-un not to invite “more isolation” by developing nuclear weapons.

“By now it should be clear,” he said. “Your provocations and pursuit of nuclear weapons have not achieved the security you seek, they have undermined it. Instead of the dignity you desire, you are more isolated.”

His comments may also have been directed at Republicans who are seeking to exploit what they see as Obama’s failure of diplomacy on North Korea in an election year.

“The United States doesn’t want to do anything that will result in North Korea conducting nuclear tests or missile launches or anything that would be detrimental to the Obama administration,” said Kim Hyun Wook, a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security in Seoul.

“If that happens, there could be criticism from Republicans of Obama that his diplomatic efforts with North Korea have failed. Obama doesn’t want that; it would make his re-election more difficult.”

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Budget 2012: young entrepreneurs to get student-style loans” was written by Juliette Garside, for The Guardian on Wednesday 21st March 2012 18.46 UTC

The government will lend young entrepreneurs money to start their own business on similar terms to student loans, under a pilot scheme to be launched later this year.

Sir Richard Branson, who has been lobbying alongside young businesspeople for a £10m youth enterprise loan scheme, welcomed the announcement in Wednesday’s budget.

“The entrepreneurs of today will be the job creators of tomorrow so I’m delighted that the government has listened to those at the very start of their careers,” said the Virgin founder. “The country is full of gifted and enterprising people so this pilot, which crucially has business mentoring and support at its heart, will help prevent a lost generation of talent.”

An online information-sharing community for 2,000 startups, organised by Virgin Media, has been arguing that loans should be available for young businesspeople on the same terms as those for university studies.

Students are able to borrow at an interest rate based on RPI inflation and have to make repayments only when their earnings exceed £21,000 a year.

Other measures to tackle youth unemployment announced on Wednesday included £20m of new money to support 19,000 degree-level apprenticeships, topping up £180m committed last year.

“Young people get a loan to go to university or college,” said the chancellor, George Osborne. “Now we want to help them get a loan to start their own business.”

Abdul Khan, founder of ratethatcurry.com and a member of the Virgin Media Pioneer startup community, described the scheme as “just the sort of financial help young entrepreneurs need in this tough economic climate”.

The business and enterprise minister Mark Prisk said: “This government thinks that everyone should have a chance to turn their idea for a business into reality. That’s why in the budget this year we announced we are setting up a youth enterprise loan scheme.”

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Obama derides Republican ‘posturing’ over use of force against Iran” was written by Chris McGreal in Washington, for guardian.co.uk on Tuesday 6th March 2012 22.02 UTC

Barack Obama has accused Republican presidential candidates of casually “beating the drums of war” over Iran without having the political courage to directly advocate a military attack or considering the human cost of battle.

In his first press conference of the year Tuesday Obama turned on the Republican politicians who for days have been accusing him of weakness and naivete over Iran, ramped up by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s visit and a meeting of the US’s most powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

The president said that his policy of sanctions has united much of the international community to pressure Iran and that “we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically”.

“That’s my track record. Now, what’s said on the campaign trail – those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not commander-in-chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war,” he said.

“I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy. This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it.”

Obama returned to the theme later in the press conference.

“When I sign letters to families that haven’t – whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost. Sometimes we bear that cost. But we think it through. We don’t play politics with it,” he said.

“Typically, it’s not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It’s these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.”

The president went on to challenge his Republican opponents to say if they want a war and then address the consequences of attacking Iran.

“Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war. If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk,” he said.

Obama’s comments were aimed, among others, at Mitt Romney, who described the president as “feckless” over Iran in Tuesday’s Washington Post and advocated a policy of “peace through strength”.

The press conference came hours after the announcement that the US will join Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany in a new round of negotiations with Tehran, a move that led Rick Santorum to accuse Obama of “appeasement”.

Obama defended those talks, saying they are an opportunity to judge whether Iran understands that “the world community means business”.

“I don’t expect a breakthrough in a first meeting, but I think we will have a pretty good sense fairly quickly as to how serious they are about resolving the issue,” he said.

Obama derided the aggressive posturing of some of his opponents and more hawkish supporters of Israel who have pressed for an explicit commitment to the use of force against Iran by setting “red lines” that Tehran’s nuclear programme must not cross.

“When I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem,” he said.

The president had a similar reaction to calls for military action against Syria, including Senator John McCain’s demand this week that the US bomb in support of the forces fighting the regime in Damascus.

Obama said that events in Syria are “heartbreaking” but that military intervention is not the answer.

“For us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake. What happened in Libya was we mobilised the international community, had a UN security council mandate, had the full cooperation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a much more complicated situation,” he said.

“The notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, that hasn’t been true in the past and it won’t be true now. We’ve got to think through what we do through the lens of what’s going to be effective, but also what’s critical for US security interests.”

The president has been accused of weakness over both Syria and Iran, but the focus of recent days has been on Tehran because of differences with Netanyahu over the value of sanctions and diplomacy.

The Israeli prime minister on Monday derided the effectiveness of sanctions in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) and said that “none of us can afford to wait much longer” to act against Tehran.

Romney told Aipac on Tuesday that Obama’s policy of “engagement” with Tehran is naive and gave the Iranian leadership time to develop its nuclear programme.

“Hope is not a foreign policy. The only thing respected by thugs and tyrants is our resolve backed by our power and our readiness to use it,” he said. “As president I’ll be ready to engage in diplomacy but I will be just as ready to engage our military might.”

Newt Gingrich went the further in telling Aipac that as president he would give Israel the means to attack Tehran’s nuclear facilities and let it do so without question.

“I will initiate a strategy in the tradition of Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II to undermine and replace the Iranian dictatorship by every possible method short of war in order to achieve a government we could trust and could deal with,” he said.

“At the same time I would provide all available intelligence to the Israeli government, ensure that they had the equipment necessary and reassure them that if an Israeli prime minister decides he has to avoid the threat of a second Holocaust through pre-emptive measures that I would require no advance notice to understand why I would support the right of Israel to survive in a dangerous world.”

Santorum said Obama should put an ultimatum to Tehran to end its nuclear programme and “that if they don’t tear down those facilities, we will tear down them ourselves”.

Obama’s pushback was reinforced by the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, who told the president’s critics not to mistake a willingness to pursue diplomacy for weakness.

Panetta, speaking to Aipac on Tuesday, said the military option is on the table as a last resort if sanctions fail and the president’s record demonstrates that he will use it if he believes there is no alternative.

“As the president made clear, the United States does not bluff. In this town it’s easy to talk tough. Acting tough is a hell of a lot more important,” he said.

“The president ordered 30,000 additional troops to battle in Afghanistan to confront a resurgent Taliban. He launched a comprehensive precision bombing campaign to protect the Libyans and ultimately toppled a brutal dictator. He has ordered US warships to pass through the straits of Hormuz despite the threats that we have received from Iran.

“And he has been the driving force behind the most successful and lethal counter-terrorism campaign in US history culminating in the bold decision to send US special operations forces hundreds of miles into Pakistan to take the risk to take down bin Laden. And he did.”

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