McRAE — The car belonging to a Georgia couple who were reported missing after traveling to meet a person claiming to sell a classic auto has been found in a lake and two bodies were found nearby, authorities said Monday.
HAVANA (AP) — Cut off from the Internet, young Cubans have quietly linked thousands of computers into a hidden network that stretches miles across Havana, letting them chat with friends, play games and download hit movies in a mini-replica of the online world that most can't access.
Home Internet connections are banned for all but a handful of Cubans, and the government charges nearly a quarter of a month's salary for an hour online in government-run hotels and Internet centers. As a result, most people on the island live offline, complaining about their lack of access to information and contact with friends and family abroad.
A small minority have covertly engineered a partial solution by pooling funds to create a private network of more than 9,000 computers with small, inexpensive but powerful hidden Wi-Fi antennas and Ethernet cables strung over streets and rooftops spanning the entire city. Disconnected from the real Internet, the network is limited, local and built with equipment commercially available around the world, with no help from any outside government, organizers say.
Hundreds are online at any moment pretending to be orcs or U.S. soldiers in multiplayer online games such as "World of Warcraft" or "Call of Duty." They trade jokes and photos in chat rooms and organize real-world events like house parties or trips to the beach.
"We really need Internet because there's so much information online, but at least this satisfies you a little bit because you feel like, 'I'm connected with a bunch of people, talking to them, sharing files," said Rafael Antonio Broche Moreno, a 22-year-old electrical engineer who helped build the network known as SNet, short for streetnet.
Cuba's status as one of the world's least-wired countries is central to the new relationship Washington is trying to forge with Havana. As part of a new policy seeking broader engagement, the Obama administration hopes that encouraging wider U.S. technology sales to the island will widen Internet access and help increase Cubans' independence from the state and lay the groundwork for political reform.
Cuban officials say Internet access is limited largely because the U.S. trade embargo has prevented advanced U.S. technology from reaching Cuba and starved the government of the cash it needs to buy equipment from other nations. But the government says that while it is open to buying telecommunications equipment from the U.S., it sees no possibility of changing its broader system in exchange for normal relations with the U.S.
Outside observers and many Cubans blame the lack of Internet on the government's desire to control the populace and to use disproportionately high cellphone and Internet charges as a source of cash for other government agencies.
Cuba prohibits the use of Wi-Fi equipment without a license from the Ministry of Communications, making SNet technically illegal. Broche Moreno said he believes the law gives authorities latitude to allow networks like SNet to operate. He described a sort of tacit understanding with officials that lets SNet run unmolested as long as it respects Cuban law — its hundreds of nodes are informally monitored by volunteer administrators who make sure users don't share pornography, discuss politics or link SNet to illicit connections to the real Internet.
"We aren't anonymous because the country has to know that this type of network exists. They have to protect the country and they know that 9,000 users can be put to any purpose," he said. "We don't mess with anybody. All we want to do is play games, share healthy ideas. We don't try to influence the government or what's happening in Cuba ... We do the right thing and they let us keep at it."
Users who break rules can be blocked from the network by their peers for as a little as a day for minor infractions such as slowing down SNet with file-sharing outside prescribed hours, with lifetime bans for violations like distributing pornography.
"Users show a lot of respect for preserving the network, because it's the only one they have," Broche Moreno said. "But me and the other administrators are watching things to make sure the network does what it's meant for."
The Cuban government did not respond to a request for comment on the network.
Before Obama moved to restore full diplomatic ties with Cuba, the U.S. made several attempts to leverage technology against the Cuban government. Contractor Alan Gross was sentenced to 15 years in prison after a U.S. Agency for International Development contractor sent him to Cuba to set up satellite Internet connections. He was freed after five years as part of the deal last month that paved the way for Obama's new Cuba policy.
A separate USAID contractor tried to build a text message-based social network called Zunzuneo whose brief existence was revealed in an Associated Press investigation last year.
Joining SNet requires resources out of reach of many people in a country where the average salary hovers around $25 a month.
Humberto Vinas, 25, studied medical technology and accounting before finding a relatively well-paying job in the kitchen of a bar. He and nine friends shared an SNet node for several months, running hundreds of feet of Ethernet cable over neighbors' roofs until one demanded they take it down, disconnecting most from the network.
"I miss SNet a lot," he said sadly. "You can find out about soccer scores. It allows you to do so much, right from your home."
Cubans have one of the hemisphere's highest average levels of education and years of practice at improvising solutions to scarcity, allowing many to access and share information despite enormous barriers. For as little as a dollar a week or less, many Cubans receive what's known as "the package," weekly deliveries of pirated TV shows, movies, magazines and instructional texts and videos saved on USB memory drives.
There is no obvious indication the U.S. or any other foreign government or group had anything to do with the creation of SNet, making it by far the most impressive example of Cuba's homemade telecommunications engineering.
The network is a series of connected nodes, powerful home computers with extra-strong Wi-Fi antennas that communicate with each other across relatively long distances and distribute signals to a smaller network of perhaps a dozen other computers in the immediate vicinity.
SNet started as a handful of connected users around 2001 and stayed that way for a decade. More than 9,000 computers have connected over the past five years, and about 2,000 users connect on an average day.
Many use SNet to get access to popular TV shows and movies. The system also stores a copy of Wikipedia. It's not necessarily current, but is routinely refreshed by users with true Internet access. There's also a homegrown version of a social network that functions similarly to Facebook.
Because most data passes from computer to computer in SNet, everything takes place much faster than on the achingly slow and expensive connections available from government servers that pass all information through central points.
Broche Moreno estimated it costs about $200 to equip a group of computers with the antennas and cables needed to become a new node, meaning the cost of networking all the computers in SNet could be as little as $200,000. Similar but smaller networks exist in other Cuban cities and provinces.
"It's proof that it can be done," said Alien Garcia, a 30-year-old systems engineer who publishes a magazine on information technology that's distributed by email and storage devices. "If I as a private citizen can put up a network with far less income than a government, a country should be able to do it, too, no?"
Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia contributed to this report.
OSWIECIM, Poland (AP) — A decade ago, 1,500 Holocaust survivors traveled to Auschwitz to mark the 60th anniversary of the death camp's liberation. On Tuesday, for the 70th anniversary, organizers are expecting 300, the youngest in their 70s.
"In 10 years there might be just one," said Zygmunt Shipper, an 85-year-old survivor who will attend the event in southern Poland to pay homage to the millions killed by the Third Reich. In recent years, Shipper has been traveling around Britain to share his story with school groups, hoping to reach as many people as he can while he has the strength.
"The children cry, and I tell them to talk to their parents and brothers and sisters and ask them 'why do we do it and why do we hate?'" he said. "We mustn't forget what happened."
But as the world moves inevitably closer to a post-survivor era, some Jewish leaders fear that people are already starting to forget. And they warn that the anti-Semitic hatred and violence that are on the rise, particularly in Europe, could partly be linked to fading memories of the Holocaust.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, says that the recent massacres in Paris, which targeted Jews and newspaper satirists, are proof of growing hatred and extremism. It's a message he plans to stress in a speech Tuesday at the former site of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where the Nazis killed more than 1.1 million people, most of them Jews.
"Shortly after World War II, after we saw the reality of Auschwitz and the other death camps, no normal person wanted to be associated with the anti-Semitism of the Nazis," Lauder said. "But, as the Holocaust grows more distant and survivors disappear, extremists grow more bold in targeting Jews. Stoked by a false narrative that blames Israel for a litany of the world's problems, anti-Semitism is resurgent and deadly."
Distance from the Holocaust is only one factor behind the rising anti-Semitism, and experts also fault the ease with which hateful propaganda is spread on the Internet and the growing presence of radical Islam in Europe. In Hungary and Greece, far-right movements have grown stronger amid economic decline.
"Fading memories are one reason for the rise in anti-Semitism, but anti-Semitism was always there," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the U.S.-based Anti-Defamation League and a survivor himself. "We have hidden it, made it unacceptable, made it un-PC, but we never really eliminated it. The consciousness of what anti-Semitism was, of Auschwitz, was prevalent; it kept the lid on it. It wasn't acceptable to be anti-Semitic."
Despite the troubling trend, there are also reasons for hope. Mainstream society has become more vigilant, and Holocaust educators say that interest in the Holocaust keeps growing. Also, anti-Semitism remains a huge taboo for most politicians and mainstream societies in the West. Political opposition to anti-Semitism will be underlined by the presence Tuesday of the presidents of Germany, France and Poland, along with many other European leaders and royalty.
In Germany, which has stressed Holocaust education for years, leaders, media and most citizens show little tolerance for anti-Semitism. A recent example came just days ago, when a photo surfaced of an anti-immigrant leader, Lutz Bachmann, sporting an Adolf Hitler moustache and his hair combed over like the Fuehrer. Comments also emerged in which he called refugees "cattle" and "filthy."
Though he called the photo a joke, German leaders and the media found nothing funny. Their condemnation was swift and resolute, and Bachmann immediately resigned from his role as a head of the anti-immigrant group he helped found, PEGIDA.
But condemnation of anti-Semitism hasn't stopped it from growing in Muslim immigrant communities in Germany. Since the Gaza war last summer, there has been an increase in attacks against Israelis, synagogues and Jewish institutions. In Paris last summer anti-Israel protests turned violent, and anti-Jewish fury was on display in Belgium and Italy.
"Everybody is afraid, everybody," said Levi Salomon, the spokesman for the Berlin Jewish Forum for Democracy and against Anti-Semitism which tracks anti-Semitic crimes and helps victims. "In Germany it is not as extreme as in other countries. We haven't had any murder cases yet, but still people are worried."
In recent years there have also been deadly attacks on Jews. Last May a shooting killed three people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels and in 2012 a rabbi and three children were murdered in the French city of Toulouse.
One troubling question: Could anti-Semitism grow even more in coming years, when school children will no longer be able to have the life-altering experience of learning about the Holocaust directly from someone who was ripped away from a mother, who endured indescribable hunger, cold and torture, who witnessed chimneys spew out the smoke of burning bodies?
Holocaust educators are struggling to film as many survivor testimonies for future generations as possible, but there is no replacing the emotional impact of hearing directly from a survivor.
Eva Umlauf, an Auschwitz survivor who lives in Munich and also speaks to school classes, believes the culture of remembrance will inevitably change because "the era of the survivors is coming to an end soon" — she just doesn't know how. She observes that German youth already have much greater emotional distance to the war than earlier generations.
"Their perception of the Holocaust is abstract. These kids are already the children of those born long after the end of the war — there isn't really a direct connection anymore to the great-grandparents who lived at that time in Germany," said Umlauf, who was born in 1942 in a labor camp for Jews in Slovakia. In November 1944, at the age of 23 months, she was taken to Auschwitz with her pregnant mother. Today the 72-year-old is believed to be the youngest survivor who will attend Tuesday's commemorations.
Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev also laments that the world will be a poorer place without the survivors and the moral example they set. By and large, he says, they are individuals who saw the worst of humankind but still mustered the energy after the war to rebuild their lives, putting their faith again in humanity's best side.
"The most astonishing fact for me and many others is that the heritage of the survivors is a very optimistic one," Shalev said. "They didn't come out of the war desperate and bitter human beings who wanted to take revenge."
That optimism, Shalev says, gives many of them hope that the world will continue to remember what happened to them "maybe not for eternity — but for a long time."
Associated Press writer Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.
Follow Vanessa Gera on Twitter at twitter.com/VanessaGera
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Like pilgrims flocking to a holy shrine, they come from all over the world to pay homage, not to a deity but to something similar — the people they see on TV and in the movies.
They are the seekers of the Hollywood Sign, that symbol of the Land of the Rich and Famous. And just like those on pilgrimages to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome or the Acropolis in Greece, they press to get as close as they can to the immortality of fame that it represents.
Unlike visitors to other sites, however, Hollywood Sign seekers can't just take a bus or join a tour group. Arriving at the sign that towers magnificently over Los Angeles' skyline requires traipsing through a densely populated hillside neighborhood of 20,000 people, one dotted by multimillion-dollar homes located on steep, narrow, almost impassable canyon roads.
"There will probably be 10,000 of them here this weekend," said Guy Pohlman in a voice echoing a mixture of foreboding and disgust as he stood in front of his home just a few doors down from a once-secret back way to the closest hiking trail to the sign atop a mountain peak in LA's sprawling Griffith Park.
"I've seen people stand on my wall to get a picture," Pohlman said. "I've seen them stand on my neighbor's garage. I've seen them stop in the middle of the street and stand on their cars. They block our emergency vehicles. They block our mail delivery."
Sometimes they get stuck at the top of Pohlman's narrow street and struggle to turn around without bashing into a neighbor's wall. Sometimes a resident comes out of a house to scream at them to go away.
But still they come.
"It's as if you want to touch the feet of the statues of the saints," pop-culture historian Leo Braudy said of what drives them. "There's a kind of desire to get something of that aura for yourself."
You can't quite touch the Hollywood sign, thanks to a protective fence, a bank of security cameras and the threat of arrest. But you can get close enough for a great photo, one of those poses where you pretend to be holding the sign aloft like Atlas carrying the world on his shoulders.
It's a fine souvenir to send home to let the folks know you've been to the land where the movie stars live. And the easiest way to do that is to drive right through one of their neighborhoods. It's a place called Hollywoodland that the sign, ironically enough, was erected in 1923 to promote when the homes were built.
The people moved in, the sign was abandoned, and like a cheap movie set, it began to fall apart. By the time the city got around to declaring it a landmark in 1973, it was falling down.
Eventually, a deep-pocketed coalition forked over the money to fix it, and in 1978, the nonprofit Hollywood Sign Trust was created to protect it.
In the years that followed, it became a Hollywood starlet of sorts, painted, face-lifted and beautiful — but unapproachable. It was just too difficult to find a canyon route to the sign.
That changed when smartphones became popular, and residents say the neighborhood hasn't been the same since.
"Now you have Sally or Suri or whatever her name is and she tells you just how to get there," City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents the area, said of the directions-giving iPhone voice.
Even worse, said Vincent Jeffords, who lives down the street from Pohlman, "If you Google 'Hollywood sign and hiking trails' on your smartphone, it will send you right here."
Indeed, doing so will even give you one website listing Pohlman's address — perhaps posted by the guy who stood on his wall — as the best place to take a picture.
The city recently responded by restricting weekend parking to locals and putting up an electronic pedestrian gate to the trail's better known entrance. Now, people coming to see the sign on weekends must at least walk really far.
LaBonge would like to see further parking restrictions and perhaps a shuttle service from the park.
For his part, Pohlman says, he doesn't mind people walking through his neighborhood so long as they stay off his wall and don't trash his neighbors' property. He's come to accept that his home has become sort of a bivouac point.
Seemingly to prove his point, two young women suddenly emerge at his carport — sweaty, out of breath and asking for water.
Zeta Kearney, a wedding planner from the Spanish island of Ibiza, and her friend Elyse Smith, an oil trader from London, have just taken selfies at the sign, one of which will be on Kearney's Facebook page.
"It was great," Kearney says. "We had so much fun we're coming back tomorrow."
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (AP) — Previously sealed Boy Scout "perversion" files spanning 16 years could soon be in the public eye as part of a negligence lawsuit set for trial Monday that a victim of sex abuse filed against the organization.
Opening statements were scheduled in Santa Barbara, where a man who is now 20 and was molested by a Boy Scout volunteer in 2007 is seeking punitive damages. He claims the Scouts failed to educate and warn parents and volunteers about the dangers of sex abuse.
A judge ruled earlier this month that the man's attorney, Tim Hale, could introduce more than 30 years' worth of "perversion" files kept by the Boy Scouts as evidence in the case.
The files cleared for use by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Donna D. Geck include 16 years of documents — from 1991 to 2007— that have never been seen before.
The papers could reveal how much the national organization has improved its efforts to protect children and report abuse after several high-profile cases sparked a youth protection policy in the late 1980s.
Previous large verdicts against the Scouts focused on cases where alleged abuse occurred before the policy was put in place.
In 2012, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Scouts to make public a trove of files from 1965 to 1985. The records showed that more than one-third of abuse allegations never were reported to police and that even when authorities were told, little was done most of the time.
Those documents came to light after a jury in 2010 imposed a nearly $20 million penalty against the Scouts in a molestation case in Portland, Oregon, that dated to the early 1980s.
Since then, plaintiffs' attorneys in several states, including Texas and Minnesota, have sought to publicize the more recent records through similar lawsuits.
Those cases settled before trial, leaving the records sealed, but there has been no indication that either side in the upcoming California case wants to settle.
The lawsuit alleges that 29-year-old Scouts volunteer Al Stein pulled down the plaintiff's pants when he was 13 and fondled him while the two worked in a Christmas tree lot.
Stein pleaded no contest to felony child endangerment in 2009 and was sentenced to probation. He served time in prison after authorities discovered photos of naked children on his cellphone.
He was paroled early, however, and was last living in Salinas, California, as a registered sex offender.
The Boy Scouts have said Stein's actions were unacceptable but declined to comment on the larger issue of the "perversion" files in the case.
Attorneys for the Scouts have not replied to repeated emails and calls seeking comment. They said in previous court hearings that the documents are not relevant.
Under the judge's ruling, Hale can draw from thousands of pages of documents when he presents his case, but records that are not used will remain sealed.
After trial, the plaintiff's counsel and other interested parties can petition the court for the release of all the files.
That's what happened in Oregon. The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the Scouts to make all the documents public after The Associated Press and other media outlets intervened.
SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — A study says the Savannah River has enough room for cargo ships that Georgia and South Carolina could add a new port terminal downstream from the busy Port of Savannah.
The neighboring states for years have been working slowly toward building a jointly owned, $3 billion shipping terminal in Jasper County, South Carolina, just across the river from Savannah. Before moving forward, South Carolina's delegation wanted to make sure a second port could operate without causing traffic jams on the water.
Consultants went over results of their study with port officials from both states who met Monday for the first time since May. Their findings showed a second port would only slightly increase how frequently ships using the river encounter delays and would make those delays a few minutes longer.