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 on: Mar 26, 2015, 11:22 PM 
Started by Linda - Last post by Linda
Hi Rad and Dav,

Pluto in an intercepted sign

I have added a short analysis under Einstein's chart:  see reply #9 above.



 on: Mar 26, 2015, 08:56 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Where do Gaza’s lions sleep tonight?

Israel’s siege of the Palestinian territory has forced Fat’hi Zoo’s beloved cubs into a refugee camp

March 26, 2015 7:00AM ET
by Ehab Zahriyeh
Al Jazerra

GAZA — Caring for animals in the Gaza Strip took a wild turn last month when the owner of Fat'hi Zoo in the beleaguered city of Rafah sold two lion cubs to a family — in a nearby refugee camp.

The Jamal family, which named the cubs Bobbi and Max (female and male, respectively), is now the talk of the town, so to speak, in the crowded Al-Shabura refugee camp.

Locals say the cubs' presence has elevated spirits in the camp — a welcome change for residents who have suffered eight years of a crippling economic blockade and a seemingly endless cycle of war with Israel.

"Our neighbors are so envious of us having them," said Ibrahim al-Jamal, 18. "They always come to visit to play and take pictures with them."

Saad al-Jamal, Ibrahim’s father, said he purchased the cubs for two reasons: His grandchildren were visiting the zoo every day to watch them play, and he wanted to support the cash-strapped zoo.

Fat'hi Zoo "is suffering from a financial crisis," said Saad, who also goes by the name Abu Sami. "I decided to buy these cubs, which is my way of helping them get through this time." Abu Sami, a Palestinian Authority security employee, would not disclose how much he paid for the cubs.

Ticket sales to Fat'hi Zoo — which is home to the cubs' parents as well as hyenas, peacocks, monkeys, kangaroos and more — total less than $102 per week. That’s hardly enough to keep its doors open and animals fed, said its owner, Mohammed Juma.

He said he didn't want to sell the cubs, but given Gaza's dire economic situation, he had no choice. Israel has enforced a strict economic blockade on the Palestinian territory since 2007 — shortly after Hamas rose to power — controlling Gaza's land borders, airspace and shores and limiting the import of such necessities as food, gasoline and concrete.

The blockade has driven both costs and poverty to record highs and caused a complete economic collapse. More than 40 percent of Gazans are unemployed, according to aid group Oxfam International. Among youths, the figure stands at more than 70 percent. Of the territory’s 1.8 million residents, 80 percent are dependent on aid.

"No one really wants to give away their beloved animals, but we had to,"Juma said. "We can barely afford to provide the animals with basic necessities like food." A full-grown lion can eat more than 800 pounds of meat a month, he said.

‘We are living in an occupied country, facing a horrible siege that does not differentiate between humans, animals or stones.’

Repeated wars between Israel and Palestinian armed groups such as Hamas as well as Israel’s continuous bombardment of the territory have intensified the effects of the economic collapse.

Israel's most recent war in the summer of 2014 killed more than 2,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, injured more than 10,000 others and displaced 500,000 residents, according to the United Nations. The war left vital infrastructure — including Gaza's only electricity plant, water treatment facilities, schools and roads — in ruins.

Months later, 100,000 people remain homeless, and only a small fraction of the billions of dollars in aid pledged by international donors for reconstruction has come through.

Fat'hi Zoo has not been spared from the devastation. Established in 1999, it has been destroyed numerous times by Israeli forces, only to be rebuilt without the aid of nongovernmental organizations or international governments.

"In 2004, Israel demolished the whole zoo, killing around 80 percent of the animals," Juma said. "In 2008 the zoo was completely destroyed during the war, and the same thing happened in both the 2012 and 2014 wars."

"Each time, we do our best to repair and rebuild the zoo and replace the animals that were lost. But now we have reached the point where our financial status can no longer handle that," he added.

But he said keeping the zoo open is crucial for Gaza's children, many of whom suffer from psychological trauma after witnessing family members killed or injured and their homes destroyed.

"Children come here to watch and even play with some of the animals, like birds and monkeys … All these things make the children happy, smiling and laughing," he said.

The South Forest Park, another zoo, in nearby Khan Younis, has faced similar struggles. During the 2014 war, dozens of its animals starved to death after staff members, facing the threat of Israeli bombardment, were unable to feed or care for them.

Bissan Zoo in the city of Beit Lahiya fared even worse. More than half its animals were killed during the war.

"Animals are just like humans. They face death if they don’t have access to proper food, care and medicine," Juma said. "We are living in an occupied country, facing a horrible siege that does not differentiate between humans, animals or stones."

With the war over, Juma wants to rebuild and restore Fat'hi Zoo to its former glory. But he can’t afford enough food and supplies to care for the animals that survived, let alone replace the ones that died.

Even if he did have the funds, Juma said it would be impossible to acquire new animals. Because Gaza's borders with Israel and Egypt are closed, livestock and wild animals have to be smuggled into the territory through tunnels. In 2012 an adult lion that was "improperly sedated" awoke and tore a tunnel smuggler apart, reported National Geographic.

As for Bobbi and Max, Juma says Fat'hi Zoo didn't abandon them. Rather, he says, the zoo has made itself available to provide guidance and support to the Jamal family for their proper care. He trusts that Abu Sami will raise the lions in a way that will "guarantee their safety and his family’s safety."

Abu Sami believes treating the lions with kindness and mercy will ensure his family's safety. "As long as you don’t harm them, they won’t harm you," he said.

"I am only worried about the strangers who would visit these cubs. But as for me and my family members, I think we are going be safe around them, because they will recognize us and be used to being with us."

But not everyone is convinced that raising lions in a densely populated refugee camp is safe.

Belal Hasna, a Gaza-based investigator for animal protection group Animal Australia, said it is "impossible for anyone to raise such wild animals."

"Saad al-Jamal may think that he treats them well, but that is not true. Their presence here is dangerous, both to them and everyone else," he told Al Jazeera.

While it’s illegal for civilians in Gaza to possess wild animals, such laws are rarely enforced. Aymen al-Batneji, a police spokesman, explained that officers are far too busy dealing with civil matters to concern themselves with people's pets. "We are not responsible as long as we don't receive any complaints from residents," he said.

The government and NGOs are understandably preoccupied with the humanitarian crisis, Hasna said, adding that Gaza has no animal-rights groups. "I want to create my own team — I already have the team members — that would take care of animals’ rights and ensure their survival," he said.

In the meantime, Abu Sami plans to hold on to Bobbi and Max until they become adults and then sell them to someone who can afford to feed and care for them. He has already received an offer to sell them for $9,000, but he refused.

"I want to take care of them myself," he said. "It makes me feel happy and proud to know they're in my home."   

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:57 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Big Victory For Voting Rights As Supreme Court Tosses Lower Court Ruling on “Vote Packing”

By: Adalia Woodbury
Wednesday, March, 25th, 2015, 9:24 pm      

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama was a huge victory for voting rights and voting equality.  The issue in this case was “vote packing.”

By the usual margin of 5-4, the Court ordered the District Court to review the case. The bad news is this victory may be temporary, because the Supreme Courts didn’t throw out Alabama’s maps.  Instead, the Supreme Court punted the case back to District court, with instructions.

“Vote packing” is a form of gerrymandering that limits the impact of minority voters by concentrating them in as few, typically urban, districts as possible.

Alabama tried to say said it interpreted the Voting Rights Act to mean that it is required to “maintain roughly the same black population percentage in existing majority-minority districts.  Therefore, the vote packing really was the Voting Rights Act’s fault.

In essence, the lower court concluded that since this form of gerrymandering didn’t occur in every one of Alabama’s majority-minority districts, that there was no gerrymandering, overall, within the state.  Even if it was gerrymandering, the Voting Rights Act made them do it.

The Supreme Court’s majority argued that doesn’t mean vote packing didn’t occur in some districts and therefore the District court must consider racial gerrymandering in each of the individual districts identified by the plaintiffs in this case.

    The District Court found the fact that racial criteria had not predominated in the drawing of some Alabama districts sufficient to defeat a claim of racial gerrymandering with respect to the State as an undifferentiated whole. But a showing that race-based criteria did not significantly affect the drawing of some Alabama districts would have done little to defeat a claim that race-based criteria predominantly affected the drawing of other Alabama districts. Thus, the District Court’s undifferentiated statewide analysis is insufficient, and the District Court must on remand consider racial gerrymandering with respect to the individual districts challenged by appellants.

The state said it interpreted the Voting Rights Act to mean the state must “maintain roughly the same black population percentage in existing majority-minority districts.”  So, after seeing that one predominately black district needed 16,000 more voters to achieve the goal of equal population, Alabama added 15,785 new individuals to the district.  Only 36 of these individuals were white.

This is a misreading of the Voting Rights Act, which not only reduced the impact of minority voters, it also gave Republicans an advantage.

As Justice Breyer explained, the VRA ”does not require a covered jurisdiction to maintain a particular numerical minority percentage. It requires the jurisdiction to maintain a minority’s ability to elect a preferred candidate of choice.”

The difference in interpretation is significant.  Choosing a candidate involves a majority vote of 51%.  If Black voters already comprise a majority in a district, then, in reality, increasing the population within that district, decreases the ability of minorities influence in other districts.  As Justice Breyer pointed out when explaining the results in an example:

    Other things being equal, it would seem highly unlikely that a redistricting plan that, while increasing the numerical size of the district, reduced the percentage of the black population from, say, 70% to 65% would have a significant impact on the black voters’ ability to elect their preferred candidate.

The result of Alabama’s redrawn districts was, in reality, a reduction of influence by Black voters in the state legislature. Simply because the district was already predominantly Black, this move amounted to wasting votes on candidates that would have already won by simple majority in that district.

As Ian Mllhauser said in his analysis of the ruling, the way Alabama redrew its maps also effected the composition of the legislature in favor of Republicans.

    In 2008, for example, 98 percent of African Americans voted for Democratic future President Barack Obama and 88 percent of whites voted for Republican candidate John McCain. This meant that, when the state drew maps that reduced the power of black voters, it also effectively boosted the power of Republican voters.

In a concurring dissent, Justice Thomas used the same flawed interpretation of the VRA, used by the District Court, to conclude it was to blame it for gerrymandering in Alabma.

    In tandem with our flawed jurisprudence, the DOJ has played a significant role in creating Alabama’s current redistricting problem. It did so by enforcing §5 in a manner that required States, including Alabama, to create supermajority-black voting districts or face denial of pre-clearance.

While one cannot remove the importance of this victory, this case reflects the new reality of a Voting Rights Act without pre-clearance rules.

The maps that the Court ruled on were drawn in 2012.  Now the case will be heard again by the District Court and, in reality, it could still take several years to arrive at a final ruling on these maps.

In the meantime, Alabama’s legislature will have the opportunity to come up with new ways to suppress the vote, which will also wind their way through the courts at a pace akin to watching grass grow.

In short, for every ruling that scuttles an attempt to suppress the vote or minimize the impact of some votes, Republican lawmakers who benefit from vote suppression can pass another set of rules that will be in effect until they eventually wind their way through the judicial process.

This is the very problem that the Voting Rights Act pre-clearance provision, for the most part, had overcome.


Israel Spied On America And Passed Classified Secrets To Anti-American Republicans

By: Rmuse
Wednesday, March, 25th, 2015, 10:36 am      

Since Barack Obama was elected President, Republicans have taken extraordinary actions that portend they are decidedly un-American. It began on Inauguration night in 2009 when a group of Republicans met in private and plotted to subvert the new President’s attempt to salvage the nation’s economy after Bush-Republicans nearly destroyed it. Since that despicable meeting, Republicans have deliberately tried to endanger the full faith and credit of the United States by causing a credit default; a clear violation of the United States Constitution. Their actions did engender the nation’s only credit downgrade. They have also held the nation hostage and caused a government shutdown over a legally passed law their wealthy donors refuse to accept.

Recently, the Speaker of the House invited a foreigner posing as America’s president to address the United States Congress to lobby for war with Iran, and when those efforts failed to deliver, a group of 47 Republican senators issued an open letter to Iran informing them that America is deceitful and cannot be trusted. Like inviting a foreigner to subvert the President of the United  States ability to conduct foreign policy, the goal of the Republicans’ letter was to  assist a warmongering foreigner, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, start a war with Iran that Americans will pay for and fight and die in. Although those acts appeared traitorous, there was, unfortunately, no clear-cut legal violation the Department of Justice could even investigate, much less prosecute, what many, many Americans consider treason.

Now it is reported that during secret nuclear negotiations between the United Nations P5+1 and the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel spied on Americans, stole highly classified secret information, and fed it directly to traitorous Republicans in a continued attempt to empower Israel to manipulate American foreign policy and start a war with Iran. If Americans failed to believe that America did not need to re-evaluate its unconditional support for Israel before, this deliberate and concerted effort between Israel and Republicans to subvert American foreign policy cannot be ignored. Israel is not America’s friend, much less its ally, and is proving itself to be just as dangerous to this country as subversives in the Republican movement. It is at least time to impose economic sanctions and stop funding Israel’s military.

Apparently it is normal for America’s so-called ally, Israel, to spy on its military funding mechanism as a matter of course. Maybe because Israel thinks America is Israel’s underling, it does not consider it spying since they think America is controlled by Benjamin Netanyahu. However, Netanyahu is a foreigner; he is not an American citizen, he is not a member of Congress, and he sure as Hell is not the nation’s president; the only government official the United States Constitution empowers to conduct foreign policy. It is a fact that Netanyahu and Republicans cannot accept and brands them as anti-American and enemies of the Constitution.

Still that inconvenient truth did not stop Israel from spying on America during the P5+1 nuclear negotiations with Iran, stealing classified information, and then passing the secrets to Republicans in Congress to sabotage the legal President’s efforts to conduct foreign policy to avoid another Israeli-incited Middle East war. No matter how one looks at it, this is a deliberate attempt to subvert the authority of the United States by a foreign government conspiring with a group of traitors ensconced in the United States Congress.

According to White House officials, the subversive plot was discovered when American intelligence agencies intercepted communications among Israeli officials about the secret talks that could have come only from Israeli spies who passed classified information to Republicans in Congress. Apparently, American intelligence officials expected Israel to spy on the highly confidential talks between America, the United Nations P5+1, and Iran, but they likely did not expect the Israeli spies to pass the secret intelligence on to Republicans to subvert American foreign policy; foreign policy that did not conform to the demands of a foreign warmonger Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sure, when John Boehner went behind the President’s back and invited a foreigner to act like he was the nation’s president to address Congress and lobby for an American war with Iran, it was just a “breach of diplomatic protocol.” And according to legal experts, when 47 Republicans in the Senate signed an open letter to Iranian hardliners informing them that President Barack Obama had no right to represent America in a U.N. Security Council negotiation with Iran, there was no legal violation. However, the real outrage, and seeming treason, with the latest Republican anti-American subversion is that the Republicans received stolen classified intelligence from a foreign nation to subvert the United States of America’s ability to conduct foreign policy that Israel refuses to sanction.

Now it is beyond dispute that Israel has been secretly conspiring with Republican subversives inside the American government to undermine this country’s foreign policy. As the White House said in a statement, “It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy.” This is just unacceptable and further illustrates why America may be Israel’s greatest, and only, ally, but Israel is no friend of America; period. It is true Israel uses America for its own best interests, and has no problem demanding that American taxpayers support its military, but the so-called ‘special relationship‘ with America is one-sided and seriously needs to be regulated.

Israel spied on its “ally” and then attempted to use the stolen intelligence to help Republicans, primarily Republican leaders John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, “foment a rebellion against the President of the United States;” something that fits the legal definition of sedition. It is part and parcel of a concerted effort by Netanyahu and  Republicans that began with a foreigner acting like he was America’s president when Boehner conspired with the Israeli to undermine American foreign policy.

This idea of spying on America and passing secrets to subversives in government, along with Netanyahu’s speech are steps in a “broader campaign” to help Republicans seize power over foreign policy from the legally elected President and transfer it to a foreigner. It seems outrageous that America’s so-called ally is spying on this nation to begin with, but stealing highly classified intelligence and passing it to rebellion-minded subversives inside the government to undermine American foreign policy is beyond partisan politics; it is sedition. And no, just because Republicans’ first priorities are advancing the interests of Israel over America does not meant their actions in conspiring with a foreigner are excusable, and in many Americans’ minds it is treason and sedition. At the very least it is just another in a long line of actions that define Republicans, and their little foreign warmonger pal as what they really are; dastardly un-Americans.


President Obama Sends A Strong Signal That He Will Veto The Republican Budget

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, March, 25th, 2015, 8:24 pm   

House Republicans saw their budget dreams go up in smoke as President Obama is already signaling that he will veto the unpopular, but freshly passed House budget.

In a statement the White House said:

Budgets are about priorities. This evening the House Republicans made clear that once again their priority is to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires and return our economy to the same top-down economics that has failed the American people before. House Republicans voted in favor of locking in draconian sequestration cuts to investments in the middle class like education, job training, and manufacturing. House Republicans also failed to responsibly fund our national security, opting instead for budget gimmicks.

The Republican priorities stand in stark contrast to the President’s plan to reverse sequestration and bring middle-class economics into the 21st Century. Through critical investments needed to accelerate and sustain economic growth in the long run, including in research, education, training, and infrastructure, the President’s Budget shows what we can do if we invest in America’s future and commit to an economy that rewards hard work, generates rising incomes, and allows everyone to share in the prosperity of a growing America.

The President has been clear that he will not accept a budget that locks in sequestration or one that increases funding for our national security without providing matching increases in funding for our economic security. The Administration will continue to abide by these principles moving forward.

The budget showdown between President Obama and Congressional Republicans could be the most significant budget battle since then President Bill Clinton vetoed the Republican budget in 1995. At the time of his veto, Clinton said, “With this veto, the extreme Republican effort to balance the budget through wrongheaded cuts and misplaced priorities is over. Now it’s up to all of us to go back to work together to show we can balance the budget and be true to our values and our economic interests.”

Both President Clinton and President Obama mentioned priorities for a reason. The budget is never about dollars. Budgets are about ideology and priorities. The 2015 Republicans are repeating the behavior of the 1995 Republicans. They are trying to use the budgetary process to force their ideology on a Democratic president. The stage is being set for an epic budget throwdown the likes of which the country has seen in almost two decades.

President Obama message to Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McConnell is clear. If the Republicans want a budget fight, they’ve got it.


Republicans Screw Over Students By Blocking Elizabeth Warren’s Student Loan Plan

By: Jason
Wednesday, March, 25th, 2015, 3:22 pm   

Senate Republicans have acted to protect a few millionaires at the expense of millions of students by voting to block Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s student loan bill.

Warren’s budget amendment would have allowed college students to refinance their loans down to a 3.9% interest rate. Her proposal would have been paid for by a Buffett Rule tax on millionaires.

Before the vote, Sen. Warren said:

    Millions of borrowers are still stuck paying interest rates at 6 percent, 8 percent, 10 percent and even higher. The amendment would save borrowers hundreds if not thousands. We have a choice: protect a tax loophole for billionaires or give millions of middle-class people a chance to build some real economic security. … Congress has worked too long for the billionaires.

    Last year, Republicans blocked our efforts to lower student loan interest rates … so tens of millions of borrowers got nothing. While Republicans were busy blocking student loan refinancing, our country’s student debt problem got worse, much worse.

By a vote of 46-53, Senate Republicans chose to protect the millionaires and billionaires.

A college degree is supposed to be a pathway to economic opportunity, but for millions of borrowers, students loans have become a fast lane to crippling debt. Affordable higher education options have been replaced with a system where students and parents must choose between expensive, very expensive, and unaffordable.

By not dealing with rising costs, Republicans are making higher education an option for the wealthy only. Blocking a bill that would help millions, and boost the economy, in order to protect millionaires and billionaires is the type of backwards thinking that caused the Great Recession.

Senate Republicans may have blocked Sen. Warren today, but she and her fellow Democrats will continue to fight on for students and the middle-class.


Obama Drops The Hammer On Republicans By Reminding Them Obamacare Was Their Idea

By: Jason Easley
Wednesday, March, 25th, 2015, 3:52 pm   

President Obama let loose on Republicans today by explaining that the GOP will never be able to come up with their own healthcare plan because Obamacare was based on their ideas.

The president said:

But the bottom line is this for the American people: The Affordable Care Act, this law, is saving money for families and for businesses. This law is also saving lives — lives that touch all of us. It’s working despite countless attempts to repeal, undermine, defund, and defame this law.

It’s not the “job-killer” that critics have warned about for five years. When this law was passed, our businesses began the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record: 60 straight months, five straight years, 12 million new jobs.

It’s not the fiscal disaster critics warned about for five years. Health care prices are rising at the slowest rate in nearly 50 years, which has helped cut our deficit by two-thirds since I took office. Before the ACA, health care was the single biggest driver driving up our projected deficits. Today, health care is the single biggest factor driving those projections down.

I mean, we have been promised a lot of things these past five years that didn’t turn out to be the case: death panels, doom. A serious alternative from Republicans in Congress.

The budget they introduced last week would literally double the number of the uninsured in America. And in their defense, there are two reasons why coming up with their own alternative has proven to be difficult.

First, it’s because the Affordable Care Act pretty much was their plan before I adopted it — based on conservative, market-based principles developed by the Heritage Foundation and supported by Republicans in Congress, and deployed by a guy named Mitt Romney in Massachusetts to great effect. If they want to take credit for this law, they can. I’m happy to share it.

And second, it’s because health reform is really hard and the people here who are in the trenches know that. Good people from both parties have tried and failed to get it done for 100 years, because every public policy has some trade-offs, especially when it affects one-sixth of the American economy and applies to the very personal needs of every individual American.

Republicans will never be able to come up with their own health care plan because the ACA was their healthcare plan. Considering how Republicans have opposed the ACA, it is a bit mind boggling to remember that the Affordable Care Act was their idea.

President Obama demonstrated just how much of a loser running on repealing Obamacare will be for Republicans in 2016. Bashing the ACA works when Republicans are running in regionalized and gerrymandered elections, but just like Mitt Romney in 2012, Republicans stumble every time they are confronted with the fact that the ACA was based on their ideas.

Obama has spent the week of the fifth anniversary of the ACA relentlessly hammering Republicans, but the most damning indictment against the GOP is the fact that they refuse to take credit for a successful Obama accomplishment that was based on their ideas.

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:48 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Did Jupiter wipe out an entire generation of planets?

March 25, 2015
Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

Our solar system might have been a vastly different place before Jupiter arrived, according to a new Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that suggests that the gas giant may have destroyed an entire generation of inner planets before entering its current orbit.

In the study, researchers from the University of California, Santa Cruz propose that Jupiter may have “swept through the early solar system like a wrecking ball,” destroying an entire generation of inner planets and causing many of our solar system’s quirks before finally settling in.

As co-author and UCSC astronomy professor Gregory Laughlin explained, “Now that we can look at our own solar system in the context of all these other planetary systems, one of the most interesting features is the absence of planets inside the orbit of Mercury. The standard issue planetary system in our galaxy seems to be a set of super-Earths with alarmingly short orbital periods. Our solar system is looking increasingly like an oddball.”

A grand attack

Laughlin and co-author Konstantin Batygin explore what Discovery News refers to as the Grand Tack theory of our solar system’s formation. This theory suggests that during its infancy, Jupiter was swept up in the gravitational wake of its own buildup and spiraled inward, colliding with the would-be planets and asteroids unlucky enough to get in its way.

The result would not be unlike a break shot in a game of pool, scattering these objects all over the place and causing a chain reaction that could have easily destroyed any planet in the area, the study authors explained. It wasn’t until Saturn formed and evolved that the rampage stopped, due to the newer gas giant’s counteracting Jupiter’s inward spiral, allowing it to settle into position beyond Mars and clearing the way for a second-generation of planets (including Earth) to form.

The planets destroyed as a result of Jupiter’s activity and the resulting debris would have been recently-formed super-Earths that were likely driven into the sun, the UCSC researchers added. In contrast, the second-generation worlds that formed from material that had been left behind, would have less mass and thinner atmospheres than would have otherwise been anticipated.

“This kind of theory, where first this happened and then that happened, is almost always wrong, so I was initially skeptical,” Laughlin said. “But it actually involves generic processes that have been extensively studied by other researchers. There is a lot of evidence that supports the idea of Jupiter’s inward and then outward migration. Our work looks at the consequences of that. Jupiter’s ‘Grand Tack’ may well have been a ‘Grand Attack’ on the original inner solar system.”

The computer models used by Laughlin and Batygin indicated that conditions during the early solar system would have been ideal for multiple, high-speed collisions, Discovery News noted. Those collisions would have been “pretty violent,” Laughlin explained, taking place at speeds of five kilometers per second and involving 100-kilometer objects. The events would have been “energetic and damaging,” with one set of collisions causing a domino effect that led to others.

“If our solar system had started out as a normal, standard-issue solar system, it shows that the Grand Tack could have very handily kind of wiped the slate clean and destroyed any planets that originally were interior to Mercury’s orbit,” the UCSC professor told the website.


Jupiter’s moon interaction causes explosive auroras

March 25, 2015
Provided by Nanci Bompey, American Geophysical Union

On Earth, bursts of particles spewed by the Sun spark shimmering auroras, like the Northern Lights, that briefly dance at our planet’s poles. But, on Jupiter, there’s an auroral glow all the time, and new observations show that this Jovian display sometimes flares up because of a process having nothing to do with the Sun.

Jupiter watchers have long known that the giant planet’s ever-present polar auroras – thousands of times brighter and many times bigger than Earth – are powered by both electrically charged particles from the Sun colliding with Jupiter’s magnetic field and a separate interaction between Jupiter and one of its many moons, called Io. But there are also auroral explosions on Jupiter, or periods of dazzling brightening, similar to auroral storms on Earth, that no one could definitively trace back to either of those known causes.

In the aurora-making interaction of Jupiter and Io, volcanoes on the small moon blast clouds of electrically charged atoms (ions) and electrons into a region surrounding Jupiter that’s permeated by the planet’s powerful magnetic field, thousands of times stronger than Earth’s. Rotating along with its rapidly spinning planet, the magnetic field drags the material from Io around with it, causing strong electric fields at Jupiter’s poles. The acceleration of the ions and electrons produce intense auroras that shine in almost all parts of the electromagnetic spectrum but most brightly in high-energy bands, like ultraviolet light and X-rays, that are invisible to unaided human eyes.

Now, new observations of the planet’s extreme ultraviolet emissions show that bright explosions of Jupiter’s aurora likely also get kicked off by the planet-moon interaction, not by solar activity. A new scientific paper about these observations by Tomoki Kimura of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), in Sagamihara, Kanagawa, Japan, and his colleagues, was published online today in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Starting in January 2014, a telescope aboard the JAXA’s Hisaki satellite, which focused on Jupiter for two months, recorded intermittent brightening of the giant planet’s aurora. The telescope detected sudden flare-ups on days when the usual flow of charged particles from the Sun, known as the solar wind, was relatively weak.

Additional space and ground-based telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, also viewed Jupiter during these lulls in the solar wind. Both Hisaki and Hubble witnessed explosions of the planet’s aurora despite the solar wind’s calm, suggesting that it’s the Jupiter-Io interaction driving these explosions, not charged particles from the Sun, according to the new study. The new research does not address exactly what is happening in the Jovian magnetosphere to cause the temporary brightening of auroral explosions.

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:44 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
NASA plans mission to land on asteroid and explore deep space

The mission in 2020 would cost more than $1.25bn and involve grabbing a boulder from an asteroid and having humans inspect it in space

Associated Press
Thursday 26 March 2015 04.41 GMT Last modified on Thursday 26 March 2015 11.54 GMT
NASA is aiming to launch a rocket to an asteroid in five years and grab a boulder off of it — a stepping stone and training mission for an eventual trip sending humans to Mars.

The space agency Wednesday unveiled details of the $1.25bn plan to launch a solar-powered unmanned spaceship to an asteroid in December 2020.

The ship would spend about a year circling the large space rock and pluck a 13-foot (4 meter) boulder off its surface using robotic arms. It would have three to five opportunities to grab the rock, said Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s associate administrator.

The smaller rock would be hauled near the moon and parked in orbit around the moon. Using a giant rocket ship and the Orion crew capsule that are still being developed, two astronauts would fly to the smaller rock in 2025 and start exploring. Astronauts aboard Orion would dock with the robotic ship, make spacewalks, climbing around the mini-asteroid to inspect and document, and even grab a piece to return to Earth.

The smaller rock might not even be big enough for the two astronauts to stand on; it would have to fit in the cargo bay of the now-retired space shuttles.

The mission will “demonstrate the capabilities we’re going to need for further future human missions beyond low Earth orbit and then ultimately to Mars,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot also identified the leading target. It’s a 1,300-foot wide space rock discovered in 2008 called 2008 EV5, making it somewhat larger than most of the asteroids that circle the sun near Earth. Two other space rocks are being considered, called Itokawa and Bennu.

NASA managers chose this option over another plan that would lasso or use a giant bag to grab an entire asteroid and haul it near the moon. The selected plan is about $100 million more expense but it was picked by managers in a meeting Tuesday because it would test technologies and techniques “we’re going to need when we go to another planetary body,” Lightfoot said during a telephone press conference. Those include “soft landing” and grabbing technologies, he said.

A few years ago, the administration proposed sending astronauts to an asteroid and landing on it, but later changed that to bringing the asteroid closer to Earth.

The $1.25bn price does not include the larger costs of the rockets launching the spaceships to the asteroid and the smaller boulder.

The entire project called ARM for Asteroid Redirect Mission would also test new spacesuits for deep space, as opposed to Earth orbit, and may even help companies look at the idea of mining asteroids for precious metals, said NASA spokesman David Steitz.

Steitz said by getting closer to the large asteroid, the mission will help with “planetary defense” techniques, learning how to nudge a threatening space rock out of harm’s way.

Scott Pace, space policy director at George Washington University and a NASA associate administrator in the George W. Bush administration, said the concept in some ways makes sense in terms of training, engineering and cost, but “it still leaves the larger questions: What this leads to and why?”

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:43 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Baja California farm workers demand better pay and working conditions

Negotiations between Mexican strike leaders and growers resume Wednesday
Grievances include low pay, long hours, child labour and sexual harassment

Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
Wednesday 25 March 2015 21.39 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 25 March 2015 21.45 GMT
A week-long strike by tens of thousands of farm workers in the Mexican border state of Baja California has severely interrupted production at the peak of the winter strawberry harvest, as workers attempt to draw attention to dismal pay and conditions in the region’s export-oriented farms.

The potency of the strike, which has included some violent protests and an aggressive police response, will be tested on Wednesday evening when negotiations resume between the movement’s leaders, growers’ representatives and the authorities after a recess was called on Friday.

Growers had asked for the recess in order to come up with a response to strikers’ demands, which include nearly tripling pay for picking strawberries, blackberries, tomatoes, cucumbers and other crops intended for the US market.

Workershave said they currently receive around 110 pesos ($7) for 10-hour working days with no overtime pay. They also claim that some companies dock their pay with deductions for transport and accommodation, as well as accusations that child labour and sexual harassment of female workers is widespread.

The strike has been led by a worker’s group known as The Alliance, which was formed 17 months ago. The Alliance has been organising among the communities of farm workers, most of whom are migrants from the southern states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Puebla. Many are from indigenous communities, recruited by company contractors who travel to remote villages promising good jobs and conditions. The movement’s central demand is a daily rate of 300 pesos ($20) a day.

“The producers had a boot to our neck,” Fidel Sánchez, one of the movement’s leaders, told the TV network Televisa. “It is time to push that boot off and say that we exist.”

Initial protests included a blockade of the main highway running down the Baja California peninsula that was broken up by heavily armed police in armoured cars amid burning tyres and flying rocks. About 200 people were reportedly arrested in the operation – though most were later released. The National Human Rights Commission said this week that it would open an investigation into alleged police abuse, including brutality and arbitrary detentions.

The violence calmed after negotiations began last Thursday, though tensions remain high in the region with fears that the failure to reach an agreement in today’s meeting will spark renewed conflict.

Minutes before heading into Wednesday’s meeting a representative of the main growers’ organisation in the region told the Guardian that he was optimistic that an agreement could get workers back in the fields by tomorrow.

“We all want to solve this problem,” Marco Antonio Estudillo said, “but what the strikers are asking for is impossible due to market conditions.”

Estudillo said “serious and irreversible damage” had already been caused to the farms that send almost all their produce to the US, particularly California. He said the strawberry harvest has been particularly affected, with fruit left rotting in the fields.

The strikers have received more understanding from some growers. Small producer Carlos Hafen coaxed strikers back to work with a rate of 200 pesos a day.

“If I can pay this, the big farms can pay it, too, and more,” he told Televisa. The strike, focused in the San Quintín Valley about 200 miles from the border with California, broke out on 17 March.

The state government has warned that it will not tolerate any more road blockades, suggesting the strike is being organised by agitators, and stressing the economic harm it is doing.

During the weekend recess, the governor of Baja California, Francisco Vega, warned that “if the fields continue without a workforce, the harvest will be lost and that will effect everyone who depends on this part of the economy”.

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:41 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Farc guerrillas and Colombian troops to work together to tackle landmine legacy

Farc rebels were among the world’s most prolific mine layers but a tortuous peace process has brought hope for Colombians running the daily risk of injury or death

Sibylla Brodzinsky in Sonsón, Colombia
Wednesday 25 March 2015 16.40 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 25 March 2015 22.14 GMT   

In his nine long years in the ranks of the Farc guerrillas, Diomedes saw and did things he would rather not remember. Forcibly recruited when he was just 15, he deserted in 2009.

Today, Diomedes, 29, is trying to repair some of the damage he feels he did as an unwilling member of Colombia’s largest rebel army by working to clear landmines that the Farc (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) laid near the town of Sonsón, in the mountains of Antioquia province.

“In the Farc I saw landmines being prepared and laid and now I have the opportunity destroy those mines that have caused so much damage to the community,” says Diomedes, who asked that his last name be withheld for fear of retaliation.

Diomedes is one of a handful of former guerrilla members now working as mine clearers for the Halo Trust, a British NGO that is charged with clearing 100 minefields identified in areas where the country’s 50-year conflict has died down.

He will soon be joined by current members of the Farc, who will help with efforts to locate and clear landmines the group has laid in conflict hotspots around the country – part of an agreement reached during peace negotiations with the government of Juan Manuel Santos.

The demining agreement is one of several recent measures taken by both sides to tone down the violence in Colombia while they talk peace in Havana.

Following December’s declaration of a unilateral ceasefire, the Farc announced in February a decision to stop recruiting minors, a practice that had earned the group widespread condemnation.

“I hope they really do that,” says Diomedes, a former child soldier himself, who was forced into the ranks of the Farc in 2000 together with two sisters aged 14 and 13.

The government reciprocated the Farc’s unilateral decisions by declaring a temporary suspension of air bombings on Farc camps, which has been one of the military’s most effective tactics against the guerrillas. That reprieve will send a strong message to the ranks of the guerrillas in jungle and mountain camps, according to a recently demobilised Farc member who asked to be identified as Arturo. “Those bombardments are what we feared most,” he said of his time in the rebel camps. “Ending those will convince the people still out there that things are starting to happen.”

That the Farc leadership agreed to collaborate on demining efforts “shows that they’re serious about peace”, Diomedes said.

Negotiations to end the country’s conflict have dragged on for nearly two and a half years and though the two sides have agreed on three of the five main negotiating points, tangible results on the ground in Colombia have been few.

The agreement on demining will change that. “For the first time the peace process will have a concrete impact in the country,” says Álvaro Jiménez, director of the Colombian Campaign Against Landmines, an NGO that had lobbied negotiators in Havana to begin clearing mines even before they reach a final peace accord.

Working together

Colombia is second only to Afghanistan in the number of landmine accidents, with more than 11,000 victims in the past 25 years. An estimated 800,000 Colombian civilians are at risk of stepping on a landmine as they walk to their fields, to school or to market, with 688 municipalities affected.

So far this year, at least 50 people have fallen victim to mines, with seven deaths – including five children.

Starting in May, active guerrilla members will work hand in hand with army soldiers to identify minefields in selected areas of the country where civilians have been most affected by recent landmine accidents. Though considered a pilot programme that will target a small number of minefields, both government officials and Farc spokesmen have said it could be a model for a post-conflict scenario.

“This is significant not only to eliminate the threat of landmines but it will put people who have considered each other the enemy for 50 years to work together,” says Jiménez.

The number of landmine victims in Colombia began to spike in 2005 as the Farc were being beaten back by a sustained military offensive against them. In a 2008 email intercepted by the military, the then top Farc commander Alfonso Cano ordered all fronts to halt the advance of the troops with mine fields “since we know it’s the only factor that stops and intimidates them”.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, the Farc is the “most prolific” user of anti-personnel mines among rebel groups worldwide. Rather than using industrial mines, Farc troops fashion theirs out of readily available materials: coffee cans, fertiliser, and syringes.

“Whenever the commander felt we were surrounded they planted landmines,” Diomedes remembers. And even though he said commanders usually kept maps of the minefields they laid, one leader fell victim to a mine. “He forgot where the mines were and he stepped on one,” he says.

Where Diomedes and his coworkers at the Halo Trust work, there are no maps. Minefields are identified by where accidents have occurred or where residents of the affected communities remember seeing guerrillas plant them.

Once the field is identified, detecting the individual mines is a gruelling task. At a minefield in the village of La Quiebra, mine clearers protected by Kevlar vests and shatterproof visors, work metre by metre, sweeping the ground with metal detectors. A beep of the detector could mean a mine, or an old piece of barbed wire.

Not knowing which, workers proceed with extreme caution. At this particular field mine clearers have found three devices after covering nearly 3,100 square metres.

At that pace it could be decades before Colombia is mine-free, particularly since despite the agreement with the government to clear mines, the Farc have not committed to stop planting them.

The ELN, Colombia’s other guerrilla group which is not involved in peace talks also uses landmines widely.

But the decision to jointly clear some areas is an important start, says Jiménez. “What’s important is that they start with one. Already that’s a gain.”

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:38 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Argentina calls Falklands defence boost a provocation and pre-election stunt

Argentina’s cabinet chief says Britain’s £180m plan to bolster the Falklands’ defences over 10 years is ‘cheap nationalism’ before the 7 May general election

Agence France-Presse in Buenos Aires
Wednesday 25 March 2015 17.16 GMT Last modified on Wednesday 25 March 2015 17.33 GMT   

Argentina has branded Britain’s plans to beef up defences in the Falklands a provocation and a pre-election stunt .

The British defence secretary, Michael Fallon, said on Tuesday that the UK would spend £180m over 10 years to counter “continuous intimidation” from Argentina. The two countries went to war over the islands in 1982.

“This business from Great Britain is a provocation, not just to Argentina but also to the United Nations,” Argentina’s foreign minister, Hector Timerman, said on Wednesday.

The UN’s decolonisation committee adopted a resolution last year calling on Britain to negotiate with Argentina on the islands’ status, as Buenos Aires has long demanded.

Britain argues the islanders should decide for themselves which country they want to belong to. In a 2013 referendum, 99.8% voted to remain a British overseas territory.

Timerman said the British defence initiative made “no sense”. “We are committed to dialogue and international law,” he told Radio del Plata.

Timerman said Argentina would file a formal complaint with the decolonisation committee, saying Britain was “expressly violating UN regulations on not altering the situation when there is a state of controversy regarding a territory’s sovereignty”.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s cabinet chief, Aníbal Fernández, said the plan was less about Argentinian threats and more about the campaign for Britain’s general election on 7 May.

“They’re facing elections, so they resort to cheap nationalism to put all of British society on tenterhooks over a military matter,” he told a press conference.

Argentina invaded the Falklands, which it calls the Malvinas, in April 1982, sparking a war that it lost in just over two months.

The conflict claimed the lives of 649 Argentinian soldiers, 255 Britons and three islanders.

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:36 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Chad's U.N. Envoy Says Boko Haram 'More Dangerous' than IS

by Naharnet Newsdesk 25 March 2015, 22:02

Chad's U.N. envoy on Wednesday voiced frustration over Security Council inaction on endorsing a regional force fighting Boko Haram, arguing that the Nigerian extremists are "more dangerous" than Islamic State fighters.

Ambassador Mahamat Cherif told reporters that a draft resolution circulated last week to the 15-member council had hit a wall over a key provision invoking chapter 7 of the U.N. charter.

"I think Boko Haram is more dangerous than ISIS," said Cherif, using the acronym for the Islamic State group sowing violence and fear in Syria and Iraq.

"What we do for ISIS, we should do against Boko Haram."

Chapter 7 allows member states to use all possible means to enforce a resolution including economic sanctions and military force to confront a threat to world peace and security.

Diplomats told Agence France-Presse that Nigeria had balked at the provision, dealing a major setback to weeks of negotiations on the draft resolution that would also set up a trust fund to help finance the regional force's operations.

Cherif acknowledged that a vote on the measure was not imminent.

Nigeria's mission to the United Nations could not be immediately reached for comment, but diplomats speculated that the elections on Saturday may have played a role in the about-face.

"The international community recognizes Boko Haram as a threat to international peace and security," Cherif argued.

"In Damasak, the last town liberated by Chad and Nigeria, we found a mass grave. I think it's very serious."

Boko Haram, which has been listed by the United Nations as a terror group, pledged allegiance to IS earlier this month, heightening concerns after the extremists expanded their campaign to neighboring countries.

The African Union has set up the five-nation force of 8,700 troops to defeat Boko Haram, which has killed more than 13,000 people over the past seven years and shocked the world with the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in April last year.

Chad is playing a leading role in the regional force, alongside Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin and Niger.

Drafted by Chad, Nigeria and Angola, the text before the Security Council would provide for endorsement of the regional force and threaten sanctions to punish Boko Haram supporters.

Source: Agence France Presse

 on: Mar 26, 2015, 06:35 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Nigeria Denies Reports of New Mass Boko Haram Kidnapping

by Naharnet Newsdesk 25 March 2015, 22:24

Nigeria's government on Wednesday denied reports of a mass kidnapping in the country's northeast, as Boko Haram militants flee a four-nation military offensive.

"There is no fresh kidnapping in Damasak," Nigeria's national security spokesman Mike Omeri told Agence France-Presse, referring to the town recently retaken by forces from neighboring Chad and Niger.

Reports suggested that the Islamist militants, who seized the town in Borno state earlier this year, made off with hundreds of children as they fled the troops' advance.

But Omeri said Nigeria had no information about a mass abduction. A senator who represents the area and a senior intelligence source also cast doubt on the reports.

The contradictory claims shed light on the difficulty of establishing facts in the brutal, six-year conflict, with communications infrastructure devastated in the northeast and travel restricted.

Officials, the military and locals frequently give contrasting information.

The militants do have a track record of mass kidnappings, however, including the high-profile abduction of more than 200 schoolgirls in April last year from the Borno town of Chibok.

Details about the kidnapping were muddied for weeks by military and official denials of details reported by the affected families.

The disputes over what actually happened were finally laid to rest when Boko Haram released a video picturing dozens of the hostages, who were subsequently identified by relatives.

Omeri noted Boko Haram's widely reported tactic of forcibly conscripting young boys during their hit-and-run attacks and attempts to indoctrinate them into the group's radical ideology.

Many Boko Haram fighters are believed to be on the run as a result of the offensive by Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, who have routed the insurgents from dozens of towns.

Several sources said it was possible, and perhaps even likely, that scores of Boko Haram conscripts were missing, feared kidnapped by the militants across the region.

But they denied a specific mass abduction in Damasak, where the Chadian military last week said that about 100 bodies, some of them decapitated, were found in a mass grave.

Senator Maina Lawan, whose constituency includes Damasak, said: "I will be extremely surprised that such a huge number of my constituents would be abducted without me being informed.

"It is very unlikely that Boko Haram would have abducted such a huge number of people from Damasak because most of the people had fled months ago when Boko Haram took over‎."

A senior intelligence source in Borno's capital Maiduguri said there was "no iota of truth" to the mass abduction claims.

Source: Agence France Presse

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