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 41 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 08:45 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Hi Gypsie,

Go ahead and finish up your work. We will wait until you have posted. And it is wonderful that you are making the effort that you are.

God Bless, Rad


 42 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 08:32 AM 
Started by cat777 - Last post by Rad
Many Americans reject evolution, deny climate change and find GM food unsafe

Ian Sample, The Guardian
29 Jan 2015 at 15:16 ET                   

A major survey of US opinions has revealed that huge numbers of people reject Darwinian evolution, consider GM foods unsafe to eat, and doubt that human activity is warming the planet.

The report by the Pew Research Center in Washington DC was conducted with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and sought to compare the opinions of a cross-section of the US public with those held by the AAAS’s scientific members.

Published in the journal Science, the survey found that 31% of the US public believed that humans had existed in their present form since the beginning, with a further 24% stating that humans had evolved under the guiding hand of a supreme being. In contrast, only 2% of AAAS scientists said humans had not evolved in their time on Earth.

The proportion of the public who believed evolution had happened through natural processes, as described by Charles Darwin more than 150 years ago, was only slightly greater than a third at 35%. The survey drew on phone interviews with 2,002 US adults chosen to be representative of the nation, and online questions of 3,748 US-based members of the AAAS.

The US has embraced genetically modifed crops, with 69m hectares (170.4m acres) given over to their cultivation, but the survey suggests the technology is still regarded as contentious by a significant portion of US society. A striking 57% of the public surveyed by Pew believed that GM foods were unsafe to eat. The overwhelming view of the scientists, was that the food was safe, with 88% having no concerns about eating GM.

Perhaps the most contentious issue the survey touched on was climate change, where only half of the population agreed with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change view that climate change was mostly driven by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels. Nearly half said there was either no good evidence for global warming, or that the recent warming of the Earth was due to natural climate variability.

Scientists and the broader public disagreed most strongly about the safety of GM foods, though their views differed substantially on global warming too, with 87% of scientists believing that climate change was mostly caused by human activity.

Alan Leshner, the chief executive of the AAAS, said the survey revealed a worrying gulf between the opinions held by scientists and the general public. “There is a disconnect between the way in which the public perceives the state of science and science’s position on a variety of issues,” he said. “And that’s a cause of concern.”

Cary Funk, lead author of the report, said the number of issues that scientists and the public disagreed on, and the amount to which they disagreed, were both surprising. One of the few issues the two groups did agreed on was that the International Space Station had been a good investment for the country.

There were some other areas where scientists and the public shared concerns. Both delivered damning verdicts on US science education, the K-12 primary and secondary school system. Among the general public, 68% considered US science education average or below average, and an overwhelming proportion of scientists, 84%, agreed with them.

In some cases, a poor science education was at the heart of the differences in opinion, Leshner said. “Sometimes it’s simply a lack of understanding, sometimes it’s an economic or a politicial issue, and sometimes it’s a conflict between, say, core religious belief, or core values, and what science is showing,” he said. “In all of these cases, science is being trumped by these other factors and scientists need to do something to turn that around.”

“It’s not about whether the public is dumb or not. It’s partly a function of the American educational system that does a terrible job … at educating young people in science, math and technology,” he added.

Perhaps reflecting a common scepticism over climate change, the survey found greater support among the public for fracking and offshore drilling than among the scientists. Enthusiasm for building more nuclear power plants was far higher among the scientists than the public, with 65% versus 45% in favour.

In an accompanying editorial , Leshner issued a call to arms, urging scientists to strike up “respectful dialogues” with groups in community clubs, science museums and religious institutions. “The opinion gap must not be allowed to swell into an unbridgeable chasm,” he warned.

“We need to have what scence is showing be represented accurately and for people to at least have that in their toolbox when they make their own decisions,” Leshner said. “It works against the benefit of humankind for people to have distorted views of what the actual facts are.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015

 43 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 08:25 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
USA

Most Americans Support Government Action on Climate Change, Poll Finds

By CORAL DAVENPORT and MARJORIE CONNELLYJ
JAN. 30, 2015
NYT

WASHINGTON — An overwhelming majority of the American public, including nearly half of Republicans, support government action to curb global warming, according to a poll conducted by The New York Times, Stanford University and the nonpartisan environmental research group Resources for the Future.

In a finding that could have implications for the 2016 presidential campaign, the poll also found that two-thirds of Americans say they are more likely to vote for political candidates who campaign on fighting climate change. They are less likely to vote for candidates who question or deny the science of human-caused global warming.

Among Republicans, 48 percent said they are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports fighting climate change, a result that Jon A. Krosnick, a professor of political science at Stanford University and an author of the survey, called "the most powerful finding" in the poll. Many Republican candidates either question the science of climate change or do not publicly address the issue.

Global Warming: What Should Be Done?

This nationwide survey asked people for their views on whether global warming will be beneficial or detrimental, about how the president and Congress have responded to it, and what they believe government should do about it.

Nonetheless, 47 percent of Republicans still said they believe that policies designed to curb global warming will hurt the economy.

Although the poll found that climate change was not a top issue in determining a person's vote, a candidate’s position on climate change influences how a person will vote. For example, 67 percent of respondents, including 48 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents, said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who said that human-caused climate change is a hoax.

The results come as climate change is emerging as a source of debate in the coming presidential campaign.

In 2012, all the Republican presidential candidates but one – Jon M. Huntsman Jr. – questioned or denied the science of human-caused global warming, and opposed policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But over the past year, President Obama has proposed a series of Environmental Protection Agency regulations intended to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, which Republicans in Congress have attacked as a "war on coal."

But those positions appear to be out of step with the majority of the electorate.

The poll found that 83 percent of Americans, including 61 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of independents, say that if nothing is done to reduce emissions, global warming will be a very or somewhat serious problem in the future.

But substantial differences remain between the two parties on the issue.

Democrats are much more likely than Republicans or independents to say that the issue of global warming is important to them. Among Democrats, 63 percent said the issue was very or extremely important to them personally. In contrast, 40 percent of independents and only 18 percent of Republicans said the same.

And while the poll found that 77 percent of Americans say that the federal government should be doing a substantial amount to combat climate change, the support was greatest among Democrats and independents. Ninety percent of Democrats, 78 percent of independents and 48 percent of Republicans said the government should be fighting climate change.

The nationwide telephone poll was conducted Jan. 7-22 with 1,006 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Over all, the number of Americans who believe that climate change is caused by human activity is growing. In a 2011 Stanford University poll, 72 percent of people thought climate change was caused at least in part by human activities. That grew to 81 percent in the latest poll. By party, 88 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents and 71 percent of Republicans said that climate change was caused at least in part by human activities.

A majority of Americans – 71 percent — expect that they will be personally hurt by climate change, although to different degrees.

"Some people think they’ll be really devastated; some people think they’ll be inconvenienced," Mr. Krosnick said.

Aliza Strauss, a Republican homemaker in Teaneck, N.J., said in a follow-up interview that climate change had affected her personally and she was concerned about the impact of climate change in coming years. “A tree fell on my house during Hurricane Sandy and in the future it might be worse,” she said. “The stronger storms and the flooding will erode the coastline, and that is a big concern for me.”

Jason Becker, a self-identified independent and stay-at-home father in Ocoee, Fla., said that although climate change was not his top concern, a candidate who questioned global warming would seem out of touch.

“I don’t think it’s the number one hot issue in the world,” Mr. Becker said. “There are some other things that should take precedent, like the ISIS issue,” he said, referring to the Islamic State militants.

But, he said of climate change, “If someone feels it’s a hoax they are denying the evidence out there. Many arguments can be made on both sides of the fence. But to just ignore it completely indicates a close-minded individual, and I don’t want a close-minded individual in a seat of political power.”

Political analysts say the problem for many Republicans is how to carve out a position on climate change that does not turn off voters like Mr. Becker, but that also does not alienate powerful conservative campaign donors. In particular, advocacy groups funded by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch have vowed to ensure that Republican candidates who advocate for climate change action will lose in primary elections.

As a result, many Republicans have begun responding to questions about climate change by saying, "I’m not a scientist," or some variant, as a way to avoid taking a definite position.

The poll found that vague position might well help Republican candidates in primary contests, particularly among conservative voters. The poll found that 27 percent of Americans were more likely to vote for a candidate who took that position, and 44 percent less likely. But among those who support the Tea Party, 49 percent said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who said "I’m not a scientist," or a variant.

"It recruits more Tea Partyers than it repels,” Mr. Krosnick said.

A pledge to fight climate change appears to have less attraction for older voters. The poll found that older Americans are slightly less inclined to support a candidate who calls for action to reduce global warming and similarly less negative toward a candidate who rejects the premise of global warming.

"Global warming hasn’t much importance to me,” said William Werner, 73, a retired sales manager in San Antonio. "It is not man-made in my opinion because there have been cycles forever and we can’t do much about that."

He added, "If you’re speaking about voting for someone in this country who says they can take actions that will affect global warming, I don't believe it, because we are just not that big a polluter compared to other countries."

**************

Many Americans reject evolution, deny climate change and find GM food unsafe

Ian Sample, The Guardian
29 Jan 2015 at 15:16 ET                   

A major survey of US opinions has revealed that huge numbers of people reject Darwinian evolution, consider GM foods unsafe to eat, and doubt that human activity is warming the planet.

The report by the Pew Research Center in Washington DC was conducted with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and sought to compare the opinions of a cross-section of the US public with those held by the AAAS’s scientific members.

Published in the journal Science, the survey found that 31% of the US public believed that humans had existed in their present form since the beginning, with a further 24% stating that humans had evolved under the guiding hand of a supreme being. In contrast, only 2% of AAAS scientists said humans had not evolved in their time on Earth.

The proportion of the public who believed evolution had happened through natural processes, as described by Charles Darwin more than 150 years ago, was only slightly greater than a third at 35%. The survey drew on phone interviews with 2,002 US adults chosen to be representative of the nation, and online questions of 3,748 US-based members of the AAAS.

The US has embraced genetically modifed crops, with 69m hectares (170.4m acres) given over to their cultivation, but the survey suggests the technology is still regarded as contentious by a significant portion of US society. A striking 57% of the public surveyed by Pew believed that GM foods were unsafe to eat. The overwhelming view of the scientists, was that the food was safe, with 88% having no concerns about eating GM.

Perhaps the most contentious issue the survey touched on was climate change, where only half of the population agreed with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change view that climate change was mostly driven by human activity, such as the burning of fossil fuels. Nearly half said there was either no good evidence for global warming, or that the recent warming of the Earth was due to natural climate variability.

Scientists and the broader public disagreed most strongly about the safety of GM foods, though their views differed substantially on global warming too, with 87% of scientists believing that climate change was mostly caused by human activity.

Alan Leshner, the chief executive of the AAAS, said the survey revealed a worrying gulf between the opinions held by scientists and the general public. “There is a disconnect between the way in which the public perceives the state of science and science’s position on a variety of issues,” he said. “And that’s a cause of concern.”

Cary Funk, lead author of the report, said the number of issues that scientists and the public disagreed on, and the amount to which they disagreed, were both surprising. One of the few issues the two groups did agreed on was that the International Space Station had been a good investment for the country.

There were some other areas where scientists and the public shared concerns. Both delivered damning verdicts on US science education, the K-12 primary and secondary school system. Among the general public, 68% considered US science education average or below average, and an overwhelming proportion of scientists, 84%, agreed with them.

In some cases, a poor science education was at the heart of the differences in opinion, Leshner said. “Sometimes it’s simply a lack of understanding, sometimes it’s an economic or a politicial issue, and sometimes it’s a conflict between, say, core religious belief, or core values, and what science is showing,” he said. “In all of these cases, science is being trumped by these other factors and scientists need to do something to turn that around.”

“It’s not about whether the public is dumb or not. It’s partly a function of the American educational system that does a terrible job … at educating young people in science, math and technology,” he added.

Perhaps reflecting a common scepticism over climate change, the survey found greater support among the public for fracking and offshore drilling than among the scientists. Enthusiasm for building more nuclear power plants was far higher among the scientists than the public, with 65% versus 45% in favour.

In an accompanying editorial , Leshner issued a call to arms, urging scientists to strike up “respectful dialogues” with groups in community clubs, science museums and religious institutions. “The opinion gap must not be allowed to swell into an unbridgeable chasm,” he warned.

“We need to have what scence is showing be represented accurately and for people to at least have that in their toolbox when they make their own decisions,” Leshner said. “It works against the benefit of humankind for people to have distorted views of what the actual facts are.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015

***********

Senate Passes Keystone XL 62-35, But Doesn’t Have The Votes To Override Obama’s Veto

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, January, 29th, 2015, 4:13 pm      

The Senate passed a bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline today, but Republicans did not pick up enough votes to override President Obama’s expected veto.

After nearly a month of debate and amendments, the Senate passed the bill authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The vote was 62-36 in favor of the bill. Republicans remain five votes short of the number required to override President Obama’s veto.

Before the Senate votes, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell continued to spread the lie that Keystone XL is a jobs bill, “The debate over these American jobs has shown that, with bipartisan cooperation, it’s possible to get Washington functioning again. This debate is also proving that the new Congress is ready to work hard for the middle class — even in the teeth of opposition from powerful special interests. Let’s notch one more win for the middle class by passing this important infrastructure project.Constructing Keystone would pump billions into our economy. It would support thousands of good American jobs. And as the President’s own State Department has indicated, it would do this with minimal environmental impact. The Keystone infrastructure project has been studied endlessly, from almost every possible angle, and the same general conclusion keeps becoming clear: build it. So let’s make some progress for the American people by voting to pass the Keystone jobs and infrastructure bill.”

Republicans can try to sell Keystone XL as a jobs bill until they are blue in the face, but a majority of Americans aren’t buying it. The White House repeated their promise to veto the bill, “This Keystone project is undergoing review at the State Department. That is a process that long predates this administration. So we are opposed to any legislative maneuver that would circumvent that process.”

The bill will now go to committee for reconciliation, but the whole process is a giant of waste of time. President Obama will veto the Keystone XL bill as soon as it hits his desk, and Republicans do not have the votes to override his veto. Keystone XL marks another low water mark in the Republican era of congressional control.

Senate Republicans have wasted a month on Keystone XL, and all they will have for their efforts is a dead bill that lacks public support for their short cutting of the process. Republicans may have passed a bill, but Democrats are winning the war.

**********

Bernie Sanders Rips The “Crazy” Senate For Passing Keystone XL Bill

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, January, 29th, 2015, 5:07 pm   

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) didn’t hold anything back when he called the Senate’s passage of a bill that authorized the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline crazy.

In a statement Sen. Sanders said, “With the scientific community telling us loudly and clearly that we must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels if we are to combat climate change, it is totally crazy for the Congress to support the production and transportation of some of the dirtiest oil on the planet.”

The passage of this bill was crazy on many different. In terms of politics, it was absolutely insane for Republicans to waste nearly a month of time debating and passing a bill that the president has vowed to veto on numerous occasions. It has been well known for weeks that Republicans in both the House and Senate did not have the votes required to override President Obama’s veto. With gas prices plunging to a low point, the main Republican argument that Keystone XL would make America more energy independent (it won’t) has fallen on deaf ears.

In terms of politics, it would have made more sense to pass a bill that the president might actually sign instead of wasting precious time on a bill that is nothing more than a symbolic gesture. The Keystone XL bill turned into a quagmire of bad politics that is another Republican backed step away from real job creation legislation.

The main reason Republicans brought this bill up first was that they thought they could pass it quickly and set up a confrontation with the president that would allow them to flex the new political muscle. What the Keystone debacle revealed is that Democrats and the president are still able to outmuscle the new Republican Congressional majority.

As an energy policy, the Keystone XL bill is an absurd step backwards. At a time when the country should be moving away from fossil fuels. The decline in gas prices has served as a reminder of one of the basic laws of economics. Decreased demand will lower costs. There is no good reason to construct the pipeline when none of the oil will be sold to the United States. The oil is not American oil. It is destined to be sold on the global market. It is crazy to pretend that the pipeline contains any real energy benefits for the American people.

The Keystone XL pipeline is an even worse environmental policy. The pipeline will only add to the risk of an accident or an environmental disaster while doing nothing to combat climate change.

Bernie Sanders spoke the truth. The Senate made a crazy move by passing Keystone XL, but 62 senators once again put empty political gestures ahead of good policy for the American people.

*************

Koch Congress Still Pushing Keystone After Four Pipeline Explosions In A Month

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Thursday, January, 29th, 2015, 11:40 am      

After their 2012 general election defeat, Republicans performed a self-autopsy and concluded that they had to convince the American people that they cared more about the “regular people” and not solely their special interest donors. Obviously they ignored their own diagnosis and have committed to serving the interests of their owners the Koch brothers. This week, despite a looming veto threat from President Obama, after House Republicans passed a bill subverting the President’s purview over a foreign nation’s pipeline and the Senate is following suit sometime this week. Of all the reasons to not build the Keystone pipeline, one that is often overlooked, and ignored by the corporate media, is the real and present danger of a break in TransCanada’s rupture-prone pipeline the company claims is safe and environmentally friendly.

It is absurd to think the Canadian tar sand pipeline is even remotely environmentally friendly, particularly when Canada will not allow the pipeline to be constructed on its own soil. Now, based on the fourth in a string of pipeline explosions just this month, it is also not close to what any thinking human being would regard as safe. However, Republicans could care one iota less about the safety of the pipeline any more than they care about the environment, and in spite of the fourth pipeline explosion in a very brief amount of time, they are going forward to enrich the Koch brothers, a foreign corporation, and of course John Boehner’s stock portfolio.

The latest pipeline explosion took place in West Virginia and fortunately there were no deaths or injuries. Residents reported seeing a massive fireball shooting hundreds of feet into the air, and an emergency dispatcher said the heat from the flames melted siding off of one house and damaged a power line. The Texas-based owners of the pipeline, Enterprise Products, L.P. said it was investigating the cause of the rupture and explosion, but they like TransCanada, claim oil and gas pipelines are safe. It is likely exactly what three other pipeline owners claimed just this month as Republicans are attempting to force construction of a foreign corporations pipeline carrying incredibly dangers and nearly impossible to clean up tar sand.

In Mississippi early this month, a different pipeline operated by GulfSouth rattled nearby residents’ windows when it exploded sending a smoke plume big enough to register on the National Weather Service’s radar screens. GulfSouth, like TransCanada, touted the safety of their pipeline. Another “very safe and environmentally-friendly pipeline” owned by Bridger Pipeline ruptured in Montana less than two weeks ago dumping as much as 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and left thousands of Montana residents “without drinkable tap water.” Within days of the Montana pipeline spill, a North Dakota pipeline ruptured and spilled over 3 million gallons of “drilling waste saltwater” that is regarded as the state’s largest environmental contaminant release since the so-called “North Dakota oil boom began.”

Although Democrats have attempted to add clever amendments to the Keystone authorization legislation in the Senate, there is precious little debate about the prevalence of ruptures and spills inherent with pipes carrying more corrosive tar sand oil across America en route to China, Japan, and Europe. Democrats will never have a better opportunity to demonstrate their concern for Americans’ health, water supply, and the environment than during what is becoming a regular occurring rash of oil pipeline leaks, ruptures, and spills. It is not that the inherent danger of pipelines would convince contemptible Republicans to oppose the Kochs’ demand for authorizing the pipeline’s construction, but Democrats should be screaming and advertising the pipeline’s inherent dangers while recent pipeline incidents are fresh in people’s minds.

Opponents of the pipeline should be educating the ignorant public about how much more dangerous to the environment, particularly the water supply, a 1,700-mile pipeline carrying over 860,000 barrels of nasty, carcinogenic, and extremely corrosive tar sand crude oil is compared to conventional oil, and conventional oil is not easy to clean up. The biggest problem with tar sand oil is that it is not just harder, but nearly impossible to clean up due to its viscosity that prevents it from floating. Instead, it sinks and with a projected path over the Ogallala aquifer, Nebraska residents’ and farmers’ primary source of water would be decimated. Nebraska Republicans care as little about their populations’ source of water as they do their health, and have claimed a tar sand spill “will only affect local residents’ source of water;” obviously nothing residents should worry about.

To get an idea of the devastation and long-term effects of a tar sand rupture over a major water source, it is worth noting the nation’s first and largest tar sand spill happened nearly five years ago and is still a posing monumental challenge to clean up. The company responsible for the spill, Enbridge claimed their primary concern has always been pipeline safety and environmental consciousness.

The 2010 spill has oil industry and environmental experts stumped about how to clean up, much less recover, all the tar sand oil. As the EPA said in 2012, after two years of struggling to clean up the spill, they have been unsuccessful in cleanup and recovery attempts because “there is no known procedure to clean up tar sands bitumen.” An agency spokesman said “they had to write the book” on how best to clean up nasty tar sand (dil-bit) in Michigan. Tar sand bitumen, the type of “oil” Republicans want flowing through the Keystone pipeline spilled into the Kalamazoo River and promptly sunk to the bottom. Local residents and EPA officials are still struggling to save the water supply nearly five years later. It has cost roughly $725 million to recover 1.2 million gallons of the tar sand so far, and environmentalists at the EPA say just attempting to recover the carcinogenic tar sand is decimating the environment.

Residents in and around the Michigan spill have complained and reported nausea, migraines, and burning in the eyes and throat due to the toxins needed to allow the tar to flow. Tar sand will not flow unless it is diluted with toxic chemicals and after it does spill, the tar separates from the toxic “dilutant” and sinks. The chemical-laden dilutant evaporates into the nearby atmosphere affecting air quality. It is obviously a hazard that Republicans are comfortable imposing on Americans in their drive to serve the oil industry.

There is no good reason to allow a foreign corporation to build an environmental hazard waiting to happen on American soil, and yet Republicans are Hell-bent and duty-bound to do the bidding of the Koch brothers; despite President Obama’s pledge to veto legislation approving the permit. A permitting approval process, by the way, that is constitutionally the purview of the President and State Department; not the Koch brothers, a foreign corporation, or Republicans indebted to the oil industry. Still, Republicans continue lying about the pipeline, and wasting taxpayer’s time and money, to pass legislation to construct a pipeline that is certain to rupture, explode, and decimate the environment.  And they are lying about Keystone while four pipelines ruptured or exploded amid ever-present promises it is a safe and environmentally-friendly means of enriching the Kochs, a foreign corporation, and corrupt John A. Boehner.

**************

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
01/29/2015 02:57 PM

Opinion: The Myth of Humane Killing

A Commentary By Markus Feldenkirchen

Recent events involving a controversial drug, cruel mistakes and arbitrary, last-minute decisions have exposed the United States' system of capital punishment for exactly what it is: a human rights violation unworthy of a democracy.

Charles Warner has said goodbye to his family and eaten his last meal twice. First on April 29, 2014, and again on Jan. 15, 2015.

On April 29, his execution was scheduled for 8 p.m. Two hours earlier, at 6 p.m., his cellmate Clayton Lockett was scheduled to die in the Oklahoma death chamber. But during his execution, anything that could possibly go wrong did. Lockett woke up again and again, despite the fact that a doctor had confirmed he was unconscious. Then the IV line exploded, resulting in blood spilling all over the chamber. It took another 43 minutes before he was pronounced dead. It was the cruelest execution in the history of lethal injection.

The execution of Charles Warner was subsequently canceled and rescheduled for November. But this was also postponed at the last minute. In the meantime, Oklahoma invested $100,000 in the rennovation of its death chamber but needed more time to teach its obviously incompetent staff how to kill people more professionally.

Serious Doubts

But the staff isn't the only problem: Until recently, most states first administered a reliable dose of anesthesia in order to render the inmate completely unconscious. According to protocol, the inmate would then receive the second and third injections that would paralyze and kill him. Without adequate anesthesia, the second and third drugs would subject the inmate to excruciating pain. Since the manufacturers of previously used anesthetics have banned their use in executions, the authorities are experimenting with new drugs such as Midazolam.

Midazolam was used for Lockett's execution and others in which prisoners remained conscious for a long period and clearly suffered. There are serious doubts about whether Midazolam serves its purpose -- and with good reason, too, given that the US Food and Drug Administration hasn't even approved the drug for use in surgery.

Charles Warner and three other death row inmates filed a lawsuit against the use of Midazolam. When he woke up on Jan. 15, he hoped that, once again, his execution, scheduled for 6 p.m. that evening, would be postponed. His hope was that the US Supreme Court would agree to hear his case and that his execution would be postponed until there was a judgement.

At noon on that day, he ate his last meal again and said goodbye to his family. When the time came for him to be strapped onto the gurney, nothing happened. Warner learned that the Supreme Court justices in Washington were still deliberating on his fate. Once again, he was hopeful; 10 minutes passed, 20. Finally, they came for Warner. The Supreme Court had rejected the request in a 5 to 4 vote, the narrowest possible margin. The five judges who voted against him were nominated by Republicans, the four who were for it were Democrats. An hour later, Warner was dead.

A Gross Violation of Human Rights

What Warner was put through on multiple occassions was psychological torture. And this is not unusual: Courts will often decide literally at the last minute whether or not to grant a stay. In addition to the execution, this mental torture itself could be considered a gross violation of human rights. The act of executing a human being is already the highest form of torture, but the mental anguish of this back and forth would be a gross violation of human rights in itself.

Warner's case is made even more absurd by the fact that one week after his execution, the Supreme Court decided to accept his case and now plans to issue a judgement in June as to whether the use of Mizadolam is constitutional.

And it gets even more absurd. One of the three remaining petitioners was scheduled to be executed in Oklahoma tonight: Richard Glossip, who, according to a great deal of evidence, may be completely innocent and was accused by someone who might have been trying to avoid death row himself. Following the Supreme Court's announcement to review the use of Mizadolam later this year, even Oklahoma's attorney general called for the suspension of Glossip's execution until then. Nevertheless, Glossip had to wait in fear again until the night before his scheduled death. On Wednesday night, the Supreme Court finally granted the requested stay.

This tug of war over life and death would have looked disturbing even in the Middle Ages. In 2015, however, it is a farce -- and unworthy of a democratic state. After all, we are not talking about Saudi Arabia here, but the leader of the Western world. There are educated individuals working tirelessly to ensure their country's future right to execute its citizens with ineffective substances.

The great promise of lethal injection, supposedly, was to make the killing more humane, but this has proven to be a great illusion. The taking of human life is always an act of violence, no matter how "humanely" it is done. A state should never sink to the level of those it seeks to punish.

Still, the accumulation of errors, attrocities and absurdities often results in change. The events of the past few months are a sign that a broken system is on its last legs. People will continue to be executed in the US. But sooner or later the American people will not be able to deny the lunacy of this system. Those who love the United States must carry this hope.

 44 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 08:07 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad

Mysterious 'God's hand' space globule imaged by Very Large Telescope

The European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope has captured an image of CG4, a cometary globule that lies some 1,300 light years from Earth and whose origins remain unknown.

By Amy Tyndall, Sen January 29, 2015
Christian Science Monitor      

Sen—A so-called cometary globule known as God's Hand because of its claw-like appearance, appears to reach out into space. In a new image from ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), dappled with stars, striking detail within the gas, also labelled CG4, can be seen.

How such objects form is now quite well understood, but how they go about giving birth to the new stars within them is still to be fully determined. CG4 lies around 1,300 light years away from Earth, in the constellation of Puppis.

"Such globules are 'cocoons' that appear completely dark in the visible, as they are made of very cold gas and dust that block the light of stars," Dr Henri Boffin, an astronomer at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, told Sen.

"This is where we think that Sun-like stars form, as the cloud will contract under its own gravity and heat up, forming one or several stars."

A dense build-up of this material forms a "head", which is what is visible in the VLT image spanning approximately 1.5 light years in diameter, but intense radiation from starlight is slowly eroding it away.

This head provides umbrella-like protection for the material underneath, preventing it from being as affected by the nearby stars to give the impression of a "tail" fanning downwards in a comet-like fashion—hence the name of cometary globule. The tail of CG4, seen in the image below, is around eight light-years long.

It is understood that cometary globules are the result of an interaction with the hot stellar winds and violent ultraviolet radiation that emanate from massive OB stars (referring to their spectral type), that has shaped and moulded the material to change their form from an "elephant trunk" (similar to the Hubble Space Telescope's famous "Pillars of Creation") to the comet-like shape we see today.

The red colour is due to atoms of hydrogen gas undergoing energetic interactions with the same stellar photons that are causing the erosion. The shape of cometary globules can also be due to the effects of a nearby supernova explosion.

By observing CG4 and looking at various properties such as the temperature, density and velocity of the material, astronomers hope to learn more about the processes that occur within these nebulous, comet-resembling objects. (They have nothing to do with comets really).

"How and why they are this shape is relatively well known," Dr Boffin told Sen. "However, what it is crucial is to understand how such clouds give rise to baby stars—this is still a mystery of Nature.

"And in order to study such dark clouds, opaque to visible light, one needs to go to greater wavelengths. In particular, with ALMA, it is possible to probe the inside of the cloud, in effect doing a sonogram, as we do to see babies in their womb."

The image of CG4 was taken as part of ESO's "Cosmic Gems" programme, aimed at obtaining images with ESO telescopes for the purposes of education and public outreach. The instruments and telescopes used as part of this initiative include the VIMOS and FORS2 spectrographs on the Very Large Telescope at the Paranal Observatory, and the Wide Field Imager on the 2.2-metre MPG/ESO telescope at La Silla, both situated in Chile.

 45 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 08:03 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Mars Curiosity rover back in action after software update

January 29, 2015
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Curiosity is back in action following a recent software upgrade, conducting a mini-drill test to make sure that a rock target called Mojave2 is suitable for drilling at full-depth.

According to BBC News, the Mars rover is looking for a stable rock that can sustain drilling of surviving drilling to depths of 2.3 inches (6 centimeters) so that it can acquire an a sample which will be analyzed using its onboard laboratory equipment.

A similar test conducted earlier this month was unsuccessful, as Curiosity cut a hole that was approximately 0.63 inch (1.6 centimeters) in diameter in a similar target, Mojave. However, the test drilling cracked the rock and dislodged pieces of it, according to NASA.

Several hours following the conclusion of that test, the rover team began evaluating other potential drilling sites that might be appropriate for sample-collection. They settled on Mojave2, and thus far, all reports are that the second time will be the charm.

As long as no unexpected issues arise, reports indicate that the drilling task should be completed shortly. This would be the fifth drill sample collected by Curiosity during its time on Mars.

Looking for atmospheric evidence

Currently, the NASA rover is investigating the lower layers of Mount Sharp, a large mountain at the center of Gale Crater, where it landed in 2012. It has recently discovered evidence of how the mountain itself formed from river and lake sediments millions of years ago, the BBC said.

That hypothesis, based on an interpretation of data obtained by the rover that was released back in December, indicates that the Red Planet once had a climate capable of sustaining long-lasting lakes at several different locations of the surface, project scientists explained at the time.

“If our hypothesis for Mount Sharp holds up, it challenges the notion that warm and wet conditions were transient, local, or only underground on Mars,” said Ashwin Vasavada, a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “A more radical explanation is that Mars’ ancient, thicker atmosphere raised temperatures above freezing globally, but so far we don’t know how the atmosphere did that.”

Those findings would help explain why the three-mile tall Mount Sharp rests in a crater, with its lower flanks exposing hundreds of layers of rock that alternate between lake, river and wind deposits. Those layers are evidence of the repeated filling and evaporating of a Martian lake that was larger and longer-lasting than any previously detected

Through Curiosity’s analysis of the lowest sedimentary layers of Mount Sharp, NASA scientists believe that sand and silt was carried to the lake by rivers. Those sediments were then deposited at the mouth of the river, forming deltas similar to those present on Earth.

Once the crater filled to a height of around a few hundred yards, the sediments hardened into rock, and the process was repeated several times. Eventually, wind eroded the layers that had accumulated into the shape of the mountain, carving away the material that could once be found between the crater perimeter and what is now the edge of the mountain.

 46 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 08:01 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Roads are encroaching deeper into the Amazon rainforest, study says

Oil and gas access roads in western Amazon could open up ‘Pandora’s box’ of environmental impacts
A newly constructed road goes through the Amazon rainforest outside Rio Branco, the capital of Acre Province, Brazil. For every 40 meters or road created, around 600 square kilometers of forest is lost, 21 June 2011.

Dan Collyns
Wednesday 28 January 2015 17.43 GMT
Guardian   

Oil and gas roads are encroaching deeper into the western Amazon, one of the world’s last wildernesses and biodiversity hotspots, according to a new study.

Roads across Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and western Brazil could open up a ‘Pandora’s box’ of negative environmental impacts and trigger new deforestation fronts, the study published in Environmental Research Letters finds.

“The hydrocarbon frontier keeps pushing deeper into the Amazon and there needs to be a strategic plan for how future development takes place in regards to roads,” said the report’s lead author, Matt Finer, of the Amazon Conservation Association.

“We pay particular attention to access roads because they are a well-documented primary driver of deforestation and forest degradation.”

Western Amazonian oil and gas blocks now cover an area much larger than the US state of Texas – more than 730,000 square kilometres – and have expanded by more than 150,000 sq km since 2008, the study finds.

Oil and gas access roads, particularly in the Ecuadorian Amazon, cause both direct forest loss and indirect impacts from subsequent colonisation, illegal logging, and over-hunting, it says.

The report argues the ‘offshore inland model’ – a method that strategically avoids the construction of access road – is crucial to minimising negative ecological impacts.
Map features the current state of all hydrocarbon blocks and known discoveries. For discoveries, symbols indicate access type (and era for access roads) Map features the current state of all hydrocarbon blocks and known discoveries. For discoveries, symbols indicate access type (and era for access roads). Photograph: Environmental Research Letters

“This model treats the forest as an ocean where access roads are not a possibility and the drilling platform is essentially an island in the forest accessed only by helicopter or river transport,” said Bruce Babbitt, the report’s co-author and former US interior secretary. “It essentially signifies roadless development.”

Use of the offshore inland development model is now well established in the Camisea natural gas project in the south-eastern Peruvian Amazon, says the report. Meanwhile, Ecuador changed course last year to allow road construction to drilling platforms within Yasuni national park despite a previous 2007 commitment not to do so.

The report finds that employing the offshore inland model could cost less. It argues that the increase in helicopter-related expenses would be offset by cutting the costs of building and maintaining roads in tropical rainforest.

“This study documents numerous operational examples of the offshore inland model,” says Babbitt. “What we need now is government and company commitments to ensure all future hydrocarbon development follows this model and moves beyond building more access roads deeper into the Amazon.”

The study found of the current major oil and gas projects in the western Amazon, 11 have access roads while six are road-less.

But future hydrocarbon development in the area is expected to increase significantly in the wildlife-rich region. The study documents 35 confirmed or possible hydrocarbon discoveries across the western Amazon that have not yet been developed.

No-go zones that are off-limits to hydrocarbon activities cover nearly 1.2m sq km across Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. These areas include national parks and territories for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. However in Ecuador and Bolivia national parks are not necessarily off-limits to extractive activities.

 47 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 08:00 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Roads are encroaching deeper into the Amazon rainforest, study says

Oil and gas access roads in western Amazon could open up ‘Pandora’s box’ of environmental impacts
A newly constructed road goes through the Amazon rainforest outside Rio Branco, the capital of Acre Province, Brazil. For every 40 meters or road created, around 600 square kilometers of forest is lost, 21 June 2011.

Dan Collyns
Wednesday 28 January 2015 17.43 GMT
Guardian   

Oil and gas roads are encroaching deeper into the western Amazon, one of the world’s last wildernesses and biodiversity hotspots, according to a new study.

Roads across Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and western Brazil could open up a ‘Pandora’s box’ of negative environmental impacts and trigger new deforestation fronts, the study published in Environmental Research Letters finds.

“The hydrocarbon frontier keeps pushing deeper into the Amazon and there needs to be a strategic plan for how future development takes place in regards to roads,” said the report’s lead author, Matt Finer, of the Amazon Conservation Association.

“We pay particular attention to access roads because they are a well-documented primary driver of deforestation and forest degradation.”

Western Amazonian oil and gas blocks now cover an area much larger than the US state of Texas – more than 730,000 square kilometres – and have expanded by more than 150,000 sq km since 2008, the study finds.

Oil and gas access roads, particularly in the Ecuadorian Amazon, cause both direct forest loss and indirect impacts from subsequent colonisation, illegal logging, and over-hunting, it says.

The report argues the ‘offshore inland model’ – a method that strategically avoids the construction of access road – is crucial to minimising negative ecological impacts.
Map features the current state of all hydrocarbon blocks and known discoveries. For discoveries, symbols indicate access type (and era for access roads) Map features the current state of all hydrocarbon blocks and known discoveries. For discoveries, symbols indicate access type (and era for access roads). Photograph: Environmental Research Letters

“This model treats the forest as an ocean where access roads are not a possibility and the drilling platform is essentially an island in the forest accessed only by helicopter or river transport,” said Bruce Babbitt, the report’s co-author and former US interior secretary. “It essentially signifies roadless development.”

Use of the offshore inland development model is now well established in the Camisea natural gas project in the south-eastern Peruvian Amazon, says the report. Meanwhile, Ecuador changed course last year to allow road construction to drilling platforms within Yasuni national park despite a previous 2007 commitment not to do so.

The report finds that employing the offshore inland model could cost less. It argues that the increase in helicopter-related expenses would be offset by cutting the costs of building and maintaining roads in tropical rainforest.

“This study documents numerous operational examples of the offshore inland model,” says Babbitt. “What we need now is government and company commitments to ensure all future hydrocarbon development follows this model and moves beyond building more access roads deeper into the Amazon.”

The study found of the current major oil and gas projects in the western Amazon, 11 have access roads while six are road-less.

But future hydrocarbon development in the area is expected to increase significantly in the wildlife-rich region. The study documents 35 confirmed or possible hydrocarbon discoveries across the western Amazon that have not yet been developed.

No-go zones that are off-limits to hydrocarbon activities cover nearly 1.2m sq km across Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. These areas include national parks and territories for indigenous peoples in voluntary isolation. However in Ecuador and Bolivia national parks are not necessarily off-limits to extractive activities.

 48 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 07:53 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Argentina prosecutor laid to rest as protesters demand 'Justice for Nisman'

Alberto Nisman was shot dead a day before he was to present evidence in the case of a 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre that killed 85 people

Agence France-Presse in La Tablada
Thursday 29 January 2015 18.57 GMT    

The special prosecutor whose mysterious death set off a political firestorm in Argentina was laid to rest on Thursday, as an investigation continued into whether he died by his own hand or was murdered.

Alberto Nisman, 51, was buried in a Jewish cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires near several of the victims who died in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish charity known as Amia.

Nisman had spent the last 14 years of his life trying to unravel who carried out the horrific attack, which killed 85 people and injured another 300.

But on 18 January, one day before he was to have appeared before a congressional panel to present evidence in the case, Nisman was found dead at his home of a single bullet wound to the head.

Nisman had planned to make a bombshell accusation – that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner shielded Iranian officials implicated in the bombing.

At his funeral, hundreds of protesters, convinced that he was a victim of foul play, gathered in front of the cemetery, some holding placards demanding “Justice for Nisman”.

“It is a great injustice. He was threatened,” said Cristina Paredes, 53, who said Nisman’s death “is the straw the broke the camel’s back” for Argentinians fed up with Kirchner and accusations of corruption by her administration.

The death was mourned as far away as Israel, which hailed Nisman – son of a textile merchant who had studied law at the University of Buenos Aires – as “courageous”.

Nisman’s mother, and sister were among the mourners in the funeral cortege, as was his ex-wife, federal judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, mother to his two daughters, ages seven and 15.

The girls bade their father a poignant farewell in an obituary published Thursday in the La Nación daily newspaper.

“Papa, we your daughters Iara and Kala, all we ever wanted was you – your presence and sharing good times with you.

“Today we say goodbye, understanding your dedication to your work,” they wrote.

The car bombing of the Amia remains a wound in the collective history of Argentina’s Jewish community, Latin America’s largest.

Two decades later, no prosecution has been completed in the case. Nisman was on the verge of presenting evidence which suggested the government had agreed to swap grain for oil with Tehran in exchange for withdrawing “red notices” to Interpol seeking the arrests of the former and current Iranian officials accused in the bombing.

Kirchner denies the claims, alleging that Nisman’s death – which initially was suspected suicide – was a plot to discredit her, suggesting Nisman was manipulated by former intelligence agents who then killed him to smear her.

Investigators initially said they believed Nisman committed suicide, but classified his death as “suspicious” and said they have not ruled out murder or an “induced suicide”.

Earlier this week, Kirchner, 61, announced plans to disband Argentina’s Intelligence Office and replace it with a new federal intelligence agency.

A contingent of 10 body assigned to provide him with round the clock protection did not prevent his death.

Nisman’s security chief has been suspended and is under investigation along with two other members of his guard detail, court sources have said.

In the days following his death, thousands of protesters took to the streets across the nation, waving placards that read “Yo soy Nisman [I am Nisman].”

************

Spies, cover-ups and the mysterious death of an Argentinian prosecutor

Intrigue swirls around the late Alberto Nisman, who was set to implicate the government in attempting to cover up the country’s deadliest terrorist attack before his death. Answers are still difficult to come by in this story that traces two decades of allegedly unchecked intelligence operations

Jonathan Watts in Buenos Aires
Wednesday 28 January 2015 18.00 GMT
Guardian

The CCTV images are both familiar and sinister: the recordings show Buenos Aires’ Ezeiza international airport on the day that prosecutor Alberto Nisman flew home for the last time.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeHJMh3p4Fk&x-yt-ts=1422579428&x-yt-cl=85114404#t=49

Nisman looks like any father might after interrupting a family holiday for a work emergency. He seems tired, busy and bored as the cameras track his progress through immigration, beyond the luggage carousel, into the arrival lounge and out to the street.

But he appears to be treated as more than an ordinary traveller. The security cameras dwell on Nisman more than anyone around him. He comes across as a marked man.

The footage, which has aired on Argentinian TV this week, captures a moment of calm before the storm that has left Nisman dead, threatened a president and plunged Argentina into an espionage scandal.

Days after his return, Nisman publicly accused President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of conspiring to cover up Iran’s alleged involvement in the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history: the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (Amia), a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires, that killed 85 people. Within a week, he was dead.

Nisman was returning to the frontline of a battle for power inside Argentina’s intelligence and justice communities, where friction had been quietly building for more than a year as a result of President Fernández’s efforts to build closer ties with Iran.

The 2013 signing of a memorandum of understanding with Tehran had outraged the chiefs of the Intelligence Secretariat (IS), Argentina’s all-powerful domestic and foreign spy service.

The agency has long had close ties to the CIA and Mossad, and one of its primary roles in the modern era has been to help prosecutors, led by Nisman, to build a case against Iranian diplomats for the Amia bombing. When political leaders suddenly told them their old enemies should now be considered friends, they started to question their loyalties, according to a senior law enforcement source.

Alberto Nisman's death: the unaswered questions

For years Antonio Stiuso, the general director of operations, had been the president’s eavesdropper-in-chief, helping Fernández use the state intelligence agency as a weapon against opposition politicians, journalists and critics, according to human rights monitors.

Now, though, he and Nisman had begun plotting to indict the president. It was a move worthy of a novel by John Le Carré or Michael Crichton – the equivalent of the NSA conspiring with a district attorney to accuse Barack Obama and John Kerry of treasonous dealings with al-Qaida over 9/11, or of MI6 building a case against David Cameron and William Hague for colluding with Libya to cover up the Lockerbie bombing.

The plot did not remain secret long. When Fernández found out last December, she fired Stiuso. It is thought that Nisman rushed back from his holiday to file his indictment because he was tipped off that he, too, was about to be replaced.

In the days after his return, Nisman jumped on to the offensive with a series of TV interviews. “The president and her foreign minister took the criminal decision to fabricate Iran’s innocence to satisfy Argentina’s commercial, political and geopolitical interests,” Nisman told reporters in TV interviews.

Nisman clearly knew that he was taking a risk, and even told one journalist: “I might get out of this dead.” The day before he was to due to present his evidence to Congress, he was found in his bathroom with a Bersa handgun by his side and a .22-calibre bullet in his brain.

Investigators have yet to determine whether it was suicide or murder. Nisman was supposed to have been protected in his upscale 13th-floor apartment by a 10-man security detail. He had borrowed the gun that killed him a day earlier after receiving warnings that his daughters were in danger – and that he could not trust his bodyguards. His body was not found for more than 10 hours because guards said the door was locked from the inside, though a locksmith later declared access was relatively easy and there were two other ways inside.

Few Argentinians expect the case to be satisfactorily solved – a cynicism that seems etched in the character of a nation where politics and conspiracy are taken, with or without evidence, to be as synonymous as football and match-fixing.

Argentinian president accused of covering up details about the country's worst terrorist attack

But this scepticism has not stopped a flood of speculation on who might benefit most from Nisman’s demise. Competing theories present an array of suspects and motives: the president and her aides (who wanted to silence a critic); Stiuso (who wanted to make the president look bad); a foreign intelligence agency (scheming to turn the world against Iran); the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah (executing a man who secured Interpol warrants against leading officials from Tehran); or the prosecutor himself, who may have taken his own life after finding the pressure too much to bear (a suggestion rejected by family and friends) or being blackmailed that it was either him or his children.

The head of Nisman’s security team, Rubén Benítez, was suspended on Wednesday – the third protection officer to come under investigation over the death.

The mystery has brought protesters on to the streets holding “Yo Soy Nisman” (I am Nisman) banners, but it has more importantly thrown the spotlight on three key issues: Argentina’s international allegiances, the country’s weak oversight of its intelligence agency – and the prosecutor’s allegations of a government cover-up involving Iran.

Nisman, a member of Argentina’s large Jewish community, was close to the United States. US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show he frequently visited the US embassy, shared advance information with diplomats and sometimes amended his strategy according to the suggestions of US officials. US diplomats considered him someone who was unlikely to go it alone.

In one leaked cable, the former US ambassador E Anthony Wayne in 2008 expresses to the CIA rare dissatisfaction with Nisman, after he publicly recommended that the former president Carlos Menem be detained for trying to cover up the Amia bombing. The ambassador assumed he had been ordered to do so by President Fernández, noting: “Nisman is not the sort to have gone public with the recommendation for Menem’s and others’ arrests without some direction from higher-ups.”

Critics – including, unsurprisingly, the Peronist president – claim Nisman was also a pawn of the pro-US Stiuso, who is believed to have provided the bulk of his staff and fed him wiretaps.

In a long statement posted to her website last week, Fernández made the case that Nisman’s accusation was actually written by Stiuso, and that Nisman was then killed by the same people who convinced him to present the charges. “They used him alive and then they needed him dead,” Fernández wrote. “As sad and as terrible as that.”

One source acquainted with both the prosecutor and the spy said: “When he started investigating the cover-up, Nisman wanted to break away from the intelligence channel but over time he came to rely on it.”

The same might be said of Fernández. Argentina emerged from military dictatorship in 1983, but the country’s powerful intelligence agency has its roots in the secret police force which tracked down opponents of the military dictatorship during the Dirty War. Many of its personnel remained unchanged after Argentina became a democracy.

In recent years, under the administrations of Fernández and her husband and predecessor, the late Néstor Kirchner, the SI’s power is alleged to have grown exponentially, with little oversight and enormous influence. Far from trimming their sails, the president has increased their budget and reach. In 2003 the agency’s budget was 138m pesos; by 2014 it had ballooned to 800m.

This was highlighted by a report released earlier this month by the Association for Civil Rights, which said the excessive autonomy of the spy agencies showed the flaws in Argentina’s transition to democracy. “Since 1983, democratic government have been unable or unwilling to establish effective checks on the intelligence services what have become an essential part of presidential power,” it notes.

Some of those who have benefited agree the clandestine operations need to be reined in. “Intelligence agents are out of control,” Marcelo Sain, a former chief of airport security police who is tipped by some to be a future intelligence agency boss, told the Guardian.

The latest budget figures indicate military intelligence spending is rising twice as fast as that for the IS, prompting speculation that Fernández is turning to the army to conduct monitoring of opponents – despite constitutional constraints against this that were put in place after the fall of the military dictatorship. The lack of trust in other branches of the police was also apparent in the prosecutor’s decision to have the border police guard suspects instead of the federal police, who failed to protect Nisman.

Tension between Argentina’s spies and their political masters also grew over the government’s attempts to steer away from traditional alliances with the US. Like fellow Latin American populists Hugo Chávez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales, Fernández built up ties with Iran and Cuba, but in doing so she appears to have run into opposition from security officials who for years had worked closely with the CIA and Mossad.

The behind-the-scenes tension became public knowledge on Monday when Fernández called a special session of parliament to break up the intelligence agency and create a new system with greater oversight by the legislature and attorney general. Fernández framed this as one of the outstanding tasks still undone in the country’s transition from dictatorship to democracy.

Argentinian government moves to dissolve domestic intelligence agency

Critics accuse her of hypocrisy. “For more than 10 years, the president has used the intelligence service for domestic operations against politicians and journalists. So now the agents think they can do anything,” said Bullrich, a legislator who heads the criminal legislation committee of the House of Deputies.

Then what of the indictment that Nisman rushed back to Argentina to file against the president? The nearly 300-page document was widely circulated after his death. It describes a shady parallel diplomatic track of negotiations between trusted supporters of Fernández such as Luis D’Elía, a prominent street activist, and a go-between for Iran, Jorge Khalil – an Argentinian of Lebanese descent – in the runup to the 2013 agreement to establish a joint commission to investigate the blast in return for Argentina closing down the judicial investigation and cancelling the Interpol warrants.

The government, the document said, was ready to trade oil for immunity, which meant it had to shift responsibility for the Amia attack. A handful of wiretap recordings have been leaked to radio stations that suggest the Argentinians proposed blaming the assault on a fascist group as a way of lifting the Interpol “red notices” that Nisman – with US support – had secured against six senior Iranian officials, including the alleged mastermind, Mohsen Rabbani, a former cultural attache who is also accused of setting up Hezbollah cells across South America.

But many question whether the Nisman indictment was the bombshell it claimed to be. The secret negotiations between Argentina and Iran had already been reported by journalist José Eliaschev in 2011. The goals of the talks were never achieved. Since the memorandum, trade between the two countries has not improved and the red notices were never lifted. The former head of Interpol has denied that Argentina even requested they be dropped.

Opposition lawmakers believe Nisman would have presented more evidence if he had lived. “We know just 2% or 3% of what he had from the two or three years of wiretaps of Rabbani and Khalil. I think he would have given us more,” said Bullrich, who spoke to Nisman the day before he died about his plans to testify.

Legal experts are less convinced. They say the document appears to be written to the verification standard of intelligence officials rather than lawyers and that it contains contradictions. If such criticisms are recognised by judge Ariel Lijo, who will rule on the document next month, the indictment that Nisman died for will be doomed.

 49 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 07:45 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
'Peace between Us,' Raul Castro Says of U.S. Ties

by Naharnet Newsdesk 30 January 2015, 07:09

Cuban President Raul Castro gave an endorsement to peace between the United States and his communist country Thursday, with the two nations in talks to restore ties after decades of animosity.

Asked by a journalist at a summit of Latin American and Caribbean states what he would most like to see after the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba is lifted, Castro barked: "Peace, peace between us, peace between the United States and us.

"Living peacefully, as it should be on the continent."

Castro first said he would have to consider the question because the end of the economic embargo may be a long way away. But he changed his mind as he was about to exit the summit in Costa Rica.

U.S. and Cuban diplomats met last week in Havana in landmark talks aimed at renewing ties that broke off in 1961.

Speaking earlier at the meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, Castro said the path to renewal would be "long and hard."

Other participants at the summit strongly endorsed the warming of ties between the U.S. and Cuba.

U.S. President Barack Obama used his executive powers to ease travel and trade restrictions with Cuba after a surprise announcement last month about ending tensions with the island.

Source: Agence France Presse

 50 
 on: Jan 30, 2015, 07:43 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Netanyahu Is Talking to Leading Democrats to Little Effect So Far

By CARL HULSE and JEREMY W. PETERS
JAN. 29, 2015
IHT

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has been reaching out to leading Capitol Hill Democrats to try to ease criticism over his coming address to Congress, but has made little progress.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader, said Thursday that Mr. Netanyahu had called him the previous afternoon to explain why the White House had been circumvented before he was invited to speak before Congress. The prime minister has also called Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, and Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate’s No. 3 Democrat.

The calls came at a delicate time. Congress is split over whether to impose further sanctions on Iran as the United States and Tehran negotiate a possible freeze to its disputed nuclear program. President Obama has said any vote on sanctions would jeopardize the talks. Mr. Netanyahu, who is to address the issue in his congressional speech, and many pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress have urged a hard line.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office confirmed Thursday that he had called Democrats and “other friends” in Congress in recent days, and that he “reiterated that the survival of Israel is not a partisan issue.”

Mr. Reid, a strong supporter of Israel, said in an interview that he had had a candid conversation with Mr. Netanyahu. He said he had advised the prime minister that the speech, scheduled for March, had become such a problem that some Democratic senators had backed off their support of the quick imposition of new sanctions on Iran.

“It’s hurting you,” Mr. Reid said he told Mr. Netanyahu. “I said: ‘You have to understand this. I’m not telling you what to do or what not to do, but you have to understand the background here from my perspective.’ ”

“It would have been wrong for me to say, ‘Don’t come,’ ” said Mr. Reid, who is recovering at his home in Washington from a serious exercise accident he sustained Jan. 1. “I wouldn’t do that.”

Ms. Pelosi said late Wednesday that when she spoke with the prime minister, she had stressed that the speech “could send the wrong message in terms of giving diplomacy a chance.”

There have been partisan recriminations in Washington and Israel over the speech, with accusations that Speaker John A. Boehner, who extended the invitation, and Mr. Netanyahu were exploiting the situation for political gain. Mr. Netanyahu faces voters on March 17 in a contest in which national security and Iran could be significant factors. Democrats in Congress have said Mr. Boehner is trying to undermine Mr. Obama and weaken his ability to govern, a charge that Mr. Boehner disputes.

Democrats have generally condemned Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to address Congress as undiplomatic and reckless, but they have conflicting interests: They want to back up the president without angering the powerful pro-Israeli interests in the United States or Jewish voters.

Evidence of the difficulties surfaced Thursday when the Senate Banking Committee approved a bill to impose new sanctions on Iran if an accord on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program is not reached by March 24. The measure passed 18 to 4, with 6 Democrats voting in favor. The White House opposes the legislation.

Mr. Reid said he had told Mr. Netanyahu that he believed Mr. Boehner had been out of bounds in offering the speaking invitation.

“This was not the right thing to do,” Mr. Reid said.

As the Israeli leader reached out to Democrats, the White House worked to calm tensions that have been building since the speech was announced last week. The dispute was inflamed when a senior administration official told The New York Times on Wednesday that Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, had repeatedly showed that he cared more about Mr. Netanyahu’s political future than the relationship between the United States and Israel. Mr. Dermer had worked with Mr. Boehner to arrange the speech without telling the White House.

Sidestepping questions about whether Mr. Obama or the White House agreed with that assessment of Mr. Dermer, the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters that the Obama administration was not contemplating any action against Mr. Dermer.

“This relationship between the United States and Israel is bigger than any single diplomat,” Mr. Earnest said.

He also said domestic politics on either side should not be allowed to interfere with the countries’ relationship, saying that was Mr. Obama’s thinking in declining to meet with Mr. Netanyahu when he is in Washington. He will be here just two weeks before the Israeli elections.

“It’s an alliance that shouldn’t be turned into a relationship between two political parties,” Mr. Earnest said. “This is more important than partisan politics. This is about the foundation of an alliance that reflects our strong commitment to common values.”

Mr. Reid said Mr. Netanyahu had promised he would make the speech as nonpartisan as possible.

“He proceeded to tell me how distrustful he is of Iran, and that is kind of an understatement,” Mr. Reid said.

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