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 81 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 10:13 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Fossil hunters discover new giant ancient predator Metoposaurus algarvensis

Ian Sample, The Guardian
24 Mar 2015 at 03:21 ET

Metoposaurus algarvensis grew to the size of a small car and dates back to the Late Triassic Period

Fossil hunters have found the remains of a giant carnivorous amphibian that patrolled ancient lakes and rivers at the dawn of the age of the dinosaurs.

The salamander-like predator grew to the size of a small car and feasted on the fish that thrived in the waterways of the Late Triassic Period, more than 200m years ago.

The new species, Metoposaurus algarvensis, belonged to a wider group of amphibians that were common in lower latitudes 220m to 230m years ago, when the dinosaurs began to dominate the land.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh identified the new species from a haul of bones dug from mudstone in Loulé, in the Algarve region of southern Portugal. The bone bed may contain the remains of hundreds of amphibians that perished when an ancient lake dried up. To date, only a fraction of the site has been excavated.

“There is a real jumble of bones in there, but it’s been challenging to remove them because they come from a bone bed that is about half a metre thick and goes into the hillside,” said Steve Brusatte, who led the study. The team have spent two field trips excavating bones from the site and hope to return to collect more of the remains.

The new species, which in adulthood measured two metresfrom snout to tail, is the first member of the Metoposaurus group of amphibians to be discovered on the Iberian peninsula. Others have been found in Germany, Poland, Africa, India and North America.

According to a report in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology , differences in the jaw structure, and parts of the skull where the spinal cord meets the brain, reveal the Portuguese remains to be a new species. The creature had a long, flat head, likened by Brusatte to a toilet seat lined with thousands of tiny teeth.

Remains of other Metoposaurs held in museums have occasional bite marks on their bones, the likely result of ancient encounters with early dinosaurs that waded into ponds and lakes in search of food.

Though a top predator in its own right, Metoposaurus had small, weak limbs for such a large animal. The relative puniness of its legs meant it could not venture far onto land, and so could easily be stranded if its watery home dried out.

Most of the Metoposaurs were wiped out during a mass extinction about 201m years ago, long before the demise of the dinosaurs. The event marked the end of the Triassic Period, when the vast prehistoric landmass known as Pangea began to tear apart into the continents we see today. Giants rifts in the land and an upsurge in violent volcanic activity killed off many of the major vertebrates, including large amphibians, leaving space for the dinosaurs to rise to prominence.

“There would have been dramatic swings in the environment as Pangea broke apart. Even though it took a long time, these big amphibians did not cope with that well at all,” said Brusatte.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2015

 82 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 09:33 AM 
Started by Linda - Last post by Rad
Hi Linda and Dav,

Let me know exactly what you wish to focus on in the charts of these two Souls.

God Bless, Rad

 83 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 06:57 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
USA

DC’s Dulles Airport now using facial recognition technology

March 23, 2015
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

Travelers heading through Dulles Airport should prepare to have their pictures taken before being allowed to board their plane, as customs and border protection officials at the Washington DC airport are currently testing a new facial recognition system for security purposes.

According to Engadget, the agency has confirmed that it is currently using a new system that snaps an image and compares it to a person’s passport photo to make sure that they are who they claim to be. The two-to-three month trial of the technology is designed to provide an additional way to verify that people are who they claim to be, the website said.

The program is known as “1:1 Facial Recognition Air Entry Pilot,” and Motherboard reports that it quietly launched at Dulles Airport back on March 11. An agency spokesperson confirmed its existence to the website last Wednesday, explaining that it is part of a large-scale initiative to use technology to bring US customs practices up to date.

A potential dark road

At least two other similar tests – or “targeted biometric operations” – are being planned as part of the Apex Air Entry and Exit Re-Engineering (AEER) project, a previously undiscovered customs and border patrol presentation obtained by Motherboard revealed. While the goal is to see if this type of facial recognition technology can help catch imposters, it has raised privacy concerns.

“Here we have a program where individuals are not suspected of wrongdoing and are engaged in routine behavior, and they are being required to submit a piece of biometric data that could identify them later and that’s going to be retained” Jake Laperruque, a fellow at the Center for Democracy and Technology told the website last week. “That’s definitely a dark road to be going down with a lot of potential for abuse,” he added.​

STORY: New glasses make you invisible to facial recognition technology: http://www.redorbit.com/news/technology/1113345109/new-glasses-make-you-invisible-to-facial-recognition-technology-030315/

During the ongoing pilot program, customs officers will be able to randomly select US citizens returning from overseas voyages and take their pictures. Those who are selected are not allowed to opt out of the program, according to documents published by customs officials last week, and the image will be compared to the passport photo using a special facial recognition algorithm.

That software, which was developed by the agency itself, will then provide a “match confidence score” rating how similar the two pictures are. The officer will then use his or her own discretion to pursue other action if deemed necessary. However, the security bureau insists that the software will not be the only basis for determining if a traveler is allowed to re-enter the US, or if a secondary inspection is required.

90-day trial

Motherboard reports that the overall pilot program is expected to last 19 months, but that customs officials will only collect pictures from 60 to 90 days. The agency said that it does not expect the facial recognition process to slow down air travel too much, and the presentation obtained by the website suggests that it will take no more than seven seconds to snap a photo of the traveler, open the one in his or her passport, and compare the two.

The customs agency spokesperson told Motherboard that the technology “will not communicate with any other parties, databases or systems,” and that they remain “committed to protecting the privacy of all travelers.” Similarly, Ralph Gross, a facial recognition expert at Carnegie Mellon University, said that the program’s privacy safeguards make it “fairly limited.”

Privacy advocates such as Dave Maass of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are not convinced, however, and are concerned about what this program could lead to: “Today, it’s testing at the border, tomorrow it could be facial recognition deployed in public places. Today, the photos taken are being kept segregated from other departments and agencies, tomorrow they could be shared for a whole host of other purposes.”​

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As Oil Prices Fall, Airfares Still Stay High

MARCH 23, 2015
Andrew Ross Sorkin
DEALBOOK

Just over two years ago, one of the nation’s airline trade organizations called the industry “hypercompetitive” and declared “airfare remains a bargain.” At the time, the Justice Department was weighing the competitive implications of a merger between American Airlines and US Airways, around two years after the merger of United and Continental.

Fast-forward to the present.

Far from “hypercompetitive,” the airline industry is increasingly looking like an uncompetitive oligopoly.

For proof, look no further than airline ticket prices.

Over the last year, oil prices have dropped by more than 50 percent. Motorists filling up at their local gas stations know that prices at the pump have dropped precipitously.

But consumers who have logged on to Expedia or Priceline or Kayak recently to book tickets saw that airfares had not dropped along with oil prices, an airline’s largest expense.

Why?

The answer is that mergers over the last several years have left the nation with only four main airlines — Delta, United, Southwest and American-US Airways — which deliberately don’t compete on some routes.

For shareholders, the industry is finally paying off as an investment after years of losses. But for customers, not so much.

Airline executives insist that the industry is as competitive as ever and that they are just more “disciplined” about pricing and investing in routes. The airlines like to say that they haven’t lowered prices because there is so much demand and so little capacity, an industry term that means available seats. They also point to hedging contracts for oil that they entered into last year, which locked some of them into paying higher prices for fuel. And they say they are investing heavily: American Airlines, for example, is investing $2 billion in its fleet. Delta, too, is upgrading many of its planes.

All of that is true to some degree.

But in a truly competitive marketplace, airlines would add capacity to popular routes where they saw the opportunity to undercut a competitor. And given low oil prices, you would imagine that at least one airline would lower its rates to pick up market share and make it up in volume.

American Airlines, for example, doesn’t hedge its fuel costs, so it would arguably be well positioned to pick up business from its rivals. But it hasn’t tried.

“The idea that U.S. airlines would, once again, devolve into a war for market share is founded on a misunderstanding of the new structure of U.S. airlines,” Vinay Bhaskara, an industry analyst, wrote in Airways News. “We are unquestionably living with an air travel oligopoly.”

He added: “Remember, this is the same management group that (instead of allowing passengers to reap a modest reduction in fares) responded to the F.A.A.’s inability to collect taxes in mid-2011 by gleefully raising base fares to where total out-of-pocket costs were exactly the same (earning a windfall of $28.5 million per day).”

Such behavior is only possible either in an industry with very little competition or one in which members seem to actively avoid it. The cost of air travel has drawn the scrutiny of Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York. “At a time when the cost of fuel is plummeting and profits are rising, it is curious and confounding that ticket prices are sky-high and defying economic gravity,” he declared in a statement in December. “The industry often raises prices in a flash when oil prices spike, yet they appear not to be adjusting for the historic decline in the cost of fuel; ticket prices should not shoot up like a rocket and come down like a feather.”

He urged the Justice Department and the Transportation Department to investigate immediately why airline profits are not being passed down to consumers more efficiently. So far, his call for an investigation seems to have gone unheeded. The Justice Department sent a letter to Senator Schumer contending that the merger of American Airlines and US Airways — which it approved contingent upon some divestitures — has led to benefits for consumers through “lower prices and increased service.”

That’s an odd statement because the Justice Department originally sought to block the deal based on evidence that the industry was already seeking to avoid competition. “If, for example, United offers nonstop service on a route, and Delta and American offer connecting service on that same route, Delta and American typically charge the same price for their connecting service as United charges for its nonstop service,” the government found. “As American executives observed, the legacy airlines ‘generally respect the pricing of the nonstop carrier [on a given route],’ even though it means offering connecting service at the same price as nonstop service.”

Senator Schumer, responding to the lack of action in Washington, said in a statement, “The fact that airfares are still at 30,000 feet and climbing, despite the stable gas prices and rising airline industry profits, is extremely troubling, and the federal government has more work to do.”

According to the International Air Transport Association, the industry in the United States is set to post “net post-tax profits” of $13.2 billion in 2015, up from $11.9 billion in 2014. That forecast, however, was based on an average cost of $85 a barrel for Brent crude oil. Today, the price is about $55 a barrel.

American Airlines predicts a pretax profit margin of 12 to 14 percent for the first quarter, and Delta forecasts an operating profit margin of 11 to 13 percent.

There is some hope for a drop in ticket prices this year. The transport association forecast prices will fall about 5 percent globally, though that is still woefully short of the drop in fuel prices.

No one wants to return to the damaging days of an unprofitable airline industry, but those days were largely the result of a free market run amok. Now we might have an oligopoly run amok. With little incentive for new entrants and entrenched players owning most of the main routes, it is hard to argue that much competition exists.

On the few competitive routes that the airlines pursue for market share reasons or to serve their hub-and-spoke model — New York to Los Angeles, for example — prices have remained relatively constrained. Meanwhile, in the front of the planes on those routes, the top airlines have been racing to offer the best lie-flat beds. They advertise full pages in entertainment trade publications like The Hollywood Reporter.

Now that’s a competitive spirit. Too bad it is unlikely to spread to the rest of the country.

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

Obama Owns Bibi: Netanyahu Apology Tour Rolls On As He Apologizes To Israeli Arabs

By: Jason Easley
PoliticusUSA
Monday, March, 23rd, 2015, 6:55 pm   

Republican hero Netanyahu has been broken by President Obama as the tough-talking conservative tried to make things right with the White House by apologizing to Israeli Arabs for race-baiting comments.

According to The New York Times:

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel apologized Monday for warning last week that Arab citizens were voting in “droves,” comments that have been denounced by President Obama, other world leaders, American Jewish leaders and many Israelis as anti-democratic, race-baiting and fear-mongering.

    “I know that my comments last week offended some Israeli citizens and offended members of the Israeli Arab community,” Mr. Netanyahu said, according to a translation provided by his party, Likud. “This was never my intent. I apologize for this.”

It is amazing how quickly the Republican hero crumbled after the Obama administration suggested that they may have to reassess their across the board support for Israel in the UN. Netanyahu has flip-flopped on opposing the two-state solution, shut up about the nuclear deal that the Obama administration is negotiating with Iran and has now apologized to Israeli Arabs for his ugly race baiting.

The message is clear. Obama owns Netanyahu. The Israeli Prime Minister needs the American President. Netanyahu can’t afford to jeopardize the U.S./Israeli relationship. While the president has maintained that this rift will not impact security arrangements between the two countries, it is clear that Netanyahu remains terrified that the United States may become inclined to think twice before unconditionally backing Netanyahu in the UN.

Republicans have accused President Obama of going on a mythical apology tour for years, but they stay silent while their hero Netanyahu flip-flops and apologizes for the very things that conservatives loved him for.

Obama is the senior partner in this relationship, and all it took was one little possible doubt to remind Netanyahu of who is in charge.

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

US Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Appeal, Upholds Wisconsin’s Strict Voter ID Law

By: Keith Brekhus
PoliticusUSA
Monday, March, 23rd, 2015, 3:22 pm   

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a Wisconsin photo identification law passed in 2011. The law was briefly in effect for the February 2012 primary election, but it has been in legal limbo since then.

Opponents of the law, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), charge that it is unconstitutional. They contend that the law places undue hardship on certain segments of the population including students, the elderly, and the poor, groups who are disproportionately likely to lack the required form of identification.

A federal judge declared the law unconstitutional in 2014, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago later overturned that ruling. The ACLU filed a motion to the U.S. Supreme Court appealing the 7th U.S. Circuit Court’s ruling, but on Monday, the Supreme Court turned away that appeal.

Monday’s ruling clears the way for Wisconsin to impose a photo identification requirement on voters. 30 U.S. states have photo identification laws in place. 17 of them have passed voter ID laws since the Supreme Court upheld an Indiana voter ID law in 2008.

The Wisconsin law lacks consistency. For example, overseas military ballots are accepted, without any identification required whatsoever. By contrast, student’s using a university ID must not only bring their photo ID, but they must also provide additional paperwork, demonstrating proof of current enrollment.

Voter ID laws may seem well-intentioned, but their real purpose is not to eliminate the largely imaginary problem of in-person voter fraud. Instead, they are designed to make it more difficult to vote. Specifically, Republicans like to pass voter ID laws that make it more difficult for Democratic-leaning voters to cast a ballot, although the restrictions undoubtedly have the unintended consequence of imposing burdens on some Republican voters as well.

Voter ID laws are a “solution” to a non-existent problem. Nationally, the ratio is one case of in-person voting fraud for every 14.6 million registered voters.  As Judge Richard Posner, a Ronald Reagan appointee on the 7th Circuit Court, made it clear in his 2014 dissent:

    There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter-impersonation fraud, if there is no actual danger of such fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.

He also chastised fellow justices, by pointing out the absurdity of upholding a law that was passed as a solution in search of a problem:

    If the Wisconsin legislature says witches are a problem, shall Wisconsin courts be permitted to conduct witch trials?

Actually, he probably shouldn’t have planted that seed. The Republican-dominated Wisconsin legislature might very well decide passing a law permitting witch trials is a good idea.

The U.S. Supreme Court signaled its hostility towards voting when it struck down key portions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Monday’s decision to uphold Wisconsin’s voter ID law, demonstrates once again, that a majority on the current Supreme Court want to make it more difficult for Americans to vote.

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

Both Conservative And Liberal Pundits Slam New York Times Over Hillary Clinton Email Story

By: Justin Baragona
PoliticusUSA
Monday, March, 23rd, 2015, 1:53 pm   

After the New York Times released an article Monday morning regarding the ongoing Hillary Clinton personal email ‘scandal,’ both Media Matters and Fox News went after the paper and the piece’s author for relying solely on anonymous sources and not having actually read any of the emails. Monday’s article was a follow-up to Schmidt’s earlier ‘bombshell’ story where it was first revealed that Clinton used a private email account during her tenure as Secretary of State. Political pundits and politicians on Capitol Hill have latched onto the story to try to discredit Clinton ahead of the 2016 election.

In the latest article, Schmidt provides a detailed account of the content of roughly 300 emails that Clinton had turned over to the latest Benghazi House investigative committee. However, one paragraph in the article reveals that neither Schmidt or anyone at the NYT has actually seen any of the emails in question and the article was based purely on information provided from leaks.

    The emails have not been made public, and The New York Times was not permitted to review them. But four senior government officials offered descriptions of some of the key messages, on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to jeopardize their access to secret information.

In response to the article, Fox host Greta Van Susteren took to her blog to complain about the Times’ complete reliance on anonymous sources in regards to this story.

    Can’t the NY Times do better than this? No named sources and they didn’t see the emails themselves and we are suppose to accept this as the facts?[…] This is what is wrong with journalism — American people are fed what amounts to as gossip and the NYT is happy to feed it. In the old days, journalists would have worked the stories longer (there is no rush to get this published) and harder and either the journalists would have seen the emails themselves or gotten us names of those who supposedly were telling the content.[…]Anonymous sources should be used rarely, not routinely and in this instance, the reporter has not even seen the emails himself but expects us all to accept this as fact.

Now, considering Van Susteren works for Fox News, one would think that perhaps she shouldn’t be overly critical considering her own network’s issues with ‘truthiness’ and taking gossip or unsubstantiated reporting as fact. Having said that, she has a point. The Times has relied on a lot of hearsay and fuzzy reporting regarding this story. It appears they are giving Schmidt a lot of leeway these past few weeks because the story itself is juicy and it brings a lot of attention due to Clinton being attached. On top of that, the story can now provide further comment in terms of opinion and commentary pieces. (Hello, Maureen Dowd!)

In a pairing of odd bedfellows, Van Susteren was joined in her criticism of the Times by Media Matters‘ Eric Boehlert. The senior fellow at the media watchdog group took to Twitter to slam the Times for its sourcing.

He even gave a little tip of the hat to Van Susteren for her blog post.

Other political journalists, such as Politico’s Glenn Thrush, also took the paper to task for its reliance on leaks, anonymous sources and second-hand information as the sole basis of this story. Meanwhile, it doesn’t appear that the personal email non-controversy is gaining any real traction. A recent poll by CNN shows that Clinton leads all potential GOP opponents in the 2016 White House race by double-digits.

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Another Blue State Outperforms A Typical Koch Fueled Red State Failure

By: Rmuse
PoliticusUSA
Monday, March, 23rd, 2015, 10:40 am      

Americans continue hearing that the Republican path to prosperity for all is enacting harsh austerity and trickle-down economics that work fabulously for the uber-rich, but produce mammoth deficits, kill jobs, and increase poverty for the masses. It is not, by any means, an unintended consequence that Republican economics are tailored for their donors, slash revenue, and transfer wealth to the rich; it is by design. As Americans have witnessed over the past three decades, every time Republicans are in power and trash the economy whether in states or nationally, it takes electing a Democrat to clean up the GOP trickle-down mess, pay off their debts, create jobs, and put the economy back on track.

It is likely that one of the best recent examples (Barack Obama is not recent) of a Democrat cleaning up an economic disaster and outperforming a red state is Minnesota’s Democratic Governor Mark Dayton. Now, what is unique about Dayton is that besides being a politician, he is a certified member of the one-percent and a billionaire; albeit one with conviction to serve the people.

When he took office, Dayton inherited a $6.2 billion budget deficit from Republican Tim Pawlenty who claimed and prided himself as being the “first truly fiscally-conservative governor in modern history;” a title economic failure Sam Brownback of Kansas now proudly claims as his own. Pawlenty’s claim to fame, like Brownback et al, and greatest source of pride, was that he never ever raised state taxes; he also never created more than 6,300 jobs in eight years, or ever displayed his fiscal conservative bona fides (see $6.2 billion deficit) when dealing with the state budget.

Enter billionaire Mark Dayton who raised the state’s income tax on the rich by 1%, guaranteed equal pay for women, and raised the minimum wage. The results speak for themselves. In less than four years, Governor Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota’s economy; 165,800 more his first term than Pawlenty added in two terms combined. Republicans claim higher income taxes kill jobs, and Minnesota’s tax rates are the 4th highest in America, but the state’s unemployment rate is 5th-lowest in the nation at 3.6%. The state’s median income is also $8,000 higher than the national average that is a major contributor to economic growth and perpetuates down-stream job creation; something Republicans reject out of hand and claim is impossible.

As of last year, higher state taxes and higher government spending has Minnesota’s private sector job growth higher than pre-Republican Great Recession levels, and the state economy is the 5th fastest growing in the nation. It is the kind of a statistic that inspired Forbes to rank Minnesota in the top ten best states for business. Gallup says economic confidence in Minnesota is the highest in the nation, and it is a result of doing exactly the opposite of what Republicans and the Koch brothers convinced states like Kansas, Illinois, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Wisconsin to do; cut taxes for the rich, cut education, and impose harsh austerity measures.

For a comparison with a neighboring state with Republican governor, Koch employee Scott Walker’s famous “Wisconsin Open for Business” agenda has Wisconsin sitting at a distant 32nd on the Forbes top states for business list, Wisconsin’s job creation is 38th in the nation, and Wisconsin is tied with Iowa for last place in the Midwest for creating private sector jobs. Where Dayton’s tax hikes on the wealthy have Minnesotan’s income $8,000 higher than the national average, Walker drove his state’s median income down to $900 below than the national average; a result of imposing ‘right to work’ laws and abolishing workers’ collective bargaining rights. Remember that Walker equated eliminating worker rights with crushing violent extremists and murdering terrorists; all he crushed was economic prosperity for Wisconsin residents.

It was not an easy ride for Governor Dayton’s economic agenda, and except for typical Republican opposition, Dayton did not have to resort to heavy-handed pressure for support. In typical GOP style, state representative Mark Uglem did precisely what Republicans at the state and national level always do when Democrats propose raising taxes on the rich; fear monger that businesses would flee the state en masse, kill jobs, and wipeout the economy. The same economy Republicans and Pawlenty spent eight years destroying.

Uglem issued a stern warning to Governor Dayton saying prior to the 1% tax hike on the wealthy and guaranteed that “the job creators, the big corporations, the small corporations, they will leave. It’s all dollars and sense to them.” It is a tired, worn-out warning that Republicans parrot by rote regardless they are always wrong and the opposite is always true.

Despite the Republicans’ claim that an agenda that includes raising taxes and the minimum wage would eviscerate the state’s businesses, kill jobs, wipe out revenue, and deny workers the wealth Republicans promised tax cuts for the rich would produce, the results speak for themselves. Dayton’s results, like any Democrat’s results, were that within one year of his tax hikes an additional 6,230 Minnesotans filed in the top income tax bracket, and that higher revenue provided the state with a $1 billion budget surplus that Dayton pledged to reinvest over a third back into the public schools.

Where Dayton accomplished enacting his agenda was through gaining electoral support from the people the right way; actually making it easier to register to vote by creating an online voter registration system. The reason Gov. Dayton was able to radically transform Minnesota’s economy into one of the best in the nation was also not unique and utilized a very simple accounting scheme and basic arithmetic California Governor Jerry Brown used; not some magic theory or voodoo economics to enrich the wealthy. Dayton increased revenue by raising taxes on the wealthy that always turns a deficit into a surplus just like raising the minimum wage will increase the median income every time. It is a typically Democratic practice and the polar opposite of Republican governors such as Scott Walker, Sam Brownback, Chris Christie, Piyush Jindal, or any GOP governor piling on debt and deficits and cutting services to preserve tax cuts for the rich.

Republicans claim businesses love and demand the conservative economic agenda, but according to states like California and Minnesota that is a blatant lie.  In any state where education is a high budget priority coupled with economic growth leading the nation, no businesses wants to leave the state. What is curious indeed, is why voters continue electing Republicans to increase deficits, cut services, and kill jobs just to give the rich more wealth. What is even more curious, is why voters fail to see that every stinking time Republicans are in charge at the state or federal level, they squander surpluses, pile up crushing deficits, kill jobs, and retard economic growth; something a Democrat has to spend time repairing.

Perhaps with so many Republican failures at the state level, one would think red state voters can look to their blue state neighbors, come to their senses, reject stupidity, and get a clue. In the case of imbeciles in Wisconsin, they should be capable of seeing that yet another blue state, one on their Eastern border, is outperforming their typically Republican governor’s red state failure.

 84 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 06:41 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Fatty acids may have been found on Mars

March 23, 2015
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

The first “wet chemistry” experiment conducted by NASA’s Curiosity rover may have found  evidence of long-chain carboxylic acid, a fatty acid that could be the latest organic molecule to be discovered on Mars, researchers from the US space agency have revealed.

However, NASA scientist Daniel Glavin and his colleagues, who presented their findings at the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in Houston last week, caution that it is not possible at this time to determine whether or not the compound has a biological origin.

Contamination could also be to blame for the discovery, according to BBC News.

Does it answer the million dollar question?

The results were produced by Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) instrument suite, which analyzes organics and gases from both atmospheric and solid samples. SAM was created by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, France’s Laboratoire Inter-Universitaire des Systèmes Atmosphériques (LISA), Honeybee Robotics and multiple other partner agencies.

Glavin explained that the fatty acid was a good fit for one of the data peaks in a mudstone called Cumberland, the British news agency noted. A form of alcohol molecule could be among the compounds analyzed, and while the preliminary finding is exciting because fatty acids play a key role in the cell membranes of most types of living organisms (excluding microbes).

However, while he said that the research was “provocative” and that its link to potential life on Mars was the “million dollar question,” Glavin said that it was every bit as possible that the signal had a non-biological origin at this point. Another scientist commending on the study told the BBC that contamination also could not be rules out as a cause of the findings.

The SAM team, which previously found evidence of chlorobenzene in the same rock, has also been working on a chemical leak in the instrument. That chemical, MTBSTFA, has actually helped their research, they explained, because they have used their understanding of how the organic molecule interacts with other compounds to discover organic substances on Mars.

The SAM instrument suite, which makes up more than half the science payload on the Mars Science Laboratory rover, features the same type of chemical equipment found in many Earth-based scientific laboratories, NASA said. It was created to search for compounds of the element carbon that are associated with life, and to figure out how they are created and destroyed in the Red Planet’s ecosphere.

Included among the instruments in the SAM suite are a mass spectrometer, gas chromatograph, and tunable laser spectrometer, they added. The mass spectrometer separates elements and compounds by mass for identification and measurement, while the gas chromatograph vaporizes soil and rock samples, separates the resulting gases into their components and analyzes them.

The laser spectrometer measures the abundance of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen isotopes in atmospheric gases such as methane, water vapor, and carbon dioxide. Those measurements are accurate to within 10 parts per thousand, and since those compounds are vital to living things, their abundances are essential when evaluating the potential habitability of Mars.

 85 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 06:39 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Stellar collision explains 17th century explosion

March 23, 2015
Chuck Bednar for redOrbit.com – @BednarChuck

A mysterious explosion observed by astronomers in the 17th century was not a nova, but a far more rare and violent type of stellar collision, according to a new study published Monday in the journal Nature and based on observations made with the ESO’s APEX telescope.

Back in the good ol’ days

The event, witnessed by European researchers in 1670, was spectacular enough to be observed with the naked eye during its first outburst, the observatory said in a statement. However, it also left behind faint traces that had to be analyzed with powerful sub-millimeter telescopes over 340 years later in order to discover the true source of these unusual explosions, they added.

Johannes Hevelius, who discovered seven still-recognized constellations and has been dubbed the father of lunar topography, was among the astronomers that documented the appearance of a new star in the skies in 1670. Originally described as Hevelius as nova sub capite Cygni (a new star below the head of the swan), it is now known as Nova Vulpeculae 1670.

“For many years this object was thought to be a nova, but the more it was studied the less it looked like an ordinary nova – or indeed any other kind of exploding star,” explained lead author Tomasz Kamiński of the ESO and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany.

At first, Nova Vul 1670 could easily be seen without the need for telescopes, and over a span of two years, it varied greatly in brightness. It actually vanished and returned twice before it finally disappeared for good. While it was well documented for the era, the early astronomers alive at the time lacked the equipment required to solve the riddle of its unusual activity.

Astronomers came to realize that most novae could be explained by the explosive behavior of close binary stars during the 1900s, but the model still did not seem to apply to Nova Vul 1670, so it remained a mystery. It wasn’t until the 1980s that astronomers first realized that Nova Vul 1670 did not disappear completely, but that a faint nebula remained around its location.

It wasn’t until Kamiński and his colleagues investigated that area using the APEX telescope, the Submillimeter Array (SMA), and the Effelsberg radio telescope that they found a cool gas that had an unusual chemical composition surrounding the remnant. Thanks to their efforts, they were able to compile a detailed account of the region’s makeup.

What they discovered was that the mass of the cool material was too great to have originated from a nova explosion, and that the isotope ratios surrounding Nova Vul 1670 were different to those expected from a nova.

So if it wasn’t a nova, what was it?

As it turns out, the phenomenon is the result of a collision between two stars that is more brilliant than a nova but not as bright as a supernova. The collision produces what is known as a red transient, in which a star explodes due to a merger with another star and ejects material into space.

These events are rare, the researchers explained, and ultimately they leave behind just a faint remnant embedded in a cool environment, rich in molecules and dust. This new class of stellar eruptions precisely fits the profile of Nova Vul 1670, leading to a discovery that co-author and Max Planck Institute researcher Karl Menten called “completely unexpected.”

 86 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 06:37 AM 
Started by Steve - Last post by Rad
Mexico Nabs Suspected Zetas Cartel Figure Near Texas Border

by Naharnet Newsdesk 24 March 2015, 08:25

A suspected leader of the violent Zetas drug cartel who was on Mexico's list of 122 priority targets for arrest was captured early Monday in a city on the Texas border, authorities said.

Ramiro Perez Moreno, 34, was arrested without any shots being fired in the city of Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas, the Mexican navy said in a statement.

It alleged that he was a top operative of a criminal group operating in the border states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.

The statement did not mention the Zetas by name, but said he apparently was in line to take over the criminal gang after the March 3 arrest of Omar Trevino Morales, who was the alleged leader of the Zetas.

However not much was known about Perez Moreno in comparison with higher-profile cartel figures, and there has been significant fighting over territory.

The navy said Perez Moreno trafficked drugs into the United States and arms back into Mexico; waged wars on other gangs and launched attacks on authorities; and coordinated kidnapping, extortion and people-smuggling rackets.

Weapons and drugs were seized during the raid in which he was captured, and four other suspects were arrested.

The Zetas carved a path of brutal bloodshed along Mexico's northern border with the U.S. in recent years.

Source: Associated Press

 87 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 06:36 AM 
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EU Foreign Policy Chief Starts Cuba Visit

by Naharnet Newsdesk 24 March 2015, 06:57

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrived in Cuba on Monday for crucial talks aimed at normalizing ties between the European Union and the communist island state.

The visit comes as previously icy relations between Cuba and the West are thawing, following the dramatic rapprochement between Havana and Washington in the last few months.

Mogherini will meet Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez during the two-day visit which "comes at a crucial time" for negotiations between the two sides, her office said ahead of her arrival, which was confirmed by a source close to the EU in Cuba.

The EU and Cuba held a third round of talks between chief negotiators at the beginning of March aimed at tackling sensitive human rights issues and finalizing an agreement "on political dialogue and cooperation."

Besides meeting Rodriguez on Tuesday, Mogherini is due to meet other Cuban government officials as well as the archbishop of Havana, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and civil society representatives.

No meeting with President Raul Castro has been announced.

Separately, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was also expected Tuesday in Havana.

Source: Agence France Presse

 88 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 06:35 AM 
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Uruguay Says Won't Take More Guantanamo Inmates

by Naharnet Newsdesk 23 March 2015, 21:29

Uruguay, the only South American country to take in detainees from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo, said Monday it will not accept any more.

"No more Guantanamo prisoners are going to come. That's final," Foreign Minister Rodolfo Nin Novoa told journalists.

Uruguay resettled six Guantanamo inmates as refugees in December in a bid to help U.S. President Barack Obama fulfill his long-delayed promise to close the offshore prison set up to hold terror suspects in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

But former Uruguayan president Jose Mujica left office on March 1 and his successor, Tabare Vazquez, has voiced reservations about the controversial decision.

The former prisoners -- four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian -- arrived in Uruguay on December 6 after more than a decade in detention.

They were never charged or tried, and the United States had cleared them for release.

Since arriving in Uruguay, which promised they would have the same rights as any other resident, they have been taking Spanish classes and living in hotel rooms and a house provided by a local labor union.

But officials, including Mujica, have expressed concern that they are having trouble adapting.

Currently, 122 inmates remain at Guantanamo, of whom half have been cleared for release.

With the U.S. Congress opposed to transferring them to the United States, the Obama administration must find third-party countries willing to take those who cannot be sent home.

Under Mujica, a colorful iconoclast known for legalizing marijuana and shunning the presidential mansion for his humble farmhouse, Uruguay also took in five families of Syrian refugees fleeing the conflict in their country.

It had promised to take in more, but Nin Novoa said that policy was also on hold.

Uruguay has "cultural and infrastructure shortcomings" that make it difficult to resettle the refugees, the foreign minister said, adding further resettlements had been postponed until "towards the end of the year."

Mujica and Vazquez both hail from the left-wing Broad Front (FA), but have clashed at times within the party.

Source: Agence France Presse

 89 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 06:33 AM 
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Somalia, AU Troops 'Retake Strategic Island' from Shebab

by Naharnet Newsdesk 23 March 2015, 12:02

Somali government forces backed by African Union troops have recaptured a strategic island on the country's south coast from al-Qaida-linked Shebab rebels, officials and witnesses said Monday.

A statement from the AU's AMISON force said Kudha island, situated in the autonomous Lower Juba region and around 70 kilometers (40 miles) southwest of the port city of Kismayo, was taken over the weekend.

Witnesses in the area, contacted from the capital Mogadishu, said the island fell without a fight, with Shebab fighters withdrawing from their position hours before the Somali government and AMISOM advance.

According to a statement from the AU force, Kudha island "was the remaining Al-Shebab stronghold in the region and has been a key logistical and operational base used to launch attacks in Southern Somalia."

"It also served as a key point for entry of contraband goods into the area," AMISOM said.

Local forces backed by Kenyan troops first seized the island in October, but it was retaken by the Shebab in November after fierce fighting.

The Islamists continue to stage frequent attacks as part of their fight to overthrow the country's internationally-backed government, although they have lost significant territory in recent months and their leadership has been targeted by frequent U.S. air strikes.

Source: Agence France Presse

 90 
 on: Mar 24, 2015, 06:32 AM 
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Displaced Fear Boko Haram Violence as Elections Approach

by Naharnet Newsdesk 23 March 2015, 19:35

Boko Haram appears to have been weakened by a sustained regional fight-back but there are growing fears the group could target vulnerable people displaced by the violence, as elections approach.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the bloody six-year insurgency, with some 1.5 million more forced to flee their homes within Nigeria and abroad.

Security analysts have warned that with the Islamists hit hard by the coalition of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, the group will revert to guerrilla tactics of bombings and suicide attacks.

There has already been a spate of suicide bombings against "soft" targets such as markets and bus stations since the turn of the year.

Now, it is feared that internally displaced people (IDP) could be next, after Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau vowed to disrupt this Saturday's elections, which the group views as "un-Islamic."

"Boko Haram are very likely to hit back in a way that will hurt Nigeria and IDP camps are possible targets," Abdullahi Bawe Wase, a security analyst who tracks the conflict, told Agence France-Presse.

- Explosives found -

Scores of IDP camps dot Maiduguri following a huge influx of people fleeing towns and villages seized by Boko Haram, doubling the population of the Borno state capital to at least two million.

Last Monday, the head of Nigeria's electoral commission INEC, Attahiru Jega, said 20 percent of the estimated one million IDPs were in camps and arrangements had been made for them to vote.

"We have found stable places in most cases outside the camps, except in Maiduguri, where in a few places we have placed (polling stations) inside the camps for security reasons," he said.

Yet even here safety is an issue, with the discovery on March 14 of three explosive devices at the Yerwa Primary School camp.

A fourth explosive device has yet to be located, as the suspects forgot where it was planted, said Ari Butari, a local civilian vigilante involved in camp security.

Eight people were arrested and two allegedly confessed to planting the devices. They were living among the IDPs, many of whom fled from the state's second largest city, Bama, last September.

"We are really apprehensive about our security since the discovery of the explosives," said Babakura Kyarimi, who lives in the camp.

"It is a clear indication that there are Boko Haram elements in our midst, which is of serious concern to us and the authorities."

The discovery backs up previous claims about the danger of Boko Haram infiltrating the camps, including from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri last August.

In January, troops detained as a precaution thousands of people who left the garrison town of Monguno on the outskirts of Maiduguri to establish whether rebel fighters were among them.

The Kano state government also shut a camp it had opened for people displaced from the town of Mubi in Adamawa, after a Boko Haram insurgent was uncovered.

Political motives for the discovery of explosives in the IDP camps cannot be ruled out, with Nigeria's northeast an opposition stronghold.

"One cannot dismiss the political element in the Boko Haram insurgency and the planting of bombs in an IDP camp could be a ploy by politicians averse to holding elections in camps because it doesn't favor their political interest," said Wase.

"It could be intended to instil fear in IDPs ahead of the elections to leave the camps, now that it's clear elections are to be held in camps."

- No return -

Debate about whether IDPs should vote in camps or return to their home towns and villages has been a major point of political debate between Nigeria's two main political parties.

But with infrastructure non-existent and communities devastated by the violence, the Borno Elders Forum of retired senior civilian and military officials has warned against any premature return.

Last week, scores of Boko Haram killed 11 people in the Borno town of Gamboru after Chadian troops withdrew, in a clear sign that the militants still have the capacity to attack.

"We think it is too early to even start talking about anyone going back to any of these reclaimed territories," the body's chairman, Usman Gaji Galtimari, said in a statement last week.

"I think it will be irresponsible on our part as a government to hurry our citizens back to liberated communities now mainly to go and vote," added Borno state governor Kashim Shettima.

"We all know that these liberated communities are still not fully safe and habitable."

Source: Agence France Presse

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