BP faces Deepwater Horizon lawsuit by investors including London councils
Shell also among shareholders bringing class action in Texas over disastrous 2010 oil spill in Gulf of Mexico
theguardian.com, Friday 4 July 2014 22.46 BST
Pension funds from London borough councils and even Shell are among a new group of shareholders suing BP in Texas over the Deepwater Horizon accident.
The lawsuit, which could potentially be extremely costly for the oil group, follows recent US court rulings opening the way to challenges from those who bought financial stakes in BP outside the country.
The US courts are famously generous in their financial awards compared with their British counterparts. In the past only investors who bought their BP stakes on the New York stock exchange or other US markets could file for compensation payments.
A class action specialist, Pomerantz Law, has rounded up 32 major investors seeking financial compensation for the losses they incurred on their shares. The New York-based law firm is taking the case on a no-win, no-fee basis and is hoping that other European investors will join the suit.
The royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea plus City of Westminster council, Cumbria county council and Shell Pension Trust have all put in for claims.
A BP spokesman in London said on Friday night: "All of the plaintiffs' securities claims relating to the Deepwater Horizon accident are meritless and we will continue to vigorously dispute them."
The Deepwater Horizon offshore rig blew up and sank while it was drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.
Miles of beaches on the southern coast of the US were coated in oil causing widespread damage to tourism and fisheries. The US government estimated that nearly 5m barrels of oil were spilled in the five months it took to get the well under control.
BP, as operator of the well, was castigated by the US public and politicians.
The group has made payouts of over $30bn (£17bn) already.
BP is still waiting to hear a ruling on whether it has been guilty of gross negligence over the well blowout in which 11 oil workers died. The Department of Justice has claimed that the company acted irresponsibly. A gross negligence ruling would open potentially BP up to $20bn worth of new fines under the Clean Water Act.
A Pomerantz lawyer, Jennifer Patiti, told the Evening Standard that the latest court rulings in the US had changed the game for British litigants.
"The fact that UK pension funds who bought stock on the London Stock Exchange can now participate in bringing claims in the US raises the prospect of recoveries where significant losses have been incurred."
The price of BP shares plunged by more than half from over 650p in the immediate aftermath of the disaster. And it has taken a long time to recover to its current level of less than 520p.
In the meantime BP has cast overboard its chief executive, Tony Hayward, who was pilloried by the media for saying in the middle of the tragedy that he wanted his life back.
Hayward has largely been exonerated by his peers and was recently made chairman of the mining conglomerate Glencore Xstrata.
His BP role was taken on by Bob Dudley, a US citizen who has nonetheless struggled to persuade the US court system to treat the oil group more leniently.
BP has recently failed in its bid to stop what it deemed to be unfair compensation payments being handed out by a scheme it set up.
Criminal charges involving BP have already been settled as have a variety of civil claims.
Dudley has also struggled to find a major new strategy for the company beyond slimming down to concentrate on its key strengths.
Some of the asset sales have been forced on it in an attempt to raise funds to pay for prior legal claims against it.
BP has also found itself in a difficult situation over Russia due to the political tension between Moscow and Washington over Ukraine.
BP is a 20% shareholder in Rosneft, which remains largely owned by the Kremlin. The London-based oil company was effectively forced to take the Rosneft holding when the Russian state pushed for the breakup and sale to Rosneft of a previous private-sector joint venture, TNK-BP.
In the US, BP only recently had a ban lifted on applying for new oil licences but still made first-quarter global profits of almost £2bn.
Taliban destroy oil tanker lorries in Afghanistan
Militants set fore to around 200 trucks carrying fuel for Nato forces in country, say officials
Reuters in Kabul
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 July 2014 12.20 BST
Taliban insurgents have set fire to about 200 oil tanker lorries supplying fuel for Nato forces in an attack just outside Kabul, police said.
Television footage showed black smoke billowing above the site of the attack, with the charred wreckage of dozens of trucks scattered around a vast parking space.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the vehciles carried fuel intended for US-led forces.
It was unclear how the fire was started. Some Afghan media reported that insurgents had fired rockets at the tankers late on Friday. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
"The number of tankers on fire is not yet clear but based on preliminary reports from police around 200 tankers have been burnt," the interior ministry said in a statement.
The attack happened as Afghanistan prepares to announce preliminary results of the final round of a presidential election on Monday, in a tense atmosphere. Both candidates vying to succeed President Hamid Karzai accuses the other of mass fraud.
The Taliban have vowed to disrupt the election process. On Thursday, militants fired rockets into Kabul's international airport, destroying a helicopter.
Poised to Gain in Iraq Crisis, Kurds Face New Barriers to Autonomy
By TIM ARANGO and CLIFFORD KRAUSS
JULY 4, 2014
ERBIL, Iraq — Gasoline stocks in the Kurdish region are running low, requiring rationing and hourslong waits for a fill-up. Hundreds of thousands of civil servants have gone months without a paycheck after Baghdad cut payments to the regional government in retaliation for its exporting oil without permission.
At the same time, a tanker filled with Kurdish oil has been stranded for more than a month off the coast of Morocco, prevented from unloading its lucrative cargo because of pressure from United States diplomats and threats by officials in Baghdad that any buyer would face legal challenges.
On the surface, these would appear to be heady days for the Kurds, who seem closer than ever to attaining their centuries-old dream of statehood. With Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government reeling after an assault by Islamic militants, the autonomous Kurdish region has seized control of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and has begun preparations for a referendum on independence.
But that drive for statehood is presenting a new set of problems. Unable either to sell its abundant oil supplies abroad or refine them for its own use, the Kurdish regional government has seen its once-thriving economy stall.
The victories gained by the militant group calling itself the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria were built on months of maneuvering along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which define a region known as the cradle of civilization.
Now, powerful forces, not just in Baghdad, are lining up against Kurdish sovereignty, and even some Kurdish officials on a visit to Washington this week said they recognized that their quest might have to be delayed.
With a population that sprawls across four nations — Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran — the Kurds have historically been stymied in their pursuit of independence by the conflicting needs and desires of those parent states, and before them the Ottoman Empire.
Yet the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States seemed to provide an opening for the Kurds. They formed a highly effective fighting force, the pesh merga, to defend their territory and developed their own energy sources with an eye to achieving economic independence. Their economy boomed.
Kurdish leaders worked to slowly expand the region’s autonomy, carefully avoiding any outright breach with Baghdad. When militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria invaded Iraq this spring, the Kurds seemed well positioned to increase their influence, and perhaps even declare themselves an independent state.
But now bigger powers are raising objections. The United States, for one, is pressuring the Kurds to remain a part of Iraq and join in a national unity government that it sees as a starting point for dealing with the current crisis. Even Turkey, an important economic partner that has helped the Kurds export some of their oil, is against outright independence, fearing that would inflame separatist sentiments in the substantial Kurdish population within its own borders.
The only country in the Middle East that has rallied to the Kurdish cause has been Israel, which historically has had close, albeit covert, ties to the Kurds, seeing them as rare friends in a hostile region. Yet in a part of the world that is deeply antagonistic to Israel, that association is problematic for the Kurds.
In the end, though, even as the rise of ISIS has accelerated the Kurds’ drive for independence, their surest route to economic self-sufficiency and statehood is to export their own oil. But to achieve that, they will have to overcome a number of diplomatic and legal roadblocks.
Sitting on a sea of oil, the Kurds have already attracted major investments from energy giants like Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Regional oil experts say Kurdistan can now move 60,000 to 100,000 barrels a day of its own oil through a new pipeline to Turkey. Before that, oil had to travel by truck to Turkey, which has signed long-term energy agreements — deemed illegal by Baghdad and the United States — worth billions of dollars.
Additional drilling and the repair of a major northern Iraqi pipeline that has been repeatedly sabotaged could enable Kurdistan to export a million barrels a day, making it a world-class producer. But so far, the Kurds have been unable to sell much of the oil that they have managed to transport to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, on the Mediterranean coast, as buyers have been scared off by potential legal challenges.
At least four tankers, including the one lingering off the coast of Morocco, have been loaded with Kurdish oil at the port in Ceyhan, but only one, oil industry executives say, has found a buyer — an unidentified Israeli entity.
Even before the current crisis, the United States opposed the Kurds’ exporting their own oil, fearing that could lead to the breakup of Iraq.
“U.S. policy has not changed,” said David Goldwyn, who was the State Department’s special envoy and coordinator for international energy affairs in the first Obama administration. Referring to the Kurdistan regional government, he added, “U.S. policy remains: preserve the territorial integrity of Iraq, promote a political unity among the three major factions and oppose the K.R.G. flouting that unity by marketing its oil over Baghdad’s objections.”
The call by Massoud Barzani, the region’s president, for a referendum on independence has also found little international support, backed only by the Israeli leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres.
“As soon as Barzani made that threat and Netanyahu and Shimon Peres echoed that, you heard Turkey say they do not want an independent state in Kurdistan, and the United States saying that as well,” Mr. Goldwyn said. “So I think the K.R.G.’s future lies in a strong economic relationship with Turkey, and if Turkey is opposed to independence, then independence will not produce the outcome they seek.”
There are signs, however, that the talk of a referendum on independence may have been a bargaining tactic. On Thursday, top Kurdish officials visited Washington, suggesting that they were still willing to consider a political settlement that would keep the region within a unified Iraq in exchange for more autonomy and more concessions on oil.
They also acknowledged the budget crisis they are facing, not to mention the severe fuel shortages. “We need support and help,” Fuad Hussein, Mr. Barzani’s chief of staff, said this week at an event in Washington hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “We’re not receiving money from Baghdad anymore, so we need financial resources.”
Mr. Hussein said he thought the Obama administration was reconsidering its policy toward Kurdistan’s increasing demands for more autonomy, if not outright sovereignty. “We feel they are ready to listen,” he said.
So far, though, the administration has been steadfast about preventing Iraq from breaking up, though analysts say it might be open to increased autonomy.
With Kurdish oil flowing through the new pipeline to Turkey, though, some analysts fear the debate over independence is in danger of being decided by facts on the ground.
Months ago, American diplomats felt they had put together a deal in which oil revenues would be held by the Central Bank of Iraq in an account in New York. But that fell through because the Turks insisted the money be put in an escrow account in Halkbank, a Turkish state-run bank that has been at the center of a corruption scandal.
Whatever the eventual outcome, the Kurdish region seems to be facing hard times, at least until the immediate crisis has passed, because few major energy companies are willing to invest heavily in the area until they are convinced they will have a trouble-free way to market the oil.
“Oil companies are very wary about touching what is considered a hot commodity,” said Denise Natali, an expert on Kurdish affairs at the National Defense University in Washington. “These kinds of small-scale exports can’t add up to meet their financial needs. The Kurds don’t have the pipeline, the storage capacity, the political support or the legal recognition to assure large scale, consistent, risk-free exports.”
Iraqi Premier to Run for a Third Term
By ALISSA J. RUBIN
JULY 4, 2014
BAGHDAD — Despite sharp criticism from almost every political party in Iraq and pressure from friendly foreign powers to step down, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki announced Friday that he would seek a third term as prime minister.
He never suggested that he would step down. But the chorus of criticism over his sectarian policies, which helped create the conditions that led to a large portion of the country falling to Islamic extremists, had left many believing that lacking supporters, he might relinquish power.
They appear to have underestimated his desire to hold on to it.
“I will not give up my candidacy for a third term,” Mr. Maliki announced in a statement read on Iraqiya, the state television channel.
He noted that the bloc of lawmakers that supported his nomination was the largest in the Parliament and that they should not be asked to meet any conditions imposed by other legislative groups, such as supporting a different candidate.
Suggesting he was akin to a soldier who does not desert the battlefield, Mr. Maliki said he would “defend Iraq and its people” against “terrorists,” a reference to members of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, the Sunni extremist group that has taken control of many cities in the north and west of the country, including Mosul, the country’s second-largest urban area.
Iraq’s Embattled Leader
Elected in 2006 as a compromise candidate, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki now heads a shaky Shiite-led government in a fractured country facing a mortal threat from Sunni insurgents.
From an educated middle-class Shiite background. Active in sectarian politics since the early 1970s, when he joined the mainly Shiite Islamic Dawa Party.
In 1978 he fled to Syria, returning in 2002, just before the American-led invasion.
Was deputy chairman of the commission that purged members of Saddam Hussein's party from public life, earning the enmity of many Sunnis.
Worked to win over Sunni tribal leaders and campaigned against sectarianism in 2007-9.
Built and maintained ties with Iran, where he spent time while in exile.
Split with former allies and formed his own political coalition in 2010.
Did not reach agreement with the United States to retain American troops in the country.
Has come under growing criticism for amassing personal power and favoring Shiite interests.
Mr. Maliki’s language, which had an almost messianic tone, suggested he would prove difficult to dislodge and that the negotiations over forming a new government could drag on for weeks, if not months.
His statement defied not just other lawmakers but also Iraq’s senior Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who on Friday said the Parliament’s inability to form a government at its first meeting on Tuesday was a “disappointing failure.”
Speaking through his representative, Ahmed al-Safi, Ayatollah Sistani said that Iraq’s politicians must form a government “rapidly” and adhere to the constitutional schedule, which calls for a complete government to be in place by mid-August. Most important, Mr. Safi said, the government must reflect “national consensus.”
Mr. Safi also indirectly admonished the Kurds and other groups not to take advantage of the demographic shifts caused by the exodus of many minority groups from areas taken over by Sunni militants.
Fears have grown that the Kurds will use the situation to extend their sphere of influence. They have already done that in Kirkuk, a disputed city in a northern area endowed with oil. Among the minorities mentioned by Mr. Safi were Christians, Turkmens, and Shabak — an ethnic and religious minority with its own language, akin to Persian.
Instead, the ayatollah’s representative said, both the Kurdish regional government and the central government must do everything they can to help the displaced minorities. The United Nations estimates that more than one million Iraqis have been displaced in just the current conflict with Sunni extremists.
“There are no appropriate and instant procedures to help those people get accommodation, food and medical care,” Mr. Safi said.
In other insurgency-related developments, a suicide bomber attacked an assembly point for the Iraqi Army’s Fourth Brigade in the northern province of Salahuddin, killing 12 soldiers and seriously wounding 15, according to an officer in the brigade, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the news media.
The bombing took place about 30 miles south of Tikrit, the provincial capital, where the army has begun a major offensive to expel ISIS fighters from the city.
In Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded on the main thoroughfare through Ghazaliya, a neighborhood where Sunnis and Shiites live on opposite sides of the street.
And east of Falluja in Anbar Province, which Sunni militants have occupied for months, there was heavy fighting late Friday as the insurgents exploded a bridge, according to Iraqi Army officers, who said the full extent of the damage was hard to tell at night. The upheavals caused by the Sunni militant advance over the past few weeks also left dozens of foreigners caught in the mayhem. On Friday, 46 Indian nurses who had been working at a hospital in Tikrit were allowed to leave insurgent-held territory for Erbil, capital of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.
United News of India reported that the nurses, and 70 other Indians who had been trapped in the combat zones, would fly home early Saturday aboard a chartered Air India plane.
India Ink - Notes on the World's Largest Democracy
At the Month-Mark, Modi Reflects
By VISHNU VARMA
June 27, 2014 10:13 amJune 27, 2014 10:13 am
NEW DELHI — On Thursday, as the government headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi completed 30 days in office, Mr. Modi, with a perceptible confidence in his political persona, reached out to the public through a blog post.
His message was marked by a theme of his campaign — that of the political outsider, beset by hostile critics, but nonetheless eager to transform the country through its highest office. He wrote of the “honeymoon period” that previous governments enjoyed — “up to a hundred days and beyond.”
“Not unexpectedly I don’t have any such luxury,” he wrote. “Forget hundred days, the series of allegations began in less than a hundred hours.” He did not specify what those allegations were.
He stressed that he was “new to this place” and that some people believed it would take him “a year, even two,” to understand the workings of the government, but after 30 days, “that thought does not exist any longer in my mind.”
He wrote of the challenge of convincing “a select group of people” in Delhi, which had 10 years of Congress party leadership, about his government’s sincerity in “bringing a positive change to the country.”
For political observers, this self-characterization was not surprising.
“He has always said that he is not part of the power brokers club based in Delhi,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a journalist who wrote a biography about Mr. Modi that was initially authorized by the politician, then unauthorized. “He has said that he is an outsider and a poor man’s child.”
Little has come out in the media about Mr. Modi’s first month from a policy perspective, beyond a few cabinet decisions and proposals — pushing an increase in railway fares, later partially rolled back and for the import duty for sugar, and a proposal to ease environmental clearances for development projects.
But Mr. Modi’s mastery of the message appears to grow — a study of political use on Twitter found that he had become the fourth-most-followed leader on the social media platform, just surpassing the White House, though behind President Obama, the pope, and the Indonesian president, S. B. Yudhoyono. Mr. Modi now has more than 5 million Twitter followers.
He also engaged in a series of high-profile foreign policy moves with his closest neighbors — inviting neighboring countries including Pakistan to his swearing-in, touring Bhutan and meeting with the Chinese president’s special envoy. Some media have reported on a planned trip to the United States in the fall.
Mr. Modi’s post also included a parting rebuke, in a sense, to the Congress party. His 30 days coincided with an anniversary of another kind — the 39-year anniversary of the imposition of authoritarian rule by Indira Gandhi, an iconic Congress leader, which began on June 26, 1975. The period saw a rollback of democratic institutions in the country, and Mrs. Gandhi’s political rivals were arrested, though there is evidence that some elites in India appreciated the imposition of order at a chaotic time.
“The Emergency surely stands out as one of the darkest periods in our history and is a grim reminder of the dangers associated with subverting freedom of speech, press, expression and silencing opposition,” Mr. Modi wrote.
The phase, which he witnessed as a “youngster,” taught him “the significance of a vibrant democracy.”
Chinese Leader, Underlining Ties to South Korea, Cites Japan as Onetime Mutual Enemy
By CHOE SANG-HUN
JULY 4, 2014
SEOUL, South Korea — China’s visiting president, Xi Jinping, reminded South Koreans on Friday that their two countries had fought “shoulder to shoulder” against Japan more than four centuries ago, highlighting what analysts have called the main goal of his visit: unsettling America’s alliances in Northeast Asia.
Japan and South Korea are the United States’ closest allies in Asia, and the Obama administration has been struggling for months to thaw a chill in relations between them as it seeks to counterbalance China’s rise. Mr. Xi’s remarks were viewed by analysts as trying to take advantage of the rift.
Continue reading the main story
Children in Seoul welcomed President Xi Jinping of China at ceremonies on Thursday. Mr. Xi pledged to create a free-trade agreement with South Korea, with a projected completion this year.
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President Xi Jinping of China, seen in Shanghai in May, will arrive in South Korea on Thursday.
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Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, had sought broader leeway for his nation’s military.
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Chinese soldiers with flag-draped boxes containing the remains of 437 soldiers at a ceremony Friday near Seoul.
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Secretary of State John Kerry, in Beijing on Friday, urged China to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear weapons programs.
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“Whenever there was a crisis, Korea and China always helped each other and overcame the crisis together,” Mr. Xi told a group of students at the prestigious Seoul National University, which educates many students who will join the political elite. “Four centuries ago during the Japanese invasion,” he said, people of both nations had held Japan in “enmity” and had “marched together shoulder to shoulder to the battlefields.”
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Leaders of China and South Korea Meet
Leaders of China and South Korea Meet
With Chinese President Xi Jinping at her side, South Korean President Park Geun-hye called for reunification of the Korean peninsula and stated their opposition to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
Publish Date July 3, 2014. Image CreditEd Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Mr. Xi also cited Japan’s military aggression in the 20th century, although he did not mention China’s own invasions of Korea centuries ago, or the much more recent Korean War, during which China fought on the North Korean side.
Mr. Xi spoke through a Korean interpreter.
The fighting the Chinese leader was referring to took place in the 1590s, when China’s Ming dynasty sent soldiers to Korea to help fight Japanese invaders and keep them from reaching China.
“Even young Koreans with the fuzziest sense of history know that the Ming saved Korea from state collapse,” said Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korea expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. “By reinforcing this history, Xi is planting the seeds of pro-Chinese sentiment among the next generation of South Korean leaders. In his effort to build a coalition with South Korea to collude against Japan, Xi is fanning the flames of nationalism, accentuating the common history of victimization at the hands of imperial Japan in the 20th century.”
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Timeline on North Korea’s Nuclear Program
The country’s nuclear weapons program and its development of long-range rocket systems have angered many in the West, including in the United States.
OPEN Multimedia Feature
The Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed on Friday that during his meeting with President Park Geun-hye on Thursday, Mr. Xi had proposed holding joint memorial services with South Korea next year to mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s defeat in World War II. Ms. Park’s office declined to comment on the proposal.
Mr. Xi’s trip comes at a time when relations between South Korea and Japan are at their chilliest point in years, largely because of historical disputes rooted in Japan’s colonial rule over South Korea during the decades leading up to World War II and its use of Korean women as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the war.
Many South Koreans are wary of what they consider Japan’s attempts, under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to whitewash its behavior during the war and the preceding decades. This has complicated matters for Washington, which would like its two key Asian allies to work together more closely as China challenges the United States for dominance in the region and as North Korea remains unpredictable.
Although most South Koreans still regard the country’s close military alliance with the United States as its best guarantor of safety, many also complain that the United States does not take a tough enough stance with Japan over its history. That feeling was exacerbated this week when the United States supported Japan’s decision to reinterpret its Constitution to expand its military role in the region, a move South Korea calls dangerous.
Mr. Xi tapped into such sentiments on Friday, sending the message that South Koreans have a friend in China as they ponder Northeast Asia’s fast-changing economic and geopolitical landscape. South Korean trade with China now exceeds that with the United States and Japan combined.
Palestinian protests spread after boy's funeral
Unrest escalates in East Jerusalem and spreads through West Bank after funeral of Mohammed Abu Khdeir
Peter Beaumont in Shuafat and agencies
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 July 2014 09.52 BST
Clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters have spread following the funeral of a teenager who Palestinians claim was killed by Israeli extremists in a revenge attack.
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said riots erupted in East Jerusalem and spread to Arab towns to the north on Saturday.
Protesters burned tyres and threw rocks and firebombs at police who responded with teargas and stun grenades. More than 20 people were arrested.
Tensions have remained high since three Israeli teenagers were abducted in the West Bank on 12 June, prompting a huge manhunt which ended with the discovery of their bodies earlier this week.
The unrest escalated in East Jerusalem after the burned body of 17-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was found in a forest. He was laid to rest on Friday after thousands of Palestinian mourners carried his body through the streets of an East Jerusalem suburb. By the time the funeral was over the streets were blocked by temporary barricades and littered with broken masonry; the tarmac scorched black after almost three days of rioting to protest against his murder.
The last week, which began with the funerals of the Israeli teenagers and ended with that of the Palestinian boy, has pushed relations between Israelis and Palestinians to the brink once more.
At the hilltop cemetery of Modiin on Tuesday it was the blue and white of Israel's flag that served as a shroud on the coffins of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Sha'er, 16, and Naftali Frankel, 16. On Friday it was green, white and black of the Palestinian banner that enfolded Mohammed Abu Khdeir on his final journey.
While funerals like Abu Khdeir's are familiar on the West Bank and Gaza, for Jerusalem it was an remarkable event – marking the first Friday of Ramadan with an extraordinary security clampdown. The milling groups of young male mourners, some of them wearing masks, chanted: "Enough, enough we will pay with blood" and "intifada, intifada". As he was buried, several volleys of automatic weapons fire rang out from rooftops near the cemetery – again unusual for a Jerusalem neighbourhood. In between the two funerals it has become a frightened and divided city. The light railway – Israel's grand project to link the east and west of the city – is now cut at Shuafat, its stations damaged. Residents who look Arab have been assaulted and abused in the street.
A steady drip of rumours on social media has fired the sense of anxiety: reports of a missing boy who did not make it to mosque or a woman found dead in her garden. It was not just in Shuafat that there were clashes on Friday. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police clashed with hundreds of Palestinians in Ras al-Amud and Wadi Joz in the eastern part of the city.
The mourners for Mohammed Abu Khdeir began coming early, even before it was confirmed his body had been released by Israeli police, to sit in the large mourning tent outside the family's home.
His father, Hussein, said doctors had completed an autopsy on Thursday evening on the badly burned body of his son, found in a forest to the west of the city an hour or so after he was dragged into a car by two men as he was waiting to pray at just before 4am on Wednesday morning.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to calm the situation on Thursday, condemning Abu Khdeir's killing and vowing to find the attackers.
"We don't know yet the motives or the identities of the perpetrators, but we will. We will bring to justice the criminals responsible for this despicable crime whoever they may be," Netanyahu said in a speech celebrating US Independence Day at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. "Murder, riots, incitement, vigilantism, they have no place in our democracy."
Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians have been worsening for several months since the collapse of the US sponsored peace process, but in recent weeks have escalated sharply.
They reached a crisis point in a period when three Israeli teenagers, one of which had American citizenship, were abducted in the West Bank on June 12 and amid recent sharp increase in rocket fire from Gaza.
Facing instability on several front, Israeli political leaders leaders have promised to "meet quiet with quiet" if Hamas bring a halt to the latest flare-up of violence on the Gaza border.
For its part Hamas has said that efforts were under way with Egyptian mediation to reach a truce after a week of militant rocket fire into southern Israel and retaliatory air strikes against Gaza.
"There are continuing Egyptian efforts to return calm to the Gaza Strip, but no agreement has been reached yet," a Hamas official told AFP, on condition of anonymity.
Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told AFP: "Hamas is not interested in an escalation or war in Gaza, but at the same time it is not possible for it to remain silent on the continued aggression against Gaza and the West Bank."
Autopsy Suggests Palestinian Boy Was Burned Alive, Official Says
By JODI RUDOREN
JULY 5, 2014
JERUSALEM — An autopsy of the Palestinian teenager who was snatched from an East Jerusalem street and slain this week found soot in his lungs that suggests he was burned alive, according to a senior Palestinian official briefed on the preliminary results.
The autopsy showed that 16-year-old Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, who was buried as a martyr Friday in a funeral that drew thousands, had a head injury and burns over 90 percent of his body, the Palestinian attorney general, Mohammed Al A’wewy, wrote on his agency’s official website. The Israeli police are still investigating the Wednesday attack and have not named any suspects in what is widely seen as an act of revenge by Jews for the abduction-murder last month of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank.
“It was obvious through autopsy that there was black smoke on the breathing airways, windpipes and in the two lungs,” the prosecutor’s site said. “This is proof of inhalation of this material during the torch, while he was alive.”
The autopsy was conducted by Israeli doctors and attended by the Palestinian coroner, none of whom could immediately be reached on Saturday.
Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for the Israeli police, said that there had been “no breakthroughs” as investigators continued to consider both revenge and other possible criminal scenarios, and that a gag order prevented him from discussing details of what they had found so far.
“We’re trying to understand and get to exactly what took place and what was the background,” Mr. Rosenfeld said. “It’s critical, as far as the Israeli police are concerned, it’s critical for us to determine what the motive was.”
Muhammad’s relatives and Palestinian leaders have criticized the police and the Israeli media for suggesting that the grisly death might have been an honor killing or stemmed from a family dispute.
Muhammad was sitting on a wall outside a mosque and his home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat at 3:45 a.m. Wednesday, waiting for the dawn prayer, when a gray Hyundai pulled up and two people forced him into the car, according to video footage that news outlets obtained from security cameras. His charred body was found in the Jerusalem Forest about 90 minutes later; on Thursday, burned pieces of a white undershirt could still be seen on a black spot at the site.
Human rights groups have also lashed out at the police for what they said was a brutal beating by undercover officers of Tarq Khdeir, 15, an American-born cousin of Muhammad who was spending his summer vacation in Jerusalem. They circulated a video of the beating and pictures of Tariq’s badly bruised and swollen face, and complained that he was being held by the police without charge.
“The continued state-sanctioned violence against children is unlawful and unacceptable,” Addameer, a Palestinian group that supports prisoners in Israeli jails, said in a news release.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, noting that Tariq is a high school student in Tampa, Fla., called on the State Department to intervene and secure his release. An American consular officer was scheduled to meet the teenager Saturday afternoon, ahead of a court hearing scheduled for Sunday.
Michael Ratney, the American consul general in Jerusalem, said he could not discuss the case because he had not yet obtained a privacy waiver from Tariq.
Mr. Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, said the video circulated by the rights groups was “edited and biased” and did not represent the scope of the events, and that Tariq was one of six people who had been arrested Thursday after clashes in which 15 police officers were injured.
“Hundreds of rioters, many of them masked, hurled at the forces pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails, fireworks and stones,” Mr. Rosenfeld said. “Preliminary investigation of the details of the incident shown in the video indicates that there were six masked Palestinians, and that three of them were armed with knives. They resisted arrest and attacked the officers.
“How does a 15-year-old American student end up attacking security officers and rioting with hundreds of masked Palestinians?” he asked.
After hours of raging violence in the streets of Shuafat Wednesday afternoon and evening, there have been sporadic clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces there and in other neighborhoods of Jerusalem, as well as in Arab-Israeli towns and parts of the West Bank.
Maan, a Palestinian news service, reported that dozens were injured in a clash east of Jerusalem, near the entrance to Maale Adumim, a larger Jewish settlement-city. Ynet, an Israeli news site, said masked men burned tires, blocked roads, threw stones and beat drivers who admitted being Jewish in several Arab towns in Israel’s north.
Muslim Brotherhood leader sentenced to life in prison
Egyptian court issues verdict for Mohamed Badie and 36 others for committing violence 'to achieve terrorist goals'
Agency France-Presse in Cairo
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 July 2014 11.17 BST
An Egyptian court has sentenced the Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Badie, and 36 other Islamists to life in prison, and confirmed death sentences for 10 others, most of them on the run.
Badie – convicted of involvement in deadly protests – had already received death sentences in two other cases in a crackdown on Islamist opposition after last year's military overthrow of Mohamed Morsi.
Of the 10 defendants condemned to death last month in the same case, whose sentences were confirmed, an Islamic cleric has since been arrested. Another defendant was sentenced to three years.
Egyptian courts have sparked international concern over a spate of death sentences for more than 200 people in several mass trials.
On Saturday, Judge Hassan Farid said the defendants were involved in violence and murder during protests last July after Morsi was deposed. He said the defendants had committed the violence "to achieve terrorist goals".
The Brotherhood has been designated a terrorist movement and much of its leadership has been imprisoned, including the former president.
Egypt to increase petrol prices by up to 78% as government cuts subsidies
Electricity prices set to double over five years in attempt to revive economy battered by political turmoil
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 July 2014 01.23 BST
Egypt will start raising petrol prices by up to 78% from midnight on Friday, an oil ministry source told Reuters, as it tries to cut energy subsidies to ease the burden on its swelling budget deficit.
"The increase will start being implemented by midnight," the source said.
Food and energy subsidies traditionally eat up a quarter of state spending and the government is taking steps to reform its subsidy programme and revive an economy that has been battered by more than three years of political turmoil.
The source said the price of 92-octane petrol would be 2.60 Egyptian pounds (21p) a litre, up 40% from its current price of 1.85 pounds, while 80-octane petrol would rise to 1.60 pounds a litre, up 78%.
Diesel will rise to 1.80 pounds a litre, an increase of 63%, while the less commonly used natural gas for vehicles will rise by 175% to 1.10 pounds a cubic metre.
The newly elected president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has already raised electricity prices in his efforts to reform energy subsidies, one of a range of politically sensitive subsidies that also cover transport, food and agriculture.
Electricity prices began to rise this month under a plan to eliminate power subsidies within five years, the electricity minister said on Thursday.
Electricity prices are set to double over five years, but the introduction of a more graduated pricing structure aims to reduce the burden on the poor in a country where one person in four lives on less than $2 a day.
State finances have been decimated by more than three years of political turmoil, but the government is trying to improve them without provoking a backlash from Egyptians, who have helped topple two presidents since 2011 but have yet to see an improvement in living standards.
Deadly car bomb rocks Somalia parliament building
Four reported killed as al-Shabaab claims responsibility for targeting MPs in Mogadishu, and warns of more violence
Agence France-Presse in Mogadishu
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 July 2014 10.44 BST
Several people have been killed as a powerful suicide car bomb exploded near Somalia's parliament on Saturday, police and witnesses said.
Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab rebels claimed responsibility for the bombing, the latest in a surge of attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, during Islam's holy month of Ramadan.
"A car loaded with explosives was intercepted near the parliament and it went off. There are casualties but we don't have details so far," a police official, Mohamed Idle, told AFP. He confirmed a suicide bomber was in the car.
Police and witnesses at the scene said as many as four were killed and many more wounded. Police spokesman Qasim Ahmed Roble said two policemen were among the dead.
Al-Shabaab, who have carried out frequent attacks against the parliament and other centres of Somalia's fragile, internationally-backed government, said they were responsible and vowed their attacks would continue.
"We killed more than a dozen so-called police members after sacrificial attack at the main entrance of parliament buildings," Abdulaziz Abu Musab, military spokesman of al-Shabaab, told AFP.
"We want to tell them that the MPs are not safe anywhere in Mogadishu. By the grace of Allah more attacks will come and continue."
Last month, militants from teh group set off a car bomb at the gates of parliament and then stormed the building while MPs were meeting, in an attack that left several dead.
At the time a spokesman described the parliament as a "military zone" and a legitimate target. On , Thursday, al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for shooting dead a lawmaker and his bodyguard.
G.Bissau Gets New Government
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 July 2014, 07:18
Guinea-Bissau's prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira presented his new government Friday, less than two weeks after the president vowed to fight poverty and bring stability to the impoverished West African nation.
Pereira's 16-minister cabinet is dominated by members of President Jose Mario Vaz's African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), a decree published in the capital Bissau showed.
Pereira, an engineer, was named prime minister on June 25 and sworn in on Thursday.
The 57-year-old Vaz is Guinea-Bissau's first elected leader since the army mutinied in 2012, plunging into chaos a state already in the grip of powerful cocaine cartels and beset by political violence.
"The chronic instability in which our country finds itself is not the cause of our problems," Vaz has said, blaming instead "the extreme poverty... which we will all fight."
The former Portuguese colony is the only West African nation to have achieved independence through military force and, since 1974, the army and state have been in constant, often deadly, competition.
Guatemalan ex-Guerrilla Convicted of Indigenous Massacre
by Naharnet Newsdesk
05 July 2014, 07:13
A Guatemalan court Friday handed down the country's first conviction of a leftist guerrilla leader for the killings of indigenous farmers during the 1960-1996 civil war.
Fermin Solano got 90 years in prison for ordering a group of 10 guerrillas to strangle and kill in the town of El Aguacate 22 pro-government indigenous farmers, accusing them of collaborating with the army.
The massacre took place between November 22 and November 25, 1988.
"This court finds that defendant Fermin Solano is responsible for the offense of continuous murder and crimes against humanity," Judge Walter Jimenez said before a courtroom packed with relatives and journalists in the city of Chimaltenango, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) outside Guatemala City.
Solano's family prayed and sobbed, while the defendant appeared emotionless in a gray shirt in a pants, and the judge emphasized the "right to the truth" of the victims' relatives, who suffered "psychological trauma."
Solano, known under the pseudonym "Lieutenant David," was found to have acted without the consent of senior guerrilla leaders in executing the native Indians.
Three former guerrilla commanders were questioned in the case against Solano, who belonged to the now-defunct Revolutionary Organization of Armed People, or ORPA, one of four factions during the war.
The prosecution presented some 90 exhibits, 29 witnesses and about 14 experts.
"The people have a right to the truth, so this does not go unpunished and will not happen again," said the judge. No relatives of the victims or representatives of humanitarian organizations were present in the courtroom.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of 690 years for Solano, but the court dismissed such a move as "cruel and inhumane."
Solano, whose trial began on February 27, pleaded not guilty and demanded his release.
Captured in May 2013 in Guatemala City, the ex-rebel leader is the first former guerrilla member to be convicted over murders perpetrated during the 36-year civil war.
The war left 200,000 people dead or missing, according to a United Nations report. It blamed 93 percent of human rights violations on state forces and three percent on the guerrillas, without identifying the rest.
Argentina's World Cup run a welcome distraction from Messi economic news
Critics, though, wish compatriots would pay as much attention to corruption and mismanagement in government as to the footie
Uki Goni in Buenos Aires
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 July 2014 08.00 BST
Inflation is at 40% and rising; the president is entangled in a losing battle with the international "vulture funds" that have put her country on the verge of default; the vice-president is in and out of court on corruption charges and the economy is dicing with recession.
So the country's World Cup run has come at a good time. Argentinians are grateful that their team have made it to the quarterfinals so they can continue to unplug a while longer from the bad news at home.
"Football is maybe just a sport but in Argentina it is a war," says 31-year-old artist Pool Paolini, who hails from the central city of Rosario, birthplace of top scorer and national treasure Lionel Messi. "We may be the country with the fourth highest inflation rate in the world, but we were also fifth in the Fifa pre-World Cup ranking – and we're rising!"
As Argentinians prepare to watch their side square off against Belgium in Brasilia on Saturday, each player's performance will be meticulously pored over at the workplace and across family dinner tables around the country. Some wish their compatriots would pay as much attention to the corruption and mismanagement in government that will continue once the World Cup is over, regardless of whether Messi brings the coveted trophy home. "If only we would pay the same amount of attention to what our politicians have been doing as we do to what happens on the football field, then maybe the country wouldn't be in this mess," says taxi driver Manuel Gomez.
Argentinians are nonetheless proud of their obsessive passion for football and like to mock what they consider the colder attitude of northern European rivals whom they imagine do not share it. The entire country held its breath until the last minute of Argentina's match against Switzerland, only to explode a second later with a loud roar of "Goal!" as Angel Di Maria scored.
"What do you mean, it's just football? When did you ever see a country at complete standstill like this? Where were you born? Amsterdam? Oslo?" quipped popular television host Beto Casella during a recent programme in which Argentina's passion for football was discussed.
If Argentina makes it to the semifinals, the country will be able to put off dealing with its harsh economic outlook a little while longer. Paolini, the Rosario artist who paints giant triptychs in which Messi is portrayed as the central figure, elevated to the heavens on the wings of Diego Maradona, puts it this way: "Messi is the B-side of our reality, he's a breath of fresh air, a glass of cold water after choking so hard on so much political and social gloom."
Argentinian retired officers sentenced to life over murder of Catholic bishop
Former general and retired commodore guilty of ordering 1976 murder of Enrique Angelelli during the military dictatorship
theguardian.com, Saturday 5 July 2014 05.39 BST
Two retired military officers have been sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a Catholic bishop during Argentina's 1976-83 military dictatorship.
Documents in the trial included two letters from the Vatican archives provided by Argentine-born Pope Francis. The slain cleric had written the letters denouncing the military regime's abuses and sent them to Rome just before his death.
Former general Luciano Menendez, 87, was found guilty on Friday of ordering the murder of Enrique Angelelli, bishop of the northwestern province of La Rioja, in August 1976. Retired commodore Luis Estrella was also found guilty in the case.
The military regime claimed that Angelelli, then 53, was killed in a car accident.
Also travelling in the car was the bishop's aide, a priest named Esteban Pinto, who survived the accident and filed the lawsuit.
It is the first time a junta-era official has been found guilty for the killing of a high-ranking cleric.
Menendez had earlier been found guilty in seven cases of human rights abuses and was already serving a life sentence.
Scores of Catholic priests and nuns were "disappeared," tortured and killed during the dictatorship years. The victims include two French nuns and the bishop of San Carlos Ponce de Leon.
Some 30,000 people, mostly regime opponents, were killed or went missing during the dictatorship years, according to human rights groups.
Skeletons found in El Salvador shed light on early human settlements
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, July 4, 2014 21:05 EDT
Japanese and Salvadoran archaeologists said Friday they have found three human skeletons in El Salvador from more than 1,600 years ago that could shed new light on early human settlements in the region.
The three nearly complete human skeletons, preserved in volcanic ash, were found near the Pacific coast at a dig called “Nueva Esperanza,” about 90 kilometers (55 miles) southeast of the capital.
The area was buried in ash from gigantic eruptions between the 5th and 6th centuries, which has helped preserve evidence of a the pre-Hispanic coastal settlement, possibly dedicated to salt production and fishing.
The new find “opens a new door for Salvadoran archaeological investigations, which had (previously) focused only on ceremonial centers,” project director Akira Ichikawa told AFP.
He expects more finds at the site, saying the two-meter (seven-foot) layer of volcanic ash hides an “archaeological wealth of evidence about the daily life and livelihood of these ancient coastal residents.”
The three bodies are those of two adults, aged between 25 and 35 years old, and a child, between seven and nine years old, with two clay beads around the neck, archaeologist Oscar Camacho said, based on preliminary analysis.
They had been buried, two of them in a cross-legged position, along with offerings including clay pots and jars bearing dark brown and red stripes.
The remains are being cleaned for study by the Archeology Department at the National Museum of Anthropology in San Salvador.
A tooth and a portion of the ribs will be used for chemical analysis aimed at determining their sex, specific ages, as well as details of lifestyle, diet and illnesses suffered.
New developments in quantum physics could lead to game-changing technologies ranging from electric airliners to artificial intelligence
Friday, July 4, 2014 11:20 EDT
Charge Pomeranchuk orders. Skyrmion lattices. Magnetic monopoles in spin ice materials.
That may sound like a sci-fi shopping list, but according to Malte Grosche, head of the Quantum Matter Group at the New Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, U.K., these are developments in quantum physics that could lead to game-changing technologies ranging from electric airliners to artificial intelligence.
History has marked key technology breakthroughs, from the Stone Age to the steam age, and since the 1960s we have arguably been living in the quantum age.
In the early years of the 20th century, scientists discovered that the world of the very small—atoms, electrons, photons—behaves differently than the everyday objects composed of these quantum particles. When we throw a tennis ball, with a little help from Newton, we can work out where the ball will end up. But send a quantum particle on its way, and, after time, all that exists is a set of probabilities showing where the particle might be. It’s not just a lack of information. Strangely enough, until we actually make a measurement, the particle doesn’t have a location. This allows quantum particles to behave as if they are in more than one place at a time, or pass through apparently impenetrable barriers, a process known as “quantum tunneling.”
All that underscores the fact that quantum physics is often counterintuitive. The great American physicist Richard Feynman said that quantum theory “describes nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense.”
But on the other hand, quantum physics works. And we know that because it’s the basis of so much of today’s technology.
At the most basic, almost everything we do is grounded in quantum physics—matter (all of it) is a collection of quantum particles, while light, electricity and magnetism are all quantum phenomena. At the next level are the quantum technologies we humans built without being aware of the physics that made them possible. When Swan and Edison produced electric lightbulbs, they didn’t know that light generated from a heated filament is a quantum process—they ended up implicitly drawing on quantum physics without even knowing it.
Then there’s a third level: Everything changed with the invention of the transistor, the electronic switch and amplifier that appear in billions of modern electronic devices. Invented by a Nobel Prize–winning team at Bell Labs, transistors incorporate materials that are specially developed to modify behavior at the quantum level. From then on, an explicit knowledge of quantum physics has driven countless practical developments.
It only takes a few minutes analyzing a smartphone to realize the pervasiveness of quantum technology. To start, quantum physics is required to construct any solid-state electronics—every chip inside your iPhone is packed full of quantum devices like transistors and has to be designed to encompass the peculiar quantum behavior of electrons. On top of that, your phone has a computer, display, touch interface, digital camera, light-emitting diode and global positioning system receiver—each developed as a result of our understanding of the field.
Take, for instance, the phone’s memory. Computer memory is an array of tiny electrical charges, representing the ones and zeroes that make up the device’s digital information. In a conventional computer these disappear when the machine is switched off, but the mobile phone’s memory retains information even when the battery is dead. This “flash memory,” also found in everything from digital cameras to memory sticks, would not be possible without the weirdness of quantum particles.
Flash memory is based on a special switch known as a floating gate transistor. The floating gate is a segment in which an electrical charge can be held totally isolated from the system. This charge represents the “zero” or “one” stored in memory. The charge held stays the same whether or not the transistor is connected to the power. If we think of the electrical charge as a little bucket of water, it is completely sealed in so the contents can’t escape. But this also means that it should be impossible to discover what charge the memory holds, or to change it. In the bucket analogy, we can’t see how much water the bucket has in it, nor can we add or take away water. It is only because electrons are quantum particles with diffuse locations—enabling them to tunnel through the insulator and respond to or change that stored charge—that flash memory can work.
Then there are lasers. Movie audiences first came across the (fake) deadly beam in the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, released just four years after American physicist Theodore Maiman produced the first working laser model. But in the real world, there are now lots of practical—and peaceful—laser applications. The laser and its familiar cousin the LED both produce light by using special quantum behavior, influencing the way electrons change levels in atoms to generate photons of light. To achieve its intense, monochrome output, a laser stimulates a collection of atoms into an energized state, and then triggers the release of this energy in a chain reaction that results in “coherent” light with each photon in step. This produces a precision beam, ideal for reading the tiny markings on CDs and DVDs, scanning bar codes at supermarket checkouts and making the minuscule cuts necessary in eye surgery.
More applications are on the horizon. CSR (which formerly stood for Cambridge Silicon Radio) is a British company specializing in innovative electronics, and it is working on quantum-based longer-lasting energy sources. “We are currently actively involved in designing Bluetooth Smart products for the ‘Internet of Things,’” says David Vigar, the company’s director. “These products need to run for their entire lifetime on single batteries. We use quantum physics to understand where leakage currents come from [to] reduce losses.”
Another U.K. company, Eight19, has developed innovative solar cells on a flexible film using organic semiconductors, a development requiring in-depth knowledge of quantum effects. Semiconductors are the essential building blocks of electronic components like transistors, and a solar cell makes use of semiconductors that react to light in a quantum process that produces a flow of electrons—an electrical current. Usually semiconductors are made from rigid materials like silicon, but organic semiconductors are much more flexible, plastic-like materials.
“The fundamentals of [our cells’] behavior at a quantum level is different from traditional solar cells. An Eight19 solar cell has an active stack less than a micron thick—a human hair is 70 microns across. Traditional silicon solar cells have very much higher thickness and are very energy-intensive in their manufacture,” says Eight19’s Jurjen Winkel.
Meanwhile, at Cambridge University, the Quantum Matter Group works at the quantum level to change the mix of materials available to manufacturers that could be used for anything from electronics to optics. As the group’s Malte Grosche points out, the 100 or so known chemical elements can be combined to make a whole host of compounds. “Pick four elements from the periodic table, and you can make about 100 million materials. As there is a near-infinite variety of ways elements can combine, there appears to be also a very wide variety of ways the electrons can organize themselves in response to the underlying principles of quantum mechanics.”
In familiar materials this electron organization produces effects like magnetism and superconductivity—but there are new states—with exotic names like charge Pomeranchuk orders, skyrmion lattices and magnetic monopoles in spin ice materials—to be investigated that could inspire new electronic devices.
The key to future innovation, many believe, will be lower temperatures.
Quantum effects become far more apparent at extremely low temperatures. When an electricity conductor is brought near to absolute zero, –459.67 degrees Fahrenheit, it is as if the electrons carrying the electrical current no longer meet any resistance. Traditional electrical theory goes out the window. Such “superconductors” make it possible to generate otherwise impossibly powerful magnets and tiny Squids (Superconducting Quantum Interference Devices), which act as incredibly sensitive magnetic detectors.
In specialized areas, superconductors are already widely used. There are superconducting magnets in the Large Hadron Collider and in the medical world’s best imaging device, the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. This is a doubly quantum device that uses superconducting magnets to flip the spin of atoms inside the body, and then monitors the quantum effects of this flip to generate the image. Superconducting magnets have also been used in levitating trains, which float just above the track and can reach speeds of more than 360 miles per hour.
But you aren’t going to find any superconductors in your home—yet. Keeping anything a few degrees above absolute zero is hard work, requiring specialist equipment and expensive liquid helium. But the dream is to make superconductivity possible at room temperature. To this point, the best scientists can do is –238 degrees Fahrenheit. But they are getting closer and closer.
“I am convinced there must be room temperature superconductors out there; maybe they are already in some chemist’s sample cupboard,” says Grosche. Once researchers harness the power of those superconductors, everything could change.
New quantum materials could transform battery technology, making electric cars the norm and giving the hundredfold increase in capacity needed to make electric airliners feasible. They could provide the mechanism to beam solar power from space-based stations down to Earth (solving our reliance on fossil fuels) or to transform the speed with which we can manipulate vast quantities of information, enabling computers to rival the human brain. The quantum revolution could create anything from invisibility cloaks to Star Trek–style medical sensors—or even more fantastic advances.
“The next big thing is unlikely to be anything we can imagine now,” says Grosche. “When scientists first investigated the electron, only the most enthusiastic would have thought of practical applications. Just a few decades later, there was already an industry built on vacuum tubes.”
Penn State researchers poke holes in theory about two Earth-like ‘Goldilocks’ planets
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, July 3, 2014 17:41 EDT
Washington (AFP) – US scientists said Thursday two distant Earth-like planets, which some believed might be able to harbor life, do not actually exist and that astronomers were confused by a star’s sunspots.
The controversial pair of planets, Gliese d and g, some 22 light years away, were once believed to be in the Goldilocks zone — not too close and not too far from the star, where the potential exists for water and perhaps life.
They are part of a larger trove of potentially Earth-like planets that have been identified by astronomers so far, and NASA has said billions may be out there.
Too far to be seen with the naked eye or a telescope, they were spotted with a technique called Doppler radial velocity, orbiting a cool, red star called Gliese 581.
The method takes starlight from telescope and analyzes its wavelengths. By detecting signs of a wobble from the gravitational tug of an orbiting planet, it can reveal the mass of a planet.
But astronomers at Pennsylvania State University now say Gliese 581 g and d were not planets at all, but a jumbled signal from the star itself.
“These two Goldilocks planets that people have been talking about, unfortunately, based on our research are not real,” said co-author Suvrath Mahadevan, assistant professor in the department of astronomy and astrophysics.
What was previously thought to be a planetary signal was actually caused by stellar activity,” he told AFP.
In other words, magnetic fields or sunspots could have interfered with the signal that astronomers were reading.
The study in the journal Science said that “intense stellar magnetic activity, like sunspots on our own star… created false planet signals for d and g.”
Scientists have already ruled out the existence of a third planet, Gliese f. That leaves three planets known to be orbiting this particular star, none of which are in the habitable zone.
- ‘Pushing limits’ -
Astronomers have two ways of detecting faraway planets.
The NASA Kepler mission observes the dimming light of a star as a planet passes in front of it, known as a transit. This technique can tell astronomers about the approximate size of a planet, but not the mass.
The other approach, the one used in the study in Science, is known as Doppler radial velocity (RV). It is more sensitive to stellar activities and can reveal the mass of a planet.
“Astronomers have made great progress being able to detect planets increasingly similar to the Earth — smaller in size, lower in mass, at similar distances from their stars — and we keep pushing that boundary,” said Eric Ford, an astronomy professor at Penn State who was not involved in the study.
“It is a lesson that, as you push the limits of what a technology can do, things that used to not really matter and things that you could neglect, begin to matter.”
Mahadevan said more study is needed to determine how many of the Earth-like planets discovered so far could be just a mixed signal.
“Most of the more massive exoplanets are not going to be affected by this. The issue is with the subtler signal,” he said.
“A lot of the systems that we are seeing are probably real.”
‘Citizen scientists’ take control of satellite abandoned by NASA in 1997
By Tom Boggioni
Friday, July 4, 2014 15:59 EDT
Having received the blessing of NASA, — and following a successful crowd-funding campaign — a group of ‘citizen scientists’ have taken control of an abandoned NASA satellite with plans to put it back to work again.
In May the National Aeronautics and Space Administration gave permission to the group to attempt to put the 36-year-old decommissioned International Sun/Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft back into service for their own research purposes.
According to The Economist, the satellite team – which included the original mission’s flight dynamicist - successfully fired the craft’s propulsion system this week for the first time since 1987, pulling it out of a graveyard orbit around Earth and setting it on a usable course.
Provided with technical data from NASA, and working at the Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico, the team of scientists, who go by the name of the ISEE-3 Reboot Project, have been able to communicate with the satellite but have been hindered in their work since it does not possess the memory storage capabilities developed since 1978 .
According to the scientists and engineers, all commands must be sent one message at a time and then they must wait for an acknowledgement before proceeding to the next step.
Launched in 1978, the International Sun/Earth Explorer-3 (ISEE-3) spacecraft studied how the stream of charged particles flowing from the sun, the so-called solar wind, interacts with Earth’s magnetic field.
The group hopes their efforts will ignite interest in space exploration and research at an time when funding is drying up, as well as possibly having the satellite resume its original task of watching the sun.
The enthusiasts now plan to consult with NASA for its “authorization to proceed” for its next thruster firings.