Archive for August 2009
Straight from Fox News: “Pakistani soldiers killed at least 30 Taliban militants in overnight gunbattles across the northwestern Swat Valley after a homicide bombing on a police station killed 17 cadets, the military said Monday.
Hundreds of miles away, a southwestern border crossing with Afghanistan reopened after an administrative dispute culminated in an attack on a line of waiting NATO fuel tankers. One driver was killed and 16 trucks destroyed when the fuel caught fire.
Taliban militants were suspected in both blasts, which came hours apart.
The Al Qaeda-linked insurgents have vowed to avenge the army’s recent offensive to retake the Swat Valley and the death of their top leader in a U.S. missile strike near the Afghan border.
Sunday’s suicide attack in Swat was the deadliest attack since the military regained control of the northwestern region in July.
Soldiers looking for militants after the attack encountered resistance in several areas, and battles raged overnight into early Monday, army spokesman Col. Akhtar Abbas said.
A separate army statement said one soldier was killed in the fighting in three separate areas of the valley.
The military has said it is restoring security in Swat after its three-month offensive ended the Taliban’s rule over many areas there. But suicide attacks and skirmishes continue.
The death toll in Sunday’s suicide attack rose to 17 on Monday as one of the wounded died, local hospital official Ikram Khan said. The bomber sneaked into a police courtyard in the valley’s main town of Mingora and detonated his explosives next to a group of volunteers training for a community policing force.
The other bomb, near the border crossing, ripped through a line of NATO fuel trucks backed up by a two-day closure resulting from a dispute over fruit inspections. At least one driver was killed and 16 trucks destroyed on the Pakistani side of the Chaman crossing, police official Gul Mohammad said.
The border crossing reopened Monday, he said.
Chaman is one of two main crossing points for supplies for American and NATO troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. The foreign troops get about 75 percent of their supplies through Pakistan.
Pakistani customs officials said their increased and lengthy inspections of Afghan trucks carrying pomegranates and grapes prompted Afghan officials to close the border.
Officials had warned that the closure was a security risk because it left nearly 1,000 trucks, many of them carrying supplies to international troops, exposed. The Taliban’s Afghan heartland of Kandahar is just across the border.
Customs and security officials from both sides agreed to end their dispute Monday, Mohammad said.”
Straight from the Times of London: “Gordon Brown was dragged into the centre of the row over the early release of the Lockerbie bomber last night after it emerged that a key decision that could have paved the way for the terrorist to serve his sentence in Libya was approved by Downing Street.
A source close to Jack Straw told The Times that the move to include Abdul Baset Ali al-Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement in 2007 was a government decision and was not made at the sole discretion of the Justice Secretary. “It wasn’t just Jack who decided this. It was a Government decision. Jack did not act unilaterally.”
The row over the early release of the Lockerbie bomber ten days ago shows no sign of abating after the Ministry of Justice indicated yesterday that the decision to include al-Megrahi in a prisoner transfer agreement had been made with the possibility of trade deals with Libya in mind.
“The negotiations over a prisoner transfer agreement were part of a wider agreement for the normalisation of relations with Libya as part of bringing them into the international community,” he said.
It is understood that the “wider agreement” included assurances on trade and other issues such as nuclear non-proliferation.
Government insiders insisted that the terms of the agreement did not relate to a specific £15 billion oil and gas exploration deal in Libya for BP, the British oil group, secured that year.</p>
Mr Straw said that it had always been made clear during negotiations with Libya that Scotland would have the right to veto any application under a prisoner transfer agreement, including that of al-Megrahi.
Mr Straw added: “Was there a deal? A covert, secret deal ever struck with the Libyans to release Megrahi in return for oil? No, there was not and there is no evidence whatsoever because it is untrue.”
The row was triggered on August 20 when Kenny MacAskill, the Scottish Justice Secretary, released the convicted bomber after he had served less than eight years of a 27-year sentence. Mr MacAskill made the decision on compassionate grounds after it emerged that al-Megrahi was suffering from terminal prostate cancer. To the dismay of the British Government, al-Megrahi was greeted in Tripoli with a hero’s welcome, despite a plea from Gordon Brown that his return be a subdued affair.
Al-Megrahi is the only person to have been convicted over the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103.”
Straight from Live Science: “Heat waves out West are getting worse as the climate changes, a new study finds.
One example: From mid July to early August 2006, a heat wave swept through the southwestern United States. Temperature records were broken at many locations and unusually high humidity levels were recorded.
The event included extreme muggy heat that is part of a trend of increasing nighttime heat wave activity observed over the last six decades, the researchers said in a statement today. This trend has accelerated since the 1980s and has become especially prevalent in this decade, they conclude.
The results are not isolated, and they fit with predictions that a warmer world will produce greater extremes.
A study in 2007 found European heat waves are nearly twice as long as they were a century ago and the number of hot summer days there have tripled.
Why it matters: Other studies show heat waves are deadlier than hurricanes or tornadoes, and they have been so throughout modern history. Climate experts have warned that the sort of serious heat wave that is now possible given current climate conditions, but which has not struck yet, could kill thousands of U.S. residents.
And there’s some irony in the problem:
As heat waves worsen, more energy is used to run air conditioners. If the electricity is generated using fossil fuels, this could also mean even more emissions of heat-trapping gases that cause climate change, scientists wrote in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology last year.
“Electricity demand for industrial and home cooling increases near linearly with temperature,” said the leader of that study, Norman Miller, an earth scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and geography professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
“In the future, widespread climate warming across the western U.S. could further strain the electricity grid, making brownouts or even rolling blackouts more frequent,” Miller said.
The nighttime heat waves of 2001, 2003 and 2006 were each unprecedented on record when they occurred. The source of the moisture that propelled the heat waves was an area of the eastern Pacific Ocean where a strong increase in sea surface temperatures has been observed and linked to global-scale trends of human-induced warming of the upper oceans, the new study found.
“Water vapor is the main greenhouse gas. During the night in humid environments, air doesn’t cool nearly as much as it does in dry conditions,” said study leader Alexander Gershunov of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.
“Elevated humidity also causes heat waves to last longer,” Gershunov explained. “Hotter nights pre-condition hotter days and the cycle feeds on itself until the winds change. The weather pattern that traditionally causes heat waves in California is tending to bring with it more humidity, changing the character of heat waves from the dry daytime heat and cool nights typical for this region, to the muggy heat around the clock that locals are simply not accustomed to.”
The 2006 event in particular stressed the state’s emergency services programs and killed so many dairy cows that milk production fell 10 percent.
A preliminary version of the study was published July 27 in the online edition of the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate.
Miller’s team, in last year’s study, also looked at the increase in heat-wave severity.
In 2008, California experienced an unusually early heat wave in May, they noted: Some 119 new daily high temperature records were set during the May heat wave, including the earliest day in the year in which Death Valley temperatures reached 120 degrees Fahrenheit (on May 19, beating the old record of May 25 set in 1913).
There’s been no letup in the Southwest this year. In Phoenix, this July was the hottest on record, with the average of all highs and lows for the month being 98.3 degrees. One reason, meteorologists said: Overnight lows were much warmer than normal.”
Straight from the Daily Galaxy: “Saturn’s orange moon Titan has hundreds of times more liquid hydrocarbons than all the known oil and natural gas reserves on Earth, according to new data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The hydrocarbons rain from the sky, collecting in vast deposits that form lakes and dunes. Titan is a big laboratory where several of the world’s leading space scientists get to play with atmospheres on a planetary scale.
At an eye popping minus 179 degrees Celsius (minus 290 degrees Fahrenheit), Titan has a surface of liquid hydrocarbons in the form of methane and ethane with tholins believed to make up its dunes. The term “tholins,” coined by Carl Sagan in 1979, describe the complex organic molecules at the heart of prebiotic chemistry.
Before the first Cassini Mission flyby’s Robert Brown who led Cassini’s visual and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIMS) team, said: “We know VIMS will see through the haze to Titan’s surface. At closest approach – 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) – we’ll have 600-meter-pixel resolution. We’ll be able to see very small geologic features. We’ll get very high resolution looks at atmospheric phenomena, too. But from my perspective, the really important thing about this encounter is really digging down below the atmosphere and getting our first real glimpse of Titan geology.
“We don’t know what we’re going to encounter there. I suppose you can assume we’ll see common geologic forms like mountains and craters and tectonic faults, maybe even volcanism.” Brown was spot on with his predictions.
VIMS will see Titan’s hydrocarbon pools, if they exist and aren’t hidden by some low-lying fog or other strange phenomenon, Brown said
Cassini’s Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer (INMS) took a taste mysterious, subtle flavors in Titan’s atmosphere, team member and UA planetary sciences Professor Roger Yelle said, scooping up a breath of Titan’s puffy atmosphere during the flyby, The experiment measured how many molecules of different masses it got in the gulp of Titan’s mostly nitrogen, methane-laced atmosphere. Yelle and other Cassini scientists want to identify the big, complicated hydrogen-and-carbon-containing molecules because they are part of a planetary system that possibly rains methane and produces ethane ponds.
Learning more about how carbon-containing, or “organic,” molecules form doesn’t explain how DNA came to be, Yelle said. “A single strand of DNA contains about 3 billion nucleotides that if stretched out, would be something like 1.7 meters long. We’re trying to understand molecules with just 10 or 12 atoms.”
But Titan’s hydrocarbon chemistry holds clues that explain the very first steps of how nature assembled organic molecules, which are the precursors to amino acids, the building blocks of life, he said.
Cassini to date has mapped about 20 percent of Titan’s surface with radar. Several hundred lakes and seas have been observed, with each of several dozen estimated to contain more hydrocarbon liquid than Earth’s oil and gas reserves. Dark dunes that run along the equator contain a volume of organics several hundred times larger than Earth’s coal reserves.
Proven reserves of natural gas on Earth total 130 billion tons, enough to provide 300 times the amount of energy the entire United States uses annually for residential heating, cooling and lighting. Dozens of Titan’s lakes individually have the equivalent of at least this much energy in the form of methane and ethane.
“This global estimate is based mostly on views of the lakes in the northern polar regions. We have assumed the south might be similar, but we really don’t yet know how much liquid is there,” said Lorenz. Cassini’s radar has observed the south polar region only once, and only two small lakes were visible. Future observations of that area are planned during Cassini’s proposed extended mission.
“We also know that some lakes are more than 10 meters or so deep because they appear literally pitch-black to the radar. If they were shallow we’d see the bottom, and we don’t,” said Lorenz.
The question of how much liquid is on the surface is an important one because methane is a strong greenhouse gas on Titan as well as on Earth, but there is much more of it on Titan. If all the observed liquid on Titan is methane, it would only last a few million years, because as methane escapes into Titan’s atmosphere, it breaks down and escapes into space. If the methane were to run out, Titan could become much colder. Scientists believe that methane might be supplied to the atmosphere by venting from the interior in cryovolcanic eruptions. If so, the amount of methane, and the temperature on Titan, may have fluctuated dramatically in Titan’s past.
A giant, glassy lake larger than Earth’s Lake Ontario occupies Titan’s south pole according to research from the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. The lake which covers 20,000 square kilometers is filled mostly with methane and ethane, hydrocarbons that are gases on Earth but liquid on the bone-freezing surface of Titan -the only solar system moon known to support a planet-like atmosphere.
“We know the lake is liquid because it reflects essentially no light at 5-micron wavelengths,” Brown said. “It was hard for us to accept the fact that the feature was so black when we first saw it. More than 99.9 percent of the light that reaches the lake never gets out again. For it to be that dark, the surface has to be extremely quiescent, mirror smooth. No naturally produced solid could be that smooth.”
Before the Cassini mission, several scientists thought that Titan would be awash in global oceans of ethane and other light hydrocarbons, the byproducts of photolysis, or the action of ultraviolet light on methane over 4.5 billion years of solar system history. But 40 close flybys of Titan by the Cassini spacecraft show no such oceans exist.
Titan is also more squashed in its overall shape—like a rubber ball pressed down by a foot—than researchers had expected, said Howard Zebker, a Stanford geophysicist and electrical engineer involved in the work. The findings may help explain the presence of the large lakes of hydrocarbons at both of Titan’s poles, which have been puzzling researchers since being discovered in 2007.
“Since the poles are squished in with respect to the equator, if there is a hydrocarbon ‘water table’ that is more or less spherical in shape, then the poles would be closer down to that water table and depressions at the poles would fill up with liquid,” Zebker said. The shape of the water table would be controlled by the gravitational field of Titan, which is still not fully understood.
The next Cassini fly on August 25, 2009 in the spacecraft’s first close flyby of a moon since Saturn’s August 11 equinox. Highlights this time include a RADAR ‘scrub’ to get more detailed views of the Shangri-La dunes, unique southern equatorial magnetosphere measurements, and an opportunity for high-resolution Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS) observations of the southern hemisphere.”
Straight from the New York Times: “Flying home to New Jersey from Chicago after the first two days at his new job, Sergey Aleynikov was prepared for the usual inconveniences: a bumpy ride, a late arrival.
He was not expecting Special Agent Michael G. McSwain of the F.B.I.
At 9:20 p.m. on July 3, Mr. McSwain arrested Mr. Aleynikov, 39, at Newark Liberty Airport, accusing him of stealing software code from Goldman Sachs, his old employer. At a bail hearing three days later, a federal prosecutor asked that Mr. Aleynikov be held without bond because the code could be used to “unfairly manipulate” stock prices.
This case is still in its earliest stages, and some lawyers question whether Mr. Aleynikov should be prosecuted criminally, or whether a civil suit may be more appropriate. But the charges, along with civil cases in Chicago and New York involving other Wall Street firms, offer a glimpse into the turbulent world of ultrafast computerized stock trading.
Little understood outside the securities industry, the business has suddenly become one of the most competitive and controversial on Wall Street. At its heart are computer programs that take years to develop and are treated as closely guarded secrets.
Mr. Aleynikov, who is free on $750,000 bond, is suspected of having taken pieces of Goldman software that enables the buying and selling of shares in milliseconds. Banks and hedge funds use such programs to profit from tiny price discrepancies among markets and in some instances leap in front of bigger orders.
Defenders of the programs say they make trading more efficient. Critics say they are little more than a tax on long-term investors and can even worsen market swings.
But no one disputes that high-frequency trading is highly profitable. The Tabb Group, a financial markets research firm, estimates that the programs will make $8 billion this year for Wall Street firms. Bernard S. Donefer, a distinguished lecturer at Baruch College and the former head of markets systems at Fidelity Investments, says profits are even higher.
“It is certainly growing,” said Larry Tabb, founder of the Tabb Group. “There’s more talent around, and the technology is getting cheaper.”
The profits have led to a gold rush, with hedge funds and investment banks dangling million-dollar salaries at software engineers. In one lawsuit, the Citadel Investment Group, a $12 billion hedge fund, revealed that it had paid tens of millions to two top programmers in the last seven years.
“A geek who writes code — those guys are now the valuable guys,” Mr. Donefer said.
The spate of lawsuits reflects the highly competitive nature of ultrafast trading, which is evolving quickly, largely because of broader changes in stock trading, securities industry experts say.
Until the late 1990s, big investors bought and sold large blocks of shares through securities firms like Morgan Stanley. But in the last decade, the profits from making big trades have vanished, so investment banks have become reluctant to take such risks.
Today, big investors divide large orders into smaller trades and parcel them to many exchanges, where traders compete to make a penny or two a share on each order. Ultrafast trading is an outgrowth of that strategy.
As Mr. Aleynikov and other programmers have discovered, investment banks do not take kindly to their leaving, especially if the banks believe that the programmers are taking code — the engine that drives trading — on their way out.
Mr. Aleynikov immigrated to the United States from Russia in 1991. In 1998, he joined IDT, a telecommunications company, where he wrote software to route calls and data more efficiently. In 2007, Goldman hired him as a vice president, paying him $400,000 a year, according to the federal complaint against him.
He lived in the central New Jersey suburbs with his wife and three young daughters. This year, the family moved to a $1.14 million mansion in North Caldwell, best known as Tony Soprano’s hometown.
A video on YouTube portrays Mr. Aleynikov as a disheveled workaholic who suffers through romantic misadventures before finding love when he rubs a lamp and a genie fulfills his wish by granting him a wife. A friend, Vladimir Itkin, says the Aleynikovs are devoted to their children and seem very close.
This spring, Mr. Aleynikov quit Goldman to join Teza Technologies, a new trading firm, tripling his salary to about $1.2 million, according to the complaint. He left Goldman on June 5. In the days before he left, he transferred code to a server in Germany that offers free data hosting.
At Mr. Aleynikov’s bail hearing, Joseph Facciponti, the assistant United States attorney prosecuting the case, said that Goldman discovered the transfer in late June. On July 1, the company told the government about the suspected theft. Two days later, agents arrested Mr. Aleynikov at Newark.
After his arrest, Mr. Aleynikov was taken for interrogation to F.B.I. offices in Manhattan. Mr. Aleynikov waived his rights against self-incrimination, and agreed to allow agents to search his house.
He said that he had inadvertently downloaded a portion of Goldman’s proprietary code while trying to take files of open source software — programs that are not proprietary and can be used freely by anyone. He said he had not used the Goldman code at his new job or distributed it to anyone else, and the criminal complaint offers no evidence that he has.
Why he downloaded the open source software from Goldman, rather than getting it elsewhere, and how he could at the same time have inadvertently downloaded some of the firm’s most confidential software, is not yet clear.
At Mr. Aleynikov’s bail hearing, Mr. Facciponti said that simply by sending the code to the German server, he had badly damaged Goldman.
“The bank itself stands to lose its entire investment in creating this software to begin with, which is millions upon millions of dollars,” Mr. Facciponti said.
Sabrina Shroff, a public defender who represents Mr. Aleynikov, responded that he had transferred less than 32 megabytes of Goldman proprietary code, a small fraction of the overall program, which is at least 1,224 megabytes. Kevin N. Fox, the magistrate judge, ordered Mr. Aleynikov released on bond.
The United States attorney’s office declined to comment and the F.B.I. did not return calls for comment.
Harvey A. Silverglate, a criminal defense lawyer in Boston not involved in the case, said he was troubled that the F.B.I. had arrested Mr. Aleynikov so quickly, without evidence that he had made any effort to use or sell the code. Such disputes are generally resolved civilly rather than criminally, Mr. Silverglate said.
“It is astonishing that the F.B.I. arrested this defendant at all,” he said. Other firms have also sued former employees recently over concern about high-frequency trading software, though two similar cases are the subject of civil suits rather than criminal prosecution.
Six days after Mr. Aleynikov’s arrest, Citadel, the hedge fund, sued Mr. Aleynikov’s new employer, Teza Technologies, which was founded in March by three former Citadel employees. While Teza is not yet conducting any trading, Citadel claimed the former employees had violated a noncompete agreement with Citadel and might even be trying to steal Citadel’s code, causing “irreparable harm.”
As part of the suit, Citadel detailed the extraordinary steps it takes to protect its software. Besides encrypting its programs, the firm discourages employees from writing down details about them. Its offices have cameras and guards, and there are secure rooms that require special codes to enter. The precautions are necessary because Citadel has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing its software, the firm said.
In its response, Teza said that it had never stolen or tried to steal Citadel’s software, did not ask Mr. Aleynikov to take code from Goldman, and had never seen the code he took. A lawyer for Teza did not return calls for comment.
Meanwhile, in March, the giant Swiss bank UBS sued three former members of its high-speed trading group in New York state court. UBS contended that the defendants had lied to the bank about their plans to work for Jefferies, another firm. Also, one defendant sent some UBS code to a personal e-mail account.
Lance Gotko, a lawyer for the men, said that they had not used the code they took and that it might not be valuable to Jefferies in any case. A lawyer for UBS referred calls to a bank spokeswoman, who declined to comment. A spokesman for Jefferies declined to comment.
Straight from Yahoo News: “President Barack Obama’s push for a national health care overhaul is providing a financial windfall in the election offseason to Democratic consulting firms that are closely connected to the president and two top advisers.
Coalitions of interest groups running at least $24 million in pro-overhaul ads hired GMMB, which worked for Obama’s 2008 campaign and whose partners include a top Obama campaign strategist. They also hired AKPD Message and Media, which was founded by David Axelrod, a top adviser to Obama’s campaign and now to the White House. AKPD did work for Obama’s campaign, and Axelrod’s son Michael and Obama’s campaign manager David Plouffe work there.
The firms were hired by Americans for Stable Quality Care and its predecessor, Healthy Economy Now. Each was formed by a coalition of interests with big stakes in health care policy, including the drug maker lobby PhRMA, the American Medical Association, the Service Employees International Union and Families USA, which calls itself “The Voice for Health Care Consumers.”
Their ads press for changes in health care policy. Healthy Economy Now made one of the same arguments that Obama does: that health care costs are delaying the country’s economic recovery and that changes are needed if the economy is to rebound.
There is no evidence that Axelrod directly profited from the group’s ads. Axelrod took steps to separate himself from AKPD when he joined Obama’s White House. AKPD owes him $2 million from his stock sale and will make preset payments over four years, starting with $350,000 on Dec. 31, according to Axelrod’s personal financial disclosure report.
A larger issue is a network of relationships and overlapping interests that resembles some seen in past administrations and could prove a problem as Obama tries to win the public over on health care and fulfill his promise to change the way Washington works, said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a government watchdog group.
“Even if these are obvious bedfellows and kind of standard PR maneuvers, it still stands to undercut Obama’s credibility,” Krumholz said. “The potential takeaway from the public is ‘friends in cahoots to engineer a grass roots result.’”
White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said that Axelrod has had no communications with Healthy Economy Now or with Americans for Stable Quality Care, and his payments aren’t affected by the ad contracts. Axelrod’s son, a salaried AKPD employee, doesn’t work with either coalition “or stand to benefit from that work,” LaBolt said.
“David Axelrod has fully complied with the toughest-ever ethics rules for administration officials, including divesting from AKPD before the administration began,” LaBolt said.
Ken Johnson, a PhRMA senior vice president, said GMMB and AKPD were the only two firms working on the $24 million in ads. He declined to reveal how much each was paid beyond saying that each received a small percentage of the total. The coalition’s campaign team decided to hire the two firms, he said.
“In a perfect world, it’s a distraction we don’t need right now, but these are very gifted consultants who have done very good work,” Johnson said. “And it’s also important to remember that at the end of the day, the coalition partners determine the message.”
Healthy Economy Now spokesman Jeremy Van Ess said the two firms were hired because “they are the best at what they do. Period.” The coalition didn’t seek approval or direction on any of its activities from the White House, said Van Ess, a partner in a consulting firm that has worked on Democratic Senate election activities and a former speechwriter for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
AKPD and GMMB both proudly proclaim their connections to Obama on their Web sites.
AKPD has a full page on Axelrod that includes pictures of Obama. In one photo, Obama hugs Plouffe on election night.
“We are deeply honored to have been part of Barack Obama’s historic campaign to change America and the world,” GMMB says on its Web site. GMMB’s partners include Jim Margolis, a senior strategist for Obama’s presidential campaign.
Both GMMB and AKPD also have worked for Democrats this year. The Democratic National Committee paid AKPD at least $106,000 for polling, media production, communication consulting and travel costs from February through April. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee paid GMMB roughly $75,000 from February through June for ads. And GMMB took in at least $9,000 this year from Senate leader Reid’s political action committee for communications consulting.”
Straight from the Scotsman: “Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill was last night under pressure to reveal more details of the medical evidence that led to the release of the Lockerbie bomber, after it emerged that only one doctor was willing to say Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi had less than three months to live.
Labour and Conservative politicians have demanded the Scottish Government publish details of the doctor’s expertise and qualifications, amid suggestions he or she may not have been a prostate cancer expert.
The parties have also raised questions over whether the doctor was employed by the Libyan government or Megrahi’s legal team, which could have influenced the judgment.
The evidence provided by the doctor is crucial as compassionate release under Scots law requires that a prisoner has less than three months to live.
Doubts about Megrahi’s life expectancy have already been raised by American relatives of the 270 victims of the bomb that blew up Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie on 21 December, 1988. But last night the Scottish Government said it would not publish details of the individual who gave the crucial advice.
Mr MacAskill has said he based his decision to release Megrahi on the opinions of a range of experts.
But this is contradicted by a decisive report sent to Mr MacAskill on 10 August.
While it noted that four prostate cancer specialists – two oncologists and two urologists – were consulted, the summary said: “Whether or not prognosis is more or less than three months, no specialist would be willing to say.”
The report suggests that only one doctor was willing to support the claim that Megrahi had just weeks to live.
The medical report stated that the “less than three months to live” prognosis was: “In the opinion of Megrahi’s (the name or title of the individual was then blanked out] … who has dealt with him prior to, during and following the diagnosis.”
There was also a suggestion that Megrahi might not be as ill as had been claimed. The report said: “Clinicians who have assessed Mr Megrahi have commented on his relative lack of symptoms when considering the severity and stage of underlying disease.”
And suggestions that the doctor who gave the prognosis may have been employed by the Libyan government emerged in the report’s notes. It said that a professor from Libya had been involved in Megrahi’s care and the medical officer who wrote the report had been “working with clinicians from Libya over the past ten months”.
The report also said Megrahi met the conditions for early release, but fell short of making a specific recommendation.
Opposition parties claimed this left important question marks over the quality of the medical advice. They now want clarification on the doctor’s expertise and qualifications, and whether he or she was employed by the NHS, the Libyans or Megrahi’s legal team.
Last night a spokesman for the Conservatives said that the Scottish Government must now identify the doctor.
He said: “This is no ordinary case of patient confidentiality. This is the background to a very important decision so the normal rules do not apply here.
“At the very least, we must know the qualifications of this doctor, whose opinion was clearly crucial, the only one to say that Megrahi had a life expectancy of less than three months.
“It appears from the report that he was not a specialist. We also need to know if he works for the NHS or was employed by the Libyans or Megrahi.”
The calls for details of the doctor’s employers, experience and qualifications have been echoed by Labour health spokesman Dr Richard Simpson, who is a former associate member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons and its Prostate Cancer Working Group.
In parliament on Monday, Dr Simpson said that his reading of the notes suggested Megrahi may have eight months left, not the three months or less on which Mr MacAskill said he based his decision.
“I hope that with effective palliative care al-Megrahi will survive and have effective symptom control for a longer period than three months,” Dr Simpson said. “However, this does call into question the grounds for his release on compassionate grounds.
“It is clear to me from the medical reports and the opinion of the specialists that Megrahi could live for many more months. Kenny MacAskill released him apparently on the advice of just one doctor, whose status is not clear and who is not named.
“At the very least, before agreeing to release a prisoner convicted of such a serious crime on compassionate grounds, the minister should have sought a second opinion confirming the patient’s prognosis from a specialist in palliative care.”
But despite promises that Mr MacAskill will publish “all relevant documentation” once permission has been received from the parties involved, a source close to the justice secretary said this would not include information about the doctor – including his or her name and qualifications.
He also called Dr Simpson’s comments “tasteless”. He added: “I really don’t think we should be speculating on the day somebody is going to die.”
A Scottish Government justice spokeswoman again insisted Mr MacAskill had relied on a range of evidence rather than the opinion of one doctor.
“The medical advice before the justice secretary consisted of a report from the Scottish Prison Service director of health and care, who had access to all Mr al-Megrahi’s medical records.
“That report is clear. Taking all the medical advice into account, the director’s view is that ‘the clinical assessment is that a three-month prognosis is now a reasonable estimate for this patient’,” she said.
“It was on that clear medical advice and a recommendation from the governor and the parole board, that Mr al-Megrahi be released on compassionate grounds, that the justice secretary based his decision.”"
Straight from Cnet News: “Internet companies and civil liberties groups were alarmed this spring when a U.S. Senate bill proposed handing the White House the power to disconnect private-sector computers from the Internet.
They’re not much happier about a revised version that aides to Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, have spent months drafting behind closed doors. CNET News has obtained a copy of the 55-page draft of S.773 (excerpt), which still appears to permit the president to seize temporary control of private-sector networks during a so-called cybersecurity emergency.
The new version would allow the president to “declare a cybersecurity emergency” relating to “non-governmental” computer networks and do what’s necessary to respond to the threat. Other sections of the proposal include a federal certification program for “cybersecurity professionals,” and a requirement that certain computer systems and networks in the private sector be managed by people who have been awarded that license.
“I think the redraft, while improved, remains troubling due to its vagueness,” said Larry Clinton, president of the Internet Security Alliance, which counts representatives of Verizon, Verisign, Nortel, and Carnegie Mellon University on its board. “It is unclear what authority Sen. Rockefeller thinks is necessary over the private sector. Unless this is clarified, we cannot properly analyze, let alone support the bill.”
Representatives of other large Internet and telecommunications companies expressed concerns about the bill in a teleconference with Rockefeller’s aides this week, but were not immediately available for interviews on Thursday.
A spokesman for Rockefeller also declined to comment on the record Thursday, saying that many people were unavailable because of the summer recess. A Senate source familiar with the bill compared the president’s power to take control of portions of the Internet to what President Bush did when grounding all aircraft on Sept. 11, 2001. The source said that one primary concern was the electrical grid, and what would happen if it were attacked from a broadband connection.
When Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Commerce committee, and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) introduced the original bill in April, they claimed it was vital to protect national cybersecurity. “We must protect our critical infrastructure at all costs–from our water to our electricity, to banking, traffic lights and electronic health records,” Rockefeller said.
The Rockefeller proposal plays out against a broader concern in Washington, D.C., about the government’s role in cybersecurity. In May, President Obama acknowledged that the government is “not as prepared” as it should be to respond to disruptions and announced that a new cybersecurity coordinator position would be created inside the White House staff. Three months later, that post remains empty, one top cybersecurity aide has quit, and some wags have begun to wonder why a government that receives failing marks on cybersecurity should be trusted to instruct the private sector what to do.
Rockefeller’s revised legislation seeks to reshuffle the way the federal government addresses the topic. It requires a “cybersecurity workforce plan” from every federal agency, a “dashboard” pilot project, measurements of hiring effectiveness, and the implementation of a “comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy” in six months–even though its mandatory legal review will take a year to complete.
The privacy implications of sweeping changes implemented before the legal review is finished worry Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. “As soon as you’re saying that the federal government is going to be exercising this kind of power over private networks, it’s going to be a really big issue,” he says.
Probably the most controversial language begins in Section 201, which permits the president to “direct the national response to the cyber threat” if necessary for “the national defense and security.” The White House is supposed to engage in “periodic mapping” of private networks deemed to be critical, and those companies “shall share” requested information with the federal government. (“Cyber” is defined as anything having to do with the Internet, telecommunications, computers, or computer networks.)
“The language has changed but it doesn’t contain any real additional limits,” EFF’s Tien says. “It simply switches the more direct and obvious language they had originally to the more ambiguous (version)…The designation of what is a critical infrastructure system or network as far as I can tell has no specific process. There’s no provision for any administrative process or review. That’s where the problems seem to start. And then you have the amorphous powers that go along with it.”
Translation: If your company is deemed “critical,” a new set of regulations kick in involving who you can hire, what information you must disclose, and when the government would exercise control over your computers or network.
The Internet Security Alliance’s Clinton adds that his group is “supportive of increased federal involvement to enhance cyber security, but we believe that the wrong approach, as embodied in this bill as introduced, will be counterproductive both from an national economic and national secuity perspective.”
Update at 3:14 p.m. PDT: I just talked to Jena Longo, deputy communications director for the Senate Commerce committee, on the phone. She sent me e-mail with this statement:
The president of the United States has always had the constitutional authority, and duty, to protect the American people and direct the national response to any emergency that threatens the security and safety of the United States. The Rockefeller-Snowe Cybersecurity bill makes it clear that the president’s authority includes securing our national cyber infrastructure from attack. The section of the bill that addresses this issue, applies specifically to the national response to a severe attack or natural disaster. This particular legislative language is based on longstanding statutory authorities for wartime use of communications networks. To be very clear, the Rockefeller-Snowe bill will not empower a “government shutdown or takeover of the Internet” and any suggestion otherwise is misleading and false. The purpose of this language is to clarify how the president directs the public-private response to a crisis, secure our economy and safeguard our financial networks, protect the American people, their privacy and civil liberties, and coordinate the government’s response.
Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for an on-the-record answer to these four questions that I asked her colleague on Wednesday. I’ll let you know if and when I get a response.”
Straight from the Boston Herald: “One day after the Herald reported some surprised Bay State inmates – including murderers and rapists – were cashing in $250 stimulus checks, federal officials revealed the same behind-bars bonus was mailed to nearly 4,000 cons nationwide.
A federal watchdog is now probing how the cons were cut the checks. The same cash also may have been sent to fugitive felons, people kicked out of the country and even individuals now deceased.
It’s all part of the massive American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – and what is becoming an accounting nightmare for red-faced feds.
“President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill has done more to help convicted criminals than it has to actually boost our economy and create jobs,” said Republican National Committee spokeswoman Sara Sendek.
The Inspector General of Social Security is now tracing the checks that were mailed to 3,900 prisoners at a cost of nearly $1 million after yesterday’s report in the Herald.
Social Security Administration spokesman Stephen Richardson said yesterday none of the prisoner recipients receive monthly Social Security benefits, meaning they should not qualify for a stimulus check. Such benefits are generally cut off to the incarcerated.
The IG also is investigating whether any improper payments were made to dead beneficiaries, felons on the run from the law, individuals living overseas and recipients no longer legally authorized to live in the United States, said IG spokesman George Penn.
Among the 23 inmate recipients in Massachusetts mentioned in yesterday’s Herald are a prisoner convicted of first-degree murder, three prisoners jailed for second-degree murder and five convicted rapists, according to the state Department of Correction.
Richardson said five Bay State prisoners received the payments legitimately because they were legally on Social Security in a three-month period before they went to jail.
The remaining checks were sent to individuals who were not properly identified as prisoners in Social Security records or to people where inaccurate Social Security numbers have since been found.
Only five Massachusetts prisoners have enough cash left to pay the government back, the DOC said.
Nationally, about 2,200 inmates who were mailed checks are entitled to the payments because they were not in prison and lawfully collecting Social Security at some point between November 2008 and January, Richardson said.
The federal goverment is examining whether the payment was due to the remaining 1,700 inmates because they were not identified as prisoners in the Social Security system, Richardson said.
The U.S. Treasury Department began mailing the $250 checks to 54.4 million Social Security beneficiaries, veterans and federal railroad retirees in May as part of a $13 billion spending plan.”
Straight from the American Thinker: “The First Lady helped create a notorious program that dumped poor patients on community hospitals, yet the national media ignore the story. Imagine if her husband were a Republican.
The University of Chicago Medical Center has received a good deal of justly opprobrious press over its policy of “redirecting” low-income patients to community hospitals while reserving its own beds for well-heeled patients requiring highly profitable procedures. Substantial coverage was given to a recent indictment of the program by the American College of Emergency Physicians. ACEP’s president, Dr. Nick Jouriles, released a statement suggesting that the initiative comes “dangerously close to ‘patient dumping,’ a practice made illegal by the Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act, and reflected an effort to ‘cherry pick’ wealthy patients over poor.”
Oddly absent from most of the unflattering press coverage of UCMC’s patient-dumping scheme is any mention of the role our new First Lady played in devising the program. A laudable exception has been the Chicago Sun-Times, which reported last August that “Michelle Obama — currently on unpaid leave from her $317,000-a-year job as a vice president of the prestigious hospital — helped create the program.”
On the rare occasions when other “news” media have bothered to connect the Urban Health Initiative to its glamorous creator, they have attempted to whitewash this tawdry program. Typical of such disingenuous coverage was a story in the Washington Post, which described it as “an innovative program to steer the patients to existing neighborhood clinics.”
But no amount of journalistic lipstick can hide the reality that Mrs. Obama’s initiative is a patient-dumping scheme. Such “cherry-picking,” as Dr. Jouriles accurately describes it, was, at one time, fairly common. Prestigious institutions like the University of Chicago Medical Center routinely “dumped” Medicaid, uninsured and other unprofitable patients on less mercenary community hospitals. Many patients suffered needlessly, and more than a few actually died, as the result of this practice. So, in 1986, President Reagan signed the Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act (EMTALA) into law. EMTALA made such “redirection” illegal, but many high profile hospitals still chafed at being forced to treat poor patients. Enter Michelle Obama, UCMC’s “Vice President for Community and External Affairs.”
Mrs. Obama first hatched the UCMC program as the “South Side Health Collaborative,” which featured a gang of “counselors” whose job it was to “advise” low-income patients that they would be better off at other hospitals and clinics. The program was so successful in getting rid of unwanted patients that she expanded it, gave it a new name, and hired none other than David Axelrod to sell the program to the public. According to the Sun-Times, “Obama’s wife and Valerie Jarrett, an Obama friend and adviser who chairs the medical center’s board, backed the Axelrod firm’s hiring.” Axelrod helped the future First Lady formulate a public relations campaign in which the “Urban Health Initiative” was represented as a boon to the community actuated by the purest of altruistic motives.
The resultant PR campaign was a study in Orwellian audacity. Chicago’s inner city residents soon began hearing that UCMC’s patient dumping program would “dramatically improve health care for thousands of South Side residents” and that the medical center was generously willing to provide “a ride on a shuttle bus to other centers.” Likewise, the people who ran the community hospitals to which these unwanted patients were being shuttled began to read claims in local media to the effect that the Urban Health Initiative was good for them as well. Dr. Eric Whitaker, the Blagojevich crony who succeeded Mrs. Obama as Director of the program, repeatedly assured gullible reporters that the financial impact on these hospitals would be positive: “The initiative actually is improving their bottom lines.” The CFOs of those hospitals were no doubt relieved to learn that treating Medicaid and uninsured patients is profitable.
But you just can’t please some people. In one of the few frank passages of the Post article, we discover that many members of UCMC’s medical staff believe the program is nothing more than an “attempt to ensure that the hospital retains only affluent patients with insurance.” And another association of emergency physicians has joined ACEP in denouncing the Urban Health Initiative. The Chicago Tribune reports that Dr. Larry Weiss, president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine is unhappy about UCMC’s failure to consult its own ER physicians before initiating the program: “Not including emergency-room physicians … would be analogous to changing the way surgery is performed in an operating room without involving any surgeons.” Dr. Whitaker assures us, however, that such critics are merely “opposed to change.”
Presumably, he would be similarly dismissive of Angela Adams, who brought her son to the medical center’s ER after his lip had been partially torn off by a pit bull. As the Tribune puts it, “Instead of rushing Dontae into surgery … the hospital’s staff began pressing her about insurance.” Unfortunately for Dontae, he was covered by Medicaid. So, all he got from the UCMC emergency department was a shot, some antibiotics, and instructions to “follow up with Cook County.” Angela had to take her son across town to John Stroger Hospital, where he was immediately admitted for reconstructive surgery. Like doctors Jouriles and Weiss, Angela is having trouble seeing the community benefit of the Urban Health Initiative.
Meanwhile, the program’s parents, Michelle Obama and David Axelrod, have moved to Washington. As the First Lady and the President’s closest advisor, they wield enormous power. Indeed, they may be the most powerful people in the Obama Administration, aside from the President himself. If these two characters were willing to betray their Chicago neighbors — the South Side’s most vulnerable citizens — with a disgraceful program like the Urban Health Initiative, what sort of mischief will they devise for the hapless denizens of flyover country?
Come to think of it, isn’t Obamacare being sold to us in pretty much the same way the Urban Health Initiative was sold to Chicago?”
Straight from Fox News: “President Obama has put securing Afghanistan near the top of his foreign policy agenda, but “victory” in the war-torn country isn’t necessarily the United States’ goal, he said Thursday in a TV interview.
“I’m always worried about using the word ‘victory,’ because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur,” Obama told ABC News.
The enemy facing U.S. and Afghan forces isn’t so clearly defined, he explained.
“We’re not dealing with nation states at this point. We’re concerned with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Al Qaeda’s allies,” he said. “So when you have a non-state actor, a shadowy operation like Al Qaeda, our goal is to make sure they can’t attack the United States.”
The United States and Afghanistan are struggling to shore up security in the country, amid increasing violence. The Obama administration this year stepped up U.S. military operations in the country as the U.S. military presence begins to wind down in Iraq.
“We are confident that if we are assisting the Afghan people and improving their security situation, stabilizing their government, providing help on economic development … those things will continue to contract the ability of Al Qaeda to operate. And that is absolutely critical,” Obama told ABC News.
Rising casualties in Afghanistan are raising doubts among U.S. allies about the conduct of the war, forcing some governments to defend publicly their commitments and foreshadowing possible long-term trouble for the U.S. effort to bring in more resources to defeat the Taliban.
Pressure from the public and opposition politicians is growing as soldiers’ bodies return home, and a poll released Thursday shows majorities in Britain, Germany and Canada oppose increasing their own troop levels in Afghanistan.
Europeans and Canadians are growing weary of the war — or at least their involvement in combat operations — even as Obama is shifting military resources to Afghanistan away from Iraq.
The United States, which runs the NATO-led force, has about 59,000 troops in Afghanistan — nearly double the number a year ago — and thousands more are on the way. There are about 32,000 other international troops in the country.
The new U.S. emphasis on Afghanistan has raised the level of fighting — and in turn, the number of casualties. July is already the deadliest month of the war for both U.S. and NATO forces with 63 international troops killed, including 35 Americans and 19 Britons. Most have been killed in southern Afghanistan, scene of major operations against Taliban fighters in areas that had long been sanctuaries.
The leaders of the largest contributors to the coalition find themselves having to justify both their reasons for deploying troops and their management of the war effort. Britain, Italy and Australia are among those adding forces ahead of Afghanistan’s Aug. 20 presidential election.
They say a Western pullout at this time would enable a resurgent Taliban to take over the country and give Al Qaeda more space to plan terror attacks against the West. Some emphasize humanitarian aspects of their missions, like development aid and civilian reconstruction.”
Straight from the Jerusalem Post: “In a shocking and unprecedented interview, directly exposing the inhumanity of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s religious regime in Iran, a serving member of the paramilitary Basiji militia has told this reporter of his role in suppressing opposition street protests in recent weeks.
He has also detailed aspects of his earlier service in the force, including his enforced participation in the rape of young Iranian girls prior to their execution.
The interview took place by telephone, and on condition of anonymity. It was arranged by a reliable source whose identity can also not be revealed.
Founded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 as a “people’s militia,” the volunteer Basiji force is subordinate to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and intensely loyal to Khomeini’s successor, Khamenei.
The Basiji member, who is married with children, spoke soon after his release by the Iranian authorities from detention. He had been held for the “crime” of having set free two Iranian teenagers – a 13-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl – who had been arrested during the disturbances that have followed the disputed June presidential elections.
“There have been many other police and members of the security forces arrested because they have shown leniency toward the protesters out on the streets, or released them from custody without consulting our superiors,” he said.
He pinned the blame for much of the most ruthless violence employed by the Iranian security apparatus against opposition protesters on what he called “imported security forces” – recruits, as young as 14 and 15, he said, who have been brought from small villages into the bigger cities where the protests have been centered.
“Fourteen and 15-year old boys are given so much power, which I am sorry to say they have abused,” he said. “These kids do anything they please – forcing people to empty out their wallets, taking whatever they want from stores without paying, and touching young women inappropriately. The girls are so frightened that they remain quiet and let them do what they want.”
These youngsters, and other “plainclothes vigilantes,” were committing most of the crimes in the names of the regime, he said.
Asked about his own role in the brutal crackdowns on the protesters, whether he had been beaten demonstrators and whether he regretted his actions, he answered evasively.
“I did not attack any of the rioters – and even if I had, it is my duty to follow orders,” he began. “I don’t have any regrets,” he went on, “except for when I worked as a prison guard during my adolescence.”
Explaining how he had come to join the volunteer Basiji forces, he said his mother had taken him to them.
When he was 16, “my mother took me to a Basiji station and begged them to take me under their wing because I had no one and nothing foreseeable in my future. My father was martyred during the war in Iraq and she did not want me to get hooked on drugs and become a street thug. I had no choice,” he said.
He said he had been a highly regarded member of the force, and had so “impressed my superiors” that, at 18, “I was given the ‘honor’ to temporarily marry young girls before they were sentenced to death.”
In the Islamic Republic it is illegal to execute a young woman, regardless of her crime, if she is a virgin, he explained. Therefore a “wedding” ceremony is conducted the night before the execution: The young girl is forced to have sexual intercourse with a prison guard – essentially raped by her “husband.”
“I regret that, even though the marriages were legal,” he said.
Why the regret, if the marriages were “legal?”
“Because,” he went on, “I could tell that the girls were more afraid of their ‘wedding’ night than of the execution that awaited them in the morning. And they would always fight back, so we would have to put sleeping pills in their food. By morning the girls would have an empty expression; it seemed like they were ready or wanted to die.
“I remember hearing them cry and scream after [the rape] was over,” he said. “I will never forget how this one girl clawed at her own face and neck with her finger nails afterwards. She had deep scratches all over her.”
Returning to the events of the last few weeks, and his decision to set free the two teenage detainees, he said he “honestly” did not know why he had released them, a decision that led to his own arrest, “but I think it was because they were so young. They looked like children and I knew what would happen to them if they weren’t released.”
He said that while a man is deemed “responsible for his own actions at 13, for a woman it is 9,” and that it was freeing the 15-year-old girl that “really got me in trouble.
“I was not mistreated or really interrogated while being detained,” he said. “I was put in a tiny room and left alone. It was hard being isolated, so I spent most of my time praying and thinking about my wife and kids.”"
Straight from the Debka File: “Iran is slowing down the manufacture of the Shehab-3 surface missile in favor of mass production of the more accurate two-stage 2,000-kilometer range Sejil II ballistic missile powered with solid fuel, which was successfully tested on May 20, DEBKAfile’s military and Iranian sources report.
More than 1,000 new Sejil IIs are projected to come off production lines in five years, at the rate of 200 a year.
Western sources say the Iranians are over-ambitious and can deliver no more than 10-15 missiles a year at present, although with a huge multi-billion dollar investment they might raise output to 30.
Liquid-fuel missiles like the Shehab take hours to prepare for firing, during which time they are exposed to oversight by US and Israel spy satellites, whereas the Sejil because it is powered by solid fuel has the huge advantage of stealth. It can only be detected by military satellites and early warning radar systems like the American FBX-T posted in the Israeli Negev after it is airborne and winging towards target.
Iran has also recruited Chinese missile experts to assist in the production of mobile launchers for the Sejil II. The combination of the solid-fuel Sejil mounted on mobile vehicles will give an Iranian missile attack the advantage of surprise, because of the difficulty of tracking and targeting them from space or the air.
DEBKAfile’s military sources add that Iran is going all out to fill its arsenal with Sejil II missiles for outwitting Israel’s Arrow interceptors if and when they attack Israel. Western missile experts calculate that if Iran lets loose against Israel a simultaneous barrage of dozens of Shehab-3 and a handful of Sejil II, the Arrow will only intercept some of them; the rest will reach their targets.
Iran’s arms industry is driving forward at top speed to attain this capability. Israel has entered the arms race by stepping up production of the Arrow anti-missile systems.
At some point, Israel strategists had hoped the surge of unrest in Tehran sparked by the disputed June 12 presidential election would result in the regime pulling funds out of nuclear and missile industries and investing in projects for improving the lives of the disaffected populace. But the challenge to its authority has had the opposite effect. The Islamic rulers have opted for speeding up weapons production and maximizing their tools of war rather than home benefits.”
Straight from Fox News: “Republican Rep. Frank Wolf is accusing Attorney General Holder of ignoring his requests for an explanation why the Justice Department dismissed charges of voter intimidation filed against two members of the New Black Panther Party.
The case relates to allegations that members of the New Black Panthers interfered with voters trying to enter a Philadelphia polling station on Election Day 2008.
The Hill newspaper first reported Monday that Wolf, R-Va., also asked Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers to hold a hearing, saying one Black Panther member at the polling place was allegedly carrying a local Democratic committee card.
In a letter dated June 8 to Holder, Wolf wrote that he could not understand how the department could drop the case.
“I worry that the department’s commitment to protecting the ‘fundamental right to vote’ is wavering under your leadership. I fail to understand how you could dismiss a legitimate case against a party that deployed armed men to a polling station — one of whom brandished a weapon to voters — who harassed and intimidated voters, and could then decide such actions do not constitute a violation” of the Voting Rights Act, Wolf wrote.
“None of the defendants filed an answer to the lawsuit, which means that legally they admitted all of the allegations in the complaint,” Wolf continued. “Yet your department dismissed the suit it had already won by default against three of the defendants.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman told The Hill that the facts don’t back charges that NBPP National Chairman Milik Zulu Shabazz and party member Jerry Jackson violated the law or attempted to intimidate, threaten or coerce voters.
The spokeswoman added that the decision to end the investigation was made by career officials, not political appointees.
One of the four men there that day, Minister King Samir Shabazz, did face a charge of brandishing a “deadly weapon,” a nightstick, outside the polling station, The Hill reported. His punishment — being prohibited from brandishing a weapon within 100 feet of a Philadelphia polling station until after the 2012 election.”
Straight from Fox News: “The White House hired a private communications company based in Minnesota to distribute mass e-mails, helping to shed light on how some recipients received e-mails in support of President Obama’s health care plan without signing up for them, FOX News has learned.
The company, Govdelivery, describes itself as the world’s leading provider of government-to-citizen communication solutions and says its e-mail service provides a fully-automated on-demand public communication system.
It is still unknown how much taxpayer money the White House provides to Govdelivery for its services.
The revelation comes after the White House acknowledged this week that people were receiving unsolicited e-mails from the administration about health care reform and suggested the problem was with third-party groups that placed the recipients’ names on the distribution list.
Republicans quickly pounced on the news.
“This is yet another ominous chapter in the administration’s rabid campaign to jam its radical health care scheme onto an unwilling public by any means necessary,” Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan said in a statement.
Govdelivery sent hundreds of e-mails from senior adviser David Axelrod asking supporters to help rebut criticism of Obama’s health care plan circulating on the Internet. It also sent e-mails highlighting Obama’s speech to the Muslim world in Cairo and the announcement of Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court nominee.
Several FOX News viewers complained they received these e-mails even though they had never requested any communication from the White House.
On Monday, the White House implemented several new changes to its Web site, apparently aimed at reducing the number of people who receive unsolicited e-mails and at fighting charges that it’s collecting personal information on critics.
The White House also pulled the plug on a controversial e-mail address, email@example.com, that was established for supporters to report “fishy” information about health care reform.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., has sent a letter to the White House asking for the “full truth” behind the Axelrod e-mails and expressing concern that “political e-mail address lists were used for official purposes.”
Chris Hansen, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union told FOX News that if the White House used the private firm, it’s the same as if it had sent the e-mails.
The White House insists that Govdelivery aggregates nothing and plays no role in the formation of its e-mail list; it is merely an end-product e-mail distributor.
Govdelivery does extensive work with a bevy of federal, state, and local agencies, including 11 Cabinet-level departments such as Defense, State, and Justice. Among the tasks Govdelivery performs are FBI internal e-mails and external regional crime alerts, and FEMA hurricane or other natural disaster alerts.
In fact, before Jan. 1, Govdelivery handled 85 percent of mass e-mail deliveries for federal agencies.
The White House said it hired Govdelivery based on its performance with those agencies. The company was hired after Jan. 1 but before Obama took office on Jan. 20.
The White House notes that Govdelivery also handles mass e-mails for Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, both Republicans.
Earlier this week, Govdelivery’s president, Scott Burns, declined to comment to FOX News on whether the White House had used his firm to send out the Axelrod e-mails.”
Straight from Fox News: “A provision in President Obama’s health care reform plan that requires businesses to offer health insurance to their workers or face a federal tax would cost employers at least $49 billion dollars a year, putting 5.2 million employees at risk of unemployment or underemployment, according to a new study.
“Health care reform is not going to be free,” said economist Mark Wilson, who authored the study, which was commissioned by the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Under the provision, known as the play-or-pay mandate, another 10.2 million employees will face stunted wages and the loss of their benefits as employers try to find ways to fund the mandates.
“Those will be a difficult decision for them to make and they’re also going to have to decide to the extent they can raise prices and pass the cost onto consumers,” Wilson said.
But supporters of Obama’s health reform plan say under the current system, thousands already are losing their health coverage or jobs because of the enormous costs employers are bearing.
“What we need to think about in health reform is how to make the system more efficient, how to make sure the system is protecting jobs, and that’s exactly what health reform will do,” said Peter Harbage, a health policy analyst with the liberal Center for American Progress.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said Thursday that without health reform the entire U.S. economy faces ruin.
“If we don’t do something, not only is health care going to be in crisis, but the deficit will — we just will not be on a fiscally sustainable path as it relates to the deficit,” he said.
And as the financial realities of health reform are coming together there are questions about why tort reform isn’t part of the package.
At a town hall hosted by Democratic Rep. Jim Moran this week, one person demanded to know why the threat of medical lawsuits couldn’t be reduced.
“There’s $200 million dollars in savings over 10 years if we had tort reform and nobody loses but the lawyers,” the person said before shouting, “Why have we not even considered that?”
Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean, a proponent of health reform, responded that tort reform would create more enemies for lawmakers as they try to pass a reform bill.
“Plain and simple truth,” he said.
The president of the American Medical Association says without more protections for doctors in the courtroom they will continue to order tests that may be unnecessary and drive up health care costs simply to protect themselves.”
Politicians, have they no shame?
Straight from Fox News: “With the push for health care reform hitting a rough patch, Democrats are trying, however delicately, to use Sen. Ted Kennedy’s passing as a rallying cry for the legislation, reminding voters that the package idling on Capitol Hill was “the cause” of Kennedy’s life.
Do it for Teddy.
In statements that came steadily streaming out of Capitol Hill Wednesday morning within hours after Sen. Ted Kennedy’s death, Democratic lawmakers tried to embed that message in the health care reform debate.
With the push for legislation hitting a rough patch, Democrats are trying, however delicately, to use Kennedy’s passing as a rallying cry for the legislation, reminding voters that the package idling on the Hill was “the cause” of Kennedy’s life.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose version of the bill has drawn heated criticism from constituents across the country, invoked health care reform almost immediately after Kennedy’s death was made public.
“Senator Kennedy had a grand vision for America, and an unparalleled ability to effect change,” she said in a written statement. “Ted Kennedy’s dream of quality health care for all Americans will be made real this year because of his leadership and his inspiration.”
It’s unclear whether the death of the Kennedy family patriarch will invigorate proponents of the debate.
Liberal Democrats may once again rally to President Obama’s side, following concerns about the possibility that the final product would not contain a government-run insurance plan.
But unless and until his seat is filled by a like-minded lawmaker, his absence also means one fewer vote for health care reform should it come to the floor. And Republicans made little reference to health care reform while expressing their condolences Wednesday.
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., for instance, drew more attention to Kennedy’s efforts on immigration reform. Other Republicans praised Kennedy for his work on education reform.
Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said she didn’t think Kennedy’s death would move Congress closer to a compromise. If anything, she said, Kennedy could have brought more Republicans to the table.
“He will be missed … because of his ability to negotiate, compromise and work across the aisle,” she said.
But other Democrats cited his dedication to health care foremost, with the clear implication that Congress should honor him by finishing his work.
“We will achieve real health care reform thanks to the groundwork he laid,” Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., said.
“His tireless efforts have brought us to the threshold of real health care reform,” former President Clinton said.
“As we move forward with health reform legislation, his absence will be palpable,” said House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. “But let us use his inspirational words as our guide, to rise to our best ideals and finally provide decent quality health care to all Americans as a fundamental right, not a privilege.”
Other lawmakers were more subtle.
“He fought to the very end for the cause of his life — ensuring that all Americans have the health care they need,” said Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid invoked Kennedy’s own words, the “dream shall never die,” in calling on colleagues to pick up where Kennedy left off.
“As we mourn his loss, we rededicate ourselves to the causes for which he so dutifully dedicated his life,” he said.
At least one group opposed to Democrats’ health care proposals, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, suspended its ad campaign on Wednesday out of respect for the Kennedy family.”
Straight from ESPN: “The Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, the Black Clergy of Philadelphia and other local civil rights groups are planning a massive demonstration to support Michael Vick at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday, when Vick is expected to make his debut with the Eagles.
“We believe Michael Vick has served his time, paid his debt to society and deserves a second chance and the animal rights groups want to hold him hostage for the rest of his life,” J. Whyatt Mondesire, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, said Wednesday. “We think that’s patently unfair. It denies Michael Vick’s basic civil rights, denies him his ability to make a living.”
Mondesire said about a half-dozen groups from around the Philadelphia area were planning to meet at the front of Lincoln Financial Field and begin a march around the stadium prior to the Eagles’ preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Eagles have not heard of any planned demonstration or protest from animal rights groups, which met with team management for two hours on Monday at the team’s practice facility. Although no local animal rights group have yet to partner with the Eagles or Vick in a local anti-dogfighting campaign, the meeting appeared to end on a positive note and head off any planned massive protest, participants said.
Nevertheless, the Eagles’ security operation is planning for individual animal rights protests, and now must plan for the pro-Vick march.”
Straight from Physorg.com: “Glycine is an amino acid used by living organisms to make proteins, and this is the first time an amino acid has been found in a comet,” said Dr. Jamie Elsila of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Our discovery supports the theory that some of life’s ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts.”
Elsila is the lead author of a paper on this research accepted for publication in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science. The research will be presented during the meeting of the American Chemical Society at the Marriott Metro Center in Washington, August 16.
“The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare,” said Dr. Carl Pilcher, Director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute which co-funded the research.
Proteins are the workhorse molecules of life, used in everything from structures like hair to enzymes, the catalysts that speed up or regulate chemical reactions. Just as the 26 letters of the alphabet are arranged in limitless combinations to make words, life uses 20 different amino acids in a huge variety of arrangements to build millions of different proteins.
Stardust passed through dense gas and dust surrounding the icy nucleus of Wild 2 (pronounced “Vilt-2″) on January 2, 2004. As the spacecraft flew through this material, a special collection grid filled with aerogel – a novel sponge-like material that’s more than 99 percent empty space – gently captured samples of the comet’s gas and dust. The grid was stowed in a capsule which detached from the spacecraft and parachuted to Earth on January 15, 2006. Since then, scientists around the world have been busy analyzing the samples to learn the secrets of comet formation and our solar system’s history.
“We actually analyzed aluminum foil from the sides of tiny chambers that hold the aerogel in the collection grid,” said Elsila. “As gas molecules passed through the aerogel, some stuck to the foil. We spent two years testing and developing our equipment to make it accurate and sensitive enough to analyze such incredibly tiny samples.”
Earlier, preliminary analysis in the Goddard labs detected glycine in both the foil and a sample of the aerogel. However, since glycine is used by terrestrial life, at first the team was unable to rule out contamination from sources on Earth. “It was possible that the glycine we found originated from handling or manufacture of the Stardust spacecraft itself,” said Elsila. The new research used isotopic analysis of the foil to rule out that possibility.
Isotopes are versions of an element with different weights or masses; for example, the most common carbon atom, Carbon 12, has six protons and six neutrons in its center (nucleus). However, the Carbon 13 isotope is heavier because it has an extra neutron in its nucleus. A glycine molecule from space will tend to have more of the heavier Carbon 13 atoms in it than glycine that’s from Earth. That is what the team found. “We discovered that the Stardust-returned glycine has an extraterrestrial carbon isotope signature, indicating that it originated on the comet,” said Elsila.
The team includes Dr. Daniel Glavin and Dr. Jason Dworkin of NASA Goddard. “Based on the foil and aerogel results it is highly probable that the entire comet-exposed side of the Stardust sample collection grid is coated with glycine that formed in space,” adds Glavin.
“The discovery of amino acids in the returned comet sample is very exciting and profound,” said Stardust Principal Investigator Professor Donald E. Brownlee of the University of Washington, Seattle, Wash. “It is also a remarkable triumph that highlights the advancing capabilities of laboratory studies of primitive extraterrestrial materials.”