Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5940 on: Jan 12th, 2012, 08:35am »
New York Times
January 11, 2012 Adversaries of Iran Said to Be Stepping Up Covert Actions By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — As arguments flare in Israel and the United States about a possible military strike to set back Iran’s nuclear program, an accelerating covert campaign of assassinations, bombings, cyberattacks and defections appears intended to make that debate irrelevant, according to current and former American officials and specialists on Iran.
The campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when a bomb killed a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran’s morning rush hour.
The scientist, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, was a department supervisor at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, a participant in what Western leaders believe is Iran’s halting but determined progress toward a nuclear weapon. He was at least the fifth scientist with nuclear connections to be killed since 2007; a sixth scientist, Fereydoon Abbasi, survived a 2010 attack and was put in charge of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.
Iranian officials immediately blamed both Israel and the United States for the latest death, which came less than two months after a suspicious explosion at an Iranian missile base that killed a top general and 16 other people. While American officials deny a role in lethal activities, the United States is believed to engage in other covert efforts against the Iranian nuclear program.
The assassination drew an unusually strong condemnation from the White House and the State Department, which disavowed any American complicity. The statements by the United States appeared to reflect serious concern about the growing number of lethal attacks, which some experts believe could backfire by undercutting future negotiations and prompting Iran to redouble what the West suspects is a quest for a nuclear capacity.
“The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this,” said Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for the National Security Council. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to expand the denial beyond Wednesday’s killing, “categorically” denying “any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran.”
“We believe that there has to be an understanding between Iran, its neighbors and the international community that finds a way forward for it to end its provocative behavior, end its search for nuclear weapons and rejoin the international community,” Mrs. Clinton said.
The Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, writing on Facebook about the attack, said, “I don’t know who took revenge on the Iranian scientist, but I am definitely not shedding a tear,” Israeli news media reported.
Like the drone strikes that the Obama administration has embraced as a core tactic against Al Qaeda, the multifaceted covert campaign against Iran has appeared to offer an alternative to war. But at most it has slowed, not halted, Iran’s enrichment of uranium, a potential fuel for a nuclear weapon. And some skeptics believe that it may harden Iran’s resolve or set a dangerous precedent for a strategy that could be used against the United States and its allies.
Neither Israeli nor American officials will discuss the covert campaign in any detail, leaving some uncertainty about the perpetrators and their purpose. For instance, Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said he believed that at least some of the murdered scientists might have been killed by the Iranian government. Some of them had shown sympathy for the Iranian opposition, he said, and not all appeared to have been high-ranking experts.
“I think there is reason to doubt the idea that all the hits have been carried out by Israel,” Mr. Sadjadpour said. “It’s very puzzling that Iranian nuclear scientists, whose movements are likely carefully monitored by the state, can be executed in broad daylight, sometimes in rush-hour traffic, and their culprits never found.”
A more common view, however, is expressed by Patrick Clawson, director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I often get asked when Israel might attack Iran,” Mr. Clawson said. “I say, ‘Two years ago.’ ”
Mr. Clawson said the covert campaign was far preferable to overt airstrikes by Israel or the United States on suspected Iranian nuclear sites. “Sabotage and assassination is the way to go, if you can do it,” he said. “It doesn’t provoke a nationalist reaction in Iran, which could strengthen the regime. And it allows Iran to climb down if it decides the cost of pursuing a nuclear weapon is too high.”
A former senior Israeli security official, who would speak of the covert campaign only in general terms and on the condition of anonymity, said the uncertainty about who was responsible was useful. “It’s not enough to guess,” he said. “You can’t prove it, so you can’t retaliate. When it’s very, very clear who’s behind an attack, the world behaves differently.”
The former Israeli official noted that Iran carried out many assassinations of enemies, mostly Iranian opposition figures, during the 1980s and 1990s, and had been recently accused of plotting to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington.
“In Arabic, there’s a proverb: If you are shooting, don’t complain about being shot,” he said. But he portrayed the killings and bombings as part of a larger Israeli strategy to prevent all-out war.
“I think the cocktail of diplomacy, of sanctions, of covert activity might bring us something,” the former official said. “I think it’s the right policy while we still have time.”
Israel has used assassination as a tool of statecraft since its creation in 1948, historians say, killing dozens of Palestinian and other militants and a small number of foreign scientists, military officials or people accused of being Holocaust collaborators.
But there is no exact precedent for what appears to be the current campaign against Iran, involving Israel and the United States and a broad array of methods.
The assassinations have been carried out primarily by motorcyclists who attach magnetic bombs to the victim’s car, often in heavy traffic, before speeding away.
Iran’s Mehr news agency said Wednesday’s explosion took place on Gol Nabi Street, on Mr. Roshan’s route to work, at 8:20 a.m. The news agency said the scientist, who also taught at a technical university, was deputy director of commercial affairs at the Natanz site, evidently in charge of buying equipment and materials. Two other people were wounded, and one later died in a hospital, Iranian officials said.
Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Khazaee, sent a letter of protest to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, blaming “certain foreign quarters” for what he called “terrorist acts” aimed at disrupting Iran’s “peaceful nuclear program, under the false assumption that diplomacy alone would not be enough for that purpose.”
The ambassador’s letter complained of sabotage, a possible reference to the Stuxnet computer worm, believed to be a joint American-Israeli project, that reportedly led to the destruction in 2010 of about a fifth of the centrifuges Iran uses to enrich uranium. It also said the covert campaign included “a military strike on Iran,” evidently a reference to a mysterious explosion that destroyed much of an Iranian missile base on Nov. 12.
That explosion, which Iran experts say they believe was probably an Israeli effort, killed Gen. Hassan Tehrani Moghaddam, who was in charge of Iran’s missile program. Satellite photographs show multiple buildings at the site leveled or heavily damaged.
The C.I.A., according to current and former officials, has repeatedly tried to derail Iran’s uranium enrichment program by covert means, including introducing sabotaged parts into Iran’s supply chain.
In addition, the agency is believed to have encouraged some Iranian nuclear scientists to defect, an effort that came to light in 2010 when a scientist, Shahram Amiri, who had come to the United States, claimed to have been kidnapped by the C.I.A. and returned to Iran. (Press reports say he has since been arrested and tried for treason.) A former deputy defense minister, Ali-Reza Asgari, disappeared while visiting Turkey in 2006 and is widely believed to have defected, possibly to the United States.
William C. Banks, an expert on national security law at Syracuse University, said he believed that for the United States even to provide specific intelligence to Israel to help kill an Iranian scientist would violate a longstanding executive order banning assassinations. The legal rationale for drone strikes against terrorist suspects — that the United States is at war with Al Qaeda and its allies — would not apply, he said.
“Under international law, aiding and abetting would be the same as pulling the trigger,” Mr. Banks said. He added, “We would be in a precarious position morally, and the entire world is watching, especially China and Russia.”
Gary Sick, a specialist on Iran at Columbia, said he believed that the covert campaign, combined with sanctions, would not persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear work.
“It’s important to turn around and ask how the U.S. would feel if our revenue was being cut off, our scientists were being killed and we were under cyberattack,” Mr. Sick said. “Would we give in, or would we double down? I think we’d fight back, and Iran will, too.”
Reporting was contributed by Steven Lee Myers from Washington, David E. Sanger from Cairo, Alan Cowell from London and Rick Gladstone from New York.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5941 on: Jan 12th, 2012, 08:42am »
Foreclosures expected to rise, pushing home prices lower
Banks are getting more aggressive with the 3.5 million U.S. homes with seriously delinquent mortgages, setting the stage for a big wave of foreclosure action this year.
By E. Scott Reckard, Los Angeles Times January 12, 2012
California and other states are likely to see an enormous wave of long-delayed foreclosure action in the coming year as banks deal more aggressively with 3.5 million seriously delinquent mortgages.
And experts said that dealing with the foreclosure process, from issuing notices of default to selling repossessed homes, is likely to push housing prices lower this year before the real estate market has a chance to recover.
A report from RealtyTrac, an Irvine data firm, said about 1.9 million U.S. homes were hit with default notices, foreclosures and other actions last year. That is down from 2.9 million in 2010. Seriously delinquent loans are defined as being four months in arrears.
"There were strong signs in the second half of 2011 that lenders are finally beginning to push through some of the delayed foreclosures in select local markets," said Brandon Moore, chief executive of RealtyTrac. "We expect that trend to continue this year."
The real estate market was in "full delay mode" last year on foreclosures as banks worked to correct legal problems with procedures in many states, Moore said.
In California, 3.2% of homes logged at least one foreclosure filing last year, down from 4.1% a year earlier. But regional differences continued: 2.7% received notices in Los Angeles County and 2.5% in Orange County, compared with nearly 5% in San Bernardino County and 5.3% in Riverside County.
California saw a second-half surge in initial notices of default — the first warnings that a bank is preparing to seize properties with delinquent mortgages, said RealtyTrac spokesman Daren Blomquist.
Though many more foreclosures are expected this year, the number still will be below the peak of 2010, Blomquist said.
Connie Der Torossian, co-president of the Orange County Home Ownership Preservation Cooperative, a nonprofit housing counseling agency, said the distressed homeowners she helps are getting loan modifications or sales dates from banks far faster than in the past. The days of troubled borrowers spending two years in foreclosure limbo are at an end, she said.
"We're not seeing people have to wait six or seven months to get an answer," she said. "It's more like six or seven weeks."
Worried that the foreclosure flood could further undermine the housing markets, the Federal Reserve urged Congress recently to do more for troubled homeowners.
Some Fed officials have been advocating reducing the loan principal more often for underwater borrowers, those whose homes are worth less than their mortgages. The central bank also has been urging mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, kept alive by three years of taxpayer bailouts, to unload their backlogs of foreclosed properties in bulk discount sales to investors who would then rent out the properties.
That process, which Fannie and Freddie officials said is under study, could help stabilize the housing markets. However, in the short term it would increase taxpayers' tab for propping up the government-sponsored housing finance firms, which already has reached about $150 billion.
Central bankers have tried to resuscitate the economy by keeping interest rates at record low levels. Celia Chen, a housing economist at Moody's Analytics, said the Fed is now taking additional steps because the economy remains fragile and could tip back into recession.
However, Chen believes housing is "poised for better days" after the backlog of foreclosures is cleared away. She said housing is now undervalued, with prices compared to incomes well below the average over the last 20 to 30 years.
RealtyTrac reported a dip in foreclosure filings in December, but Chen said that appeared to be only a holiday hiatus by banks. She projected that home prices will trend slightly lower as the distress sales take place but will bottom out this year in California and the rest of the nation.
After that, Chen said, the improving economy could put the housing recovery in "full swing," driving prices up nationally more than 5% in 2013 and 7% in 2014.
California home prices probably will track the national trend and hit bottom during the middle of this year, she said. However, prices will probably recover at a slower pace than much of the country because housing and unemployment problems run so deep in the Golden State.
The state's difficulties were reflected in RealtyTrac's report, which showed California with the third-highest incidence of foreclosure filings in 2011, behind only Nevada and Arizona.
However, analysts also said they expect housing in California to stabilize more quickly than in many states. The reason: a speedy foreclosure process that normally takes place without court action and is one of the most streamlined in the nation.
RealtyTrac said the average foreclosure took 352 days last year in California, down from a peak of 363 in 2010. By contrast, the foreclosure timeline was 806 days in Florida and 1,019 days in New York, both of which require extensive court review of foreclosures.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5942 on: Jan 12th, 2012, 08:46am »
Wired Danger Room
‘Gremlin’ Sensor Will Find Bombs by Vibrating the Ground By Spencer Ackerman January 12, 2012 | 6:30 am Categories: Gadgets and Gear
Several years from now, Navy scientists hope, bomb squads will strap a sensor to a robot that will hunt for bombs by blasting the ground in front of it with sound waves. The mischievous creature virtually “digging” through the earth? The Navy calls that a Gremlin.
Or, more precisely, GREMLIN — an acronym for Ground-Based Explosive Ordinance Disposal Mobile Laser Interrogation. (Well, close enough.) Earlier this month, the defense giant BAE Systems got $2 million from the mad scientists at the Office of Naval Research to study the feasibility of a “small laser interferometric sensor system” for bomb hunters.
Brian Almquist, the Navy’s program officer for GREMLIN, explains that the sensors will use an “acoustic source, something that makes noise” to vibrate a patch of turf that military explosive experts suspect might hide a buried bomb. The basic principle — studying the patterns of waves when they’re disrupted by a stimuli in order to develop an image — is a staple of astronomy or oceanography. It makes sense: Insurgent bombs aren’t easy to find from a distance, especially when they’re buried beneath a road or under a pile of trash.
“We put sound into the ground, things vibrate and we image that expression of that vibration on the ground,” Almquist tells Danger Room.
It’s basically a system to “see” beneath the ground, with the image mapped by the vibrations displaying if there’s anything unusual implanted below — like the homemade bombs that insurgents in Afghanistan hide underfoot. The idea is to display the subterranean image on a screen attached to the controls of a ground robot — the Army’s WALL-E-like Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, for instance — that will carry the GREMLIN. Mogwais sold separately.
Despite its namesake, the Navy’s GREMLIN isn’t an instrument of chaos. It’ll only be designed to find bombs. It doesn’t blow them up.
And even finding the bombs is a long way off. Almquist explains that GREMLIN is in its infancy, getting started just this year, with at least three years of initial feasibility tests in front of it before there’s even a prototype system. BAE’s Hawaii-based scientists are in charge of the project, company spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said.
It’s the latest Pentagon idea to combat the scourge of cheap, easily constructed bombs. The military has tried everything from jamming the signals sent from the bomb’s remote detonators to sniffing out the particular fertilizers used in bombs from up in the air. More baroque ideas involve sending robot cars to drive over potential minefields so the humans behind them don’t get blown up. But nothing’s been able to stop the proliferation of the bombs worldwide, despite about $20 billion in Pentagon research and development since 2004.
Sure, the GREMLIN will be used on dry land, but the Navy — which funds a variety of explosives detection systems research — isn’t bothered. “We just want get the warfighter out of the minefield and put more capability onto robots,” Almquist says, “so we can detect things in the ground rather than have a person go out there to risk their life.” Still, you might not want to get the sensor wet.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5943 on: Jan 12th, 2012, 08:56am »
Amish men jailed over reflective triangle dispute
A group of Amish men in western Kentucky have been jailed after refusing to put reflective triangles on the back of their horse-drawn carts.
7:12AM GMT 12 Jan 2012
Jacob Gingerich was one of eight men sent to prison for a few days in September after ignoring state law that requires all slow-moving objects on the road to display reflective triangles.
The group of Swartzentruber Amish men in rural Graves County, USA, refused to pay their fines and disobeyed orders from a judge, landing them in jail.
A ninth Amish man avoided prison when a local resident paid his fine. At least two other Kentucky counties, Grayson and Logan, have recently summoned men into court for driving unmarked buggies. A court date on Thursday could mean more Amish men end up in jail over the dispute.
Members of the conservative Amish community consider using the bright reflective symbol amounts to blasphemy. They consider it garish and believe they should rely on God, not symbols, for protection on the highway.
"We try to lead a simple, plain life," Mr Gingerich said from his workshop as blue and navy shirts and pants fluttered on a clothesline outside. "Putting that orange triangle on the back of our buggy would not leave our buggies plain anymore."
Many Amish use the triangles with little objection, but Swartzentruber is a breakaway order that follows even stricter rules on modesty, humility and behaviour than other Amish.
"If we go ahead and put it on, the other groups of the Amish in other states, they would shun us," said Joe Stutzman, another man who has been jailed.
The issue over triangles has come up before in other states with Amish populations. Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania have allowed exemptions from the orange triangles, and courts in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan have sided with the religious freedom argument.
But Kentucky authorities say using the orange triangle is still the law.
"We feel that the reflective triangle is the best way, at least right now, to be able to see those slow-moving objects on the road," said Dean Patterson, a spokesman for the Kentucky State Police.
Mr Patterson said authorities sympathise with the Amish's religious argument, but "we still incorporate them into the travelling public, so we can't pick and choose who we want to protect. We also have to protect them."
Collisions of motor vehicles with Amish buggies are often fatal. In November, a teenager using a harness-type horse carriage was killed in central Kentucky when he was struck from behind by an SUV. The buggy did not have a reflective triangle, though the family was not a part of the Swartzentruber order. Several other fatal collisions with Amish buggies happened in the US last year, though it's not clear in each case whether reflective triangles were used.
The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in June that the Amish would not be excused because the law "serves as a condition to utilising a certain privilege: the use of state roads." The Kentucky Supreme Court plans to hear the case.
Recorded violations of the law are rare in Kentucky, according to data obtained by the AP. Of 89 violations in the last five years statewide, 57 were in Graves County, according to data compiled by the state Administrative Office of the Courts.
Mr Gingerich said Swartzentrubers, just as they have for decades, will continue to refuse to hang the triangles or pay fines.
Graves District Judge Deborah Crooks has set a Thursday deadline for outstanding fines against the nine men, which means Mr Gingerich and others could be sent back to jail. Mr Gingerich owes more than $600 in fines and court costs.
"If we would go ahead and pay the fine, I think we would be working against our own religious beliefs," Mr Gingerich said. "We will not pay the court to prosecute us for our religious beliefs."
Mr Gingerich keeps a file cabinet drawer full of court papers on his farm. One is a 2004 letter from Cunningham, the Graves County Attorney, who said the Amish buggies could use grey reflective tape and hanging lanterns.
That's just what Mr Gingerich and his friends did, but he said they began receiving tickets a few years ago.
Cunningham "says he sent letters out to let us know that law is not validated anymore," Mr Gingerich said. He said he never received the letter.
The judge and county attorney did not return calls seeking comment.
The jailings in September outraged some Kentuckians, even outside of Graves County.
"When I first heard about this, a little voice in the back of my head said you should really help them out down there," said Michael Meeks, a Louisville business owner who spent time on a Quaker farm as a youth. Meeks paid Mr Gingerich's outstanding fines in September, freeing him from jail a couple of days early.
"They're not breaking the law in my mind," said John Via, a Mayfield resident and a former state transportation worker who also paid an Amish man's court fine in September. "But they got a jail record that will travel with them the rest of our days."
Kentucky lawmakers could solve the impasse. Some legislators have proposed changing the law to allow buggies to use grey reflective tape instead of the orange signs.
"I think the Amish are in the right, it's that simple," said Rep. Johnny Bell, a Democrat from south-central Kentucky who plans to file legislation next month. "I think they should be allowed the lifestyle that they choose, as well as the rest of us."
Aside from religious objections, the Amish men say the reflective triangle offers no more protection from a car than the grey reflective tape. To support that, Mr Gingerich cites a 2001 Penn State University study concluding that reflective tape instead of the triangle would "not result in a safety reduction for the Swartzentruber Amish."
Levi Hostetler was struck by a car coming around a bend in Graves County a couple of years ago, destroying his buggy and sending him to the hospital with a concussion. He wonders what difference an orange triangle would have made.
The car's driver "said he couldn't see nothing," Hostetler said. "Didn't matter if I had Christmas lights or whatever on, he couldn't have seen it."
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5947 on: Jan 13th, 2012, 09:23am »
New York Times
January 13, 2012 Obama to Ask Congress for Power to Merge Agencies By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON — President Obama will ask Congress on Friday for greater power to shrink the federal government, starting with merging six sprawling trade and commerce agencies that have some overlapping programs, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.
Mr. Obama will call on Congress to give him a so-called consolidation authority allowing him to propose mergers that promise to save money and help consumers and businesses. The agreement would entitle him to a yes-or-no vote from Congress within 90 days.
It would be up to lawmakers, therefore, to first grant Obama this fast-track authority and then decide whether to approve any of his specific ideas.
The White House said Mr. Obama would address his proposals for government reform Friday morning.
In an election year, part of the president’s motivation would be about improving a giant bureaucracy. But to voters sick of dysfunction, he presumably also wants to show some action on making Washington work better. Politically, his plan would allow him to do so by putting the onus on Congress, and in particular his Republican critics in the House and Senate, to show why they would be against the pursuit of a leaner government.
Should he prevail, his first project would be to combine six major operations of the government that focus on business and trade, the White House official said.
They are the Commerce Department’s core business and trade functions; the Small Business Administration; the Office of the United States Trade Representative; the Export-Import Bank; the Overseas Private Investment Corporation; and the Trade and Development Agency. The goal would be one agency designed to help businesses thrive.
The official said 1,000 to 2,000 jobs would be cut, but the administration would do so as people routinely leave their jobs over time.
The administration said the merger would save $3 billion over 10 years by getting rid of duplicative overhead costs, human resources divisions and programs.
It has been decades since the government has undergone a sustained reorganization of itself. Presidents have tried from time to time, but each part of the bureaucracy has its own defenders inside and outside the government, and that can make merger ideas politically impossible to achieve, especially when jobs are cut.
The point, the official said, is not just making the government smaller but better by saving people time and eliminating bureaucratic nightmares. The idea for the consolidated business agency grew out of discussions with hundreds of business leaders and agency heads over the last several months.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5948 on: Jan 13th, 2012, 09:27am »
U.S. boosts its military presence in Persian Gulf
Additional troops and warships are in place in the event a crisis erupts in the standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, officials say.
By David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times 6:07 PM PST, January 12, 2012 Reporting from Washington
The Pentagon quietly shifted combat troops and warships to the Middle East after the top American commander in the region warned that he needed additional forces to deal with Iran and other potential threats, U.S. officials said.
Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, who heads U.S. Central Command, won White House approval for the deployments late last year after talks with the government in Baghdad broke down over keeping U.S. troops in Iraq, but the extent of the Pentagon moves is only now becoming clear.
Officials said Thursday that the deployments are not meant to suggest a buildup to war, but rather are intended as a quick-reaction and contingency force in case a military crisis erupts in the standoff with Tehran over its suspected nuclear weapons program.
The Pentagon has stationed nearly 15,000 troops in Kuwait, including a small contingent already there. The new deployments include two Army infantry brigades and a helicopter unit, a substantial increase in combat power after nearly a decade in which Kuwait chiefly served as a staging area for supplies and personnel heading to Iraq.
The Pentagon also has decided to keep two aircraft carriers and their strike groups in the region.
This week, the American aircraft carrier Carl Vinson joined the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in the Arabian Sea, giving commanders major naval and air assets in case Iran carries out its recent threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic choke point in the Persian Gulf through which one-fifth of the world's oil shipments passes.
"There's enough going on in that part of the world that you can see the merit in having a robust presence," said a senior Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity about military movements.
Navy officials say Iran might be able to temporarily block tanker traffic through the strait using antiship missiles and other weapons, but U.S. commanders say they can reopen the waterway quickly if necessary.
Gen. Ataollah Salehi, head of Iran's army, warned the John C. Stennis not to return to the Persian Gulf after the aircraft carrier passed through the strait this month. The ship is scheduled to return to the U.S. soon, but officials said it will be replaced by the Enterprise in order to keep two carriers in the volatile region.
U.S. officials are divided over how much to publicize the deployments. Regional allies tend to dislike public discussion about their cooperation with Washington. But the Pentagon wants Iran's rulers to know that the U.S. still has adequate forces available in the event of a crisis.
They include the Army's 1st Cavalry Division's 1st Brigade, which shifted to Kuwait from Iraq when the last U.S. forces left last month. The brigade, which has more than 4,500 soldiers and is equipped with tanks and artillery, has been designated a "mobile response force" for the region, according to Col. Scott L. Efflandt, the brigade commander.
A National Guard brigade from Minnesota has been in Kuwait since August, and a combat aviation brigade arrived in December. Another major unit is heading to Kuwait shortly, though officials would not provide details.
Despite the buildup in Kuwait, the total number of U.S. troops in the region has declined with the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq and the drawdown of U.S. troops that began last summer in Afghanistan.
Also Thursday, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on three companies that sell gasoline to Iran. Although Tehran is the world's third-largest exporter of oil, it has limited refining capacity and must import most of its gasoline.
The State Department said it would bar U.S. export licenses and most U.S. financing for the Zhuhai Zhenrong Co., which is based in China and is the largest seller of gasoline to Iran. Also sanctioned was Kuo Oil Pte. Ltd., an energy trading firm based in Singapore, and FAL Oil Co., an independent energy trader based in the United Arab Emirates.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5952 on: Jan 14th, 2012, 08:15am »
Cruise ship runs aground off Italy; 4,200 evacuated
Three bodies are recovered from the sea and three others are reported dead. Passengers complain that emergency instructions were lacking.
From the Associated Press 5:12 AM PST, January 14, 2012 PORTO SANTO STEFANO, Italy
A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
Three bodies were recovered from the sea, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo. There were reports that three other people had died after the accident late Friday night near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, but those reports were not yet confirmed, he said.
Twelve hours after the accident, the ship was lying virtually flat, its right-hand side submerged in the water.
Passengers complained the crew failed to give instructions on how to evacuate the Costa Concordia and that the evacuation drill was only scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Authorities still hadn't counted all the survivors.
"It was so unorganized, our evacuation drill was scheduled for 5 p.m.," said Melissa Goduti, 28, of Wallingford, Conn., who had set out on the cruise of the Mediterranean hours earlier. "We had joked what if something had happened today."
Helicopters plucked to safety some 50 people who were trapped on the ship after it listed so badly they couldn't launch lifeboats, Paolillo told The Associated Press in Rome by telephone from his command in the Tuscan port city of Livorno.
Passenger Mara Parmegiani, a journalist, told the ANSA news agency that "it was like a scene from the Titanic."
Survivor Christine Hammer, from Bonn, Germany, shivered near the harbor of Porto Santo Stefano, on the mainland, after stepping off a ferry from Giglio. She was wearing elegant dinner clothes -- a cashmere sweater, a silk scarf -- along with a large pair of hiking boots, which a kind islander gave her after she lost her shoes in the scramble to escape, along with her passport, credit cards and phone.
Hammer, 65, told The Associated Press that she was eating her first course, an appetizer of squid, on her first night aboard her first-ever cruise, which was a gift to her and her husband, Gert, from her local church where she volunteers.
Suddenly, "we heard a crash. Glasses and plates fell down and we went out of the dining room and we were told it wasn't anything dangerous," she said.
The passengers were then instructed to put on life jackets and take to the life rafts but, Hammer said, they couldn't get into the boats because the cruise liner was tilting so much the boats couldn't be lowered into the sea. The passengers were eventually rescued by one of several boats in the area that came to their aid.
"It was terrible," Hammer said, as German and Spanish tourists were about to board buses at the port.
"No one counted us, neither in the lifeboats or on land," said Ophelie Gondelle, 28, a French military officer from Marseille. She said there had been no evacuation drill since she boarded in France on Jan. 8.
As dawn neared, a painstaking search of the 950-foot ship's interior was being conducted to see if anyone might have been trapped inside, Paolillo said.
"There are some 2,000 cabins, and the ship isn't straight," Paolillo said, referring to the Concordia's dramatic more than 45-degree tilt on its right side. "I'll leave it to your imagination to understand how they (the rescuers) are working as they move through it."
Some Concordia crew members were still aboard to help the coast guard rescuers, he said.
Paolillo said it wasn't immediately known if the dead were passengers or crew, nor were the nationalities of the victims immediately known. It wasn't clear how they died.
Some 30 people were reported injured, most of them suffering only bruises, but at least two people were reported in grave condition.
Paolillo said the Concordia was believed to have set sail with 3,206 passengers and 1,023 crew members.
Some passengers, apparently in panic, had jumped off the boat into the sea, a Tuscany-based government official, Grosseto prefect Giuseppe Linardi, was quoted as saying. Authorities were trying to obtain a full passenger and crew list from Costa, so they could do a roll call to determine who might be missing.
The evacuees were taking refuge in schools, hotels, and a church on the tiny island of Giglio, a popular vacation isle about 18 miles off Italy's central west coast. Those evacuated by helicopter were flown to Grosseto, while others, rescued by local ferries pressed into emergency service, took survivors to the port of Porto Santo Stefano on the nearby mainland.
Passengers sat dazed in a middle school opened for them, wrapped in woolen blankets with some wearing their life preservers and their shoeless feet covered with aluminum foil.
Survivors far outnumbered Giglio's 1,500 residents, and island Mayor Sergio Ortelli issued an appeal for islanders -- "anyone with a roof" to open their homes to shelter the evacuees.
Paolillo said the exact circumstances of the accident were still unclear, but that the first alarm went off about 10:30 p.m., about three hours after the Concordia had begun its voyage from the port of Civitavecchia, en route to its first port of call, Savona, in northwestern Italy.
The coast guard official, speaking from the port captain's office in the Tuscan port of Livorno, said the vessel "hit an obstacle" -- it wasn't clear if it might have hit a rocky reef in the waters off Giglio -- "ripping a gash 50 meters (160 feet) across" in the side of the ship, and started taking on water.
The cruise liner's captain, Paolillo said, then tried to steer his ship toward shallow waters, near Giglio's small port, to make evacuation by lifeboat easier. But after the ship started listing badly, lifeboat evacuation was no longer feasible, Paolillo said.
Five helicopters, from the coast guard, navy and air force, were taking turns airlifting survivors still aboard and ferrying them to safely. A coast guard member was airlifted aboard the vessel to help people get aboard a small basket so they could be hoisted up to the helicopter, said Capt. Cosimo Nicastro, another Coast Guard official.
Costa Cruises said the Costa Concordia was sailing on a cruise across the Mediterranean Sea, starting from Civitavecchia with scheduled calls to Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Cagliari and Palermo.
It said about 1,000 Italian passengers were onboard, as well as more than 500 Germans, about 160 French and about 1,000 crew members.
The Concordia had a previous accident in Italian waters, ANSA reported. In 2008, when strong winds buffeted Palermo, the cruise ship banged against the Sicilian port's dock, and suffered damage but no one was injured, ANSA said.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5953 on: Jan 14th, 2012, 08:27am »
Mohamed ElBaradei drops Egyptian presidential bid
Mohamed ElBaradei, the former nuclear inspector and Nobel laureate, has dropped his bid to become Egypt’s president, claiming the country still had no “real democracy” despite its Arab Spring revolution.
By Colin Freeman 2:02PM GMT 14 Jan 2012
The ex-head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog pulled out of the race on Saturday, accusing the country’s interim military rulers of failing to create the conditions for a free and fair contest.
“My conscience does not allow me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless there is real democracy,” Mr ElBaradei said.
Referring to last year’s protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak, he added that “the captains of the vessel ... are still treading old waters, as if the revolution did not take place.”
Mr ElBaradei’s decision to withdraw from the contest is yet another blow to the credibility of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been accused of numerous human rights violations since Mr Mubarak stepped down.
But it will also rob the presidential contest of one of its few experienced international figures, adding to fears that Egypt’s post-Mubarak political landscape will be dominated by Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has already gained results of up to 40 per cent in early rounds of parliamentary polls that began in November, is now entertaining hopes of gaining an all-out majority in the final rounds in coming weeks.
Mr ElBaradei praised the revolutionary youths who led the popular uprisings against Mr Mubarak last spring, but said “the former regime did not fall.”
And he denounced the “repressive” policies of Egypt’s military rulers, whom he said were putting “revolutionaries on trial in military court instead of protecting them and punishing those who killed their friends.”
The military government insists that it wants to cede full powers to civilian rule once a president is elected by the end of June. But there is widespread belief among ordinary Egyptains that it will try to maintain a political role in the Egypt’s future.
The country saw deadly clashes between democracy protesters and regime forces in October, November and December - scenes that critics say shows the military has much the same authoritarian instincts as Mr Mubarak.
The former president is currently on trial, with state prosecutors calling for him to be hanged for the killing of hundreds of demonstrators in January and February of last year.
Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #5954 on: Jan 14th, 2012, 08:34am »
Underwater Noise Disturbs Whales 120 Miles Away
By Daniela Hernandez January 13, 2012 | 6:38 pm Categories: Animals
photo courtesy of Hiram Rosales Nanduca
Pulsing sounds made by technology used to monitor fish stocks may affect how baleen whales communicate, even at great distances.
Marine biologists working in Massachusetts waters noticed that humpback whales sang less during the fall of 2006, when a low frequency signal showed up in their recordings. They eventually traced the signal to some acoustic sensing equipment that was part of a scientific study off Maine’s coast, about 120 miles from where they were studying seasonal changes in whale songs in Georges Bank.
The scientists recorded more frequent whale vocalizations (listen below) during the same time of year in 2008 and 2009, when the study’s Ocean Acoustic Waveguide Remote Sensing equipment was not being used. This suggests the whales reacted to the low-level sounds by silencing their songs.
“It’s fascinating that we saw this behavioral response over such a large distance,” said Denise Risch, a marine biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and lead author of research published Jan. 11 in PLoS One.
Previous research suggests that nearby underwater noise from ships, airguns, underwater explosions and sonar may cause hearing damage and changes in feeding, mating and communication among marine mammals. But this is the first time whales have been reported reacting to man-made sounds from so far away.
Whales are extremely social creatures with a remarkable ability to play with sounds. When a male humpback starts to sing, it may keep going for weeks at a time, says Christopher Clark, the director of the Bioacoustics Research Program at Cornell University. Clark, who was not involved in the study but has collaborated with the researchers, studies various species of whales in Mexico and Hawaii.
In mating grounds, males sing to attract the ladies and show off to other males, but scientists don’t yet know why they sing in feeding grounds like the ones in Georges Bank.
That the artificial acoustic signals, which Clark compared to the sound of a penny whistle, changed the singing behavior of these animals was “pretty dramatic” and a cause for concern because underwater technologies that use acoustics to transfer data are becoming more commonplace.
“It’s important to be concerned about the whales, but it’s also important to get it right,” said mechanical engineer Nicholas Makris, director of the Laboratory for Undersea Remote Sensing at MIT. Makris was monitoring herring on Geroges Bank in the fall of 2006 with the same acoustic sensing equipment Risch’s team detected near Massachusetts.
The researchers don’t know how many whales visited Georges Bank in 2006 when they heard the acoustic monitoring pulses, nor in 2008 and 2009, the two years they used for comparison. Whale populations can vary dramatically each year due to weather conditions and the availability of the herring the whales eat, Makris said.
While underwater noise is “not killing the whales or driving them up on beaches,” Clark said, “it’s man-made junk in the water. We haven’t been good neighbors on that front.”