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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 113002 times)
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« Reply #6600 on: Apr 30th, 2012, 07:57am »

Washington Post

U.S. drone strikes resume in Pakistan; action may complicate vital negotiations

29 April 2012
By Richard Leiby and Karen DeYoung

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan— CIA drone missiles hit militant targets in Pakistan on Sunday for the first time in a month, as the United States ignored the Pakistani government’s insistence that such attacks end as a condition for normalized relations between the two perpetually uneasy allies.

The drone strikes, which have long infuriated the Pakistani public, killed four al-Qaeda-linked fighters in a girls’ school they had taken over in the North Waziristan tribal area, security officials there said.

Warning of diplomatic consequences, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the attacks, the first since Parliament’s unanimous vote this month approving new guidelines for the country’s relationship with the United States. Some politicians said the drone strikes might set back already difficult negotiations over the reopening of vital NATO supply routes to Afghanistan that Pakistan blocked five months ago.

Last week, after two days of high-level talks in Islamabad, Pakistan told U.S. negotiators that it would not allow NATO convoys to cross its territory unless the United States unconditionally apologized for November airstrikes that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers near the Afghan border. Although the Obama administration has expressed regret for the killings, which it said were accidental, the Pentagon says both sides share blame.

Washington has made it clear that an apology will not be forthcoming, but officials from both governments say they are committed to ongoing talks. A Pentagon-led team of 10 negotiators, including State Department and White House officials, remains in Islamabad to focus on getting the NATO supply lines open.

“We haven't found a solution yet, but everybody wants to find one,” said one U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the two nations have maintained a bargain: Pakistan gets billions in aid and the United States gets supply routes and a counterterrorism ally. Part of the negotiations for the reopening of the border crossings also focus on the United States releasing $1.1 billion in overdue coalition support funds — money Pakistan is owed to cover its outlays for the battle against militants. Pakistan says the unpaid funds, with no U.S. payments made since mid-2010, total three times that amount.

The supply convoy routes from Pakistani seaports into land-locked Afghanistan not only support the war against the Taliban but also are crucial for the exit of U.S. troops and equipment in the combat-force withdrawal that is scheduled for completion by the end of 2014.

U.S. commanders have relied on stockpiles and goods brought in across Central Asia to the north while the Pakistani crossings have been closed. But the military has concluded that the tens of thousands of heavy vehicles and other materiel amassed over a decade of warfare in Afghanistan cannot be carried over those routes without enormous expense and effort, or within existing agreements with countries to the north.

In a process triggered by the November U.S. airstrikes on the Pakistani border posts, Pakistan’s Parliament on April 12 unanimously laid down foreign policy guidelines for future dealings with the United States, then passed them to the government of President Asif Ali Zardari for enforcement. The “terms of engagement” called for an immediate end to the CIA drone strikes, which Parliament had twice demanded in recent years, to no effect.

But this time, the civilian leaders acted with more authority than ever before in the nation’s 64-year history. The military, which conducted all previous Pakistani foreign relations, stood back to give the lawmakers and the government room to formulate key policies and negotiate with the United States.

The guidelines also said the government should seek an apology for “the condemnable and unprovoked” border attack by U.S. helicopters and fighter jets in November. At various times since November, the White House had considered making such an apology, but after militant attacks in Kabul on April 15 — blamed on the Pakistan-based Haqqani insurgent network — the United States ruled that out.

The resumption of the drone strikes — while not unexpected, given their efficiency and effectiveness — highlights a schism in the U.S. approach to Pakistan.

“When a duly elected democratic Parliament says three times not to do this, and the U.S. keeps doing it, it undermines democracy,” said a Pakistani government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preserve diplomatic relationships. “These drone strikes may kill terrorists, but the net loser is freedom and democracy.”

Prominent politicians predicted that the new drone strikes, the first inside Pakistan since March 30, would provoke a backlash against further negotiations on the supply lines and stir outcries that the United States has no regard for Pakistan’s sovereignty.

“There will be repercussions whether in the government or in the public or in the Parliament,” said Aftab Khan Sherpao, a National Assembly member who sat on the committee that drafted the guidelines. “In no case would we allow the NATO supplies now.”

Others saw the drone attacks as a provocation that undermined any notion that the United States had engaged in sincere, meaningful talks last week.

“The CIA could have opted not to go for a drone strike at such a crucial time, when senior U.S. officials are trying hard to iron out differences with Pakistan,” said Sheik Waqas Akram, a member of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani’s cabinet. “It shows that it has no regard for the Pakistani Parliament’s resolution.”

The target of Sunday’s attack was in Miran Shah, the largest town in North Waziristan and a base of operations for extremist groups including al-Qaeda and the Haqqani network. A senior U.S. official said intelligence had indicated that operatives there were “preparing explosives for use in attacks in Afghanistan, like the high-profile attacks in Kabul” on April 15.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the CIA’s covert drone program.

“Only individuals working directly on the explosives were killed or injured in this action, which we know with certainty helped protect Afghan and American lives,” the official said.

But Pakistan, in a statement late Sunday, called the attacks illegal and “violative of its territorial integrity and sovereignty.”


DeYoung reported from Washington. Special correspondents Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad and Haq Nawaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/us-drone-strikes-resume-in-pakistan-action-may-complicate-vital-negotiations/2012/04/29/gIQAIprqpT_story.html?hpid=z1

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« Reply #6601 on: Apr 30th, 2012, 08:04am »

Telegraph

Australian billionaire to build Titanic II

A maverick Australian mining billionaire, Clive Palmer, plans to build the Titanic II and sail it
from England to New York by the end of 2016.

By Jonathan Pearlman, Sydney
10:39AM BST 30 Apr 2012

The replica of the ill-fated ship will be built at a Chinese shipyard and will sail on its maiden voyage accompanied by the Chinese navy. It will be powered by diesel rather than coal but will otherwise follow design plans approved by a historical research team and, like its predecessor, will have 840 rooms and nine decks.

Asked whether the new ship could sink, Mr Palmer, Australia's fifth-richest person, said: "Of course it will sink if you put a hole in it."

He added: "It will be designed as a modern ship with all the technology to ensure that doesn't happen. But, of course, if you are superstitious like you are, you never know what could happen.''

Mr Palmer said the boat will have the same dimensions as the Titanic and will replicate its design as closely as possible but will have "state of the art engineering". The only differences will be below the water line, he said, and will include a bulbous bow for greater fuel efficiency and diesel generation, plus an enlarged rudder and bow thrusters for improved manoeuvrability.

"Titanic II will be the ultimate in comfort and luxury with on-board gymnasiums and swimming pools, libraries, high class restaurants and luxury cabins," he said.

Mr Palmer, whose wealth is estimated at more than £3 billion, is well known in Australia for his outlandish whims and gestures and controversial views. He once bought Mercedes Benz cars for 55 of his top employees after a particularly good year and recently announced plans to set up a rival domestic football league because his team, Gold Coast United, was axed. The axing followed Mr Palmer's decision to change his team's T-shirts and replace the logo of the main sponsor with the words "Freedom of Speech"; the sponsor was a hotel chain with which Mr Palmer was embroiled in a legal dispute, .

Mr Palmer, a life member of the conservative National Party, coupled his announcement of his Titanic II plans with a declaration today that he intends to run against the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, in the Queensland seat of Lilley at the next election. Mr Swan said on Twitter he was "over the moon to fight in Lilley ... against Clive".

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/titanic-anniversary/9235867/Australian-billionaire-to-build-Titanic-II.html

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« Reply #6602 on: Apr 30th, 2012, 08:13am »

CNN

Londoners shocked by Olympics missile possibility

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:01 AM EDT, Mon April 30, 2012

London (CNN) -- The British Ministry of Defence might place surface-to-air missiles on a water tower in a densely populated London neighborhood as part of security for the Olympic Games this summer, a ministry official said Sunday.

Residents in an east London community have received leaflets warning them of the possibility, the official said.

"Site evaluations and exercises have taken place," the official said.

A former water tower within the Bow Quarter gated private estate would be the location for the proposed missiles. Bow Quarter is a former match factory containing a number of large buildings, converted into hundreds of residential flats and houses.

"Ground-based air defense systems could be deployed as part of a multi-layered air security plan for the Olympics, including fast jets and helicopters, which will protect the skies over London during the Games," said the official, asking not to be named in line with British government practice.

Brian Whelan, who got one of the leaflets about the possible missile system, said he was "absolutely shocked."

"This is a highly built-up area. I can't imagine any situation in which you could safely use a high-velocity missile over Tower Hamlets," as the neighborhood is called, said Whelan.

There is "obviously the security issue around the Olympics," he conceded, but said missiles would be an overreaction.

"This is meant to be reassuring, but it creates a lot of anxiety for me," he said.

London is hosting the 2012 Olympics from July 27 to August 12 and the Paralympics from August 29 to September 9.


video after the jump:
http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/29/world/europe/uk-london-olympics-missiles/index.html?hpt=hp_bn2

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« Reply #6603 on: May 1st, 2012, 08:19am »

New York Times

Top U.S. Security Official Says ‘Rigorous Standards’ Are Used for Drone Strikes
By CHARLIE SAVAGE
Published: April 30, 2012

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Monday offered its first extensive explanation of how American officials decide when to use drones to kill suspected terrorists — a tactic that the government often treats as a classified secret even though it is widely known around the world.

“Yes, in full accordance with the law — and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives — the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific Al Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones,” John O. Brennan, President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, said before the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The use of armed drones to strike at suspected militants in places like Pakistan and Yemen has grown dramatically under the Obama administration, and the emergence of the new technology — which has sharply reduced the cost and risk of warfare to its operators, making it easier to engage in sporadic combat in far-flung regions — has led to growing concerns both about civilian casualties and about a future in which other countries also acquire drones.

The United States government has been reluctant to talk openly about its use of drones, apparently in part because foreign governments that granted permission for strikes did so on the condition that the deals would remain secret.

Defending drone strikes as “legal, ethical, and wise,” Mr. Brennan said the president had directed officials to be more open about how they “carefully, deliberately and responsibly” decide to kill terrorism suspects — including what he described as “the rigorous standards and process of review to which we hold ourselves today when considering and authorizing strikes against a specific member of Al Qaeda outside the ‘hot’ battlefield of Afghanistan.”

Merely being a member of Al Qaeda or one of its allies is not enough to be targeted, Mr. Brennan said, because that describes many thousands of people. Rather, policymakers approve the killing of only those who pose a particular threat, he said, like operational leaders who are planning attacks against United States interests, lower-level militants training for such an attack, and those who possess “unique operational skills that are being leveraged in a planned attack.”

Mr. Brennan also said the administration preferred capturing such suspects alive — usually by telling a foreign government where to arrest them — and would authorize a strike only if that was not feasible.

“We only authorize a particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing,” he said. “This is a very high bar. Of course, how we identify an individual naturally involves intelligence sources and methods, which I will not discuss.”

But Mr. Brennan sidestepped a question about the use of “signature strikes,” in which drones are used to target unidentified people whose activities — such as presence at a training camp — suggest they probably are militants. He said he was speaking only of “targeted strikes against specific individuals.”

Mr. Brennan added, “We only authorize a strike if we have a high degree of confidence that innocent civilians will not be injured or killed, except in the rarest of circumstances.” But he acknowledged “instances when — despite the extraordinary precautions we take — civilians have been accidentally injured, or worse, killed in these strikes. It is exceedingly rare, but it has happened. When it does, it pains us and we regret it deeply, as we do any time innocents are killed in war.”

The killing of civilians by drones has fueled anti-American sentiment, especially in Pakistan. The number of such deaths — especially in remote regions where it is difficult for neutral observers to investigate — has been hotly disputed. American officials have described such deaths as rare, while critics have said there are far more than the government acknowledges.

Mr. Brennan said American citizens who join Al Qaeda may also be targeted — after extra internal review, but he did not mention the killing of at least three Americans in drone strikes in Yemen last year, including Anwar Al-Awlaki, a radical cleric.

The Obama administration is fighting to avoid disclosing information related to the targeted killing operations under the Freedom of Information Act, including lawsuits filed by The New York Times and by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Jameel Jaffer, a litigator with the A.C.L.U., called Mr. Brennan’s statement “important,” but said the administration should disclose “the memo that authorizes the extrajudicial killing of American terrorism suspects” and “the evidence it relied on to conclude that an American citizen, Anwar Al-Awlaki, could be killed without charge, trial, or judicial process of any kind.”

Mr. Brennan listed four organizations that the United States government now considered to be part of the war against Al Qaeda: the “core” Al Qaeda, whose leadership he described as “a shadow of its former self”; two of its affiliates in Yemen and in North and West Africa; and the Shabab militia in Somalia, although he described it as “in decline” and mainly focused on parochial concerns.

He also said the United States was monitoring the emergence in Nigeria of the group Boko Haram, which “appears to be aligning itself with Al Qaeda’s violent agenda,” but he stopped short of calling it an “affiliate” of Al Qaeda.


http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/world/obamas-counterterrorism-aide-defends-drone-strikes.html

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« Reply #6604 on: May 1st, 2012, 08:23am »

Reuters

Clinton heads to China and into dissident drama

By Arshad Mohammed and Chris Buckley
WASHINGTON/BEIJING
Tue May 1, 2012 5:03am EDT

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left on Monday on a high-stakes trip to Beijing, where a blind dissident is reportedly holed up in the U.S. embassy in a drama threatening to overshadow top-level meetings between the two governments.

Dissident Chen Guangcheng, according to one of his helpers, will demand to stay in China and press on with his campaign for reform, adding to tension between Beijing and Washington that poses risks for both governments as well as to relations between the world's two biggest economies.

Both governments have scrupulously avoided official comment on the Chen case and neither has confirmed that he is under U.S. protection in Beijing.

Chen's audacious escape from house arrest, under the watch of the world's largest domestic security apparatus, was a "miracle" of planning and endurance, said Guo Yushan, a Beijing-based researcher and rights advocate who has campaigned for Chen and helped bring him to the Chinese capital after his escape.

But he said the 40-year-old, self-taught lawyer wants to stay in China and campaign for reform.

"He was adamant that he would not apply for political asylum with any country. He certainly wants to stay in China, and demand redress for the years of illegal persecution in Shandong and continue his efforts for Chinese society," said Guo on Monday, speaking in his first long interview since he was released from days of police questioning.

Chen, who campaigned against forced abortions as part of family planning, was confined to his village home in the eastern province of Shandong since September 2010, after release from jail on charges he rejected as spurious.

President Barack Obama nudged China to improve its human rights record, saying the two countries' relationship "will be that much stronger and China will be that much more prosperous and strong as you see improvements on human rights issues in that country".

POLITICAL AMMUNITION

But at a news conference, he walked a fine line between not saying anything that would make it harder to resolve Chen's case while conveying U.S. concern for human rights and appreciation for wider cooperation with China.

It is a politically fragile period for both countries.

Obama, in this presidential election year, wants to avoid giving any political ammunition to his Republican foes who already accuse him of being too soft on China and have demanded he ensure Chen and his family are protected from persecution.

In Beijing, the ruling Communist Party is gearing up for leadership changes later in the year but the carefully choreographed planning has already been jolted out of step by the downfall of top official Bo Xilai, in a case linked to the apparent murder of a British businessmen.

Before leaving, Clinton promised to press China's leaders on human rights, an issue that has dropped down the agenda between the two countries in the more than two decades since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Clinton ducked a question about Chen, but hinted that she would not be shy about the matter in Beijing.

"A constructive relationship includes talking very frankly about those areas where we do not agree, including human rights," she told a news conference.

The Chen case has already distracted attention from this week's two-day talks, which U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will also attend amid some progress in long-standing disputes over currency, trade and market access.

The talks also give Washington a chance to win more Chinese co-operation on international issues including pressuring Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programs, halting Syria's continued crackdown on unarmed protesters and reducing tensions over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea.

Analysts said Chen appears to have two options: going into exile or getting the Chinese authorities to allow him to live in freedom within China, a challenge at best.

Yang Jianli, who runs the U.S.-based pro-democracy group Initiatives for China, said he believed that both the United States and China would prefer that Chen go into exile but that he did not think the dissident would.

"He is not the (kind of) person who will give in," Yang said. "He is so determined to stay in China."

Bob Fu, whose religious and political rights advocacy group ChinaAid has been a source of information about Chen, suggested the most plausible solution would be for him to leave China for the United States with his family, ostensibly for medical care.

Fu, who said he has spoken with senior U.S. diplomats in China about Chen's case, suggested the dissident ultimately may have little choice.

"At the end of the day, that is the only option that is left, if he wants safety and freedom for himself and his family."


(Additional reporting by Chris Baltimore, Laura MacInnis, Paul Eckert and Andrew Quinn; Editing by Don Durfee and Jonathan Thatcher)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/01/us-china-usa-diplomacy-idUSBRE83S01V20120501

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« Reply #6605 on: May 1st, 2012, 08:35am »

Wired

Congress Should Grill the FCC Over Redacted Google Wi-Fi Snooping Report
By Chris Soghoian
April 30, 2012 | 4:20 pm
Categories: Street View Debacle, Wired Opinion

Google released a mostly uncensored version of the FCC’s report on the Street View privacy debacle over the weekend, and the new revelations in the document will undoubtedly prompt privacy groups and Congress to demand further investigations and sanctions. And justifiably so. The full FCC report reveals that Google’s systematic interception of Wi-Fi content was intentional, and not the “mistake” that senior executives have repeatedly claimed in the past.

But while Google should certainly be raked over the coals by privacy hawks on Capitol Hill, I don’t think Congress should stop there. The FCC must be next in line.

For several years, Google has repeatedly insisted that the capture of payload data by the company was unbeknownst to them, the work of a single engineer acting on his own initiative. The FCC report (.pdf) http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/threatlevel/2012/04/91652398-FCC-Report-on-Google-Street-View-personal-data-mining.pdf states, however, that the code “was deliberately written to capture payload data” and that the engineer who wrote it (in his 20% time), told several colleagues about its capabilities — including, in writing, a senior manager.

None of those details emerged when the FCC first released its post-investigation report two weeks ago. That’s because the FCC opted to use page-long black redaction boxes — the kind commonly seen in CIA torture memos – to bury those sections of the report, keeping the public from learning about the extent to which Google had lied about its deliberate collection of Wi-Fi content data.

The FCC’s redactions led the media to focus on far less important issues, such as the number of seconds that it would take Google to pay off the pathetic $25,000 fine the FCC levied for Google’s reluctance to cooperate in the investigation, and the fact that the still-unnamed engineer invoked his 5th Amendment rights.

The media didn’t screw up. It was essentially misled by a federal agency, which for some reason found it necessary to shield Google’s reputation.

Google ultimately decided to publish the more complete version of the report this weekend (initially via an exclusive provided to the Los Angeles Times), just a few days after the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C. public interest group, filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the FCC for a copy of the full report. Had the group not filed the request and forced Google’s hand, the public still might not know the full story.

The FCC can and should have told the public

Now that Google’s prior statements have been shown to be less than truthful, I’m sure that some advocates will criticize the FCC for shuttering its investigation.

I won’t do this. It is quite possible that the FCC staffers quoted anonymously by the New York Times are correct in their belief that outdated U.S. electronic privacy laws do not provide the FCC with sufficient legal authority to go after a company that intercepts Wi-Fi payload data. My own former employer, the Federal Trade Commission, similarly closed its own investigation into Google’s Wi-Fi snooping with a mildly worded letter (.pdf) http://www.ftc.gov/os/closings/101027googleletter.pdf .
Although I was not permitted to work on the investigation due to a conflict, it is my personal belief that the FTC’s narrow “unfairness” and “deception” authority left it without a legal hook to go after Google for this particular privacy violation, and the FCC might well be in a similar position.

However, even if the FCC lacked the legal authority punish Google, nothing prevented the agency from alerting the public, the media, and Congress to the full extent of Google’s sins. Instead, the agency opted to keep the public in the dark.

The FCC has yet to reveal the reasons why it opted to so heavily redact the most damning portions of the Google WiFi report. Congress should not wait for the FCC to volunteer an explanation. It should demand answers.

http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/

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« Reply #6606 on: May 1st, 2012, 08:41am »

The Wrap

Broadcasters Face GAO Investigation on Advocacy Ads
Published: April 30, 2012 @ 4:51 pm
By Doug Hallonen

Federal lawmakers have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether broadcasters have been adequately disclosing potential conflicts when they air advocacy ads promoting issues in which they have financial stakes.

“It has come to my attention that some radio and TV broadcast stations may air advertising or editorial spots to influence legislation to benefit their interests, and that this practice may not be adequately disclosed to the public,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee in a letter to GAO.

Although the GAO letter, which was also signed by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., is dated Jan. 25, 2012, the request of the lawmakers is only now being released publicly.

“GAO should investigate the scope of these practices, whether the existence and value of such spots is disclosed to the public, and in what form, and whether any such disclosure is accurate and complete,” Issa and Quigley said in their letter.

In a statement, Quigley said that “the review that was requested is simply meant to gather facts to determine what, if any, action is necessary and makes no assumption of wrongdoing."

In their letter to the GAO, Issa and Quigley raised concerns about issue-ad campaigns that the broadcast industry has aired over the past several years.

One of the on-air campaigns, which used free spots produced by the National Association of Broadcasters, urged public opposition to legislation that would have required broadcasters for the first time to pay royalties to record labels and performers for music broadcast on the air.

Another on-air advertising campaign, also relying on NAB-produced ads, said pending spectrum auction legislation "could threaten local TV," and the ad urged the public to "protect local TV."

In an interview, Dennis Wharton, an NAB spokesman, said the broadcast association had no idea how many stations aired the NAB-produced advocacy spots. But Wharton said NAB had recommended that stations participating in the campaign disclose the sponsorship of the ads in station files that are made available for inspection by the public.

“NAB believes appropriate disclosures were made on these messages,” Wharton said. “When free and local broadcasting is threatened by bad public policy proposals, we have a First Amendment right and responsibility to educate our millions of listeners and viewers.”

In their letter to GAO, Issa and Quigley said it wasn’t clear that existing disclosure requirements “result in full and adequate disclosure of costs or value of spots aired by a radio or TV broadcast station to influence legislation for its own benefit.”

Among the specific questions that the congressmen asked GAO to address in its investigation is whether broadcasters airing the issue spots accepted or aired ads presenting opposing views.

The two lawmakers also asked that GAO conduct its investigation on “an expedited basis, so that we may consider whether legislative action is needed.”


http://www.thewrap.com/tv/article/broadcasters-face-gao-investigation-advocacy-ads-37931

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« Reply #6607 on: May 1st, 2012, 08:48am »

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« Reply #6608 on: May 2nd, 2012, 08:05am »

Washington Post

SpaceX launch of Dragon capsule to space station to put NASA strategy on display

By Marc Kaufman and Brian Vastag
Published: May 1 2012

In a refurbished Air Force hangar at Cape Canaveral, engineers from NASA and commercial space company SpaceX on Tuesday pored over data from a launchpad test of a gleaming white rocket poised to be the next step in U.S. space strategy.

The review may be the final hurdle before a much-delayed and highly anticipated launch — the first attempt to send a privately designed and built unmanned spacecraft to the international space station.

What SpaceX and NASA hope to do is part of a plan begun under President George W. Bush and enhanced by President Obama to turn travel to and from the space station into a largely private and less costly venture, freeing up NASA to plan for deep-space journeys to asteroids, the moon and ultimately Mars.

“It’s proving to be harder and more complicated and more expensive than [SpaceX founder] Elon Musk anticipated,” said Dale Ketcham of the Spaceport Research and Policy Institute at Central Florida University. “But it’s still more efficient than NASA.”

The company and the space agency are “targeting” Monday for the launch, but more delays could crop up if the final data check turns up problems. “We’re going to check and double-check and triple-check before launch day,” said Kirstin Brost Grantham, a spokeswoman for SpaceX.

If all goes well, the flight will deliver 1,100 pounds of food, water and other cargo to the 16-nation outpost, a capability the United States gave up when it retired the space shuttle last year. (Cargo vehicles built by Russia, Europe and Japan now supply the six-person crew.) Even more crucially, a successful docking would mark a milestone for commercial space companies.

NASA and SpaceX officials are emphasizing the excitement of the mission while tamping down expectations, noting just how difficult it will be to dock a new spacecraft to the space station. Many systems on the unmanned Dragon capsule, including its solar panels and the hardware and software needed to dock with the station, are being flown for the first time.

“This is a really tough flight,” William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA’s top official for human spaceflight, said during a recent news briefing. “What we’re asking them to do is amazing.”

The launch was originally designed as a fly-by of the station in which the Dragon would demonstrate it could approach, navigate with precision, “free-drift,” hold nearby and abort if necessary.

But last year SpaceX and Musk asked NASA for permission to try an actual docking. NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program manager, Alan Lindenmoyer, said that after a safety review, the agency decided to allow an attempted docking if the other maneuvers succeed.

The docking, if it occurs, will be on the third day of the flight, and the Dragon capsule will stay attached to the station for up to 18 days.

Although the craft will carry cargo, Musk said the effort remains “explicitly a test flight. Indeed, we may not succeed in getting all the way to the space station.” Later he said, “A lot can go wrong with a mission like this.”

SpaceX employees will control the capsule through docking, Musk said, although astronauts on the station also have an emergency abort switch. NASA Mission Control in Houston will also make a number of “go” or “no go” decisions as the spacecraft nears the station.

If the capsule is allowed to attempt a docking, astronauts on the station will grab it with a 57-foot robotic arm that will pull the capsule to the docking port.

The launch has been delayed several times. SpaceX engineers have struggled to ensure that electronics in the Dragon capsule do not interfere with the space station’s systems. In late April, the company pushed the launch back another week to run more computer simulations of the docking. Monday’s launchpad test was delayed by an hour by a computer glitch.

Still, SpaceX is ahead of other private space companies. It has already successfully launched one Dragon capsule that orbited Earth and landed safely on target, in the Pacific Ocean, in December 2010. A NASA analysis published last year found that SpaceX developed its Falcon rocket for about a third of what NASA would have spent.

Orbital Sciences of Dulles is the other U.S. company with a NASA contract to deliver cargo to the station. That company has scheduled the first launch of its Antares rocket and cargo carrier from Wallops Island, Va., late this summer.

Private contractors have built rockets for NASA in the past, of course, but the new companies have been given much freer rein to design and operate their vehicles under fixed-price contracts.

The SpaceX venture is especially significant because its capsule — unlike any other cargo carriers under production or available from other nations — was designed to return to Earth rather than break up in the atmosphere. That would allow scientists to have their experiments returned, another capability the United States gave up when it retired the shuttle. (The Russian craft that now ferry astronauts to and from the space station return only crew members, not cargo.)

A successful flight would also aid SpaceX in its race to become the first commercial company chosen by NASA to carry astronauts to and from the station. SpaceX is competing with space stalwart Boeing and two newer companies, Sierra Nevada and Blue Origin (founded by Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos), for NASA contracts to carry crew.

Space experts are watching the launch carefully for indications of how far commercial space has come, but they do not necessarily expect the capsule to dock.

“If Dragon fails at launch, that’s a bad thing that will get people concerned,” said John Logsdon, professor emeritus at the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University.

“But if it gets close but can’t dock, I would say that’s a setback but not a tragedy,” he added. “If they’re able to get close or even dock, then it would do quite a bit for commercial space — a real validation for those in NASA who set this in motion.”

While that view is common among officials involved in the effort, it is not necessarily the view of the SpaceX employees trying to make it work.

Encountered at dinnertime at a restaurant near the SpaceX hangar at Cape Canaveral earlier this year, four SpaceX engineers were preparing to return for a second shift. When asked what would make this mission a success, one engineer said that “there’s only one definition” — getting to the space station and docking.

Musk, who also founded the company that makes Tesla electric cars, has a contract with NASA to fly 12 cargo missions to the space station for a total of $1.6 billion. The contract can be extended to a value of $3.1 billion if the early supply flights are successful.

SpaceX, which is based in Hawthorne, Calif., and employs 1,700 people, is eying a second unused Air Force hangar at Cape Canaveral so it can ready two rockets simultaneously. It also may rent one of NASA’s two now-unused space shuttle launchpads and is discussing plans for a launch facility in Texas.

Meanwhile, Musk regularly makes waves by limning much grander dreams. This year, he talked of sending people to Mars for $500,000 a pop — the cost today of hoisting 6 or 7 gallons of water into low Earth orbit. The company’s Web site is filled with videos of huge rockets that will — someday — fly back to the launch site for near-instant refueling and relaunch. These reusable rockets do not yet exist, and Mars remains as distant as ever.

Before SpaceX heads for the Red Planet, it has many hugely challenging and more immediate concerns — building and launching 40 rockets over the next five years to fulfill contracts worth $4 billion.

In addition to carrying out the 12 space station resupply missions, the company has contracts to launch satellites for Canada, Thailand, Taiwan, Israel and Argentina.

It is also working to grab a share of the Defense Department satellite launch business away from the consortium of aerospace heavyweights Lockheed Martin and Boeing called the United Launch Alliance.

In recent years, both Russia and China have launched more rockets with satellites or capsules than the United States, and American space prowess has been questioned — especially in Congress. Musk said recently that one of his goals is to help make the United States the top nation for space launches again, although with a twist.

“It would be historically significant if Dragon were to become the first commercial spacecraft to conduct a docking,” he said in an e-mail. “By commercial, I mean a design that was conceived of and brought into being primarily by a private company, rather than a nation.”


http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/spacex-launch-of-dragon-capsule-to-space-station-to-put-nasa-strategy-on-display/2012/05/01/gIQAju58uT_story.html?hpid=z4

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« Reply #6609 on: May 2nd, 2012, 08:09am »

Reuters

Eleven killed in Egypt clashes over army rule

By Tamim Elyan and Sherine El Madany
CAIRO | Wed May 2, 2012 8:43am EDT

Eleven people were killed and more than 160 wounded near Egypt's Defence Ministry on Wednesday after armed men assaulted protesters demanding an end to army rule, prompting two Islamist candidates to suspend their presidential election campaigns.

Unidentified "thugs" armed with guns or batons attacked demonstrators who included hundreds of ultraconservative Salafi Islamists protesting at the exclusion of their candidate from this month's vote, state news agency MENA reported.

The violence casts a deep shadow over the presidential election due on May 23 and 24, with a run-off in June, and highlights the fragility of Egypt's transition to democracy, which has been punctuated by violence and political bickering.

Security and medical sources gave a toll of 11 dead and over 160 wounded in the clashes outside the Defence Ministry in central Cairo's Abbasiya district. The fighting raged on unabated through the morning, but subsided in the afternoon.

"Where is the army? Why are they not stopping these people?" cried a bystander as the violence persisted. Shots rang out as young men dashed back and forth across debris-scattered streets, hurling rocks, glass and petrol bombs.

"Down, down with military rule," yelled protesters.

Wounded men were hauled away as others filled bottles with petrol while shots rang out. A Reuters witness saw some combatants carrying guns and one with a sword.

The army sent in extra vehicles and troops, but pledged in a statement not to disperse peaceful demonstrators.

Troops had earlier blocked a road to the ministry with army vehicles, barbed wire and troops in riot gear. Graffiti hostile to the ruling generals plastered walls on a main road nearby.

Days of street violence also preceded the start of a staggered parliamentary election in November.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which topped that poll, said it would boycott a meeting the army had called for Wednesday with political party leaders to defuse a crisis between the Islamist-dominated parliament and the army-backed interim government.

CANDIDATES SUSPEND CAMPAIGN

The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party said the violence signaled an attempt to "obstruct the handover of power" and its presidential candidate, Mohamed Mursi, said he would not campaign for two days to mourn the dead.

The other leading Islamist candidate, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, suspended campaigning indefinitely in protest at the way the authorities had handled the protest, a spokesman said.

"Anything related to campaigning today including voluntary activities on the ground is being suspended," Ali al-Bahnasawy, Abol Fotouh's media adviser, told Reuters.

The unrest, limited to Cairo, is on too small a scale so far to influence the election, said Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, a political science professor at Cairo University. "These are small groups," he said, adding that if anything, the trouble would intensify popular demands for an end to military rule.

The army, which has pledged to hand over to civilian rule after the presidential election, has faced mounting criticism of its handling of the turbulent political transition since a mass uprising overthrew President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.

Many Egyptians suspect the generals will seek a strong influence even after the new president assumes power.

Official campaigning for the presidential vote began this week under a cloud, with the Brotherhood demanding that the army sack the cabinet of Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri.

Parliament had already suspended its work, saying the government was failing to respect its decisions and ministers had repeatedly failed to show up for parliamentary hearings.

Liberal pro-democracy groups, which were also involved in the sit-in that protesters have maintained outside the Defence Ministry for the past six days, condemned the dawn attack.

The April 6 Youth Movement decried the "massacres" and demanded the army be held to account for its "crimes committed against the revolution and revolutionaries".

Protesters often accuse the army and state security of paying or encouraging thugs to quash peaceful demonstrations.

Many of the demonstrators were supporters of ultraorthodox Salafi sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, whose disqualification from the election drew accusations that the ruling military council was trying to dictate the result in advance.

Some were "Ultras", or fans of Cairo's Al Ahly football club, angry at the deaths of 74 supporters in violence after a match in Port Said, in northeast Egypt. They accuse state security forces of causing the deaths in revenge for the involvement of Ultras in the uprising against Mubarak.

"We are here to demand that the army council hand over power," said 19-year-old Tarek Samir, one of the protesters.


(Additional reporting by Edmund Blair, Shaimaa Fayed, Tom Perry, Ahmed Tolba and Marwa Awad; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/02/us-egypt-clashes-idUSBRE8410BJ20120502

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« Reply #6610 on: May 2nd, 2012, 08:13am »

The Star (Yorkshire England)


Wednesday 2 May 2012

Town’s filming for UFO series

Published on Wednesday 2 May 2012 07:16

MYSTERIOUS sightings in the skies of South Yorkshire are to be investigated for a major documentary series.

Witnesses reported an alleged UFO appearance over Penistone on March 30, 1993, will be interviewed. Hundreds of people apparently saw strange objects in the sky across England that night.

Pioneer Productions will visit Penistone this summer as they prepare a six-part series to be shown in America.

Robert Strange, executive producer, said: “We believe sightings in and around Penistone will prove to be some of the most important evidence we can gather about this remarkable incident.

“Although many people remain sceptical of UFO sightings there is little doubt something unusual was near Penistone that night.”

Anybody willing to be interviewed should email bob.strange@pioneertv.com

http://www.thestar.co.uk/community/star-bizarre/town-s-filming-for-ufo-series-1-4504986#

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« Reply #6611 on: May 2nd, 2012, 08:19am »

Wired

May 2, 1952: First Commercial Jet Flies From London to Johannesburg
By Tony Long
May 2, 2012 | 6:30 am
Categories: 20th century, Transportation


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A BOAC de Havilland Comet jet airliner, en route to Johannesburg from London, breaks its journey at Entebbe Airport, Uganda.
Photo: British Ministry of Information/Wikimedia



1952: A de Havilland Comet, flying for British Overseas Airways Corporation, becomes the first jet aircraft to enter commercial service, carrying passengers from London to Johannesburg, South Africa.

The early Comet was a four-engine aircraft, roughly the size of a small Boeing 737. It carried between 36 and 44 passengers, depending on its cabin configuration. Regardless of configuration, most early commercial jets were roomy and passenger comfort was a much higher priority than it is today.

The Comet, built by de Havilland, a British firm, was the backbone of the British commercial fleet. Other countries also turned to domestic aircraft manufacturers to populate their fleets: Boeing and Douglas (United States), Tupolev (Soviet Union), Caravelle (France).

Despite the line’s overall success and longevity, the first Comets suffered from structural problems and the plane was involved in a number of accidents during the early and mid-’50s.

The plane that made that first London-Johannesburg flight, designated G-ALYP by BOAC (a forerunner of British Airways), was also among the first passenger jets to be lost. G-ALYP crashed into the Mediterranean Sea off the Italian island of Elba on Jan. 10, 1954, killing everyone on board.

http://www.wired.com/thisdayintech/2012/05/may-2-1952-first-commercial-jet-flies-from-london-to-johannesburg/

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« Reply #6612 on: May 2nd, 2012, 11:59am »

Have found the following story on Facebook. Don't know if it's true or not but it's touching:

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A sweet lesson on patience.

A NYC Taxi driver wrote:

I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes I honked again. Since this was going to be my last ride of my shift I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked.. 'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940's movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard
box filled with photos and glassware.

'Would you carry my bag out to the car?' she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. 'It's nothing', I told her.. 'I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.'

'Oh, you're such a good boy, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, 'Could you drive
through downtown?'

'It's not the shortest way,' I answered quickly..

'Oh, I don't mind,' she said. 'I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice.

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. 'I don't have any family left,' she continued in a soft voice..'The doctor says I don't have very long.' I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.

'What route would you like me to take?' I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, 'I'm tired.Let's go now'.
We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move.
They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

'How much do I owe you?' She asked, reaching into her purse.

'Nothing,' I said

'You have to make a living,' she answered.

'There are other passengers,' I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug.She held onto me tightly.

'You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,' she said. 'Thank you.'

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light.. Behind me, a door shut.It was the sound of the closing of a life..

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day,I could hardly talk.What if that woman had gotten an angry driver,or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life.

We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.

But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.
« Last Edit: May 2nd, 2012, 12:02pm by philliman » User IP Logged

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« Reply #6613 on: May 2nd, 2012, 5:02pm »

Hey Phil,

Thank you.

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« Reply #6614 on: May 2nd, 2012, 5:04pm »

grin






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