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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 47707 times)
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« Reply #6915 on: Jun 27th, 2012, 09:14am »

Wired

Top CIA Spy Accused of Being a Mafia Hitman
By Robert Beckhusen
June 27, 2012 | 8:33 am
Categories: Spies, Secrecy and Surveillance

Enrique “Ricky” Prado’s resume reads like the ultimate CIA officer: a candidate for the CIA’s most senior post in South Korea, a top spy in America’s espionage programs against China, and deputy to Cofer Black, a chief strategist in America’s war on terror. But he’s also alleged to have started out a career as a hitman for a notorious Miami mobster, and kept working for the mob even after joining the CIA. Finally, he went on to serve as the head of the CIA’s secret assassination squad against Al-Qaida.

That’s according to journalist Evan Wright’s blockbuster story How to Get Away With Murder in America, distributed by Byliner. In it, Wright — who authored Generation Kill — compiles lengthy, years-long investigations by state and federal police into a sector of Miami’s criminal underworld that ended nowhere, were sidelined by higher-ups, or cut short by light sentences. It tracks the history of Prado’s alleged Miami patron and notorious cocaine trafficker, Alberto San Pedro, and suspicions that Prado moved from a secret death squad from the CIA to notorious mercenary firm Blackwater.

“In protecting Prado, the CIA arguably allowed a new type of mole — an agent not of a foreign government but of American criminal interests — to penetrate command,” Wright writes.

In this sense, there are two stories that blur into each other: Prado the CIA officer, and Prado the alleged killer. The latter begins when Prado met his alleged future mob patron, Alberto San Pedro, as a high school student in Miami after their families had fled Cuba following the revolution. Prado would later join the Air Force, though he never saw service in Vietnam, and returned to Miami to work as a firefighter. But he kept moonlighting as a hitman for San Pedro, who had emerged into one of Miami’s most formidable cocaine traffickers, according to Wright.

San Pedro hosted parties for the city’s elite, lost a testicle in a drive-by shooting outside of his house, rebuilt his house into a fortress, tortured guard dogs for sport, and imported tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine into the United States per year, Wright adds. His ties reportedly included an aide to former Florida Governor Bob Graham, numerous judges, lobbyists and a state prosecutor. His ties also included a friendship with former CNN anchor Rick Sanchez, then a local TV reporter.

Prado, meanwhile, was dropping bodies, alleges Wright. Investigators from the Miami-Dade Police Department’s organized crime squad suspected him of participating in at least seven murders and one attempted murder. He attempted to join the CIA, but returned to Miami after not completing the background check (due to his apparent concern over his family ties). But was admitted after the Reagan administration opened up a covert offensive against leftist Central American militants, where he reportedly served training the Contras.

More startling, the Miami murders allegedly continued after Prado joined the CIA. One target included a cocaine distributor in Colorado who was killed by a car bomb. Investigators believed he was killed over concerns he would talk to the police.

Years later, in 1996, Prado was a senior manager inside the CIA’s Bin Laden Issue Station, before the Al-Qaida mastermind was a well-known name. Two years later, the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania elevated Prado to become the chief of operations inside the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, headed by then-chief Cofer Black, later an executive for the notorious merc firm Blackwater. “As the title implied, the job made Prado responsible for all the moving pieces at the CTC — supervising field offices on surveillance, rendition, or other missions, and making sure that logistics were in order, that personnel were in place,” according to Wright.

Prado was also reportedly put in charge of a “targeted assassination unit,” that was never put into operation. (The CIA shifted to drones.) But according to Wright, the CIA handed over its hit squad operation to Blackwater, now called Academi, as a way “to kill people with precision, without getting caught.” Prado is said to have negotiated the deal to transfer the unit, which Wright wrote “marked the first time the U.S. government outsourced a covert assassination service to private enterprise.” As to whether the unit was then put into operation, two Blackwater contractors tell Wright the unit began “whacking people like crazy” beginning in 2008.

But it’s hard to say where Prado’s alleged criminal ties end. It’s possibly his ties dried up, or moved on. Even mobsters, like Alberto San Pedro, retire. Another theory has it that Prado wanted to break his ties to the Miami underworld — and San Pedro — all along, and sought out legitimate employment in the military, in firefighting and the CIA as an escape. But, the theory goes, he stayed in because he still owed a debt to his patrons.

The other question involves the CIA itself. It’s no secret the agency has associated with dubious types, but the agency is also “notoriously risk averse,” Wright writes. Yet the agency is also protective. And letting Prado on board wouldn’t be the agency’s first intelligence failure.

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/06/cia/

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« Reply #6916 on: Jun 27th, 2012, 9:21pm »

Live Science

Mysterious African 'Fairy Circles' Stump Scientists

by Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer
Date: 27 June 2012 Time: 05:01 PM ET

In the sandy desert grasslands of Namibia in southern Africa, mysterious bare spots known as "fairy circles" will form and then disappear years later for no reason anyone can determine. A new look at these strange patterns doesn't solve the wistful mystery but at least reveals that the largest of the circles can linger for a lifetime.

Small fairy circles stick around an average of 24 years, while larger ones can exist as long as 75 years, according to research detailed today (June 27) in the journal PLoS ONE. Still, the study sheds little light on why the circles form, persist and then vanish into the landscape after decades.

"The why question is very difficult," said study researcher Walter Tschinkel, a biologist at Florida State University. "There are a number of hypotheses on the table, and the evidence for none of them is convincing." [See Photos of Fairy Circles: http://www.livescience.com/21226-fairy-circles-namibia-photos.html]

Circles of life (and death)

Tschinkel grew interested in fairy circles during a 2005 safari to NamibRand Nature Reserve in southwest Namibia, in the Namib Desert. It was his first experience with the round clearings, tens of thousands of which expose the red sandy soil in the area. A short time after the circles form, a tall ring of grass grows around the border, highlighting the bare area.



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The smallest are about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter, while the largest can be almost 40 feet (12 m) across.
Eventually, plants move back in, re-colonizing the circles and leaving only slightly indented "ghost circles" behind.
CREDIT: Mike and Ann Scott of the Namib Rand Nature Reserve




Few researchers have studied fairy circles, in part because of their remoteness, 111 miles (180 km) from the nearest village. It's an arid landscape where springbok, ostriches, leopards and other large animals roam, Tschinkel told LIveScience.

"It's like dying and going to heaven if you like remote, beautiful desert places," he said.

At first glance, Tschinkel assumed the circles marked underground nests of harvester termites. But digs have shown no evidence of termite nests under fairy circles. Other explanations, such as differences in soil nutrients or the death of seedlings by toxic vapors from the ground, have likewise failed to hold up to study.

In fact, little was known even about the life cycle of the circles, Tschinkel said. With the help of the nature reserve's staff, satellite images and aerial photos, he set out to change that. By comparing satellite images from 2004 and 2008, he found that circles are quite stable, popping up at nearly their full size, or growing quickly to full size once they get started. The smallest are about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter, while the largest can be almost 40 feet (12 m) across. Winds scour the bare areas of soil, turning them into slight depressions. Eventually plants move back in, recolonizing the circles and leaving only slightly indented "ghost circles" behind. [Gallery: Aerial Photos Reveal Mysterious Stone Structures]

Assuming that the overall number of fairy circles on the landscape is fairly steady, Tschinkel used the satellite photos to look at how quickly the circles go from birth to maturity to revegetation. That yielded rough estimates of the circles' life spans. Most probably exist for 30 to 60 years, Tschinkel said.

Persisting mystery

Tschinkel was able to bolster these estimates thanks to a fundraising effort by the Namib Rand Nature Reserve, which sells sponsorships to fairy circles. The sponsored circles are marked with a ceramic plate, and their GPS coordinates are recorded. Over the 10 years of the sponsorship program, staff members have checked on the status of the sold circles. Their data yielded similar age ranges for fairy circles as the satellite images did, Tschinkel found.

He also determined that the circles form only on sandy soil with minimal stoniness, and that they don't form on shifting dunes or alluvial fans, where sands are deposited by water.

Some of Tschinkel's experiments are still ongoing, but so far, they've generated no leads on the circles' origins. Tschinkel suspects the circles are the product of some form of natural self-organization by plants.

"There are some mathematical models that are based on the idea that plants can withdraw resources toward themselves, which has a positive feedback on plant growth where they're located, but it has a negative effect on plants at a greater distance," he said.

Computer models based on this math can generate landscapes that look a bit like the fairy circle fields of Namibia, he said. But even if that hypothesis is on the right track, it doesn't explain how the plants are creating this pattern, not when hoarding soil nutrients and some other possible factors have already been ruled out.

With few people studying the circles — and no funding for chasing down the mysteries of the landscape of southern Africa — Tschinkel said the fairy circles will likely remain an enigma.

"I'm not too worried that this mystery is going to be solved anytime soon," he said. And the persistence of the mystery makes it ever more intriguing.

"That's science, isn't it?" Tschinkel said. "If you knew the answer ahead of time, it wouldn't be much fun."

http://www.livescience.com/21228-mysterious-african-fairy-circles-mystery.html

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« Reply #6917 on: Jun 28th, 2012, 07:57am »

Reuters

China starts "combat ready" patrols in disputed seas

Thu Jun 28, 2012 8:29am EDT

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has begun combat-ready patrols in the waters around a disputed group of islands in the South China Sea, the Defence Ministry said on Thursday, the latest escalation in tension over the potentially resource-rich area.

Asked about what China would do in response to Vietnamese air patrols over the Spratly Islands, the ministry's spokesman, Geng Yansheng, said China would "resolutely oppose any militarily provocative behavior".

"In order to protect national sovereignty and our security and development interests, the Chinese military has already set up a normal, combat-ready patrol system in seas under our control," he said.

"The Chinese military's resolve and will to defend territorial sovereignty and protect our maritime rights and interests is firm and unshakeable," Geng added, according to a transcript on the ministry's website (www.mod.gov.cn) of comments at a briefing.

He did not elaborate. The ministry does not allow foreign reporters to attend its monthly briefings.

China is involved in long-running disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines about ownership of the South China Sea and its myriad, mostly uninhabited, islands and atolls. Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei also have claims.

Last week, China said it "vehemently opposed" a Vietnamese law asserting sovereignty over the Paracel and Spratly Islands, which straddle key shipping lanes and are thought to contain rich energy reserves.

That row came days after an easing in a months-long standoff between China and the Philippines, but shows the persistent cycle of territorial frictions triggered by what some see as China's growing assertiveness in the area.

The South China Sea is potentially the biggest flashpoint for confrontation in Asia, and tensions have risen since the United States adopted a policy last year to reinforce its influence in the region.

At stake is control over what are believed to be significant reserves of oil and gas.

CNOOC, China's offshore oil specialist, said on its website last weekend that it would invite foreign partners to explore jointly and develop nine blocks in the western part of the South China Sea this year.

On Tuesday, Vietnam said CNOOC's plan was "illegal" and the blocks encroached on Vietnamese territorial waters.

At a regular briefing on Wednesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, insisted that the tenders were in accord with Chinese and international law and urged Vietnam not to escalate the dispute.


(Reporting by Ben Blanchard, Judy Hua and David Stanway; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Robert Birsel)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/28/us-china-southchinasea-idUSBRE85R0J520120628

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« Reply #6918 on: Jun 28th, 2012, 08:02am »

Der Spiegel

06/28/2012

Sparring Ahead of Summit

Merkel Gives Monti Cold Shoulder

By Carsten Volkery in Brussels

A showdown is brewing between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti at the European Union summit in Brussels. Shortly before the start of the key euro crisis meeting on Thursday afternoon, Berlin further stoked its ongoing conflict with Rome.

High-level officials within Merkel's government dismissed complaints from Monti and Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy over high interest rates for government bonds in their countries as "fearmongering."

"I warn against projecting interest rates from specific situations as though they were the average," a German government source said. "Interest rates fluctuate." There is no reason to "fall into alarm," the official added.

In recent days, Monti and Rajoy have resorted to increasingly shrill rhetoric to indicate that their countries are in desperate need of assistance. They want the euro rescue fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), to buy up Italian and Spanish bonds to push down market interest rates from levels approaching 7 percent, which is considered to be unsustainable for borrowing in the longer term. If the EU summit in Brussels fails to make this happen, then a "catastrophe" awaits, Monti has warned, adding that the euro would then "go to hell". On Thursday, Italy had to offer yields of 6.19 percent in order to float government bonds valuing a total of €5.4 billion ($6.7 billion).

But Berlin has so far been unfazed by Monti's warnings. The view of Merkel's government is that purchasing government bonds is not on the agenda. Sources inside the government are also shaking their heads over a report by Italian daily La Repubblica that Merkel could possibly return to Brussels on Saturday to negotiate with Monti on the subject. Her travel plans have not changed, they said, insisting that Merkel would return to Berlin on Friday afternoon for the vote on ratifying the ESM in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag.

Merkel's government also continues to categorically reject calls for direct bank recapitalization through the ESM, as Spain has demanded. As long as the authority to intervene remains at the national level, such a measure will not be undertaken, the source said. Otherwise, the source warned, a situation could arise in which the ESM became the majority shareholder in a Spanish bank but had no influence over it.

German government officials have pointed out that the ESM was created as an instrument with which to cushion the euro-zone in emergencies. If a government believes it requires aid, then it should apply for it, Berlin government sources said. It will then be processed quickly, as happened when Spain requested a bailout of its banks. But, officials state, the ESM's rules cannot be changed. When a country asks for aid from the International Monetary Fund, the source said, it doesn't tailor its instruments each time just to meet an applicant's needs either.

Merkel Ruffles Feathers in Brussels with Criticism

That's not something Monti and Rajoy will be pleased to hear. They appear to be counting on being able to get special treatment because of their size and power. But the message coming from Berlin is this: We have procedures and we are not going to compromise them. Indeed, the message Berlin is taking to the summit is one of not allowing for more room for maneuver or fudging things, but rather adhering to rules that are already clear, government sources said.

German government officials also used unusually sharp language to reject allegations that Germany is exacerbating the euro crisis with its open opposition to collective debt sharing across the common currency area. The government sources said the crisis is only continuing because the problem countries are delaying necessary reforms. "The problems in the countries that are being monitored are homemade and can only be solved at home," the source said.

The way things look right now, the summit will be anything but harmonious. European officials in Brussels are also said to be angered by Merkel's harsh criticism of the proposal for the starting points for discussion at the summit prepared by European Council President Herman van Rompuy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and Euro Group President Jean-Claude Juncker. The chancellor criticized the fact that the discussion paper put too much focus on communitization of debt through euro bond-like structures -- a move the German government currently rejects.

Sources close to the presidents of the four most important EU institutions said the leaders had been very surprised by the German chancellor's choice of words -- particularly given that the contents of the document had been agreed to by all the EU member states.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/berlin-rejects-demands-from-spain-and-italy-ahead-of-eu-summit-a-841487.html

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« Reply #6919 on: Jun 28th, 2012, 08:07am »

Hollywood Reporter

'Star Trek 2' Screenwriter Alex Kurtzman Reveals 'Kirk Doesn't Understand What It Means to Be Captain'

The screenwriter, whose new film "People Like Us" is due out Friday, tells THR about the perils of seeding a first film with sequel possibilities: "That's when people will kill you."

9:07 PM PDT 6/27/2012
by Todd Gilchrist

Although his latest project is the kind of movie Hollywood seems to seldom make any more -- dramas that don’t involve robots, superheroes or vampires -- Alex Kurtzman is intimately familiar with the machinery of tentpole blockbusters. In fact, his respite from them was mercilessly short-lived: After completing People Like Us, his directorial debut, Kurtzman threw himself into co-writing (with longtime partner Roberto Orci) Star Trek 2, the eagerly-awaited follow-up to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 franchise reboot.

Kurtzman sat down with The Hollywood Reporter early Wednesday for a chat about People Like Us, but he also offered a few insights into the process of assembling the sequel -- in particular, where Captain Kirk and company are headed after the end of the first film, and how best to combine ideas old and new for the best moviegoing experience possible.

The Hollywood Reporter: If theoretically Star Trek 2 examines what it means for Kirk to be Captain, how much is the film a Quantum of Solace follow-up that starts right after the first film, and how much does it take place some time after the events of Star Trek?

Alex Kurtzman: I can’t answer your question directly, but I can say the assumption that we did not want to make was that just because he’s in the chair and they’re on the bridge together that they’re the crew that you remember from the original series. They’re not -- the crew from the original series had gone on many, many journeys, they were a well-oiled machine in terms of how they function, and these characters are still figuring out who they are and who they are to each other. And I did not want to jump so far ahead that we missed a really important emotional connection to that transition for them.

THR: Prometheus drew a lot of criticism for asking a lot of questions that it doesn’t answer. How tough is it to ask big questions that have open-ended answers without leaving the audience unsatisfied at the end?

Kurtzman: I think it depends on what the story is demanding. To me it always flows back from, what do I want the audience to take home from this. And you have to be aware that the price tag with that will be potentially a sense of unfulfillment. But I think Damon [Lindelof] was exactly right -- you will never get a consensus opinion on the nature of the universe and existence and why we’re here. And I think the brilliance of what he did was you asking this question -- because how often do you go to a studio movie and walk out asking those questions at all? The fact that he was able to interject that and infuse that into an Alien movie is extraordinary to me.

I tend to look at things first and foremost as a character’s journey from beginning to end, and oftentimes the journey won’t be resolved at the end, it will just be the completion of whatever that moment in their journey is. Jim Kirk, for example, inherits the Enterprise at the end of Star Trek but that doesn’t mean he fully understands what it means to be Captain. It just means, oh, he has the Enterprise now -- so now what? He’s never sent men and women to their deaths before, so what’s going to happen when that kind of question comes up for him? I guess I normally look at it from a place of pure character.

THR: If you’re shepherding a franchise through a number of installments, how much are you anticipating the chance to develop a story beyond a first film?

Kurtzman: I think audiences are really smart, and I think if they feel like they’re being set up for a sequel with a lot of intentionality, they don’t like it. They’re like, “No, you’re just trying to get me to pay more money for the next thing.” In the case of Star Trek, Star Trek exists in a continuum of so many different versions of Trek, and it was always designed to be a story that continued and continued and continued, both from Roddenberry’s first approach to the movies that then came along. So we knew we were walking into a franchise that was designed to be a continuum. That said, you cannot write the first of that thinking you’re going to leave 10,000 open-ended questions so people will come back to see the sequel. So in the case of Trek, it was, let’s really focus on telling the story that we want to tell, let’s bring the bridge crew together, and let’s do it in an unexpected way, but hopefully make some bold choices about the narrative.

But we don’t like to count our chickens before they’re hatched, and if you’re writing ‘Movie 2’ of something, you know that you’ve already inherited a story, and you know that people have agreed to go with you along on the ride of a continued narrative. But I still think that for the most part, it’s really hard to do that. Now, Empire Strikes Back, one of my all-time favorite movies, couldn’t have more unresolved shit at the end of it, but there was something deliciously enjoyable about that. I mean, you felt radically unfulfilled, but not in a way that somehow violated the story. You were totally satisfied by the experience of it because those endings were about consequences, and I think that can be really satisfying if you know where you’re going and you know that’s what you’re intending for the audience to do. If you throw it in as a last-minute afterthought, that’s when people will kill you.

THR: Has it been a struggle to find stories that are different than the library of tales from previous iterations of Trek, or is there groundwork laid out through those stories that you can build upon for your film but just make it more cinematic?

Kurtzman: Star Trek at its best was always allegory, and wildly entertaining at the same time -- they always coexisted, those two things. And we were supposed to be out this year in theaters, and part of why we all collectively said we really shouldn’t do this is because we put a lot of love and time and effort into making this without violating canon, and yet bring something totally new to the table when it came to Star Trek. The last thing we wanted to do was destroy that by letting a speed mandate mess up our storytelling, and we just felt we weren’t ready. So we wanted to take more time with the story to make sure that the story is as true to everything that keeps you watching one episode a night before bed.

And you can’t do that when you’re rushing and you can’t do that when you’re rushing at a production level, either; the studio wanted us to shoot in 3D which is awesome, but what you don’t want to do is rush through 3D. You want your storytelling and the sequences that you design and everything you conceptualize to be coming from a place of knowing "that’s where I’m going," and having it be totally organic to the storytelling. And when you see a movie that is like that, that gives you that whole experience, you feel it -- you always feel it. And God bless J.J. for saying "we need another year."

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/star-trek-2-alex-kurtzman-kirk-people-like-us-342700

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« Reply #6920 on: Jun 28th, 2012, 08:12am »

Seattle Times

Originally published Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 4:00 AM

Report: JPMorgan trading losses may reach $9B

Shares of JPMorgan Chase & Co. tumbled in premarket trading Thursday as a published report said that the bank's losses on a bad trade may reach as much as $9 billion - far higher than the estimated $2 billion loss disclosed last month.

The Associated Press

NEW YORK —

Shares of JPMorgan Chase & Co. tumbled in premarket trading Thursday as a published report said that the bank's losses on a bad trade may reach as much as $9 billion - far higher than the estimated $2 billion loss disclosed last month.

In May, JPMorgan said the loss came from trading in credit derivatives that was designed to hedge against financial risk, and not to make a profit for the New York bank.

The New York Times, citing sources it did not identify by name, said that the losses have grown recently as JPMorgan has been unwinding its positions. The newspaper said its sources were current and former traders and executives at JPMorgan, which is the largest bank in the U.S. by assets.

The New York Times story cites an internal report that JPMorgan made in April that showed the losses could reach $8 billion to $9 billion, in a worst-case scenario. But the newspaper add7d that because JPMorgan has already been unwinding its positions, some expect that the losses will not be more than $6 billion to $7 billion.

A JPMorgan representative declined to comment.

At the time of the loss, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon apologized to shareholders. And just days after the loss was disclosed, Chief Investment Officer Ina Drew left the company. Drew oversaw the trading group responsible for the trade.

JPMorgan has lost about $23 billion in market value since the losses came to light on May 10.

The loss has heightened concerns that the biggest banks still pose risks to the U.S. financial system, less than four years after the financial crisis in the fall of 2008.

In a hearing before the House Financial Services Committee last week, Dimon was dismissive when asked if JPMorgan's losses could total half a trillion or a trillion dollars. He replied bluntly: "Not unless the Earth is hit by the moon."

While Dimon avoided putting an exact number on the bank's trading loss, he did say that JPMorgan will have a solidly profitable quarter. JPMorgan plans to give more details related to its losses when it reports second-quarter earnings on July 13.

The company's stock dropped $1.03, or 2.9 percent, to $35.71 in premarket trading. Its shares are down 11 percent in regular trading since the bank disclosed the trading losses.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/businesstechnology/2018546866_apusjpmorgantradingloss.html

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« Reply #6921 on: Jun 28th, 2012, 08:15am »

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« Reply #6922 on: Jun 29th, 2012, 08:29am »

Reuters

Iran expects to equip Gulf ships with missiles soon

Fri Jun 29, 2012 7:59am EDT

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran expects to equip its ships in the Strait of Hormuz soon with shorter-range missiles, a Revolutionary Guards commander was quoted as saying, in the latest apparent warning to the West not to attack it over its disputed nuclear program.

The Islamic Republic has threatened to shut the Strait, the conduit out of the Gulf for 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil trade, if Western sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear works block its own crude exports.

The European Union plans to impose a total embargo on Iranian oil from Sunday and has told Tehran that more punitive steps could follow if it keeps defying U.N. demands for limits nuclear activity that could be of use in developing bombs.

"We have already equipped our vessels with missiles with a range of 220 km (136 miles) and we hope to introduce missiles with a range of over 300 km (186 miles) soon," Ali Fadavi said, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Friday.

"We could target from our shores all areas in the Persian Gulf region, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman."

Iran is about 225 km (140 miles) at its nearest point from Bahrain, where the U.S. Fifth Fleet is based, and about 1,000 km (625 miles) from its arch-enemy Israel. Tehran's longest-range missile, the Sajjil-2, can fly up to 2,400 km (1,500 miles).

Iran's military and security establishment often asserts its strength in the region, particularly in the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil transit channel carrying supplies from Gulf producers to the West.

But it has increasingly flexed its military muscle in the face of U.S. and Israeli warnings that last-resort military action against Iran cannot be ruled out if diplomacy and sanctions fail to resolve the nuclear dispute.

In January, the Islamic Republic said it had successfully test-fired what it called two long-range missiles.

Earlier this month, the Iranian navy announced plans to build more warships and increase its presence in international waters such as the Gulf of Aden and northern Indian Ocean.

Iran denies Western suspicions that it is trying to develop technology and material required to produce nuclear weapons, saying it needs the know-how solely to generate electricity.

Tehran has said it would retaliate for any attack with missile strikes against Israel and U.S. assets in the Gulf.

A third round of nuclear talks between world powers and Iran on June 18-19 aimed ultimately at curbing Iranian nuclear activity in exchange for sanctions relief failed to ease the stalemate. With that process seemingly close to collapse, Israel renewed veiled threats to hit Iranian nuclear installations that it considers a mortal threat.


(Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/29/us-iran-ships-missiles-idUSBRE85S0OD20120629

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xx Re: Stuff & Nonsense
« Reply #6923 on: Jun 29th, 2012, 08:33am »

MSNBC.com

Is the Baltic Sea 'Sunken UFO' an Elaborate Scam?

By Natalie Wolchover
6/28/2012 5:19:15 PM ET

The ocean explorers who discovered a huge, UFO-shape object on the floor of the Baltic Sea last year are having a heck of a time figuring out what it is.

A suspiciously hard time, some would say.

The Swedish divers, who call themselves the Ocean X Team, claim the object is giving off electrical interference that keeps foiling their attempts to investigate it. "Anything electric out there — and the satellite phone as well — stopped working when we were above the object," said diver Stefan Hoberborn in an Ocean X press release. "And then we got away about 200 meters and it turned on again, and when we got back over the object it didn't work."

As a result, there is still only one sonar image in existence of the 200-foot-wide (60-meter-wide) object, which UFO believers say is a crashed flying saucer. According to experts in remote imaging and geology, however, that image is "lacking in resolution, detail, and quantification," is riddled with "numerous processing artifacts" and looks like a spaceship only because the Ocean X team drew a Millennium Falcon-shape outline around it. Instead, the experts said, what the image shows is probably a roughly circular rock formation called a pillow basalt — rare, but very much of this world.

The alleged inability of the Ocean X team to provide more details of its seafloor " UFO " is only adding to the object's allure, judging by the upsurge of media coverage. But is the whole thing a scam?

Peter Lindberg, head of the Ocean X Team, either has let his imagination run wild or has an ulterior motive, according to Jonathon Hill, a researcher at the Mars Space Flight Facility at Arizona State University, who analyzes images of planetary surface features taken during NASA's Mars missions.

"Whenever people make extraordinary claims, it's always a good idea to consider for a moment whether they are personally benefiting from the claim or if it's a truly objective observation," Hill told Life's Little Mysteries.

"In this case, the team clearly has a lot to gain from an extraordinary claim," he said. "Mr. Lindberg is already making plans to take 'wealthy tourists' down in his submarine to view the object. If he had used a rock hammer to break off a small piece of the object, a geologist could have determined whether it was a pillow basalt in a few minutes. But if it turned out to be a pillow basalt and not a 'mysterious UFO-like object', Mr. Lindberg wouldn't have much of a business plan, would he?"

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48001242

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« Reply #6924 on: Jun 29th, 2012, 08:39am »

Wired

June 29, 1956: Ike Signs Interstate Highway Act
By Brandon Keim
June 29, 2010 | 12:00 am
Categories: 20th century, Politics, Transportation

1956: Urged to ease congestion on America’s roads, and inspired by Germany’s use of autobahns for troop movement during World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956.

The new law poured $33 billion (about $265 billion in modern purchasing power) into overhauling the country’s roadways. Then-Secretary of Commerce Sinclair Weeks called it “the greatest public works program in the history of the world.” America would never be the same.

Before the act, U.S. highways were narrow, meandering, stop-and-start affairs, passing right through big cities and small towns. Connecting roads sprouted off haphazardly, and bazaar-like marketplaces lined the shoulders. They united the nation in organic, mom-and-pop fashion.

After the act, interstate travel was defined by the massive, multilaned, high-speed funnels we know today. It was General Motors’ 1939 Futurama exhibit come true: coast to coast without a stoplight.

“When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must,” wrote John Steinbeck in his 1962 Travels With Charley, “it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.”

Small towns that were bypassed by the highways withered and died. New towns flourished around exits. Fast food and motel franchises replaced small businesses. Trucks supplanted trains for shipping goods cross-country.

Americans fled from inner cities — now scarred, in many places, by interstates built over what had been neighborhoods — to the suburbs in ever greater numbers. Shopping plazas and malls catered to their needs, and America’s suburbanization became complete. This was not foreseen by the interstate system’s designers, and old forms of traffic congestion gave way to new.

Not everyone held with Steinbeck’s nostalgia. “I say we see a great deal more on and near the interstates: America as it is and as it is becoming; the real thing, like it or not,” wrote Mike Bryan in Uneasy Rider: The Interstate Way of Knowledge.

Meanwhile, courtesy of a man who warned against the growth of a military-industrial complex, the highway-industrial complex came into being. The Federal Highway Administration Budget now spends $40 billion a year overseeing the National Highway System’s 160,000 miles, and highway spending is a stock mode of government job creation.

“More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America,” said Eisenhower in 1963.

http://www.wired.com/thisdayintech/2010/06/0629interstate-highway-act/

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« Reply #6925 on: Jun 29th, 2012, 08:43am »

The Hill

Lobbyists brace for flood of regulations after healthcare ruling

By Kevin Bogardus
06/29/12 06:00 AM ET

One lobbyist predicted the administration would "dramatically accelerate" work on healthcare reform now that it has been ruled constitutional.

Lobbyists are bracing for a flood of healthcare regulations now that the Supreme Court has cleared away uncertainty about the reform law’s future.

K Street had been preparing for the health law’s individual mandate to be stripped, a scenario insurance companies warned would create chaos for their industry.

But with the mandate intact after Thursday’s 5-4 ruling, lobbyists say they’re ready to get down to the nitty-gritty and focus on the regulations that will be created under the sweeping overhaul.

Holly Fechner, co-chairwoman of the government affairs practice group at Covington & Burling, predicted the implementation of the healthcare law will now “dramatically accelerate.”

“We are working closely with our clients to help them understand the impact of the court’s opinion and we are continuing to engage in the regulatory processes of the key agencies,” Fechner said.

Others on K Street said that with the Supreme Court having spoken, the real work of implementing the law could begin.

“Now that the Supreme Court has ruled, the focus within the executive branch, in the states and throughout the healthcare industry will be on developing and implementing the programs as quickly as possible,” said former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), now a partner with Venable, in a statement.

Views were mixed on how the ruling would affect business on K Street. Some argued the court’s decision would provide more room for individual companies and trade groups to target smaller parts of the law.

“This sets the table for more lobbying, as there is now certainty, and interests on all sides will look to change parts they don’t like,” said one lobbyist.

“Removing the uncertainty about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act frees up companies and other entities to advocate for legislative and regulatory changes they need. This will increase opportunities,” Fechner said.

But others disagreed, saying the court ruling changed nothing. Congress will enter its slow summer period with election politics front and center, several lobbyists said, leaving little chance for any legislation to become law.

“The ruling today essentially leaves everything in place,” said J. Jonathon Jones with Peck, Madigan, Jones & Stewart. “The healthcare industry will continue its focus on [healthcare reform law] implementation issues, while preparing for the end of the year and 2013 budget discussions where even deeper cuts will be on the table.”

Others noted companies have had ample help on K Street from day one.

“Those of us who had clients who didn't like this have been working on this since the day it passed,” said one healthcare consultant. “Has the law been a boon for K Street? Absolutely. … Does the court ruling change that one way or the other? Not really, because we have always assumed that this law will be re-legislated.

“If you're interested in this bill and you're not fully hired up, you're stupid,” added the consultant.

Former Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), a special legislative counsel for Alston + Bird and a member of Tauzin Consultants, said he doesn’t expect a hiring spree for lobbyists in reaction to the court ruling.

“We are in a period of inaction right now for Congress. That's not a great time for K Street,” Tauzin said. “That's going to change, and that's going to change big time in January.”

Tauzin said the Supreme Court's ruling to uphold the mandate because it constitutes a tax would make the healthcare reform law part of the growing debate over tax reform. That is expected to be a major issue for Congress and lobbyists next year.

“The court just said our government can be big as it wants to be through the tax code,” Tauzin said. “It makes tax reform the big thing next year, and you can bet everyone on K Street is going to be involved with that.”

Business groups that fought the law vigorously vowed to lobby for changes.

“The Chamber and the American business community are ready to go to work to enact true healthcare reform. Given the court's decision, the need for action has never been greater,” said Tom Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), one of the plaintiffs in the case decided by the Supreme Court, plans to continue fighting for repeal.

“We will push for repeal. We will push for trying to do anything we can do about parts that we think are most onerous,” Dan Danner, NFIB’s president and CEO, told reporters.

But Danner said he was realistic and didn’t expect action until after the November elections.

“I can assure that this will be a major issue on our plate for candidates across the country in the elections,” Danner said. "At the end of the day, we understand there's not much going to happen between now and the elections and, frankly, the legislative opportunities for change, the elections will without question have a big impact on. We'll see what happens after the elections."

Tauzin agreed, saying that “the legal remedy is gone. The question is now whether you have a political remedy.

“I don't think the Supreme Court eliminated uncertainty. It defined the terms of uncertainty,” Tauzin said. “The November election is going to tell us whether there's a real chance for change in the law."


Elise Viebeck contributed to this report.

http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/235519-lobbyists-brace-for-flood-of-new-healthcare-regulations

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« Reply #6926 on: Jun 29th, 2012, 09:36am »

...The European Union plans to impose a total embargo on Iranian oil from Sunday ..

Or could this be related to the fact that the price of oil is falling.

Reducing the supply by any means will push it (and the price) back up again.

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« Reply #6927 on: Jun 30th, 2012, 08:51am »

on Jun 29th, 2012, 09:36am, HAL9000 wrote:
...The European Union plans to impose a total embargo on Iranian oil from Sunday ..

Or could this be related to the fact that the price of oil is falling.

Reducing the supply by any means will push it (and the price) back up again.

HAL


Good morning HAL,

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« Reply #6928 on: Jun 30th, 2012, 08:57am »

Washington Post

These knitters wouldn’t unravel under the glare of U.S. Olympic Committee

By Anne Midgette, Published: June 29

The sweater triathlon will go ahead. The mitten medley will proceed as scheduled. The spinning wheels will hum for the handspun heptathlon, and looms will clack in the weaving vault.

But let’s be clear: There is no link, none at all, between these activities and the Olympic Games.

Last week, the U.S. Olympic Committee sent a cease-and-desist letter to a bunch of knitters who had found a creative way to get together and watch the Olympics. While copyright infringement notices happen all the time, this one seemed a particularly far-fetched target for the USOC’s wrath.

The knitters — and crocheters, spinners and other fiber enthusiasts — are members of a social-networking site called Ravelry, which has been a haven for fiber artists since 2007: It’s a bulletin board, marketplace and discussion forum rolled into one.

In 2008, Ravelry members launched the Ravelympics, a tongue-in-cheek event that has continued every two years since, in which crafters set themselves specific goals, start their projects during the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympic Games and have to have them finished by the end of the Closing Ceremonies.

Not any more — at least not under that name.

“We believe using the name ‘Ravelympics’ for a competition that involves an afghan marathon, scarf hockey and sweater triathlon, among others, tends to denigrate the true nature of the Olympic Games,” said the USOC’s letter, which Ravelry’s founder, Casey Forbes, posted on the site on June 20. “In a sense, it is disrespectful to our country’s finest athletes and fails to recognize or appreciate their hard work.”

“Yeah,” one knitter commented on Ravelry, “because it’s so much easier to knit a sweater than run 40 yards.”

The USOC may be too big to fight — the Ravelympics will henceforth be known, after a lot of debate and a member poll, as the Ravellenic Games. But that doesn’t mean Ravelers didn’t try. Ravelers are not your grandmother’s knitters; they spend a lot of time on computers and they know how to use social media. The pushback on Twitter, in particular, was so intense that the USOC found itself backtracking — and even ended up having to apologize, in writing. Twice. The first apology wasn’t good enough.

In fairness, the USOC didn’t necessarily mean to pick on knitters. They pick on everybody.

“We send out hundreds of these letters a year,” said Patrick Sandusky, the chief communications and public affairs officer of the USOC.

So far, the committee has managed to change hundreds if not thousands of Olympic knockoffs, including the Rat Olympics, the Hip Hop Olympics, the Redneck Olympics and the Olympigs, although the last name conjures up more of a vision of porcine Greek deities than of anything pertaining to athletics.

But in turning on Ravelry, it encountered an audience it wasn’t prepared for.

For one thing, it is bigger. The site has more than 2.2 million registered users, although only about 40,000 or so log on in any given month. For another, it is younger and tech-savvier. The Internet has proven to be fertile ground for knitting because it allows people to exchange tips, pictures, videos and techniques; even before Ravelry’s founding, knit blogs were among the Top 10 most popular blog types.

Forbes, a programmer, and his wife, Jessica, founded the site in response to her wish for some kind of central place to keep track of her projects and various Internet-gleaned tips. The site’s popularity took them by surprise — today, it supports them and two employees, mainly through sales of fiber-related advertising — but Forbes’s technical acumen has been one reason for its success.

So when Ravelry users feel dissed, they don’t retreat to their firesides to nurse their grievances. They take to the phones, to their blogs and to the media — the story appeared everywhere, from NPR to Gawker to the New York Times’ Olympics blog — and to Twitter. The day after the letter appeared on Ravelry, Sandusky personally answered more than 500 angry, knitting-related tweets.

“This was an unprecedented response,” he said — one emphatic enough to warrant a written apology on the USOC’s Web site.

But Sandusky’s claim that the letter had been a standard form letter and that no insult had been intended wasn’t good enough for the knitters. The original letter, after all, cited specific Ravelympics events. The wave of protest continued until Sandusky posted a nearly abject followup: “[W]e sincerely regret the use of insensitive terms in relation to the actions of a group that was clearly not intending to denigrate or disrespect the Olympic Movement. We hope you’ll accept this apology and continue to support the Olympic Games.”

This may not quite be a story about David and Goliath; while the Ravelers got their apology, they end up having to change the Ravelympics name. It is, though, a story about a fundamental misunderstanding about trademark and infringement in the Internet age (an issue, ironically enough, that gets debated all the time on the Ravelry forums with regard to sharing, copying and selling copyrighted patterns).

The Ravelympics saw itself as promoting the Olympic Games, as making a gesture of goodwill and international understanding. The USOC sees the issue only in terms of protecting a brand that is its sole source of income, but protecting it in a manner that, as this story shows, is going to be increasingly difficult for it to defend as it moves forward.

“I think they’re on the wrong side of history on this,” said Kay Gardiner, the New York-based co-author of the knitting blog Mason-Dixon Knitting who also is a lawyer. “The whole trademark infringement thing in the world of the Internet. . . . You had 2 million knitters enthusiastically watching the Olympic Games. They should be happy about that. You can’t buy that.”

Gardiner has organized her own response to the ban, urging people to make and send hand-knitted socks to Stephen Colbert to draw his attention to the issue.

“It’s absurd,” she said of the ban, “which is why I thought immediately it was a Colbert story.”

The Ravelry group “Socks for Stephen” has more than 500 members. A couple of people have already sent socks to Colbert’s studio.

Ravelry is also a fascinating demonstration of how the Internet can stimulate creativity. The open exchange of ideas leads people to do more than they might have done on their own: learning to spin; hand-dyeing yarn and designing a pattern to use with it. Group events such as the Ravelympics have spotlighted particularly extreme and wonderful creative acts. One 2010 competitor took two weeks off work so she could create a complex, multicolored wool blanket. Another designed and knitted a sweater emblazoned with a pair of heraldic woodchucks and a proud “Canada 2010,” then had it photographed and wrote up the pattern so others could purchase it, all before the Closing Ceremonies had ended — and all to the applause of other Ravelers who hailed them as “Olympic heroes.”

Fortunately, other sporting events have shown themselves more tolerant of the kind of fandom Ravelry offers. Many baseball teams now sponsor annual “Stitch and Pitch” nights when knitters can buy reduced tickets in a special section of the ballpark. And every June, spinners around the world tune in to France’s famed bicycle race while taking part in the “Tour de Fleece.”

So far, the Tour de France has not responded.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/after-ravelry-blasts-olympic-committee-learns-knitters-are-a-social-media-force/2012/06/29/gJQApl7SCW_story.html?hpid=z4

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« Reply #6929 on: Jun 30th, 2012, 09:00am »

Reuters

Palestinian leader Abbas postpones Israel meeting

Sat Jun 30, 2012 6:55am EDT

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has postponed a meeting with Israeli Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz that was due to take place on Sunday, Palestinian officials said on Saturday.

The officials did not say when a new date might be set for what would be the highest-level meeting between the sides since peace talks broke down in 2010.

"We know that Mofaz will bring nothing new," said Wasl Abu Yosef, a member of Abbas' Palestine Liberation Organization, who told reporters of the postponement.

Israeli officials, who never confirmed or denied the meeting would happen, did not comment.

The meeting was supposed to take place in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Former Palestinian minister Hassan Asfour said the postponement may have been prompted by a protest among Palestinian youths who did not like the idea of Mofaz, a former Israeli defense chief, being a guest at Abbas' headquarters.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in late 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building in the West Bank, and Palestinians have demanded a halt to construction before talks resume.

Israel says the settlements issue should be resolved in negotiations and rejects any pre-conditions for talks.


(Reporting by Ali Sawafta; Editing by Pravin Char)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/30/us-palestinians-israel-talks-idUSBRE85T04S20120630

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