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 veryhotthread  Author  Topic: Stuff & Nonsense  (Read 16193 times)
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« Reply #7965 on: Jan 30th, 2013, 08:25am »

Washington Post

Yikes! Economy shrinks in fourth quarter for first time since ’09

By Neil Irwin , Updated: January 30, 2013

The U.S. economy contracted slightly in the final months of 2012, as defense spending plummeted and businesses depleted their inventories, in a surprising development that could presage economic troubles to come.

Gross domestic product fell at a 0.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, the Commerce Department said Wednesday, far below the 1.1 percent gain that analysts had forecast. The number will be revised extensively in the months ahead as more complete data becomes available, but if those revisions stay in negative territory, it would be the first quarter of economic contraction for the United States since the second quarter of 2009.

The contraction in GDP was driven in large part by a decline in defense spending.

The good news is that the biggest drivers of the downward push aren’t expected to repeat themselves. Underlying growth in consumer and businesses spending was reasonably strong: Personal consumption expenditures rose at a 2.2 percent annual rate, while business spending on equipment and software rose at a gangbuster 12.4 percent rate. Housing continued a bull run, with residential investment rising at a 15.4 percent annual rate for its seventh straight quarter of expansion.

The contraction was caused by two overwhelming factors, and they were doozies.

First, federal defense spending fell at an astounding 22.2 percent annual rate in the quarter, which subtracted 1.28 percentage points from GDP growth. That was in part a reversal from the unusual 12.9 percent gain in the third quarter. But when the two quarters are averaged together, the defense sector was a drag on the economy in the second half of 2012 — and that’s before a “sequester” of automatic defense cuts goes into effect this year if Congress doesn’t act to avert it. The volatility in defense spending — and consequences for economic growth- -are a reminder of the impact that may be seen in the future as federal spending cuts go into effect.

The second major drag on growth was from businesses inventories. Firms drew down their inventories by more than $40 billion, which subtracted 1.25 percentage points from GDP growth. In effect, by selling goods sitting on their store shelves and in their warehouses, production in the nation’s farms and factories was not as high as one might expect given consumer spending.

The good news, though, is that the effect from inventories should go away in future quarters; businesses can’t simply run down their inventories forever. final sales, which adds inventories back in, rose at a 1.15 percent rate.

It was, in other words, a bad quarter for the U.S. economy, but not nearly as bad as the overall negative number would suggest.

“The economy ended 2012 on a very sluggish pace, even though one-time factors put the number below the trend,” said Kathy Bostjancic, an economist at the Conference Board.

GDP is the broadest measure of economic output, aiming to capture the value of goods and services produced within U.S. borders during a given time. The data over the last three years paint a portrait of an economy stuck in a pattern of steady growth, neither break out into a sharp enough pattern of expansion to push down joblessness nor to fall into a new recession.

Still, there are some reasons for concern in 2013. While consumption spending held up in the final months of 2012, that was before an increase in the payroll tax took effect in January. And negotiations over the sequester could result in steep cuts in defense and other government spending in the months ahead, putting further downward pressure on GDP.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/01/30/yikes-economy-shrinks-in-fourth-quarter-for-first-time-since-09/?hpid=z1

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« Reply #7966 on: Jan 30th, 2013, 08:28am »

Reuters

Israel hits target in Syria border area: sources

LONDON | Wed Jan 30, 2013 8:49am EST

(Reuters) - Israeli forces attacked a convoy on the Syrian-Lebanese border overnight, a Western diplomat and regional security sources said on Wednesday, as concern has grown in the Jewish state over the fate of Syrian chemical and advanced conventional weapons.

The sources, four in total, all of whom declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, had no further information about what the vehicles may have been carrying, what forces were used or where precisely the attack happened.

In the run-up to the raid, Israeli officials have been warning very publicly of a threat of high-tech anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles reaching Israel's enemies in the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah from Syria. They have also echoed U.S. concerns about Syria's presumed chemical weapons arsenal.

The Lebanese army reported a heavy presence of Israeli jets over its territory throughout the night.

"There was definitely a hit in the border area," one security source said. A Western diplomat in the region who asked about the strike said "something has happened", without elaborating.

An activist in Syria who works with a network of opposition groups around the country said that she had heard of a strike in southern Syria from her colleagues but could not confirm it. A strike just inside Lebanon would appear a less diplomatically explosive option for Israel to avoid provoking Syrian ally Iran.

Israeli Vice Premier Silvan Shalom said on Sunday that any sign that Syria's grip on its chemical weapons was slipping, as President Bashar al-Assad fights rebels trying to overthrow him, could trigger Israeli intervention.

Israeli sources said on Tuesday that Syria's advanced conventional weapons would represent as much of a threat to Israel as its chemical arms should they fall into the hands of Islamist rebels or Hezbollah guerrillas based in Lebanon.

Interviewed on Wednesday, Shalom would not be drawn on whether Israel was operating on its northern front, instead describing the country as part of an international coalition seeking to stop spillover from Syria's two-year-old insurgency.

"The entire world has said more than once that it takes developments in Syria very seriously, developments which can be in negative directions," he told Israel Radio, recalling that President Barack Obama has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of U.S. action if his forces use chemical weapons.

"The world, led by President Obama who has said this more than once, is taking all possibilities into account," Shalom added. "And of course any development which is a development in a negative direction would be something that needs stopping and prevention."

BORDER STRIKE

Whether the strike took place within Syrian territory, or over the border in Lebanon, could affect any escalation from the incident. Iran, Israel's arch-foe and one of Damascus's few allies, said on Saturday it would consider any attack on Syria as an attack on itself. During and since Israel's 2006 war with Hezbollah, there have been unconfirmed reports of Israeli strikes on convoys just after they entered Lebanon from Syria.

Israel has long made clear it claims a right to act preemptively against enemy capabilities. Alluding to this, air force chief Major-General Amir Eshel on Tuesday said his corps was involved in a covert and far-flung "campaign between wars".

"This campaign is 24/7, 365 days a year," Eshel told an international conference. "We are taking action to reduce the immediate threats, to create better conditions in which we will be able to win the wars, when they happen."

He did not elaborate on any operations, but did single out the threat Israel saw from Syria's arsenal, calling it "huge, part of it state-of-the-art, part of it unconventional".

Israel fought an inconclusive war in Lebanon with Iranian-backed Hezbollah in 2006. Its aircraft then faced little threat, though its navy was taken aback when a cruise missile hit a ship off the Lebanese coast. Israeli tanks suffered losses to rockets and commanders are concerned Hezbollah may get better weaponry.

Israeli jets regularly enter Lebanese airspace, but its forces have been more discreet about Syrian incursions.

Israel's bombing of a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007, though revealed by then U.S. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, is still not formally acknowledged by the Israelis.

According to Bush, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sought to keep the matter quiet so as to reduce the risk of Assad feeling public pressure to retaliate. Syria and Israel are technically at war but have not exchanged fire in a significant way in decades.

A U.N. force sits on the line, north of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where a ceasefire ended their last war in 1973.

Israeli media reported this week that the country's national security adviser, Yaakov Amidror, was sent to Russia and its military intelligence chief Major-General Aviv Kochavi to the United States for consultations.

Shashank Joshi of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London said that there are indications that Hezbollah is training near chemical weapons sites in Syria, with which the Shi'ite Lebanese militia has historically had a strong alliance.

"We also know that (Syria's) use of tactical ballistic missiles has been escalating - presumably as air power becomes harder to use in contested areas, and rebels seize larger targets like bases that are amenable to missile attack," he said.

Worries about Syria and Hezbollah have sent Israelis lining up for government-issued gas masks. According to the Israel post office, which is handling distribution of the kits, demand roughly trebled this week.

"It looks like every kind of discourse on this or that security matter contributes to public vigilance," its deputy director Haim Azaki told Israel's Army Radio. "We have really seen a very significant jump in demand."

(Reporting by Myra MacDonald; Writing by Oliver Holmes; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/01/30/us-syria-israel-attack-idUSBRE90T0K120130130

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« Reply #7967 on: Jan 30th, 2013, 08:31am »

Der Spiegel

Pressure for a Deal: Berlin Opposition to Cypriot Aid Weakens

30 January 2013

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, as he has made clear several times, is no fan of providing emergency aid to struggling euro-zone member Cyprus. But pressure to reach a bailout deal has been growing in recent weeks. And now, according to an article in the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Berlin appears to be abandoning its resistance.

Citing unnamed government sources, the paper noted that pressure to reach a deal on Cyprus had grown from euro-zone member states, the European Commission and the European Central Bank. There is concern in Brussels and across Europe that were Cyprus to be allowed to slip into bankruptcy, it could reverse the recent progress that has been made in coming to terms with the euro crisis.

Still, the bailout is not without risks. Cyprus is in urgent need of up to €17.5 billion ($23.6 billion) in emergency financing, primarily to prop up its ailing and outsized banking sector. But a bailout of that size would be roughly equivalent to the country's annual gross domestic product and would increase the island nation's sovereign debt load to a potentially unsustainable level. The International Monetary Fund had even demanded in December that the aid package be paired with a significant debt haircut.

There have been recent indications that the final bailout price tag might ultimately be lower. For one, Nicosia has said that its banks do not need as much help as had originally been estimated. For another, the Associated Press reported on Tuesday that Russia will very likely take part in the bailout package, lessening the burden on Europe.

Money-Laundering Concerns

The reasons for Russian involvement and German reluctance are the same. Cypriot banks have long been a haven for Russian oligarchs looking for a low-tax location to park their riches. One of the results is a bloated banking sector with assets worth some €150 billion, vastly greater than the country's economic output. More to the point, however, are concerns in Berlin that Cyprus has been weak in battling money laundering.

Nicosia has vociferously denied charges that it doesn't do enough to combat money laundering, and has also recently agreed to closely examine potential reforms to shore up weaknesses. The country has also undertaken several reforms so as to qualify for European aid, and has not tired of pointing out that much of its troubles are the result of the Greek debt writedowns last year.

"I think the attitude will change and we will receive the financial assistance we are seeking," Cypriot Finance Minister Vassos Shiarly told the Associated Press in an interview this week. "We are not asking for a gift. We're asking for a loan on the reasonable terms which have been offered to other member states."

Parliament to Have its Say

According to Wednesday's Süddeutsche report, German Finance Minister Schäuble remains opposed to the bailout package. But he appears to be increasingly isolated in Europe. Last week, he was taken to task by European Central Bank head Mario Draghi for his contention that Cyprus was not "systemically relevant," or big enough that the country going bankrupt would seriously threaten the rest of the euro zone.

Still, Schäuble isn't the only one in Berlin with his doubts. The Cyprus bailout, once it is agreed to by European finance ministers in Brussels in the coming weeks, must also be rubber-stamped by German parliament. And that, particularly with a general election coming in September, is no longer a foregone conclusion. Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partners, the business-friendly Free Democrats, have voiced significant skepticism of a Cyprus bailout and could see a no vote as a way to sharpen the party's extremely dull profile.

There are also several rebels in Merkel's own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) who are likely to vote no. Christian von Stetten, chairman of the CDU parliamentary caucus that advocates for small businesses, said he would oppose an aid package for Cyprus if it came to a vote. "Cyprus applied for aid seven months ago, and since then it has been staying afloat with payments from the Central Bank of Cyprus," Stetten told SPIEGEL ONLINE. He added that the country's actions since then have been carefully scrutinized, and that "if a majority decides to transfer money to Cyprus from the bailout fund, I wouldn't be able to understand that."

Potentially most serious, however, is that the opposition Social Democrats, struggling in their own right to attract attention from German voters, have indicated that they are no longer willing to simply follow Merkel when it comes to major euro-zone bailouts.

Talks, though, are continuing. On Thursday, Finance Minister Vassos is scheduled to travel to The Hague for talks with new Euro Group head Jeroen Dijsselbloem. Anti-money laundering measures are likely to be high on the agenda.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/berlin-opposition-to-cyprus-bailout-deal-waning-a-880515.html

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« Reply #7968 on: Jan 30th, 2013, 08:34am »

Seattle Times

Originally published January 29, 2013 at 8:32 PM
Page modified January 30, 2013 at 6:21 AM

At least 100 batteries failed on 787 fleet

By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing had numerous reliability issues with the main batteries on its 787 Dreamliner long before the two battery incidents this month grounded the entire fleet.

More than 100 of the lithium-ion batteries have failed and had to be returned to the Japanese manufacturer, according to a person inside the 787 program with direct knowledge.

“We have had at least 100, possibly approaching 150, bad batteries so far,” the person said. “It’s common.”

The frequency of battery failures reflects issues with the design of the electrical system around the battery, said the person on the 787 program.

Most of the batteries were returned because they had run down so far that a low-voltage cutout was activated.

At that stage, the batteries, which cost about $16,000 each, are essentially dead and cannot be recharged.

The failures likely occurred on planes flown by Boeing and on those delivered to its customers.

For airline operators, such failures could be costly in terms of airplane downtime and inconvenience.

These problems seem separate from the two more significant incidents, when a battery caught fire on the ground in Boston and another smoldered in midair in Japan, forcing an emergency landing.

But the electrical system that monitors and controls the batteries is under scrutiny by the National Transportation Safety Board and other safety investigators as they probe the cause of the recent incidents.

Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter declined to confirm the number of battery problems encountered on the 787 program.

However, she acknowledged that there has been a series of problems and listed “the top three reasons for Boeing returning batteries” as batteries running down, being improperly disconnected, or exceeding their expiration date.

A battery that’s left on with no other power source, Gunter said, “will deep discharge (and) cannot be recharged or reused.”

And one that’s improperly disconnected, she added, “trips one of the protection features and renders the battery unusable.”

On Tuesday evening, The New York Times reported that officials of All Nippon Airways (ANA), the 787’s biggest operator, said in an interview that the airline had replaced 10 of the batteries in the months before the two battery incidents that grounded the jets this month.

Between May and December last year, The New York Times reported, five of the 10 replaced ANA batteries were unexpectedly low in charge, three failed to start normally, one showed an error reading, and another “failed.”

The person on the 787 program with knowledge of the problems said that the electrical-system design makes it commonplace for airline mechanics to inadvertently run the lithium-ion batteries down too low.

Because lithium-ion batteries can be dangerously volatile if undercharged, as well as when overcharged, an automatic cutoff is built into the 787 batteries so that if the charge falls below 15 percent of full, the battery locks.

“It latches — locked out — and we cannot override that,” the person said.

In that case, it can only be sent back to the manufacturer, GS Yuasa of Japan.

The design of the 787’s electrical system includes a battery switch in the cockpit. But even when that main switch is off, the battery comes on when certain ground tasks are performed.

Just as a car’s dome light will come on even when the ignition is off, drawing power from the battery, so too on an airplane certain maintenance tasks will bring the battery to life.

For example, if an airline mechanic puts jet fuel in the wing gas tank when the airplane is otherwise dark, as soon as the fuel door opens the battery will begin to provide power for the gauges that measure the fuel level.

If that door latch is not properly closed or if the mechanic encounters a problem or leaves something else open too long, the 787 battery can drain down below the critical 15 percent level in an hour, the person said.

The 787 batteries are unique and the system supplier, Thales of France, insists that the original manufacturer — its subcontractor GS Yuasa — must be the sole supplier.

So all the dead 787 batteries have been shipped back to Japan and replacements have had to be sent from there.

http://seattletimes.com/html/businesstechnology/2020241385_787deadbatteriesxml.html

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« Reply #7969 on: Jan 30th, 2013, 08:41am »

Hollywood Reporter

Lucasfilm's Kathleen Kennedy on 'Star Wars,' 'Lincoln' and Secret J.J. Abrams Meetings (Exclusive)

6:00 AM PST 1/30/2013 by Kim Masters

In November, a journalist asked J.J. Abrams what seemed like an obvious question: Was he interested in directing the next Star Wars movie? Disney had just paid a whopping $4.05 billion to acquire George Lucas' iconic Lucasfilm and had stated its intention to turn out new Star Wars films every two to three years beginning in 2015. The prolific Abrams, who had sparked the flagging Star Trek series in 2009, seemed a natural fit. But he quickly shot the idea down. While Star Wars was "the first movie that blew my mind in that way," he said then, he wanted to focus on original material.

Kathleen Kennedy, the 59-year-old producer who in June had been placed atop the Lucas empire, was not so easily deterred. The Lucasfilm job was just the latest beat in a remarkable 35-year career replete with hits from filmmakers as diverse as Clint Eastwood (The Bridges of Madison County), Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and, above all, Steven Spielberg -- from 1982's E.T. The Extra Terrestrial to his current Oscar contender, Lincoln.

Kennedy already had called Beth Swofford, Abrams' CAA agent, and been told Abrams was too deeply engaged in the next Star Trek movie and other obligations at Paramount -- not to mention innumerable television projects -- to consider the job. Nonetheless, Abrams agreed to meet with Kennedy on Dec. 14 at his Bad Robot offices in Santa Monica. Famously plain-spoken, she summarizes her pitch like this: "Please do Star Wars." And she had cards to play. Not only was Oscar winner Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3) writing the script, but Lawrence Kasdan, who wrote 1980's The Empire Strikes Back and 1983's Return of the Jedi, was on board to consult. Abrams "was flipping out when he found out that Michael and Larry were on the movie already," says Kennedy.

Abrams tells THR, "I learned firsthand how incredible and persuasive she is." Some -- but not all -- of his reservations were dispelled. "The thing about any pre-existing franchise -- I'd sort of done that," he says. "But when I met with Kathy, it was suddenly very tantalizing."

Kennedy, Abrams and the writers met secretly for about three hours Dec. 19, and "J.J. was just on the ceiling when I walked out the door," she recalls. But still, she says, Abrams had "very genuine concerns" about his obligations elsewhere and the impact on his wife and three kids, given the likelihood that the film would not be shot in Los Angeles. And then there was the unique nature of the franchise. "If there was any pause on J.J.'s part, it was the same pause everybody has -- including myself -- stepping into this," she says. "Which is, it's daunting."

Indeed, the six Star Wars films have grossed more than $4.3 billion at the worldwide box office and spawned an empire that includes TV spinoffs like The Clone Wars, books, theme park rides and, of course, merchandise sales. Disney has said Lucasfilm generated about $215 million in licensing revenue in 2012 without having released a Star Wars-related movie in five years. Managed correctly, Star Wars by far is the most valuable franchise in Hollywood, making Kennedy -- its new steward -- one of the most powerful figures in entertainment.

So Kennedy had to do what she does so well: put one of the industry's most prominent directors at ease. And she's known Abrams since he was 14, when Spielberg had read an article about him winning a Super 8 moviemaking contest and hired the future director to restore his own childhood Super 8 videos. "We spent a lot of time talking about how meaningful Star Wars is and the depth of the mythology that George has created and how we carry that into the next chapter," she says. Finally, after a day of furious negotiation, the deal closed the afternoon of Jan. 25. To the bitter end, Abrams was telling associates that he still wasn't fully committed to directing the project. But Kennedy is confident that he will be in the chair when the cameras roll. She is less clear that the first film in the new trilogy will be ready by 2015. "Our goal is to move as quickly as we can, and we'll see what happens," says Kennedy. "The timetable we care about is getting the story."

Sitting atop Lucasfilm as the founder's handpicked successor, Kennedy clearly has the clout to make her voice heard loud and clear. Kennedy, married since 1987 to producer Frank Marshall and the mother of two teenage daughters, reports to Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn, though the importance of her domain ensures that she also has the ear of Disney chairman and CEO Robert Iger. She has great ambitions to restore the 1,500-employee, San Francisco-based Lucasfilm to "a full-fledged production company" making "as many good films as we can." That's in addition to managing its successful Industrial Light & Magic effects division and LucasArts gaming branch. But the main order of business must be getting the first movie right.

more after the jump:
http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/lucasfilms-kathleen-kennedy-star-wars-416303

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« Reply #7970 on: Jan 30th, 2013, 09:13am »

on Jan 30th, 2013, 08:23am, WingsofCrystal wrote:
Good morning Swamprat and Purr,

Crystal



Good afternoon, WoC! Thank you for keeping us all up to date and informed!

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« Reply #7971 on: Jan 31st, 2013, 07:46am »

Thank you Purr and a good morning to you.

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« Reply #7972 on: Jan 31st, 2013, 07:48am »

Washington Post


Hezbollah, Russia condemn Israeli airstrike inside Syria

By Joel Greenberg and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Published: January 30
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 4:25 AM

JERUSALEM — Israeli aircraft struck inside Syria on Wednesday for the first time since 2007, according to Western and Syrian officials, in a development that underlined the risk that the civil war in Syria could spill over into a wider conflict.

There were conflicting reports about the target and its location. A Western official and a former Lebanese security official said earlier Wednesday that Israel had attacked inside Syria along the border with Lebanon, and the former Lebanese official said an unmanned aircraft had hit a truck carrying weapons. But in a later statement, the Syrian army denied a strike along the border and said instead that Israeli jets had bombed a defense research center near Damascus.

Israel declined to comment, as did U.S. officials, who deferred to Israel, a key security partner. The response was similar to the silence that followed Israel’s bombing five years ago of a suspected Syrian nuclear reactor, an attack that U.S. officials later confirmed but that the Israelis have not acknowledged to date.

The attack Wednesday highlighted deepening Israeli concerns that the disintegration of Syria could lead to the transfer of advanced weapons to Islamist militants there or to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militant group in neighboring Lebanon, posing new threats to Israel’s military reach across its borders.

Hezbollah, which is closely aligned with both Syria and Iran, condemned the airstrike as “barbaric aggression” and expressed “full solidarity with Syria’s command, army and people,” the Associated Press reported. Russia, Syria’s chief patron, said the strike would constitute “unprovoked attacks on targets on the territory of a sovereign country, which blatantly violates the U.N. Charter and is unacceptable, no matter the motives to justify it.”

The Syrian government said in a statement that Israeli aircraft had bombed “a scientific research center responsible for raising the levels of resistance and self-
defense” in Jamraya, northwest of Damascus, the capital.

The statement said the Israeli planes had flown below radar range and destroyed the building, killing two employees and wounding five. The statement denied that a convoy had been hit near the border with Lebanon, calling the reports “baseless.”

But according to earlier accounts by the Western official and a U.S. official, Israeli aircraft struck near the Syria-Lebanon border. The officials said there were no indications that chemical weapons were targeted.

Concerns about Hezbollah

The Associated Press, citing unnamed regional security officials, said that Israel had been planning to target a Syrian shipment of antiaircraft missiles bound for Hezbollah and that the shipment included sophisticated Russian-made SA-17 missiles.

Although Israeli and U.S. security officials have said that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles were secure for now, there is profound concern in Israel about a parallel transfer of advanced conventional weapons to Hezbollah.

Giora Eiland, a former head of Israel’s national security council, said in an interview that any transfer to Hezbollah of weapons considered to be game-changers, such as the Russian antiaircraft missiles or long-range Scud missiles, is viewed as gravely as the chemical threat.

The antiaircraft weapons could curtail Israel’s air dominance in Lebanon, and the long-range missiles could give Hezbollah — which fought a war with Israel in 2006 — enhanced strike range across Israel’s entire territory.

“These are no less troubling than chemical weapons,” Eiland said. “They are more widespread and not as tightly controlled by the regime, so they can fall into the hands of Hezbollah.”

Earlier Wednesday, Lebanon’s military said 12 Israeli warplanes had violated Lebanese airspace in less than 24 hours, flying low in several sorties over villages in southern Lebanon.

The Israeli army said it would not comment on the reports, which followed several days of statements and high-level consultations on Syria among senior Israeli officials.

On Sunday, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Army Radio that the movement of chemical weapons to Islamist rebels in Syria or to Hezbollah would be “a crossing of all red lines that would require a different approach, including even preventive operations.” He confirmed media reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had convened a meeting of top security chiefs last week to discuss developments in Syria and its chemical arsenal.

In public comments Sunday at the start of the weekly cabinet session, Netanyahu said Israel had to keep an eye on “lethal weaponry in Syria, which is breaking apart.” He added that there is “an accumulation of threats” for which Israel has to prepare.

Two Iron Dome missile defense batteries were positioned Sunday in northern Israel, in what the army called part of a routine rotation nationwide.

Many regional analysts say Hezbollah has not only restocked its weapons arsenal since the 2006 war but has also greatly expanded the supply and sophistication of its rockets. In a speech in May 2012, Hasan Nasrallah, the group’s leader, said Hezbollah could now launch rockets anywhere in Israel, and he later remarked that Syria had supplied the group’s most potent weapons.

Amnon Sofrin, a former director of intelligence for Israel’s foreign spy agency, the Mossad, told reporters in Jerusalem on Wednesday that with Syria in turmoil, Nasrallah was eager “to move to Lebanon everything he can under his custody.” Sofrin said Israel was watching carefully for convoys of weapons moving to Lebanon from Syria, where Hezbollah is thought to have stored some of its arms.

Mystery about motives

The Syrian assertion that Israel had bombed a research center deepened the mystery surrounding the possible motives for the attack. The official statement suggested that the target might have been a facility near Damascus operated by the Scientific Studies and Research Center, an arm of Syria’s armed forces that Western experts have linked to the country’s missiles and chemical weapons programs.

In 2005, the George W. Bush administration sanctioned the SSRC in an executive order, and two years later, the White House froze the assets of several of the center’s subsidiaries, on the grounds that SSRC scientists were seeking to develop “non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them.”

Yet, military experts cautioned that there was no independent evidence that the facility had been bombed by a foreign air force. Syria may simply be trying to blame Israel for the loss of a facility that had fallen to rebels or been destroyed by other means, said Anthony Cordesman, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

“Would the Israelis have hit a facility that may have some chemical weapons in it? It’s doubtful,” said Cordesman, who co-authored a 2008 study of Syria’s weapons program. “If they did, Syria could respond by dispersing its arsenal further, which would increase the risk to Israel.”

On Wednesday morning, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights released a list of security incidents that included reports of shelling and a “huge fire” in the Jamraya area.

Rami Abdulrahman, who is the director of the monitoring group and who uses a pseudonym, said in an interview that reports about the incident were conflicting, with some local sources saying that it involved mortar shells and others alleging that Syrian airplanes struck the building.


Greenberg reported from Jerusalem. Joby Warrick, Julie Tate, Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan in Washington contributed to this report.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/reports-israeli-aircraft-fired-missile-along-lebanon-syria-border/2013/01/30/60fab2be-6adf-11e2-ada3-d86a4806d5ee_story.html?hpid=z2

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« Reply #7973 on: Jan 31st, 2013, 07:52am »

Wired

Explore the Grand Canyon With Google Street View

By Nathan Olivarez-Giles
01.31.13
6:30 AM

The Google Maps team went to the Grand Canyon and snapped more than 9,500 images to create a Street View map of the national park. After four months of stitching all those high-resolution pics together, the company’s Street View maps of the Canyon are live and ready to be clicked through.

The maps don’t document the entirety of the 277-mile-long Canyon, but they do offer a trip along two of its most popular trails, both of which are on the southern rim: the Bright Angel Trail to the Phantom Ranch campsite and the South Kaibab Trail. There also are some maps along the southern rim and along the Colorado River. Google currently has about 75 miles mapped in all.

“We’re really happy with the way all the images came out,” said Ryan Falor, a Google Maps product manager. “We had tested Trekker for a long time, but in reality we weren’t super sure that this would all work especially considering the lighting conditions, the early start, and all that.”

gallery after the jump:
http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2013/01/google-street-view-grand-canyon/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+GearFactor+%28Wired%3A+Blog+-+Gadget+Lab%29&pid=4342&viewall=true

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« Reply #7974 on: Jan 31st, 2013, 07:55am »

Defense News

Watchdog: U.K. MoD Equipment Plan Low-Balls Costs

Jan. 30, 2013 - 08:55PM
By ANDREW CHUTER

LONDON — Claims by the British Ministry of Defence that it now has an affordable 10-year equipment plan have been challenged by a report from the government spending watchdog that says the department is still underestimating the impact cost overruns could have on the procurement and support program.

“The evidence strongly indicated that the department’s approach to risk is still over-optimistic. ... The costs are not sufficiently robust to support the affordability assertion,” said the National Audit Office in its “Equipment Plan 2012 to 2022” report, set to be released here Jan. 31.

Publication of the investigation by the NAO coincides with the release by the MoD of outline procurement and support spending plans for the next decade. Those plans show that investment in Britain’s nuclear deterrent and attack submarine fleets during the period will dwarf other areas of spending.

The 10-year, 159-billion-pound equipment spending plan includes 4.8 billion pounds put into a centrally held contingency fund and 8 billion pounds of unallocated cash to be used for new equipment outside of the current core program, which comprises the bulk of the budget.

The new contingency fund is in addition to the 8.4 billion pounds of risk-related cash already held by individual programs.

The NAO said 4.8 billion pounds was “potentially insufficient to cope with cost growth due to the combined effects of over-optimism and risk materialization above that included in the project costs.”

In 2011, the MoD’s own Cost Assurance and Analysis Service, an expert cost-assurance function, estimated that the procurement cost of the armed forces’ top 40 projects was understated by 12.5 billion pounds.

That’s a figure the MoD declines to accept.

Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the powerful Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, criticized the MoD’s failure to grasp the problem of risk.

“I am dismayed that the MoD is still taking an over-optimistic view to putting a price on risk and uncertainty. The Ministry’s own internal review warned that this plan understates costs by as much as 12.5 billion pounds. If this is the case, it will eat up the entire 8 billion pound unallocated budget viewed by the Chief of the Defence Staff as necessary to deliver the full intent behind the future shape of the armed forces as set out in Future Force 2020,” Hodge said in a statement.

The report said the MoD might have to use some of the 8 billion pounds of unallocated equipment funds to keep existing core programs on track if cost growth exhausts contingency funds.

That could have an impact on capabilities and programs, warned the report.

The report points out two omissions in its investigations that will likely also impact the issue of affordability.

The NAO hasn’t included equipment support programs in it analysis — although it will in future reports. Support accounts for about half the 10-year spending.

The analysis also doesn’t include costs for the return and ongoing support of possibly billions of pounds of equipment purchased with money from Treasury reserves under urgent operational requirements for Afghanistan.

The report also said the MoD faced further capability shortfalls and would be unable to fully implement plans to restructure the armed forces in the Future Force 2020 program, if the government fails to stick to a current commitment to fund 1 percent annually in real growth to the equipment plan for the years between 2015 and 2020.

Reports are already emerging of MoD concerns that 750 million pounds of defense cuts ordered by the Treasury late last year in a new round of government belt tightening will affect the baseline from which the 1 percent hike will be calculated.

The Daily Telegraph reported Jan. 30 that that the MoD and Treasury were in a clinch over the impact that reducing the baseline would have on capabilities and programs.

The NAO’s affordability report published figures showing just how sensitive equipment-plan funding is to changes in underlying budget numbers.

The 159-billion-pound equipment plan is based on a 3.7 percent uplift in real terms from 2015, but if that spending increase were reduced to 2.7 percent, the equipment budget would fall by 4.4 billion pounds.

If the equipment budget increase were reduced to just 1.7 percent over the period to 2022, the money available would fall by 8.6 billion pounds.

The NAO report comes just weeks after the watchdog organization published its annual study into the progress of 16 major MoD projects. That study found that cost growth and program delays remain at unsatisfactory levels.

The latest report wasn’t all bad news for the MoD, though.

The NAO acknowledged that the department had made considerable progress in repairing damage caused by years of poor budget management.

The MoD had taken “significant positive steps designed to deal with the accumulated affordability gap and lay the foundations for stability going forward … and had taken difficult decisions to address what was estimated to be a 74 billion pound gap between its forecast funding and cost,” said the report.

Hodge said the equipment plan was a “welcome step towards trying to close between the Ministry’s defense ambitions and forecast funding, but it must now deliver.”

Analysts and industry executives said the report illustrated the MoD had made large strides toward putting management of its equipment plan finances in order but said it also demonstrated there was much left to do to keep budgets on track.

It’s the first time the watchdog has scrutinized the affordability of the 10-year equipment plan in what will become an annual investigation.

The move follows an announcement by the Conservative-led coalition government last year that it had balanced the books on procurement and support spending after having cut nearly 74 billion pounds from the defense budget after taking office in 2010.

That black hole in the overall defense budget was due to a 38-billion-pound unfunded commitment to equipment programs left by the previous Labour government. The remainder was from reductions imposed as part of the current administration’s austerity cuts.

Last year, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond put the 159-billion-pound price tag on equipment spending up until 2022, and he has since made political capital at the expense of the Labour opposition with his claim to have balanced the budget with an affordable procurement plan.

Figures in the MoD’s equipment plan published Jan 31 show that as of May 2012, the forecast for equipment and support spending could rise to 18.8 billion pounds by 2021, from 13.2 billion pounds this year.

The MoD said that on current plans, it forecasts that by the end of the decade, the equipment and support spending as a portion of the total budget will have risen from 40 percent today to 45 percent.

Over the next 10 years, the MoD plans to spend 60 billion pounds on new equipment — most of which is already committed — some 68 billion pounds on the support of existing equipment and 18 billion pounds on new equipment entering service during the period.

Across the sectors of the armed forces, the MoD said it will over the 10 years spend:

• 18.5 billion pound on fast jets, unmanned aerial vehicles and military flight training.

• 13.9 billion pounds on air support — including transport, air-to-air refueling and large ISTAR platforms.

• 12.1 billion pounds on helicopters — including Chinooks, delivery of Wildcat Lynx to the Royal Navy and the British Army, capability sustainment for the Apache attack helicopter, and optimizing the Merlin Mk3 for amphibious duties with the Royal Marines.

• 4.4 billion pounds on ISTAR — including CBRN detection programs and special forces equipment.

• 12.3 billion pounds on land equipment — including scout and utility vehicles and upgrades to the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle.

• 17.4 billion pounds on surface ships, including the two aircraft carriers and Type 26 frigates.

• Around 35.8 billion pounds for attack submarines and the nuclear deterrent replacement program.

• Around 11.4 billion pounds for weapons such as the Sea Captor missile and the Future Air-to-Surface Guided Weapon (Heavy).

http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130130/DEFREG01/301300028/Watchdog-U-K-MoD-Equipment-Plan-Low-Balls-Costs?odyssey=tab

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« Reply #7975 on: Jan 31st, 2013, 08:04am »

I got this link from Blastr.com






















~

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« Reply #7976 on: Feb 1st, 2013, 09:31am »

Reuters

From booze to bulldozers, analysts scour for emerging market data

By Carolyn Cohn
LONDON | Fri Feb 1, 2013 7:54am EST

(Reuters) - From phone bills in Lagos to bulldozers in Beijing, analysts are looking creatively at ways to measure the strength of emerging market economies where official data sometimes comes up short.

How much Guinness are Nigerians drinking? How full are hotels in the Gulf? What about enrolment in international schools?

All are methods being used to track the ups and downs of economies where timeliness, transparency and accuracy do not always meet develop market standards.

The explosion of interest in emerging markets - Lipper data shows $90 billion in fund inflows last year - has drawn in many investors who are less familiar with analyzing risky assets and need help.

Quarterly economic growth data, for example, is the most comprehensive and complete set of statistics on any developed economy's economic health.

Yet the availability of even this most-basic economic speedometer is fraught with caveats when it comes to emerging markets.

It is released too late to be of much use in the case of many African countries, or not at all in many Middle Eastern countries. In China, meanwhile, this key release arrives unsettlingly early for some.

So some analysts have started looking at other data or even creating their own datasets to assess how investible such markets are.

"In emerging markets it's more difficult (to get good data) than in developed markets, because it's expensive to run a good statistics office - it does not tend to be a priority," said Graham Stock, strategist at frontier fund Insparo, adding: "You have to use proxies."

BOOZE AND BULLDOZERS

Proxies that Stock and others look at to judge the strength of the growing consumer class in Africa - cited frequently by investors as one of the huge attractions of the continent - include quarterly consumption data from local breweries such as Guinness Nigeria (GUINNES.LG) and Zimbabwe's Delta (DLTA.ZI).

"We get more thorough data through going to the companies themselves - not as broad a coverage, but much more timely," Stock aid.

Investment in financial services stocks in Nigeria were boosted by an examination of mobile phone subscriptions.

The monthly data is released within a few weeks where quarterly gross domestic product data takes a few months.

It showed, for example, a 3 percent rise in active mobile phone subscriptions between September and November Nov 2012 to 110 million, in a country with a population of 170 million.

Based on that rise, which brings the December 2011-November 2012 gain in subscriptions to 16 percent, investors expect bank accounts - currently estimated at 20 million - to follow.

As a result, they have bought Nigerian banks, a good call in recent months. Zenith Bank (ZENITHB.LG) shares, for example, jumped 20 percent in the fourth quarter.

Analysts will have to wait several more weeks for the formal fourth quarter GDP data.

By contrast, analysts point to the speed with which China releases GDP - only a couple of weeks after the end of a quarter - as a sign it may not be accurate, encouraging them to look at other ways to replicate aspects of the data.

Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, watches data from a firm which checks satellite monitors on Chinese construction equipment to see if the machinery is in use.

"That's been an area of concern, whether property markets are becoming overheated," Zandi said. "If they stop growing, that could be a problem for Chinese growth."

In the Gulf, investors may look at anything from hotel occupancy rates, to work visa approvals, to enrolment rates at international schools to assess the level of economic activity.

SURFING AND SUPERMARKETS

Not content with looking at these kinds of things, some investors have developed their own models or turned to those of academics in the search for data that more accurately measures economic trends.

State Street incorporated data on online shopping prices from U.S. company PriceStats into its own research in 2011, covering many developed markets as well as emerging markets such as Russia, South Africa, and Latin American countries.

The regularly updated data acts effectively as a leading indicator for official inflation data, according to a State Street study based on U.S. inflation.

In China, the surveys of food and supermarket prices show price deflation for most of December and January, in contrast to consensus expectations for inflation to quicken in China this year.

BlackRock, the world's largest fund manager, started its own sovereign risk indices in 2011 across major and emerging markets, amid concern about risk in many developed sovereigns.

"Our backtesting has shown that our index tends to highlight deteriorating fundamentals before the ratings agencies," said Thomas Christiansen, an investment strategist in the BlackRock Investment Institute.

(Additional reporting by Joel Dimmock; editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/01/us-emerging-data-idUSBRE9100LX20130201

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« Reply #7977 on: Feb 1st, 2013, 09:35am »

Seattle Times

Originally published Friday, February 1, 2013 at 3:38 AM

Suicide bombing at US Embassy in Turkey kills 2

By SUZAN FRASER
Associated Press

ANKARA, Turkey —

A suicide bomber detonated an explosive Friday in front of the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, killing himself and a guard at the entrance gate, officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Turkey's interior minister, Muammer Guler, said the bomber was likely connected to a domestic left-wing militant group. He did not explain why.

A Turkish woman was also seriously wounded and two other guards sustained lighter wounds in the 1:15 p.m. blast in the Turkish capital, Guler told reporters.

A police official, meanwhile, told The Associated Press that the bomber is most likely a suspected member of the outlawed Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak to the press.

The group has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States but had been relatively quiet in recent years.

The explosion occurred inside the security checkpoint at the side entrance to the U.S. embassy, which was being used by staff. A guard standing outside the checkpoint was killed and while the two other guards "were standing in a more protected area," Guler said.

Police and ambulances swarmed the area and authorities immediately cordoned it off.

TV footage showed the embassy door blown off its hinges. The windows of nearby businesses were also shattered by the power of the blast, and debris littered the ground and across the road. The inside of the embassy did not appear to be damaged.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the attack demonstrated a need for international cooperation against terrorism and was aimed at disturbing Turkey's "peace and prosperity."

"But we will stand firm and we will overcome this together," he said.

In a statement, the U.S. Embassy thanked Turkey for "its solidarity and outrage over the incident."

The embassy building is heavily protected and located near several other embassies in Ankara, including that of Germany and France. The Hurriyet newspaper said staff at the embassy took shelter in "safe room" inside the compound soon after the explosion.

Guler identified the injured woman as 38-year-old Didem Tuncay, a television journalist and a hospital official said she was "not in a critical condition." News reports said she was at the embassy to get a U.S. visa.

"We can confirm a terrorist blast at a check point on the perimeter of our embassy compound in Ankara, Turkey, at 1:13 p.m. local time," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington.

"We are working closely with the Turkish national police to make a full assessment of the damage and the casualties, and to begin an investigation," she said.

Turkish police were examining security cameras around the embassy.

U.S. diplomatic facilities in Turkey have been targeted previously by terrorists. In 2008, an attack blamed on al-Qaida-affiliated militants outside the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul left three assailants and three policemen dead.

Elsewhere, terrorists attacked a U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11 last year, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The attackers in Libya were suspected to have ties to Islamist extremists, and one is in custody in Egypt.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned Friday's attack "in the strongest terms," and said Turkey and the U.S. will get the U.K.'s full support as they seek to hold those responsible to account.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, speaking to reporters during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia, said he was saddened that the attacked had occurred in Turkey.

"We have always shown great sensitivity to the protection of foreign missions and we will continue to do so," he said.

Homegrown Islamic militants tied to al-Qaida have also carried out suicide bombings in Istanbul, Turkey's bustling commercial center. In a 2003 attack on the British consulate, a suspected Islamic militant rammed an explosive-laden pickup truck into the main gate, killing 58 people, including the British consul-general.

Turkey is also being deeply affected by the brutal civil war in neighboring Syria, and has become a harsh critic of President Bashar Assad's regime there. The war has left at least 60,000 people dead so far, according to the U.N., and Turkey is sheltering tens of thousands of Syrian refugees.

The first of six Patriot missile batteries being deployed to Turkey to protect the country against attack from Syria was just declared operational and placed under NATO command. Others are expected to become operational in the coming days.

Associated Press writer Ezgi Akin contributed to the report.

http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2020261097_apeuturkeyusexplosion.html

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« Reply #7978 on: Feb 1st, 2013, 09:38am »

Wired

Kite Powers EV Across Australia for $15 of Electricity

By Alexander George
02.01.13
9:29 AM



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Leave it to New Jersey to build a record-breaking electric vehicle powered by a giant kite. Evonik, a company in the Garden State that has been developing lithium-ion batteries for Daimler for the past 5 years created the Wind Explorer to see how far efficiency could go. Apparently, on self-contained wind power alone, it managed to drive 3,000 miles across all of Australia.

Rather than using solar or even human energy, the car’s power came from a lithium-ion battery outfitted with bespoke electrodes and ceramic separators that allow the battery cells to store energy generated by the car’s portable wind turbine. If that wasn’t enough clean energy, the car also uses a giant parachute-like kite, which propels the EV forward on even a light breeze.

The vehicle’s construction is as light as you’d expect. The body is made of sandwich carbon fiber, and a specially formulated silica-silane rubber keeps the wheels’ resistance to a minimum. According to Evonik, the car produced enough energy to travel up to 225 miles a day. For the whole trip, Evonik says, the car used about $15 worth of electricity.

Drivers Dirk Gion and Stefan Slimmerer set three world records during the drive: The first time a continent had been crossed by a vehicle powered by wind and lithium-ion batteries, the longest overall distance covered by an exclusively wind-powered automobile, and the longest distance covered in 36 hours by an electric and wind-powered vehicle. If you want to check it out, the car is currently on display at Evonik’s offices in Troy Hill, New Jersey.

http://www.wired.com/autopia/2013/02/evonic-ev-kite/

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« Reply #7979 on: Feb 1st, 2013, 09:46am »

Deadline Hollywood

R.I.P. Ed Koch

By THE DEADLINE TEAM
Friday February 1, 2013 @ 4:31am

On the same day as a feature documentary about him is being released, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch has died. He was 88. Koch, a master showman during his three terms in office and beyond, passed away at 2AM New York time from congestive heart failure, his spokesman told The New York Times. He was being treated at New York-Presbyterian Columbia Hospital and his illness prevented him from attending the Tuesday premiere of Koch, Neil Barsky’s documentary that Zeitgeist is releasing today.

Koch was Mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989 and prior to that served in the House of Representatives from 1969 to 1977. His entertainment ties included a stint as a judge on The People’s Court and as a film critic via his Web show Mayor At The Movies. He also appeared in more than 60 Hollywood films and TV shows as himself, including The First Wives Club, The Muppets Take Manhattan, Sex And The City, Spin City and Saturday Night Live. And, in a way, he also had a hand in this year’s Oscar telecast. The show’s producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron’s first real job together was producing a celebration of Koch’s inauguration for Public Theater impresario Joe Papp. Here is a link to the NYT’s extensive obituary: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/02/nyregion/edward-i-koch-ex-mayor-of-new-york-dies.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0&hp

http://www.deadline.com/2013/02/r-i-p-ed-koch/

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