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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Iran plans to build nuclear fusion reactor | Reuters

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Iran plans to build nuclear fusion reactor | Reuters

(Reuters) - Iran said on Saturday it planned to build an experimental nuclear fusion reactor, state television reported, at a time when the West is demanding that Tehran suspend sensitive nuclear work.

In 2006, Iran said it was pressing ahead with research tests on nuclear fusion, a type of atomic reaction which has yet to be developed for commercial power generation, but this was the first mention in years that the work was continuing.

"We need two years to complete the studies on constructing and then another 10 years to design and build the reactor," Asqar Sediqzadeh, head of Iran's Nuclear Fusion Research Center, told Iran's English-language Press TV.    More...

Friday, July 23, 2010

BBC News - North Korea warns of nuclear 'sacred war'

BBC News - North Korea warns of nuclear 'sacred war'

North Korea says it will use its "nuclear deterrent" in response to joint US-South Korean military exercises this weekend.

Pyongyang was ready to launch a "retaliatory sacred war", the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KINA) said, quoting defence officials.

Washington and Seoul say the war games are to deter North Korean aggression.

Tensions between the two Koreas have been high since the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

An international investigation said the ship was sunk by a North Korean torpedo, a claim strongly denied by Pyongyang.

"All these war manoeuvres are nothing but outright provocations aimed to stifle the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [North Korea] by force of arms," KCNA reported the powerful National Defence Commission as saying.
 More....

Deepwater Horizon alarms were switched off 'to help workers sleep' | Environment | The Guardian

Deepwater Horizon alarms were switched off 'to help workers sleep' | Environment | The Guardian

Vital warning systems on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig were switched off at the time of the explosion in order to spare workers being woken by false alarms, a federal investigation has heard.

The revelation that alarm systems on the rig at the centre of the disaster were disabled – and that key safety mechanisms had also consciously been switched off – came in testimony by a chief technician working for Transocean, the drilling company that owned the rig.

Mike Williams, who was in charge of maintaining the rig's electronic systems, was giving evidence to the federal panel in New Orleans that is investigating the cause of the disaster on 20 April, which killed 11 people.

Williams told the hearing today that no alarms went off on the day of the explosion because they had been "inhibited". Sensors monitoring conditions on the rig and in the Macondo oil well beneath it were still working, but the computer had been instructed not to trigger any alarms in case of adverse readings. More...
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If this allegation is true this incident appears to have been caused in part by the gross negligence of the people in charge of managing the facility. B.P. has a lot to answer for.

John H. Armwood

Lawyers seek injunction to halt military gay rule

Lawyers seek injunction to halt military gay rule

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — Lawyers for a Republican gay rights organization say they will ask a federal judge in California to impose an injunction to halt the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy nationwide.

The lawyers for the Log Cabin Republicans are expected to make the request during their closing arguments in a Riverside courtroom.

The case is considered the policy's biggest constitutional test in recent years.

It has put the Obama administration in the awkward position of defending a policy President Obama wants repealed.

Government attorneys have said throughout the two-week trial the matter should be decided by Congress, not a federal judge.

The government presented only the policy's legislative history as its defense.

Journalism Legend Daniel Schorr Dies At 93 : NPR

Journalism Legend Daniel Schorr Dies At 93 : NPR

Daniel Schorr, a longtime senior news analyst for NPR and a veteran Washington journalist who broke major stories at home and abroad during the Cold War and Watergate, has died. He was 93.

Schorr, who once described himself as a "living history book," passed away Friday morning at a Washington hospital. He was able to bring to contemporary news commentary a deep sense of how governmental institutions and players operate, as well as the perspective gained from decades of watching history upfront.

"He could compare presidents from Eisenhower on through, and that gave him historical context for things," said Donald A. Ritchie, Senate historian and author of a book about the Washington press corps. "He had lived it, he had worked it and he had absorbed it. That added a layer to his broadcasting that was hard for somebody his junior to match."

Schorr's 20-year career as a foreign correspondent began in 1946. After serving in U.S. Army intelligence during World War II, he began writing from Western Europe for the Christian Science Monitor and later The New York Times, witnessing postwar reconstruction, the Marshall Plan and the creation of the NATO alliance.      More...
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I will mis  Daniel Schorr's insightful weekly news commentary on Saturday morning's Weekend Edition on NPR. I tried never to miss it.

John H. Armwood

White House Presses Republicans on Arms Treaty - NYTimes.com

White House Presses Republicans on Arms Treaty - NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — With time running out for major votes before the November election, the White House is trying to reach an understanding with Senate Republicans to approve its new arms control treaty with Russia by committing to modernizing the nuclear arsenal and making additional guarantees about missile defense.

The White House pressed allies in Congress in recent days to approve billions of dollars for the nation’s current nuclear weapons and infrastructure even as administration and Congressional officials work on a ratification resolution intended to reaffirm that the treaty will not stop American missile defense plans.

The effort to forge a genuine bipartisan coalition contrasts with most of President Obama’s legislative drives in the past year because a treaty requires a two-thirds vote, meaning that the president needs at least eight Republicans. White House officials are optimistic that they can reach an agreement that will attract enough Republicans but are racing against the calendar because the closer it gets to the election, the more partisan the debate may become. More...

Once a Leader, U.S. Lags in College Degrees - NYTimes.com

Once a Leader, U.S. Lags in College Degrees - NYTimes.com

Adding to a drumbeat of concern about the nation’s dismal college-completion rates, the College Board warned Thursday that the growing gap between the United States and other countries threatens to undermine American economic competitiveness.

The United States used to lead the world in the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees. Now it ranks 12th among 36 developed nations.

“The growing education deficit is no less a threat to our nation’s long-term well-being than the current fiscal crisis,” Gaston Caperton, the president of the College Board, warned at a meeting on Capitol Hill of education leaders and policy makers, where he released a report detailing the problem and recommending how to fix it. “To improve our college completion rates, we must think ‘P-16’ and improve education from preschool through higher education.”

While access to college has been the major concern in recent decades, over the last year, college completion, too, has become a leading item on the national agenda. Last July, President Obama announced the American Graduation Initiative, calling for five million more college graduates by 2020, to help the United States again lead the world in educational attainment.

This month, on becoming chairman of the National Governors Association, Gov. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia announced that he would lead a college-completion initiative. More...

BBC News - North Korea vows 'physical response' to US exercise

BBC News - North Korea vows 'physical response' to US exercise


South Korean military exercises this weekend.
The comments came as Asian foreign ministers met in Vietnam for a regional security forum.
The forum has been dominated by the crisis resulting from North Korea's alleged sinking of a South Korean warship in March.
The US has accused Pyongyang of 'provocative' behaviour and on Wednesday announced new sanctions.
North Korea's delegation spokesman at the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) Regional Forum (ARF) in Hanoi said the military exercises - which begin on Sunday - were an example of 19th century 'gunboat diplomacy'.
'It is a new century and Asian countries are in need of peace and development, and DPRK [North Korea] is also moving to that end,' said Ri Tong-il.
He said the exercises went beyond defensive training and would involve 'sophisticated weapon equipment'.
'It is a threat to the Korean peninsula and the region of Asia as a whole. And the DPRK's position is clear: there will be a physical response to the threat imposed by the United States militarily.'" More...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

House Panel Finds Evidence That Rangel Violated Ethics Rules - NYTimes.com

House Panel Finds Evidence That Rangel Violated Ethics Rules - NYTimes.com: "WASHINGTON — After a nearly two-year investigation, a House investigative panel has found that Representative Charles B. Rangel probably violated a range of ethics rules, dealing a serious blow to Mr. Rangel, a Harlem Democrat, in the twilight of his political career.

The investigative subcommitee did not disclose any details about the nature of the violations that it found evidence, but one House official who has been briefed on the findings said that they included some of the most serious allegations that had been examined.

“All I know is that it was a majority of them,” the House official said, asking not to be identified as the ruling is supposed to remain confidential for one week.A lawyer involved in Mr. Rangel’s defense, who also asked not to be named, disputed that characterization, adding that the case is not over yet.

“He has not been found guilty of anything,” the lawyer said.

The committee had been investigating claims that Mr. Rangel improperly rented four rent-stabilized apartments in Harlem at a price well below market value, despite rules forbidding House members from accepting gifts worth more than $50."
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Charles Rangel first ran for congress forty years ago challenging and defeating the legendary Harlem congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.. His victory was in large part fueled by charges of ethics violations against Powell. It is sad to see Rangel also stained by charges of ethics violations in the twilight of his otherwise distinguished career.

John H. Armwood

BBC News - Archbishop Desmond Tutu to retire from public life

BBC News - Archbishop Desmond Tutu to retire from public life: "Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu has announced he is to withdraw from public life.

He played a prominent role role in South Africa's struggle against the whites-only apartheid system.

He said he would reduce his workloads after his 79th birthday in October, before retiring."

Shirley Sherrod: I want to speak to Obama

Clinton Pushes Vietnam On Human Rights Progress : NPR

Clinton Pushes Vietnam On Human Rights Progress : NPR: "U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Thursday urged Vietnam to improve its human rights record but also pledged greater cooperation in dealing with the lingering impact of Agent Orange from the Vietnam War. More...

In Hanoi to mark the 15th anniversary of normalized U.S.-Vietnam relations, Clinton praised her hosts for their 'extraordinary, dynamic population' and said it 'is on the path to becoming a great nation with an unlimited potential.' To fulfill that promise, though, she said the communist government must ease curbs on free speech and political activity."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vilsack apologizes to Sherrod, offers new job – This Just In - CNN.com Blogs

Vilsack apologizes to Sherrod, offers new job – This Just In - CNN.com Blogs

White House issues public apology to ousted USDA staffer

White House issues public apology to ousted USDA staffer



China Warily Eyes U.S.-Korea Drills - NYTimes.com

China Warily Eyes U.S.-Korea Drills - NYTimes.com: "SEOUL, South Korea — The United States and South Korea announced Tuesday that the first in a series of large-scale naval exercises off Japan and the Korean Peninsula would begin next week, despite objections from China.

The exercises, they said, are meant as a show of force and a “first step” in trying to deter North Korea from acts of aggression in the region, nearly four months after the sinking of a South Korean warship for which the United States and South Korea have blamed the North.

The first of the exercises, to be conducted from Sunday to Wednesday on the Sea of Japan, to the east, is to include an American aircraft carrier — the nuclear-powered George Washington, one of the largest warships in the world — 20 other ships and submarines, and 100 aircraft. It will involve 8,000 men and women from the American and South Korean armed services.

The Defense Department said that later exercises would be conducted on the Yellow Sea, which is on the western side of the Korean Peninsula and is claimed by China as a military operations zone. Adm. Robert F. Willard, the commander of the United States Pacific Command, and American military officials would not say whether those exercises would include the George Washington." More...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

NAACP: Breitbart 'snookered' us - POLITICO.com Print View

NAACP: Breitbart 'snookered' us - POLITICO.com

NAACP President Ben Jealous on Tuesday said the organization had been “snookered” into condemning former Agriculture Department official Shirley Sherrod.

Sherrod was fired Monday after a video — posted on one of Andrew Breitbart’s conservative sites — showed Sherrod saying she had not given a white farmer her “full force.”

On Tuesday, the family of the Georgia farmer Sherrod was speaking of in the video came forward to defend her. Sherrod also went on CNN to defend herself and attack the NAACP for criticizing her without first calling her to confirm details. She also charged on CNN that the White House wanted her to resign – a claim the White House denies.

After hearing Sherrod’s criticism, Jealous called Sherrod to hear her out. Following the call, he released a statement saying the organization had been wrong to condemn her.

“With regard to the initial media coverage of the resignation of USDA official Shirley Sherrod, we have come to the conclusion we were snookered by Fox News and Tea Party Activist Andrew Breitbart into believing she had harmed white farmers because of racial bias,” said Jealous. “Having reviewed the full tape, spoken to Ms. Sherrod, and most importantly heard the testimony of the white farmers mentioned in this story, we now believe the organization that edited the documents did so with the intention of deceiving millions of Americans.”

“The fact is Ms. Sherrod did help the white farmers mentioned in her speech,” he continued. “They personally credit her with helping to save their family farm.” More...

Japanese Trainee Program Accused of Exploiting Migrant Workers - NYTimes.com

Japanese Trainee Program Accused of Exploiting Migrant Workers - NYTimes.com: "HIROSHIMA, Japan — Six young Chinese women arrived in this historic city three summers ago, among the tens of thousands of apprentices brought to Japan each year on the promise of job training, good pay and a chance at a better life back home.

Instead, the women say, they were subjected to 16-hour workdays assembling cellphones at below the minimum wage, with little training of any sort, all under the auspices of a government-approved “foreign trainee” program that critics call industrial Japan’s dirty secret.

“My head hurt, my throat stung,” said Zhang Yuwei, 23, who operated a machine that printed cellphone keypads, battling fumes that she said made the air so noxious that managers would tell Japanese employees to avoid her work area.

Ms. Zhang says she was let go last month after her employer found that she and five compatriots had complained to a social worker about their work conditions. A Japanese lawyer is now helping the group sue their former employer, seeking back pay and damages totaling $207,000.


Instead, the women say, they were subjected to 16-hour workdays assembling cellphones at below the minimum wage, with little training of any sort, all under the auspices of a government-approved “foreign trainee” program that critics call industrial Japan’s dirty secret.

“My head hurt, my throat stung,” said Zhang Yuwei, 23, who operated a machine that printed cellphone keypads, battling fumes that she said made the air so noxious that managers would tell Japanese employees to avoid her work area.

Ms. Zhang says she was let go last month after her employer found that she and five compatriots had complained to a social worker about their work conditions. A Japanese lawyer is now helping the group sue their former employer, seeking back pay and damages totaling $207,000." More...

Breaking Impasse, Senate Extends Jobless Benefits - NYTimes.com

Breaking Impasse, Senate Extends Jobless Benefits - NYTimes.com: "WASHINGTON — The Senate broke a stalemate on Tuesday over extending unemployment benefits for Americans who have been out of work for six months or more, voting to override Republican objections that the bill’s costs would add to the federal deficit.

On a 60-to-40 vote, the Democratic-led Senate agreed to cut off debate on the $34 billion plan to distribute added unemployment compensation through November for those who have exhausted their standard 26 weeks of aid.

The 60 yeas were the minimum needed to overcome the threat of a filibuster and advance the bill to a final vote, expected later on Tuesday, when it is all but certain to pass. Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine, joined 56 Democrats and two independents in voting for the legislation; 39 Republicans and one Democrat, Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, opposed it." More...

Committee Approves Kagan’s Nomination to Supreme Court - The Caucus Blog - NYTimes.com

Committee Approves Kagan’s Nomination to Supreme Court - The Caucus Blog - NYTimes.com: "Stephen Crowley/The New York Times Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, left, looked on as Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, spoke with Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.
President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, was endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 13-to-6 vote on Tuesday.

Ms. Kagan received one Republican vote, that of Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said that while she was not someone he would have chosen, “the person who did choose – President Obama – I think chose wisely.’’

In Tuesday’s vote, Mr. Graham broke party ranks to join the committee’s 12 Democrats in voting in her favor.

The nomination now goes to the full Senate, where confirmation is expected in the next few days." More...

BP Continued Drilling Despite Report of Leak, Official Says - NYTimes.com

BP Continued Drilling Despite Report of Leak, Official Says - NYTimes.com: "KENNER, La. — In the final days before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP continued drilling for oil despite internal reports of a leak on a critical safety device on the rig, a company official testified on Tuesday." More...

St. Louis News - Daily RFT - Riverfront Times

Court: Man Rightly Fired for Eating Watermelon at Company Picnic, Calling it "Obama Fruit"


watermelon3.jpg
Mmm, yummy! Obama fruit!

"Court: Man Rightly Fired for Eating Watermelon at Company Picnic, Calling it 'Obama Fruit'

Darwin Holly, a former employee of TAMKO Building Products in southern Missouri, swears he's "not a racist" over comments he made back in May 2009.

That's when Holly grabbed a slice of watermelon at a company picnic and parked himself near a few other employees. "I'm going to sit down and eat my 'Obama fruit,'" Holly informed his shocked co-workers.

A little over a week later Holly was fired on grounds that he violated the company's racial harassment policy.

Holly appealed his termination to the state's Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, which agreed that he violated TAMKO's harassment policy that prohibits employees from "making racially derogatory jokes, comments or displaying or possessing racially derogatory or offensive symbols, emblems, writings or other documents on TAMKO property or while conducting TAMKO business."

So Holly appealed again, this time to the Missouri Court of Appeals (Southern Division). Last week the court handed down its ruling, agreeing with the commission that Holly had indeed been fired for cause.

Writes appellate judge William Francis:
The term "Obama fruit" taken alone is not a racially derogatory comment. But, the comment was made while the claimant was eating a slice of watermelon at a company sponsored cookout at the plant. In that setting, the claimant's comment violated the employer's policy. Therefore, the claimant committed misconduct which resulted with the termination of his employment.
For his part, Holly still doesn't understand what all the fuss was about. "In my mind I was calling the president a melon head, no reference to racial whatsoever," Holly told the court.

Read the entire court of appeals ruling here.

SpyTalk - South Africa's 'dirty bomb' mystery

SpyTalk - South Africa's 'dirty bomb' mystery

f dirty bombs are such an overblown threat, and radioactive material so easily available, why are people still trying to steal it?

South African police are investigating what the five mokes busted with a Cesium-137 device at a Pretoria gas station last week were up to.
All of them are South African citizens, but not much else is known about them, police said.

Indeed, much about the July 9 incident is a mystery.

Authorities said the "industrial nuclear device" found with the men contained a small amount of radioactive material. The men intended to sell the device to parties unknown for 45 million Rand, the equivalent of $6 million to $7 million. Police said the men were also planning to sell a larger nuclear device, which police are searching for, according to South African reports. More...
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This is really scary stuff.

John H. Armwood

Judiciary Committee Approves Kagan to Supreme Court - The Caucus Blog - NYTimes.com

Judiciary Committee Approves Kagan to Supreme Court - The Caucus Blog - NYTimes.com

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times Sen. John Cornyn, left, who opposes the nomination of Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court, looks on as Sen. Dick Durbin spoke with Sen. Lindsey Graham, who will supports Ms. Kagan, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday.
President Obama’s nominee for a vacancy on the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, was endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 13-6 vote on Tuesday.

Ms. Kagan now has at least one Republican vote for confirmation to the Supreme Court: that of Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who said that she was not someone he would have chosen “but the person who did choose – President Obama – I think chose wisely.’’

In the committee vote, Mr. Graham broke party ranks to join the committee’s 12 Democrats in voting in her favor.

The nomination now goes to the full Senate, where confirmation is expected in the next few days. More...

Monday, July 19, 2010

BP Hopes to Keep Well Closed, but Seep Is Detected - NYTimes.com

BP Hopes to Keep Well Closed, but Seep Is Detected - NYTimes.com: "After three days of encouraging pressure tests, a senior BP official said Sunday that the company’s recently capped well in the Gulf of Mexico was holding up and that BP now hoped to keep the well closed until it could be permanently plugged. But government officials were more skeptical and cited a new potential problem.

That BP plan differs sharply from the one the company and the federal government had suggested only a day earlier, to eventually allow the flow of oil to resume temporarily, collecting it through pipes to surface ships." More...