Daily Archives: May 14, 2011

Zombie ants infected by mind-controlling fungus always kill themselves at high noon

Daily Mail | May 13, 2011

By John Mcdonnell

A parasitic fungus has the ability to take over the mind and body of an ant before leading it to its final resting place at the most opportune time, an astonishing study has revealed.

The fungus, a species of Ophiocordyceps, was found living in carpenter ants in Thailand’s rain forest, controlling their nervous system so they became a vessel with one purpose: helping the fungus reproduce.

As the fungus spreads through the ant’s body it begins to act irregularly before it eventually dies with its jaws clamped around the vein of a leaf in a place perfect for the parasite to thrive, it was found.

A dead carpenter ant, with fungus sprouting from its head. A parasitic fungus, a species of Ophiocordyceps, has the ability to take over the mind and body of the ant before leading it to its final resting place

A dead ant clamped to the vein on the underside of a leaf. Researchers witnessed a total of 16 infected ants leave their colony and bite into a leaf near the jungle floor before dying, all at a time very close to midday

Researchers witnessed a total of 16 infected ants leave their colony and bite into the underside of a leaf before dying – all at a time very close to midday.

‘Synchronised arrival of zombie ants at the graveyards is a remarkable phenomenon. It adds a layer of complexity on what is already an impressive feat,’ David Hughes, a study researcher from Pennsylvania State University, told LiveScience.com.

‘However, although ants bite at noon they don’t in fact die until sunset. Likely this strategy ensures (the fungus) has a long cool night ahead of it during which time it can literally burst out of the ant’s head to begin the growth of the spore-releasing stalk.’

By dissecting infected ants, it was discovered that when they took their final living act – biting down into the vein of a leaf – their head was filled with fungal cells, which appeared to affect the motion of the jaw so the mouth could not be opened again.

It was found that a few days after the ants ingest the fungus they become zombie-like, no longer following trails and interacting with other ants, and instead wandering aimlessly until they fall out of the forest canopy.

They then wander just above the jungle floor until a perfect place for fungus reproduction is found.

It is much cooler and moister at this level than high up in trees, making it much easier for fungus to thrive.

The fungus eventually sprouts out of the dead ant’s head, allowing fungal spores to easily be picked up by other ants, and starting a whole new cycle.

Mass immigration ‘has made the UK’s poor even poorer’

Competition for unskilled jobs means many give up and turn to benefits

Poverty in working-age adults reaches highest level in 50 years

Daily Mail | May 13, 2011

By Steve Doughty

Ministers drew a link for the first time yesterday between large-scale immigration and rising levels of poverty among low-paid workers.

Iain Duncan Smith said that Labour’s open door to migration meant tens of thousands more people were chasing unskilled jobs – and that in turn meant many gave up on work for a life on benefits.

The Work and Pensions Secretary named immigration as one of the causes of rising distress among low-skilled workers after the latest official breakdown showed working-age adult poverty has reached its highest level in 50 years.

The figures showed slightly less poverty last year among children and pensioners, and average take-home incomes went up.

But the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies said this was mainly because of increasing state benefits and tax credits in the year before the general election. It predicted record falls in incomes and a vicious squeeze on living standards this year.

The poverty figures showed that 5.7million working-age people were living below the Government’s poverty line in the financial year that ended in April 2010, a rise of 700,000 in five years between 2004 and 2009.

The IFS said the 16 per cent of working-age people now below the poverty line is the highest since it started compiling its own records in 1961.

However, the great bulk of the increase did not come during the recession years after 2007, when unemployment began to rise, but in the three years between 2004 and 2007.

This was the period when the economy was booming – attracting one and a half million Poles and other Eastern Europeans who came to work in Britain after the borders were opened when their countries joined the EU.

Immigration from other parts of the world was also running at unprecedentedly high levels over the three years.

Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘Labour’s open-door immigration policy meant that the competition for low skill jobs in many areas increased, and a life on benefits became a more attractive option than a life in work.

‘That’s why this Government is doing the responsible thing and reforming the welfare state and tightening up on immigration to get Britain working and end the madness of generations living on benefits with no higher aspiration.’

Labour ministers defended high immigration on the grounds that it benefited the economy.

The poverty figures, however, suggest there was force behind the arguments of critics of immigration who said the benefits were felt only by the well-off – and those on low incomes were facing greater competition for work and lower pay.

According to the Households Below Average Incomes report, the share of working-age adults in poverty – below 60 per cent of median income – stood at 14 per cent in 2004. Last year it reached 16 per cent.

Mr Duncan Smith said that despite the falls in official poverty levels, inequality is at record levels and working people have borne the brunt of paying for the state benefits that gave better living standards to the workless.

‘These figures lay bare the growth of income inequality in the UK which is now the highest it has ever been,’ he said.

He added that ‘benefit dependency and worklessness (had been made) inherent to the UK way of life with middle and low income earners picking up the bill.’

Obama: Illegal immigration is an “underground economy that exploits cheap labor while depressing wages for everyone else.”

Obama renews call for immigration reform

UPI | May 10, 2011

WASHINGTON, May 10 (UPI) — President Barack Obama went to the Texas border town of El Paso Tuesday to push his ideas for immigration reform.

While he said the influx of immigrants through the centuries “enriches us all,” Obama called the U.S. immigration system “broken,” with an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country. He said the situation has led to “a massive underground economy that exploits a cheap source of labor while depressing wages for everyone else.”

Immigration reform will help middle-income families and make America more competitive in the global economy, he said.

Obama said his administration has spent the past two years working to secure the nation’s borders, with 20,000 Border Patrol agents now in place — more than double the number in 2004 — and a fence separating the United States from Mexico “basically complete.”

He said the effort has been augmented by intelligence gathering and analysis, the use of drones and partnering with Mexico. More drugs, cash and weapons have been seized than ever before, and fewer people are crossing the border illegally, he said.

“So, we have gone above and beyond what was requested by the very Republicans who said they supported broader reform as long as we got serious about enforcement,” Obama said.

There are those, however, who will want even more border agents and security measures.

“Maybe they’ll say we need a moat. Or alligators in the moat,” he said. “They’ll never be satisfied. And I understand that. That’s politics. But the truth is, the measures we’ve put in place are getting results.”

But, he said, the “ultimate solution” is to pass reform measures so “fewer people have incentive to enter illegally in search of work in the first place.”

He called on Congress to “put politics aside” and “finish the work we’ve started.”

Obama laid out several reform steps he said are needed, starting with securing the borders and enforcing current laws. He said businesses need to be held accountable if they exploit undocumented workers. He also said illegal immigrants “have to admit that they broke the law, pay their taxes, pay a fine and learn English,” as well as “undergo background checks and a lengthy process before they can get in line for legalization.”

The president said the country’s “outdated system of legal immigration” needs reform so “it easier for the best and the brightest to not only study here, but also to start businesses and create jobs here.”

“We need to provide farms a legal way to hire the workers they rely on, and a path for those workers to earn legal status,” he said.

“And we should stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents — by denying them the chance to earn an education or serve in the military. That’s why we need to pass the Dream Act.”

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and other senators are to announce Wednesday they will bring up the Dream Act bill.

The National Retail Federation’s chain restaurants branch reacted positively to Obama’s speech and called for comprehensive reform “to address glaring deficiencies in our country’s ability to provide a steady, stable supply of workers to keep our economy growing.”

“Reforms must address both short-term and longer-term workforce needs,” National Council of Chain Restaurants Executive Director Rob Green said in a release. “But reform should be truly comprehensive and deal with all the issues of this complex subject rather than making employers scapegoats for the shortcomings of our immigration system. Any mandatory system of employer verification of workers must be phased in over time, include a safe harbor for companies that use the system in good faith and avoid disruptions to the normal course of business activity.”

Obama called on people to take part in the national debate by logging on at http://www.whitehouse.gov.

“We need Washington to know that there is a movement for reform gathering strength from coast to coast. That’s how we’ll get this done,” he said.

Georgia governor signs anti-illegal immigration law

Protesters set up outside the governor’s office and there were threats of boycotts against the state.

CNN | May 13, 2011

by Gustavo Valdes, CNN

Atlanta (CNN) — Despite protests outside his office and boycott threats, Georgia’s governor signed into law Friday one of the toughest anti-illegal immigration measures enacted by an individual state.

The measure, which Gov. Nathan Deal inked about a month after it cleared the Republican-dominated Georgia Legislature, allows law enforcement officers to ask about immigration status when questioning suspects in certain criminal investigations.

HB 87 also imposes prison sentences of up to one year and fines of up to $1,000 for people who knowingly transport illegal immigrants during the commission of a crime. It also asserts that workers convicted of using fake identification to get jobs could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and fined $250,000.

“This legislation is a responsible step forward in the absence of federal action,” Deal said after the bill signing. “Illegal immigration places an incredible burden on Georgia taxpayers.”

As they have throughout the debate, leaders in the local Latino community railed against the measure. Among them were several dozen people who demonstrated Friday outside the governor’s office at the state Capitol, chanting, “Shame on you.”

The legislation drew threats of lawsuits targeting the bill, as well as boycotts aimed at forcing the government’s hand. The group Southerners on New Ground is calling for a national boycott of conventions and vacation travel to Georgia, while a blog entry on the website of the group Somos Georgia warned, “Veto HB 87 or Boycott! It’s your choice, Governor Deal!!”

“This is the beginning of a road that we’ll travel that will take a long time,” Teodoro Maus, president of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, said Friday in Atlanta.

Similar efforts have been pursued — with some success — targeting other states that have passed legislation aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration. Nonetheless, anti-illegal immigrant bills can still be found from coast to coast.

The National Conference of State Legislatures found that, in 2010 alone, more than 1,400 bills were introduced aiming to give individual states more of a role in immigration enforcement. Of those measures, 208 laws were enacted, 10 were vetoed, and 138 resolutions were adopted.

The best-known such effort was in Arizona. Among other things, that legislation would have required local law enforcement officers in Arizona to apprehend and help deport illegal immigrants.

The U.S. Justice Department sued, arguing that only the federal government has that authority. Last month, a three-judge panel on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the Justice Department and against Gov. Jan Brewer, who signed SB 1070 into law last year. Brewer has asked the Supreme Court to lift the court order that is blocking enforcement of parts of the law.

Wade Henderson, the head of the advocacy group Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, blasted what he called Georgia’s “odious piece of legislation.” He said it was a “copycat” of the Arizona law and effectively legalizes “racial profiling.”

“Georgia’s lawmakers have not learned from Arizona’s mistakes,” Henderson said Friday in a statement. “These laws presume everyone is guilty, contradicting the fundamental American presumption that those accused are innocent until proven otherwise.”

The Mexican government added Friday that it “regrets” Deal’s decision to sign the law.

“The legislators and state executive ignored the many contributions of the immigrant community to the economy and society of Georgia,” the Mexican government said in a statement.

But some who support the Georgia legislation — including Deal and Phil Kent, a spokesman for the conservative group Americans for Immigration Control — said it is not about discrimination but rather about protecting taxpayers.

“The illegal immigrants in our state have been swamping our hospitals and schools,” Kent said. “It’s a very expensive proposition. We just want to make sure that people are welcome here and that they come here legally. And then we can cut back on the illegal immigration.”

President Barack Obama’s administration has opposed such state-specific measures, including fighting them in court, saying that having as many as 50 different immigration policies (one for each state) would be counterproductive from a law enforcement standpoint and damaging from an international relations standpoint.

Asked about HB 87 last month by CNN affiliate WSB, Obama defended the federal government’s actions.

“The truth on the matter is we’ve done more on enforcement than any previous administration,” the president said. “We have more border patrols; we have had serious crackdowns on employers who are hiring undocumented workers.”

CIA, ISI are best of partners: Pakistan envoy

dnaindia.com | Apr 28, 2011

Washington, DC – Amidst reports that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of late do not see an eye to eye, Pakistan’s envoy to the US Husain Haqqani said both are best of partners in the war against terrorism.

“Actually, contrary to public perception, CIA and ISI are the best of partners,” Haqqani told the MSNBC news channel in an interview.

“Just as there are people who don’t want to believe the birth certificate even if it exists, similarly, there are people who don’t want to believe that the ISI is a partner of the CIA. And that causes a lot of problems,” Haqqani said referring to the controversy surrounding the birth certificate of President Barack Obama.

“The truth is that, in the last few months, we have really worked at bridging the gap. Last week, Pakistan’s foreign secretary was in town. We had intense meetings. ambassador Grossman, President Obama’s new special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is headed to Pakistan,” he said.


Haqqani said the CIA and the ISI have already worked out an arrangement whereby they will be able to have measures that will enable each other to trust each other on certain specifics.

“We have overcome the rough patch. The important thing is Pakistan needs the US, and the US needs Pakistan. We are allies. We are partners, and we will work together,” Haqqani said.

The Pakistani ambassador down played the recent statement by Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that elements in ISI has links with the terrorist Haqqani network.

“What he did was he actually asserted an intelligence assessment over which Pakistan and America have disagreed over a long time. Now, it is something that is a subject of an ongoing discussion between us. We intend to clear it up. We want Afghanistan to be a stable state in our neighborhood. We want the United States to succeed in Afghanistan, and we intend to work with the US,” Haqqani said.

“There’s a long history here. The new democratic government that took over in 2008 has come a long way in building a strategic partnership. It will take us a little more time to overcome the burden of history,” Haqqani said.

Privacy storm after police buy military software that maps suspects’ digital movements

Full spectrum surveillance: The Geotime software aggregates information from a variety of sources to build a detailed 3D picture of an individual’s movements

Used by the U.S. military, security programme Geotime tracks suspects’ movements and communications and displays them on a 3D graphic

Daily Mail | May 12, 2011

Police are using software to track the moves of suspects across the digital world, it has emerged, provoking fury among civil rights and privacy campaigners.

The Metropolitan Police has bought Geotime, a security programme used by the U.S. military which tracks suspects’ movements and communications and displays them on a three-dimensional graphic.

The software aggregates information gathered from social networking sites, GPS devices like the iPhone, mobile phones, financial transactions and IP network logs to build a detailed picture of an individual’s movements.

The Met, Britain’s largest police force, has confirmed that it has purchased the software and refused to rule out its use in investigating public order disturbances.

Privacy campaigners have expressed concern at the police’s adoption of the software.

Daniel Hamilton, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said he was concerned about the use of such invasive software for everyday police work.

‘The police’s decision to adopt technology designed for theatres of war in order to track members of the public is deeply concerning,’ he said.

‘The ability to build up such a comprehensive record of any person’s movements represents a significant threat to personal privacy.

‘The Metropolitan Police must reassure the public that this technology will be used in only the most serious of cases, not as an  everyday crime-fighting tool.’

But Val Swain, of the activist group the Police Monitoring Network, said that she was not surprised that the Met had purchased Geotime.

She said the purchase was just the latest development in a strategy of so-called ‘intelligence-led policing’ that has systematically invaded privacy.

‘This is an example of a type of software that enables the police to use a great deal of data to keep track of what people are doing and where they are going,’ she said.

‘There is other software on the market that has been purchased by other forces.’

Miss Swain warned that the roll-out of such new technology was particularly worrying for those concerned about the right to protest.

She said: ‘It’s what the judge in the Andrew Wood case described as the “chilling effect” of police surveillance on public protest. This is inevitably going to add to people’s fears.’

Judges ruled that specialist surveillance units from the Metropolitan Police had breached the human rights of Andrew Wood, an arms trade campaigner, when they photographed him and stored the pictures on a police database.

Miss Swain said: ‘Geotime is not just going to be used to track people’s behaviour, but also to predict people’s behaviour – and it’s a very thin line between policing public protest and preventing public protest.’

The Geotime software displays data from a variety of sources, which users can then navigate using a timeline and animated display.

Oculus, the Canadian developer behind the software, says on its website: ‘Links between entities can represent communications, relationships, transactions, message logs, etc and are visualised over time to reveal temporal patterns and behaviours.’

The software was displayed in the UK earlier this month at the defence industry Counter Terror exhibition in Olympia, West London.

The Metropolitan Police is the only UK police force to have bought the software so far, Curtis Garton, Oculus’s product management director, told the Guardian.

‘There are a few countries that we don’t sell to, but in terms of commercial sales pretty much anybody can buy,’ he said.

Monitoring: An officer watches CCTV cameras at the Met’s Lambeth Specialist Operations Room. The facility could in future be boosted by the new technology

A spokesman for the Met told the Guardian that Geotime had been paid for and the software was being assessed for several uses.

‘We are in the process of evaluating the Geotime software to explore how it could possibly be used to assist us in understanding patterns in data relating to both space and time.

‘A decision has yet to be made as to whether we will adopt the technology [permanently].

‘We have used dummy data to look at how the software works and have explored how we could use it to examine police vehicle movements, crime patterns and telephone investigations,’ the spokesman wrote in an email.

The Ministry of Defence is also examining Geotime.