Daily Archives: November 27, 2011

Can Killer Drones Be Turned on America?

Can Killer Drones Be Turned on America? 50 Countries Are Trying to Get Their Hands on Military Drone Technology — What Will They Do With It?

China, Iran and even non-state actors are buying or developing drone systems.

alternet.org | Nov 25, 2011

Someday soon, you’ll be checking your new Clear Skies app as a routine part of your preparations to go out for the evening. First, you’ll look at your smart gizmo to read your latest email to make sure there hasn’t been any change in plans. A quick glance at Facebook lets you see who’ll be joining your group of friends at the bar. Weather and traffic apps inform you of what to wear and what route to take. Twitter will tell you about any major news developments you should be retweeting to your tweeps to prime the conversational pump over drinks.

Photo Credit: AFP

And your new Clear Skies app will let you know if any unmanned drones are hovering 12 miles up in the stratosphere with your head in their sights.

Sound like science fiction? Isn’t drone surveillance and remote kills a problem just for people in the undeveloped regions of the world where life is cheap, collateral damage a daily hazard, and violations of national sovereignty the norm rather than the exception?

No doubt, people in the United States felt the same way about nuclear weapons during that brief period after 1945 when only one country in the world possessed the explosive new technology. Then, on August 29, 1949, the Soviet Union tested its first atomic bomb, and Americans no longer felt quite so confident. Indeed, the United States began to experience a pervasive nuclear dread, with children practicing “duck and cover” in the classroom, parents digging out bomb shelters in the backyard, and the thought of fiery apocalypse never far from the thoughts of a bewildered and terrified populace.

Today, the United States maintains a near monopoly on military drone technology, with only Israel and Britain also deploying these systems. But the landscape is rapidly changing. As David Cortright at the University of Notre Damepoints out, more than 50 countries are developing or buying drone systems, including China and Iran, and even non-state actors want in on the business. The United States is now using drones to patrol borders and collect information about Mexican narcotraffickers. U.S. law enforcement agencies are also eager to use the technology against criminals on U.S. soil, with Texas sheriffs leading the way. Unmanned drones are already used in Japan, Australia, and other countries for such civilian activities as crop dusting and lifeguarding.

Soon, the skies will be very crowded indeed. And the sound of drones that have become part of everyday life in “areas of concern” will someday become part of everyone’s life, as ubiquitously intrusive as flat-screen TVs and annoying ringtones. Perhaps these unmanned aerial vehicles will simply pick you out of a crowd so that the police department can hit you up for unpaid parking tickets or your spouse’s lawyer can verify adultery and grounds for divorce. But that assumes that drones will be seamlessly integrated into the fabric of legal and social norms, a technology no different from tasers or the Police National Computer.

But what’s happening today in Pakistan is beyond the law. It’s not even subject to the rules of war. The drone wars that the Obama administration has inherited from the Bush years – and expanded dramatically – are conducted by the CIA. The spy agency doesn’t need to abide by the Geneva Conventions or acquire congressional approval for its actions. It doesn’t bother with niceties such as national sovereignty. And, in contrast to other agencies that only dabble in falsehood, breaking the law and not telling the truth are integral to the operations of the CIA.

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Three colder-and-snowier-than-normal winters in a row

The Lafayette Church of the Nazarene at Southland Drive and Lafayette Parkway used humor to deal with the harsher-than-normal weather in January. Image: kentucky.com

We’re in the midst of our coldest and snowiest winters since the late 1970s.

Expect winter to be as harsh as last year’s

kentucky.com | Nov 27, 2011

By Chris Bailey

It’s the time of year when lovers of cold and snow start to get excited as visions of blizzards and bitterly cold temps dance in their heads.

“What kind of winter will we have?” is the question I hear the most, and that usually starts in the summer. It’s time to give you an answer with the 2011-12 winter forecast.

First, let’s evaluate where we’ve been and where we are.

We’re in the midst of our coldest and snowiest winters since the late 1970s. That’s the last time we put together back-to-back average winter temps below 32 degrees and the last time we recorded 20 or more inches of snowfall in back-to-back winters.

In 2009-10, we had an average temperature of 30.7 degrees and 23.7 inches of snow; in 2010-11, we averaged 31.5 degrees and recorded 27 inches of snow.


Scientists Say to Brace Yourself for Another Cold, Snowy Winter

Can we make it three colder-and-snowier-than-normal winters in a row? The short answer is yes, and here is why.

To start with, the current state of the oceans point toward colder temperatures.

The Atlantic Ocean shows a configuration of colder and warmer water that should favor a North Atlantic Oscillation. This would favor blocking high pressure over Greenland, helping to force cold air from Canada south into the states.

We continue to see a strong Pacific Decadal Oscillation. This features colder-than-normal water temps along the west coast of the United States into the northern Pacific near Alaska. (We have been in a Pacific Decadal Oscillation phase for the past several years.)

Meanwhile, the biggest driver is sitting near the equatorial Pacific Ocean. La Niña is alive and well for the second fall and winter in a row. This is when the waters in this area run colder than normal over a wide region. The forecast models all show those temperature anomalies lasting into the winter months.

I looked at all of that information and other variables and checked for past years that had similar features. This allowed me to see how the winters following those years turned out, giving me clues about how this winter might fare.

I also checked the stats for those years to see whether any of them matched the actual weather we’re experiencing here.

Of all the years I’ve looked at, 1950 seems to be the closest match to the actual weather and global indexes. That year featured a cold and snowy winter for Kentucky and included several big events. (It is important to note that no two winters are ever alike and never play out exactly the same way.)

One final thing to take into consideration is the fall snow cover across the Northern Hemisphere. The greater the snow cover, the better the chance the winter air will be colder than normal. Snow cover right now is much above normal.

Here’s the breakdown of how I see our winter forecast:

  • I expect our temps to average 1 to 3 degrees F below normal for much of the state.
  • December and January are likely to see the coldest departures from normal, with moderation to above-normal temperatures possible for February. Wild swings in temperature are a good bet, and I expect a few severe cold shots that will take our temps below zero.
  • Snowfall should average above normal for the entire state. Lexington averages about 14 inches of snow each winter; this winter should bring totals in the 20-inch to 25-inch range. This is a year likely to feature several “clippers” diving in from the northwest. These winds usually produce light snow. However, the Great Lakes are much warmer than normal, and this means a likely increase in snow showers and squalls brought by the clippers.

Bleak winter in store for vulnerable as energy prices sore

sundaysun.co.uk | Nov 27, 2011

by Sarah Scott

A BLEAK winter is in store for the most vulnerable in our society as energy prices soar.

Energy experts have issued warnings as rocketing fuel prices could equal miserable winter months for millions, in particular pensioners and single-parent families.

Rising wholesale costs could mean electricity prices shoot up by 60% with gas increases of up to 54%.

But these increasing bills come at a time when it has been revealed bosses at the big six energy suppliers took home collective earnings of more than £10m just as they were implementing price rises for millions of consumers last winter.

EDF Energy, led by chief executive Vincent de Rivaz, gave its highest-paid employee a 30% rise to £1.3m.

Campaigners branded the wages paid as “outrageous.”

Going hand-in-hand with rising energy prices are predictions that this winter is due to be the harshest one in years.

Weather experts have warned to expect well below average temperatures and widespread snowfall.

According to uSwitch.com, the comparison website, since November last year energy suppliers have increased their prices by £224 or 21% on average. As a result, the average household energy bill has risen from £1,069 to £1,293 a year.

With these changes, fuel poverty numbers have spiraled with 6.9 million people, or 27% of households, now affected.

Pensioners are one of the worst-hit groups with an increasing number of deaths from the cold each year.

Along with rising energy costs pensioners have also been hit by a cut in their winter fuel allowance this year since the Conservative Government came into power.

Susan Neill, affordable warmth advisor for Age UK Darlington, said she had noticed a marked increase in the number of concerned pensioners and families coming to use her service, seeking advice on rising energy bills and how to deal with the cuts in winter fuel allowance.

“I think it is really unfair because a lot of people do depend on that and people have been coming in saying they are cutting that and asking if it will eventually go. And people are worried winter fuel allowance will stop altogether,” she said.

Susan also branded the pay packets of energy company bosses as “outrageous”.

“They are making money out of people who are the most vulnerable.

“They make more and more money while the poorest in society are struggling more and more each year,” she said.

Susan said her office in Beaumont Street in Darlington had seen an increase in the number of worried pensioners coming in with questions about how they would pay their energy bills and complaining about cuts in winter fuel allowance.

“Since the fuel increases we have had a lot more people than the last year so we offer this free service in Darlington which is open to anyone, that offers all households free advice on fuel and energy related issues.

“The people coming into us at the moment tend to be worried about putting the heating on because they feel at the end of the winter they will be left with a huge heating bill.

“We try and look at ways they can get on to a tariff were it will be cheaper for them.

“I think pensioners are struggling, even those who have a little bit above the ordinary pension. Even those people are coming in saying they do not know what to do.”

She added that from August 2010 to the end of November 2010 they dealt with 95 individuals seeking help with energy bills, but from August 2011 until so far this month they have already seen 137 people come through their doors.

“It has just come as a shock to people. It does make me angry and you feel sorry for them because, for a lot of people, it is not only fuel, but other general living expenses.

“There is just not enough support there for them.”

One pensioner who is beginning to feel the pinch is 73-year-old Mavis Smith, pictured right. Over the past decade Mavis has seen her energy bills rocket.

But with the projected increases ahead, the retired civil servant, who lives with her 82-year-old cousin Joan Wood, could struggle to pay the bills to heat and light her home.

“If fuel costs keep rising we will just move into one room and take equity out because that is the situation we will be in,” Mavis said.

Mavis said she used to pay just £500 a year for gas and electricity when she was in her 60s.

“There was a system called Stay Warm set out on the size of your house. It was only for people who were retired at that time.

“We paid £500 every year and that gave you unlimited access to gas and electricity.

“In other words you could heat your house 24 hours a day and you did not pay any more,” said Mavis.

“Steadily that has increased. I am now 73 and over the last 10 to 11 years that has gone up from £500 and we now pay £45 a week which equals £2,340 a year, that’s how much it is.

“To be honest there is nothing I can do about it, we have to heat the house,” she added.

Mavis, of Kibblesworth, Gateshead, admitted that she and her cousin now ration their heating, and despite getting a state pension and a private pension they still envision struggling with any future energy hikes.

“We have our thermal underwear and socks and cardigans, and we are just careful. What happens when the day comes when we cannot pay it, I do not know,” she said.

Mavis does receive £300 from the Government towards her fuel bills, but she pointed out that both she and her cousin pay tax yet do not have an income.

In a landmark report, Professor John Hills, from the London School of Economics, said there are 27,000 extra deaths in England every winter.

And according to uSwitch.com almost nine in 10 households will be rationing their energy use this winter to save on bills.

As a result, potentially 23 million households will be switching off or turning down this winter.

Sean Fahey, regional secretary of the North East Pensioners’ Association, said: “If we have a cold winter and people turn their heating off, or do not put it on as much, the death rate rises.

“The most vulnerable in the community are the ones that will struggle the most.”

Still frigid in Fairbanks: Six low temperature records set in past week

Vehicles are seen draped in blankets in the parking lot of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s offices on Monday afternoon, Nov. 21, 2011. John Wagner/News-Miner

newsminer.com | Nov 21, 2011

by Tim Mowry

FAIRBANKS – Another day, another record.

The record cold snap that has gripped the Interior for the past week continued on Monday when a new record low temperature of 38 degrees below zero was recorded at Fairbanks International Airport early in the morning. The old record low was 35 below set back in 1904, the first year the National Weather Service began keeping records in Fairbanks.

It was the fifth straight day and the sixth out of the past seven days that a new record low temperature has been recorded at the airport. The last time so many consecutive temperature records were set at Fairbanks was during the record cold snap of September 1992.

The current cold snap began on Nov. 15 when the temperature dropped to 20 below. It has remained 20 below or colder since.

Monday marked a record seventh consecutive day with a low temperature of 35 below or colder at the airport. That has never happened before so early in the winter in Fairbanks. The old record was only two days in 1989.

Through Sunday, the high temperature had been 20 below or colder for five days in a row and there is a good chance it won’t get warmer than that today, which would make it six days in a row.

With an average temperature of 22.6 below, the week of Nov. 13-19 ranked second behind 1969 as the second-coldest week before Thanksgiving on record.

But the string of cold weather records looks like it will come to end on Tuesday. While temperatures will remain well below normal this week, they are expected to moderate slightly when a low pressure system now along the arctic coast descends south quickly into the Gulf of Alaska.

The air mass aloft will be colder than the air mass that has gripped the Interior for the past week but the push of cold air will be accompanied by clouds and areas of light snow or flurries. The clouds will act as an insulator and keep temperatures somewhat warmer than the past week. Temperatures much of this week are expected to be in the 10 to 25 below range, according to the National Weather Service.

“We’re expecting some cloud cover to come in, which will keep temperatures from being quite as cold for the rest of the week,” meteorologist Dan Hancock said.

Unlike the last few days, when temperatures in the hills were considerably warmer than the valley floor because of a low level inversion, there will likely be little difference in the temperatures this week between the hills and valleys.

“The air mass is going to be quite cold, not just at the surface but all the way up,” Hancock said.

Katy Perry modeled Communist Party Green agenda propaganda dress for the American Music Awards

Government propaganda: Katy Perry donned a Vivienne Westwood dress for the American Music Awards which had a phrase popular with Chinese leaders printed on it

Lost in translation, Katy? AMA’s dress with Communist Party’s favourite slogan leaves China chuckling

Daily Mail | Nov 25, 2011

Katy Perry grabbed the limelight in more ways than one at this year’s American Music Awards – by wearing a dress displaying the Chinese Communist Party’s current favourite slogan.

Not content with scooping a special achievement award, the 27-year-old also became a hot topic, and the subject of many jokes, with her Vivienne-Westwood-designed outfit.

Lu Se Jing Ji – translated as Green Economy – was printed onto the pop star’s stunning gown she wore for the red carpet at Sunday’s Los Angeles event.

But whilst most westerners would not know its meaning, the phrase is actually popular with Chinese leaders keen to make their nation more eco-friendly.

Was Vivienne Westwood's dress comment in favour of China's government run by president Hu Jintao?

It has sparked debate as to whether Westwood and Perry indeed support the Chinese government, or are subversively mocking them with the inclusion of the phrase.

Chinese president Hu Jintao most recently used it as a theme in a speech last month, when he told Asian leaders he was ‘committed to grow a green economy’.

But it is seen as nonsensical jargon by ordinary members of the population, who have to endure choking pollution as they go about their daily lives.

Perry’s Chinese sequin gown was given a mixed reception online.

Katy Perry Fashion American Music Awards 2011

The Ministry of Tofu, an English-language website focusing on Chinese issues, said the text looked like it was taken directly from political slogans often heard in the state-run media.

One observer wrote: ‘I know all characters look the same to westerners, but as a designer wouldn’t it be better to look up their meaning in the dictionary first?’

Another said: ‘Maybe her choice of dress is a protest against China’s high energy-consuming industries.’

But others saw the funny side in Ms Westwood, a former punk, becoming a vehicle for government propaganda.

‘Ha ha ha, Green Economy! Katy Perry is quite politically correct!’ wrote one commenter, while another said: ‘Every time I see this kind of thing, I wonder if the English words on our clothes looks similarly embarrassing to Europeans and Americans.’

The true reason as to the inclusion of the characters, penned for Westwood by Chinese official Wang Xijia she met at the United Nations in Nairobi,  is not known.

Is the floor-length strapless dress a pro-government stance? Or are the characters inclusion subversively mocking the country’s rulers?

Whatever the reason, Westwood appeared to be aware of its meaning.

On her website, she wrote that her Spring/Summer 2012 collection, which also includes ‘Mao hats and jackets’ had been inspired by China’s traditional wisdom.

Kinect for Windows to offer ‘Minority Report’ computer control

Tom Cruise in Minority Report

A new generation of PCs controlled by gestures is on its way, after Microsoft revealed it is specially adapting its Xbox Kinect technology for Windows computers.

Telegraph | Nov 25, 2011

The system will allow Windows users to control software with the wave of a hand, as envisaged in the Steven Spielberg film Minority Report.

“Building on the existing Kinect for Xbox 360 device, we have optimized certain hardware components and made firmware adjustments which better enable PC-centric scenarios,” Craig Eisler, general manager of the Kinect for Windows program said in a blog post.

Kinect has proved a major hit on Xbox. A small device sits on top of the console or television and translates gamers’ body movement in to commands in racing, fighting and dancing titles. The Windows version offers the prospect of users controlling everyday office applications simply by moving their hands.

Kinect Controls Windows 7

Microsoft said it has created a new “Near Mode” for the PC version of Kinect, suitable for capturing smaller movements more accurately, suitable for working at a desk.

“Near Mode” will enable a whole new class of “close up” applications, beyond the living room scenarios for Kinect for Xbox 360,” said Mr Eisler.

Microsoft is already working with software developers on new motion-controlled Windows applications.

“We’ve already seen strong enthusiasm for Kinect among developers who have done amazing things with it in countless different ways, from education to healthcare, gaming to art installations, manufacturing to retail,” Mr Eisler said in another blog post.

Chess master Garry Kasparov: ‘Putin’s just like Al Capone’

Garry Kasparov: ‘Putin is like Al Capone. The only important element of his political system is loyalty. As long as you’re loyal to the boss, you’re safe’ Photo: ANDREW CROWLEY

As Russia calls elections, the chess genius Garry Kasparov tells Neil Tweedie of his hope for a truly free vote.

The western powers, he says, have allowed Mr Putin to get away with masquerading as a democrat

Telegraph | Nov 26, 2011

By Neil Tweedie

GARRY Kasparov is careful about who he takes tea with when in Russia. “I like to know where the tea has come from,” he says, half-joking. Being a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin, the former KGB man now seeking a third term as president of the Russian Federation, inevitably entails a degree of paranoia.

Kasparov, genius of chess turned tormentor of the Kremlin, is always accompanied by bodyguards when visiting his homeland, too many critics of the Russian oligarchy having met with an untimely death.

One doesn’t have to be in the Motherland to be at risk. In 2006 Alexander Litvinenko, a former secret service officer who claimed to possess evidence implicating Mr Putin in the murder of a Russian journalist, died of acute radiation poisoning after polonium was dropped into his tea. Last month, a pre-inquest hearing in London was told of the “grave suspicion” that the poisoning represented a state-directed killing. So a certain nervousness about tea is understandable.

“Putin? A petty criminal,” says the chess player, sipping mineral water in the lobby of a hotel in Belgravia. “It’s his mentality. At the end of the day, it’s all about money. Putin recognised that if he could get enough money, everything would be under control. Putin is like Al Capone. The only important element of his political system is loyalty. As long as you’re loyal to the boss, you’re safe.”

Kasparov, 48, is the greatest chess player ever, holder of the all-time highest rating. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, when that country was a Soviet republic, he was a grandmaster at 17 and world champion at 22, remaining so for 15 years between 1985 and 2000. Observing the precocious newcomer, Mikhail Botvinnik, the Russian grandmaster and world champion, said: “The future of chess lies in the hands of this young man.”

That particular future is now behind him but there are challenges for this restless mind. He spends his life promoting the Kasparov Chess Foundation, created to put chess into schools. During a recent visit to Britain he helped publicise the work of Chess in Schools and Communities, CSC, a British charity that shares his aim.

“Chess helps you to concentrate, improve your logic. It teaches you to play by the rules and take responsibility for your actions, how to problem solve in an uncertain environment.”

There is that other, less benign, project: putting an end to the career of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. The Russian political system, says Kasparov, is no more than a front for a kleptocracy overseen by Mr Putin and his billionaire cronies; a pretend democracy devoid of a real opposition. With this in mind he helped found The Other Russia, a coalition of groups calling for free and fair elections. The alliance makes strange bedfellows, Kasparov – economically dry, socially liberal, pro-America – sharing a platform with the National Bolshevik Party, a collection of barmy extreme nationalists.

The grandmaster says it is not necessary for members of The Other Russia to share a single ideology. “When you oppose a dictatorship, should you tell others to get out because they have ideas that may not fit your agenda? We are not fighting to govern, we are fighting simply to have a real election.

“We do not have an electoral process in Russia. All authorised parties exist only under the strict control of the Kremlin.”

Russian presidents may serve two consecutive terms only. Mr Putin’s solution was to crown Dmitry Medvedev, a trusted lieutenant in the United Russia party, as his successor to the presidency, while he marked time as prime minister.

Mr Medvedev has now declined to contest a second presidential election, allowing Mr Putin to stand for a third term as president next March. An electoral system vulnerable to rigging and a supine media should ensure a second Age of Putin. “Medvedev was a kind of trap, an illusionary hope,” says Kasparov. “Now we see the truth. You can no longer pretend: it’s Putin’s lifetime dictatorship.”

But Russians like their strongmen, don’t they? “It’s a very simple way of explaining things, to look for generic flaws in some national character, but it proves otherwise when you look around the world. If you start in North Korea, you may come up with a conclusion that Koreans are born to be slaves – unless you are aware that South Korea exists. I don’t believe that people have very different ideals.”

The western powers, he says, have allowed Mr Putin to get away with masquerading as a democrat, not least by admitting Russia to the G8.

In truth, Kasparov is a marginal figure in Russian politics, yet he remains confident that his cause will prevail due to the inherent weaknesses of a system that denies Russians opportunity. Kasparov says oil was $20 a barrel and the Russian economy was on the rise when Mr Putin came to power yet now that oil is $100-plus the economy is stagnating. “So there are hundreds of billions of dollars earned from energy exports that never made their way into the Russian economy. We have 100 billionaires and no roads, no medical services. The regime will collapse and it might be much sooner than anyone expects.”

Checkmate then for Russia’s new dark tsar. Except that in politics, Mr Putin, not Kasparov, has proved himself the grandmaster.