Today's news

  • ImmigrationDivided court denies emergency stay of injunction stopping Obama's immigration executive order

    In a disappointing decision for immigration advocates, a divided panel of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday denied the federal government’s request for an emergency stay of a preliminary injunction which has temporarily stopped President Obama’s deferred action initiatives from being implemented. The court’s order keeps in place the hold on implementation of these initiatives while the Fifth Circuit considers the appeal of the preliminary injunction itself. The Fifth Circuit will hear argument on the appeal in early July.

  • ImmigrationCalifornia group blames immigrants for state’s historic drought

    Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), an anti-immigration environmentalist group, has made a splash with provocative advertisements which feature a young child asking, “If Californians are having fewer children, why isn’t there enough water?” The ad is part of a broader media campaign by the organization which blames immigrant populations for the historic drought in the state. CAPS is calling for stricter enforcement of immigration laws on environmental grounds: it argues that the state’s natural resources cannot sustain the high levels immigration-driven population growth of recent decades. Drought experts and climatologists dismiss CAPS’s claims about the connection between immigration and drought as laughable.

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  • IraqExplicitly Shi’a name for Iraqi military operation in Anbar province “unhelpful”: U.S.

    The United States said it was disappointed with the decision by Iraqi militias to use an explicitly Shi’a name for a military operation in Anbar province, Iraq’s Sunni heartland. The Pentagon said it could only exacerbate sectarian tensions in the country. A coalition group of Iran-trained Iraqi Shi’a militias said it had decided to use the name “Operation Labaik ya Hussein,” which translates as “We are at your service, Hussein,” for a military campaign to drive Islamic State out of Ramadi – and, later, out of Anbar province. The name refers to one of the most revered imams in Shi’a Islam.

  • Nuclear warT. K. Jones, Pentagon official who argued U.S. could survive an all-out nuclear war, dies

    Thomas K. Jones (he preferred to be called “T. K.”), the deputy under-secretary of defense for research and engineering, strategic and theater nuclear forces, died at 82. He became famous in 1982, when, in an interview with the LA Times, he argued that if the United States had a more robust civil defense, most Americans would survive an all-out Soviet nuclear attack. “You can make very good sheltering by taking the doors off your house, digging a trench, stacking the doors about two deep over that, covering it with plastic so that rainwater or something doesn’t screw up the glue in the door, then pile dirt over it.” He added: “It’s the dirt that does it.” He concluded the interview by saying:  “Turns out with the Russian approach, if there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.”

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  • Terrorism & mediaExposure to media coverage of terrorist acts, disasters may cause long-term negative health effects

    The city of Boston endured one of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in April of 2013, when two pressure-cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. While emergency workers responded to the chaos and law enforcement agencies began a manhunt for the perpetrators, Americans fixed their attention to television screens, Internet news sites and forums, and Twitter, Facebook, and other social media. In doing so, some of those people may have been raising their acute stress levels which, in some cases, have been linked with long-term negative health effects. For some individuals, intense exposure to the Boston Marathon bombing through media coverage could be associated with more stress symptoms than those who had direct exposure to the attack.

  • Decision makingSocial circles explain why members of Congress vote the way they do

    The standard model of voting behavior basically assumes there is only one factor that matters: where a legislator lives on the liberal-conservative axis. That position, derived from their roll call votes, serves as an ideological marker that presumably summarizes the various forces that can influence the legislators’ votes, including personal preferences, party preferences, and constituent opinion. Researchers developed a new model called “social identity voting” based on social identity theory, which says our identity is partially created and reinforced by the various circles within which we move and the various ideologies with which we identify. In other words, it is not just friends and friends of friends, but also potentially something more subtle — you can identify with a movement without necessarily being part of an explicit “social circle.” The researchers conclude that U.S. Congress members’ social circles are more important in how they vote than their liberal or conservative beliefs or constituents’ opinions.

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  • Decision making“Echo chambers” fuel climate change debate: Study

    A new study demonstrates that the highly contentious debate on climate change is fueled in part by how information flows throughout policy networks. The researchers found that “echo chambers” — social network structures in which individuals with the same viewpoint share information with each other — play a significant role in climate policy communication. The researchers point out that the debate on climate change is not indicative of inconclusive science. Rather, the debate is illustrative of how echo chambers influence information flows in policy networks. “Our research underscores how important it is for people on both sides of the climate debate to be careful about where they get their information. If their sources are limited to those that repeat and amplify a single perspective, they can’t be certain about the reliability or objectivity of their information,” says one of the authors.

  • EarthquakesEarthquake preparations in the Pacific Northwest need to start now: Experts

    Developing the resilience to withstand a massive earthquake along the Pacific Northwest’s Cascadia Subduction Zone is the responsibility of public agencies, private businesses, and individuals, and that work should be under way now, an OSU expert advised Congressional leaders last week in Washington, D.C.“It will take fifty years for us to prepare for this impending earthquake. The time to act is before you have the earthquake. Everybody needs to take some responsibility and start preparing now.” Earthquake preparation, or lack thereof, is not an issue unique to Oregon: Forty-two U.S. states have significant earthquake faults.

  • Food safetyNew biosensor can detect listeria contamination in two minutes

    Engineers have developed a biosensor that can detect listeria bacterial contamination within two or three minutes. The same technology can be developed to detect other pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, but listeria was chosen as the first target pathogen because it can survive even at freezing temperatures. It is also one of the most common foodborne pathogens in the world and the third-leading cause of death from food poisoning in the United States.

  • WaterRemote project a proof of concept for eco-friendly desalination

    In the past water desalination has been identified with industrial-scale, energy hungry plants, but researchers working at a remote indigenous community in Western Australia have proved portable, solar-powered desalination can provide cost-effective water security for a small community.

  • IraqU.S. tries to calm Iraq’s anger over Ash Carter’s “will to fight” comment

    Vice-President Joe Biden yesterday (Monday) called the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, to reassure him of continuing U.S. support, a day after bunt comments by U.S. defense secretary Ashton Carter. Carter told CNN on Saturday Iraqi forces had shown “no will to fight” ISIS and had fled in Ramadi despite outnumbering the Islamist militants by a wide margin. Abadi’s spokesman subsequently said that Carter had been given “incorrect information,” adding: “We should not judge the whole army based on one incident.” The debate over the fall of Ramadi highlights the deep disagreements among the United States, Iraq, and Iran over how to fight ISIS most effectively.

  • Analysis // IraqIraqi army lacks “moral cohesion,” “will to fight” ISIS: U.K., U.S. defense officials

    Maj. Gen. Tim Cross, the most senior British officer to be involved in postwar planning in Iraq, pointedly said that although the Iraqi military outnumbered ISIS by a wide margin, this military lacks “moral cohesion” and effective leadership required to fight and defeat Islamic State forces. Cross’s words echo comments made over the weekend by Ashton Carter, the U.S. defense secretary that, recent gains by ISIS fighters in Iraq were the result of the Iraqi army not having the “will to fight.” Military analysts say that the unexpected collapse of Iraqi forces in Ramadi, forces which included elite counterterrorism troops from Iraq’s Golden Division, indicate that the Iraqi forces may be weaker than many in the U.S. government had assumed. There is a deeper issue here, though, as the Obama administration is facing a broader challenge in the war against the Islamic State in the Middle East: Finding reliable and dedicated partners. This is especially difficult when it comes to recruiting Sunni partners. Few, if any, Sunnis would agree to fight ISIS if such a fight would mean the strengthening of Shi’a groups. Thus, in Iraq, Sunni tribesmen have been unwilling to fight the Islamic State on behalf of a Shi’a-dominated government in Baghdad, and in Syria, moderate Syrian rebel groups, both secular and Islamist, are reluctant to fight ISIS if such fighting means strengthening the Alawite Assad regime.

  • African securityIsraeli military technology sales to Africa increase by 40%

    Israeli weapons exports declined by nearly $1 billion in 214 compared to 2013, but export of Israel-made weapons to African countries increased by 40 percent in 2014 compared with 2013. Israeli armaments industries signed deals worth $318 million in Africa, compared with $223 million in 2013, which itself was an all-time record. Asian and Pacific countries were much larger customers of Israeli arms, though, buying $3 billion worth of Israeli military technology in 2014.

  • HackingA growing threat: Car hacking

    A string of high-profile hacks — the most recent on President Obama’s personal email account — have made cybercrime an ever-growing concern in the United States. Despite the publicity, most people still think of hacking as something which is done only to information systems like computers and mobile devices. In reality, hacking is no longer confined to the information world. The level of automation in modern physical systems means that even everyday automobiles are now vulnerable to hacking. Researchers are now looking into the growing threat of automotive hacking. “More and more in your everyday life you see that we’re automating physical systems,” one researcher says. “And unlike an information system, a physical system could kill you by accident.”

  • EncryptionTech companies urge rejection of push by FBI, DOJ for electronic devices “backdoors”

    In a 19 May letter to President Barack Obama, a group of Silicon Valley tech companies, cyber-security experts, and privacy advocacy groups urged the president to reject the implementation of “backdoors” in smartphone and computer encryption. The letter offered evidence of the  strong objection of the tech industry to demands from the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to allow secret backdoor passages into consumer electronics, which would make it possible for law enforcement to read encrypted private communications and data.

  • Tracking explosionsResearchers use seismic signals to track above-ground explosions

    Seismology has long been used to determine the source characteristics of underground explosions, such as yield and depth, and plays a prominent role in nuclear explosion monitoring. Now, however, some of the same techniques have been modified to determine the strength and source of near and above-ground blasts. Thus, researchers have determined that a tunnel bomb explosion by Syrian rebels was less than sixty tons as claimed by sources. Using seismic stations in Turkey, the researchers created a method to determine source characteristics of near-earth surface explosions. They found the above-ground tunnel bomb blast under the Wadi al-Deif Army Base near Aleppo last spring was likely not as large as originally estimated and was closer to forty tons.

  • First response robotsRobots to the rescue in disaster situations

    Real-life disaster scenarios have awakened the robotics community to the limitations of existing emergency-response robots. EU-funded researchers are redoubling efforts to ensure that disaster response robots can better support rescue workers in future emergencies. Research in the lab and on-site simulations have helped in improving the capabilities of emergency-response robots in recent years. When real disaster strikes unexpected, however, complications lay bare the limitations of test scenarios. In light of the lessons learned following the Fukushima nuclear accident, researchers are following a range of different pathways to advance emergency-response robotics.

  • GridDrought, heat to affect U.S. West's power grid

    Expected increases in extreme heat and drought will bring changes in precipitation, air and water temperatures, air density and humidity, scientists say. These changing conditions could significantly constrain the energy generation capacity of power plants — unless steps are taken to upgrade systems and technologies to withstand the effects of a generally hotter and drier climate. Power providers should invest in more resilient renewable energy sources and consider local climate constraints when selecting sites for new generation facilities, the researchers say.

  • WaterHow climate change is making California’s epic drought worse

    By Catherine Gautier

    California is undergoing a record-setting drought that began in 2012, the worst in at least 1,200 years. California and other southwestern states have suffered through multi-year droughts in the past, but how does climate change figure into what’s happening now? Can scientists separate the effect of rising greenhouse gas levels on the current drought from other factors? Detecting and attributing observed or projected impacts to man-caused climate change is not an easy task. But there is some supporting evidence from improving numerical climate models and the record of several diverse meteorological and hydrological events already happening, including heat waves, flooding, or droughts. Scientists can run climate model experiments that include only natural variability and then include manmade factors, such as greenhouse gases. These tools serve to highlight and distinguish the dominant mechanisms responsible for particular air circulation characteristics. These climate model simulations show that the extreme and persistent circulation patterns that have caused droughts on the West Coast this century are due to anthropogenic external forces, not natural causes. Studies suggest that climate change might give rise to a new climate regime, one in which the years of low precipitation will be accompanied by warm conditions, creating the aforementioned “warm drought.”

  • SurveillanceHouse-approved NSA reform bill fails in Senate

    Earlier this morning (Saturday), for the second time in less than a year, the Senate rejected a bill to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of American phone metadata records. The House-approved USA Freedom Act failed to reach the 60-vote threshold required to bring the bill to a vote on the floor (the vote was 57-42 in favor – three votes short). The bill’s opponents used different procedural maneuvering, lasting until the early morning hours Saturday, to block the bill itself from coming to a vote. The failure to pass the House bill – or any bill dealing with bulk collection – means that Senate, when it reconvenes on 31 May, will have only a few hours to decide the fate of Section 215 of the Patriot Act – the section which governs data collection and which has given the NSA and FBI broad domestic surveillance powers – before it expires on midnight that day. Senate GOP caucus is deeply divided on the issue, but House Republicans and Democrats exhibit a rare accord.

  • Nuclear weaponsU.S. may support nuke conference proposal challenging Israel’s nuclear program

    Israeli officials expressed concerns that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference, which ends today in New York after month-long deliberations, will approve decisions which would pose a major challenge to Israel’s unacknowledged nuclear weapons program. Arab states have already tried, in previous Review Conferences, to push for resolutions calling for making the Middle East a WMD-free zone, in effect, requiring Israel, the only nuclear-armed state in the region, to disarm. Israel’s position, supported by the United States and other countries, is that the nuclear arms issue should be dealt with as only one element of the regional security context. Until the 2010 Review Conference – these conferences meet every five years – the United States, acting on understandings reached between Richard Nixon and Golda Meir in September 1969, supported Israel’s position without much quibbling. In 2010, however, there appeared to be differences emerging between Israel’s and the U.S. approach to regional nuclear disarmament. Israel is worried that the United States, now in negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program, would support a Spanish compromise proposal which, in Israel’s view, is too close to Egypt’s original proposal which Israel finds unacceptable.

  • Nuclear weaponsU.S. security would be enhanced by minimizing role of nuclear weapons: Report

    Nuclear weapons remain the most potent destructive force known to humanity. Yet, U.S. nuclear policies and doctrines remain encumbered by cold war beliefs in the potential utility of nuclear weapons, even though the United States enjoys a dominant geopolitical position in the world, underpinned by a conventional military superiority greater than any ever known before. A news report argues that U.S. security interests would be better served if the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategy were minimized, and the United States, in its declaratory and weapon-development policies, would make it clear that U.S. nuclear weapons would serve only to deter other countries’ use of nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies.