Government

  • USMobile launches Scrambl3 mobile, Top Secret communication-standard app

    Irvine, California-based USMobile, a developer of private mobile phone services, yesterday launched Scrambl3, a smartphone app that enables users to create their own Private Mobile Network. When Scrambl3 users communicate with each other, Scrambl3 creates a Dark Internet Tunnel between their smartphones. This Tunnel cloaks the calls and texts by making them invisible on the Internet. Scrambl3 App for Android-based phones is available for a 60-day free beta offering from the Google Play Store.

  • Climate change, a factor in Texas floods, largely ignored

    Climate change is taking a toll on Texas, and the devastating floods that have killed at least fifteen people and left twelve others missing across the state are some of the best evidence yet of that phenomenon, state climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon said in an interview last Wednesday. “We have observed an increase of heavy rain events, at least in the South-Central United States, including Texas,” said Nielsen-Gammon, who was appointed by former Gov. George W. Bush in 2000. “And it’s consistent with what we would expect from climate change.” Some Republican state legislators who had opposed including climate change forecasts in state agencies’ planning work, say they are rethinking their position. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) said that after last week’s flooding, he is taking the need for planning for extreme weather seriously. “I’ll certainly have it on my radar,” Hunter said. “When you see these strange weather patterns, it’s important to keep all of these things in mind.”

  • Winners and losers in California’s water crisis

    A recent article highlights the widening gap of inequality between the wealthy and the poor of California, specifically in relation to the State’s current drought. The authors discuss what has caused these inequalities to expand — the outdated and unsupervised water regulations still currently used, combined with decentralized local control means using and sourcing water comes down to the simple matter of what people can and cannot afford.

  • Broad NSA surveillance powers, granted in 2006, expired on midnight

    The NSA’s broad domestic surveillance authority, granted to the agency when the Patriot Act was first reauthorized in 2006, expired on midnight after the Senate failed to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which governs surveillance, or approve the House’s USA Freedom Act, which modified Section 215. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. The failure of the Senate to do extend or modify the NSA’s surveillance power was the result of the unyielding position of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and also the result of a miscalculation by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the majority leader, who believed that the prospect of the expiration of Section 215 would lead opponent of the surveillance programs, supporters of the current program, and supporters of the House’s USA Freedom Act to agree to a few weeks extension of Section 215 to allow for more negotiations among senators and between senators and House member. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. It remains to be seen, however, how many, and what type, of amendments McConnell would allow to be brought to the floor, and, if some of these amendments are approved, whether House members would agree to any modifications to the USA Freedom Act.

  • Russia distancing itself from a weakening Assad

    Middle East analysts and reliable sources within several governments and intelligence services in the region say that there are growing signs of a major shift in Russia’s position toward the regime of Bashar al-Assad, reflecting the conclusion among close advisers to President Vladimir Putin that the Assad regime, which has suffered a series of painful defeats since January, cannot be saved, and that continued Russian support for it would undermine other objectives Russia is pursuing in the region. These sources told the London-based Arabic-language newspaperAsharq Al-Awsat that the Russia policy change could be described as a “dramatic U-turn,” with Moscow no longer hiding the fact that it is contemplating a “future without Assad” for Syria. Russia has withdrawn more than 100 military advisers, technical support professionals, and diplomats from Syria, and has cut down the number of employees at its embassy in Damascus, leaving only essential staff. Since late February, Russia no longer ships military supplies to the Syrian military, and Russian military technical personnel has been pulled out of Syria, making it impossible for Russia to abide by the maintenance contracts with Syria for the Sukhoi aircraft, the mainstay of the Syria air force. There have been increasing signs that the Assad regime is disintegrating, with Assad family members and relatives, and businessmen and high-ranking members of the Alawite community, fleeing Damascus.

  • U.S. removes Cuba from list of terrorism-supporting states

    The United States on Friday officially removed Cuba from the list of terrorism-supporting states. The move is the latest step toward the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba. Removing Cuba from the list – which now has only three countries left on it: Iran, Syria, and Sudan – removes a major legal obstacles, because U.S. law imposes serious restrictions on political and economic relations with countries on the list. Still, the removal of Cuba from the terrorism-supporting countries list would have a limited impact, because many of the limitations on normal economic relations with Cuba are the result of Cuba-specific embargo legislation by Congress outside the scope of the terrorism-related measures. These pieces of legislation will have to be removed by Congressional action. The administration’s decision to remove Cuba from the list comes while the negotiations between the two countries are encountering difficulties. Officials have so far failed to reach an agreement on re-establishing diplomatic relations and opening embassies.

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  • U.S. to expand cooperation with Nigeria’s military in fight against Boko Haram

    Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in as the country’s new president on Friday, and the Obama administration accompanied its congratulations to the new president with indications that the United States was prepared to expand military cooperation in the fight against Boko Haram. The growing concerns about Boko Haram notwithstanding, the United States reduced its military cooperation with Nigeria during the presidency of Goodluck Jonathan, who was defeated by Buhari in the March election. The Nigerian military under Jonathan was thoroughly corrupt, and proved itself incompetent in fighting Boko Haram. The United States was also growing increasingly frustrated with rampant human rights abuses by the Nigerian military. With Buhari, a former general with a reputation as a strict disciplinarian and an anti-corruption crusader, now in power, the United States is set to resume its military ties with Nigeria.

  • U.S. to increase annual military aid package to Israel from $3 billion to nearly $4 billion

    The U.S. defense aid to Israel will increase after 2017 from the current $3 billion a year to between $3.5 and $4 billion a year, according to both American and Israeli sources. The substantial increase in the military aid package to Israel is the direct result of the negotiations with Iran — and the fact that Sunni states in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, will themselves see a major quantitative and qualitative increases in U.S. military aid to them, thus risking the erosion of the Israeli military’s “qualitative edge.” Only last year, the administration, in an effort to accommodate congressionally mandated cuts in the defense budget, informed Israel that the only changes to the package would be adjustment for inflation.

  • New EPA rules extend Clean Water Act protection to more streams, wetlands

    Aiming to clarify the ambiguities of the federal Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last week issued a new ruling which take a tougher approach to the protection of streams and wetlands which support wildlife habitats and filter drinking water supplies. EPA officials have warned that up to 60 percent of the streams and millions of acres of wetlands in the United States are not protected under current law. The new regulations would bring these streams and wetlands under the protection of the Clean Water Act.

  • France will not sign off on a nuclear deal with Iran if military sites are off limits to inspectors

    Laurent Fabius, France’s foreign minister, said France will not accept a deal on Iran’s nuclear program if Tehran refuses to allow inspections of its military sites as part of the final agreement. Throughout the negotiations with Iran, France has taken a tougher stance toward Iran than the other negotiating countries, known as the P5 + 1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France – and Germany). “France will not accept a deal if it is not clear that inspections can be done at all Iranian installations, including military sites,” Fabius told the national assembly in Paris.

  • Western countries, businesses facing increased terrorism threat: Aon

    Risk levels are rising in Western economies due to the increased terror threat presented by Islamic extremists, according to the Aon Terrorism and Political Violence Map. The map, launched earlier this week, provides insight for business aiming to reduce risk exposures. Top risks for business include increased terrorism threats across developed economies, and a progressively uncertain and dangerous geopolitical environment, where the risk of armed conflict is growing amid changing and unstable regional balances of power.

  • Giant surveillance blimp to protect Capitol building

    Lawmakers want to make the Capitol building more secure after existing security measured failed to detect or stop Douglas Hughes who, on 15 April, flew his gyrocopter into the Capitol manicured lawn. Some of these lawmakers want to deploy the Tethered Aerostat Radar System, or TARS – a giant blimp carrying 2,000-pounds radars that can spot an aircraft at a distance of 200 miles. Several TARS are already deployed along the U.S.-Mexico border, and along a 340-mile stretch of the Atlantic coast stretching from North Carolina to Boston. The blimp loiters at about 10,000 feet – but in order not to mar the Washington, D.C. skyline, lawmakers suggest acquiring a blimp which can hover at a higher altitude.

  • Groundbreaking for new Biosafety Level 4 lab in Kansas

    Officials on Wednesday broke ground for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF), a $1.25 billion animal research facility near the campus of Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas. NBAF will be the U.S. only Level 4 biosafety lab – a designation which means that the lab is secure enough to handle, and conduct research on, pathogens that do not currently have treatments or countermeasures. Critics argue that locating the lab on the campus of KSU — in the heart of cattle country and the middle of Tornado Alley – would not be a good idea. NBAF will replace the aging biolab in Plum Island, New York.

  • Divided 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.

  • California 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.