Di seguito gli interventi pubblicati in questa sezione, in ordine cronologico.
As many students of history are familiar, Galileo Galilei, famed mathematician & astronomer, known today by many as the “father of modern science”, was forced by the Catholic Church under threat of torture to recant his “heretical” view that the earth revolved around the sun and not vice-versa in the 17th century. This scientifically valid idea voided long held religious dogma and hence challenged the Church's integrity itself.
In a letter from 1634, René Descartes, one of the world's most noted thinkers and philosophers, stated: “Doubtless you know that Galileo was recently censored by the Inquisitors of the Faith, and that his views about the movement of the earth were condemned as heretical. I must tell you that all the things I explained in my treatise, which included the doctrine of the movement of the earth, were so interdependent that it is enough to discover that one of them is false to know that all the arguments I was using are unsound. Though I thought they were based on very certain and evident proofs, I would not wish, for anything in the world, to maintain them against the authority of the church.... I desire to live in peace and to continue the life I have begun under the motto to 'live well you must live unseen'.”
If we step back and think about the challenges that faced this small progressive and scientific community during 17th Century Europe and compare the fear and patterns of suppression coming from the established orthodoxy of that time to that of the modern-day, we find only mere variation. Descartes' revelation and retreat from exposure, as expressed by the motto: 'to live well you must live unseen' is a disheartening disposition that speaks volumes and sadly carries on to this day across the world. The use of fear, intimidation and other time tested variations of oppression continue to persist as the dominant institutions of our society work to protect it's established orders regardless of social validity. Even more, the overall cultural itself, which invariably tends to support the accepted beliefs put forward by those that define “power” of a period, also tends to condemn those who choose to pose a challenge as it becomes a threat to the mass accepted identity itself.
The result is that many simply are not willing to risk their lives, occupations and reputations to challenge the orthodoxy of the time.
In late May 2011 news reports were generated that detailed how the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States was actively targeting “Political Activists” under the pretense of “Terrorism”.
Just as people like John Lennon and Martin Luther King Jr. were watched and harassed by the FBI for their activism decades ago, it appears modern, so-called “Anti-Terrorism” resources are being used to target environmentalists, peace, animal and political activists.
Just like the accusations of “Communism” against people like MLK Jr. in the mid 20th century, this newer, more generalized device called “Terrorism” of the 21st century is no less an “heretical”, accusatory tool than what was employed by the Inquisition century's ago to maintain the politico-religious social system.
So, we can sympathize with Descartes' notion, as to move against the Zeitgeist is to position yourself against the odds, regardless of how empirical, necessary or obvious the truth you wish to convey and act upon is.
Unfortunately, Descartes' position is unacceptable in the modern world. The risks that now exist within our current order are beginning to far outweigh the temporal personal risks generated by the act of activist objection itself.
It is no longer issues of accurate data, “rights” and “freedoms”. Today our very stability as a civilization is now in question and, if left unhindered, it threatens us all, regardless of one's position in the modern feudal hierarchy.
So, we can sit in confusion and watch as global unemployment rises due to technological unemployment and the resulting regional instability that is sure to grow. We can stare blankly at the systematic debt collapse of the world economy, country by country, like dominos, as self-appointed global banking institutions that derive money out of nothing impose austerity measures against the poor and middle class of each country to help support the wealthy, furthering the income divide.
We can twiddle our thumbs as what we have called “democracy” turns inexplicably into global plutocracy and the world economy becomes measured by how much money the rich move around amongst themselves. We can distract ourselves with our little gadgets as the rain-forests – considered by many to be the “lungs” of this planet – are destroyed at faster and faster rates, reducing our ability to absorb the growing CO2 in the atmosphere. We can keep the TV on as the clean water and food shortages that currently affect over 1 billion people continue to grow to 2 billion... 3 billion. We can scan the tabloids at the grocery store news stands as the very basis of industrial civilization, the Hydrocarbon Economy, inches towards crisis scarcity with virtually no active initiative taken to change course.
We can continue to pretend that our “leaders” are anything but “mis-leaders”, set in motion by monetary commercial interests that follow the rules of the free-market with all legislation and offices going to the highest bidder, one way or another... and we can stand amused as a new global arms race gains speed as each country comes to terms with the very real reality that wars for resources are upon us in a way unlike any period in history.
This is what separates our world from the one Descartes hid from.
The fact is, the fear tactics of the Orthodoxy - in this context the FBI or any such “Intelligence Agency” - are no longer worthy of viable concern or even acknowledgment. At no time in history has any true social change come in a manner that was not opposed with hostility by the dominant orders of the time. If you choose fear, then fear exists and those little lists/tactics held by the Intelligence/Police Agencies have merit. If you choose choose love, pride and self-respect then no accusations, lists, or threats can ever stop you. The trick now is in numbers and if we can gain critical mass and override the “divide and conquer” techniques used to keep the orthodoxy in place, the game is over.
The Zeitgeist Movement is a global sustainability activist group working to bring the world together for the common goal of species sustainability before it is too late. It is a social movement, not a political one, with over 1100 chapters across nearly all countries. Divisionary notions such as nations, governments, races, political parties, religions, creeds or class are non-operational distinctions in the view of The Movement. Rather, we recognize the world as one system and the human species as a singular unit, sharing a common habitat. Our overarching intent could be summarized as “the application of the scientific method for social concern.”
To learn more about our work, please visit http://www.thezeitgeistmovement.com/
Telematics, a mash-up of telecommunications and informatics, is the science of scanning the world with wireless devices to extract data, sending this data to a computer network, and using the information to do anything from tracking packages to monitoring the highway speed of grocery trucks. UPS relies heavily on telematics, as does GM with its OnStar navigation system. The federal government could do a better job of capitalizing on the science, according to Michael J. Ravnitzky. So he started thinking about one of the largest mobile networks on Earth: the post office.
Ravnitzky is a chief counsel at the Postal Regulatory Commission, the government agency that oversees the U.S. Postal Service. The post office is in bad shape. From 2006 to 2009, mail volume dropped by 17 percent and officials have threatened to cut Saturday service. But where others see an inefficient and increasingly outdated system, Ravnitzky sees opportunity.
With its 218,684 vehicles stopping at more than 150 million delivery points along some 232,000 routes every day, the postal-delivery fleet could be reconceived as a vast data-gathering network. “If you were designing a data collection system from scratch, it would look a lot like the postal service,” Ravnitzky says. As he reasoned in a New York Times op-ed last December, the postal network could be used to measure air pollution and ozone levels while aiding Homeland Security operations by scanning for biological or chemical agents. Or it might detect and report WiFi and cellular dead zones. Using telematics, the postal service could evolve into an entirely new kind of public utility. It could also provide a new source of revenue. Private companies or other government agencies could buy space for their sensors on mail trucks.
Although Ravnitzky’s idea is just that—an idea—there’s precedent: Two years ago, 32 Greyhound buses rigged with sensors set off across the country to gather atmospheric and environmental data for the National Weather Service; 2,000 more such buses will roll out soon.
There’s already real interest in Ravnitzky’s plan. Marc Chapman, a compliance director for Atmos Energy, the largest natural-gas distributor in the country, says he is looking into whether sensors could be attached to postal-service trucks to detect gas leaks. Telematics might just save Saturday delivery.
Boris Babenko believes there are huge opportunities for integrating computer science, and in particular computer vision, into health care and medical research, making life easier for researchers, physicians and ultimately patients.
Babenko’s strong conviction is leading to the development of powerful tools to aid in bioengineering research. In particular, Babenko, a UC San Diego computer science grad student, is working with a team of researchers to develop technology that will automate the arduous process of analyzing the vast amount of data necessary for tissue engineering. In their research, Babenko and his partner, bioengineering grad student Jessica DeQuach, seek to automate blood vessel counting in images, and to make the distinction between data collection and analysis more clear. They will present their work April 14, 2011 during Research Expo, whose theme is “Innovation for Life."
Tissue engineering is an interdisciplinary field that offers the promise of improving, repairing and/or replacing damaged tissue in the human body. Research in this area involves the development of various biomaterials and processes that facilitate the fabrication of such tissue. In their project, the engineering students are focusing on quantifying arteriole formation. An arteriole is one of the small terminal branches of an artery, especially one that connects with a capillary.
“Arteriole formation is critically important for biomaterial remodeling to help bring blood flow to the damaged area, which is why it is an analysis tool often using in tissue engineering,” DeQuach said.
Collecting this vast amount of data is currently done manually and requires an intensive amount of time and meticulous effort.
“In this project we aim to ease the burden of doing such analysis via modern computer vision techniques,” Babenko said. “While the state of the art in computer vision still requires expert oversight, the long-term goal of our work is to automate this process as much as possible.”
The students are working under computer science professor Serge Belongie and bioengineering professor Karen Christman. Their poster, titled “Towards automated quantification of arteriole formation via computer vision,” will be one of 250 research posters that engineering graduate students will present at Research Expo.
Babenko explained that analyzing images is a central issue in biology – either to study things that are too small for the naked eye, or to study something from the inside in a non-invasive
manner. With current imaging and computer technologies researchers can gather huge amounts of data. Much of this analysis, however, is still done manually.
“I think that computer vision technology could make a big impact in this area by offering powerful tools to aid in bioengineering research,” Babenko said. “Counting blood vessels is a perfect example of the tedious task bioengineers have to perform. For example, in Prof. Christman’s lab a typical experiment requires a scientist to spend up to 80 hours to annotate images, and yet we believe it is within the reach of current computer vision technology.
“The short term goal is to significantly reduce the amount of time this analysis takes, while the long term goal is to open up new possibilities for experiments that simply could not have been done due to this annotation bottleneck,” he added. “Computer vision is a fast growing field, and this progress is ready to be applied in the real world.”
Provided by Jacobs School of Engineering for ZeitNews.org
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are launching a powerful new tool for sorting through and mapping all of California’s fatal and serious traffic collisions.
Starting today (Wednesday, April 6), anyone with access to the Internet can register for a free account to access the Transportation Injury Mapping System, or TIMS, to perform customized searches of 130,000 serious and fatal crashes in the state. Users can view the history of crashes from 2000 to 2008, the most recent year data are available, by county, city, neighborhood or along specific routes. Additional years of collision data will be incorporated into TIMS as they become available.
“This tool is meant to provide professionals and the general public with data to identify traffic safety problems and potential solutions,” said John Bigham, lead researcher for the TIMS project and the Geographic Information Systems program manager at UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC). The center is based at the School of Public Health and the Institute of Transportation Studies.
The UC Berkeley researchers had a wealth of data from which to work. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) collects data on all reported crashes – including collisions on local roads as well as on state highways – and records the information in the California Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System. This database formed the foundation for the records in the TIMS project.
“I don’t know of any other state that allows the general public to access crash data in this way,” said Bigham.
Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), whose Fatality Analysis Reporting System database was also used for TIMS.
While state and local records of crash data are publicly available through the CHP, there had previously been no easy way for users to interactively sort through the information and map it by such factors as location, time and date of the collision; weather and road conditions; the influence of alcohol; and whether pedestrians or bicyclists were involved.
SafeTREC researchers set out to “geocode” the crash data by developing a process to add coordinates to each collision that involved a fatality or injury requiring hospitalization. They then created a web-based data query system that allows users to not only conduct searches and download the results, but to also visualize the results using Google Maps and ArcGIS Server, a mapping software from the Environmental Systems Research Institute. When users click on a location, pop-up boxes provide information about the collision, and the street view feature gives users a realistic picture of the collision site.
Other common data sources, such as census tract information, school locations and zip code boundaries, can be displayed on the maps. Users also have the ability to select collisions on the map and download the associated data files. Video tutorials and FAQs are available to help guide new users through the site.
“Actually seeing the crashes on a map is a tool in its own right,” said Bigham. “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a map is worth a thousand rows in a spreadsheet.”
According to NHTSA, motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of death for people ages 3 to 34 in the United States. In California, records show that in 2008, more than 3,400 people were killed and more than 240,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. Those statistics include collisions with pedestrians and bicyclists. The California Department of Transportation estimates that traffic collisions cost $25 billion in economic damages to the state in a single year.
TIMS, which has been used by members of state agencies for beta testing over the past few months, will be of particular use to Caltrans, CHP and other agencies to better analyze crash data and focus their efforts to reduce traffic fatalities and injuries, the researchers said.
“TIMS represents a major breakthrough in California’s already strong record in road safety.” said David Ragland, director of SafeTREC and adjunct professor of epidemiology at UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “In the past several years, due to the effort and resources expended by several state agencies, deaths and injuries from traffic crashes have shown significant declines. TIMS will help build on this success by making it easier for our public agencies –and anyone with access to the Internet –to actually see the locations and types of crashes occurring on our state’s roads, to identify clusters of crashes and to help determine causal factors that can be modified.”
The researchers eventually plan to improve upon the TIMS website with the addition of data on minor injury collisions and more options for queries and spatial analysis of collisions. They emphasized that to truly evaluate the safety of a site, factors such as the relative volume of vehicle, pedestrian and bicycle traffic must be considered.
“The tools on this website allow you to simplify the first steps in exploring crash data, but these other elements need to be considered to get the full picture,” said Bigham. “In the future, we hope to provide more focused applications that incorporate many of these elements to provide an even stronger tool for crash analysis.”
More information: www.tims.berkeley.edu/
Provided by University of California - Berkeley for ZeitNews.org
On the screen behind Boagiu, slides showed a succession of maps with yet-to-be-built motorways, ring roads and bypasses. There were ambitious new national roads, upgraded railway lines, train stations, ports and airports. The conference room's 21st-floor windows gave onto a breathtaking view of the capital. Block after block, mile after mile was clogged with traffic.
"My task," she told the investors, eying them from behind rimless eye glasses, "is to recover delays in infrastructure."
The gaps Boagiu must fill are huge -- and common in scores of developing countries from eastern Europe to Africa to Asia. But Romania's story also exposes another issue, one which goes to the heart of the European project.
The country, which shook off communism in 1989 and joined the European Union in 2007, has a potential 4.6 billion euros (4 billion pounds) in EU funding for transport infrastructure, available until 2013. By the end of last year, Bucharest had managed to use just 47 million euros of that. If Boagiu can't find a way to speed up projects and use the funds, the country will lose them.
Like countries suddenly enriched by the discovery of oil, former communist states that have access to billions in European Union development funds can find them both blessing and curse. The funds -- some 160 billion euros between 2007 and 2013 across the former eastern bloc -- are meant to help new members catch up with the rest of the EU.
But what if a country like Romania simply can't absorb that cash? Should it concentrate on fixing its government services and institutions - its software, as it were -- before it can move to fancy new hardware like motorways? Is it possible to graft developed-world standards onto states whose institutions are running years behind those of the donors?
"Public investment spending is not small," Romania's central bank Governor Mugur Isarescu told a news conference last October. "But there are 42,000 unfinished investment projects in Romania. This is not efficient. We are the country of unfinished projects."
Romania's massive infrastructure deficit dates back more than 20 years, to when the country was in the grip of Nicolae Ceausescu, one of Communism's most repressive dictators. In the 1980s, Ceausescu backed an export-led drive to clear Romania of billions of dollars in foreign debt, slashing investment to pay off creditors. That left infrastructure lagging behind even Romania's Balkan neighbours -- countries which historically had been much poorer.
According to a global competitiveness report by the World Economic Forum, Romania ranks just 134th out of 139 countries by the quality of its roads. The WEF says transport infrastructure is still one of the chief reasons hampering investment. The country is the EU's ninth-largest member by land area, but has only 331 km (211 miles) of motorway, less than half that of neighbouring Hungary (925 km) and not even three percent of Germany's 12,813 km.
Go for a drive in Romania (population 22 million) and you can bump for hours over gravel country roads to reach villages -- some without electricity, indoor plumbing or running water -- whose schools have closed because the young have moved away for a better life. Dusty national roads lead past lush farmland which is failing to achieve its potential because machinery is outdated and land ownership fragmented. Cities are choked with traffic because there's no way to drive round them. The rail system is no better. Outdated trains travel at an average 45 km per hour, while elsewhere in Europe the top speed can hit 320 km/hour.
When mobile phone maker Nokia announced it was moving a production plant to Romania from Germany in 2008, horses and carts still travelled the road to the new site. That same year Daimler chose Hungary over Romania or Poland as the site of a new 800 million-euro car factory with about 2,500 jobs. Hungary, which has higher labour costs and tax rates than Romania, credited the win to its dense network of motorways.
With a cheap and skilled labour force and attractive flat tax on income and profit, Romania has attracted investment by carmakers Renault and Ford. But even they have complained about the roads. "When it bought the plant, Ford wanted to build 1,000 cars a day and ... that would bring a lot of money and jobs to Romania," U.S. ambassador Mark Gitenstein told a Romanian television station in April. "But unless there is a motorway ... it will not make 1,000 cars a day or hire so many people. You need motorways."
None of Romania' existing motorways connect the country with its neighbours. It's a closed system. Even ambitious projects like the Transylvania Motorway have so far failed to live up to their promise.
U.S. construction group Bechtel broke official ground on Romania's biggest motorway at a site near the 15th-century Transylvanian village of Valisoara on a mild summer day in 2004. Then prime minister Adrian Nastase cut ceremonial ribbons and excavators bit into the ground to the soundtrack of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons."
On that day, the future seemed almost tangible: there would be a smooth, spacious four-lane motorway, 415 km long with more than 300 bridges, 70 overpasses and 19 interchanges, connecting the central Romanian region of Transylvania to Hungary. The road would bring jobs, tourists and foreign investors.
"A motorway is forever," Michael Mix, Bechtel's then project manager said in a 2007 company brief. "It is a legacy."
Seven years since the project began, a little more than 10 percent of the road has been delivered. The state has paid Bechtel more than 1 billion euros of public money and analysts say the project will end up costing at least double the initial estimate of 2.2 billion euros. The deadline has been pushed back a year to 2013, but could end up taking years longer.
Rather than being forever, "it feels as if this motorway may take forever," quipped Ana Otilia Nutu, an infrastructure expert at Romanian Academic Society, a think tank.
Infrastructure projects and overruns go hand in hand the world over. But a 2010 study by JASPERS, a European Union agency that helps eastern European states prepare projects eligible for EU cash, found cost overruns were more likely in Romania than in eight other central and eastern European states included in the study, largely due to weak public administration.
Even by Romanian standards, the Bechtel example is extreme. In the years since the groundbreaking, government inquiries have found the deal disadvantaged Bucharest from the start. The project was granted to Bechtel without a public tender, despite clear legislation demanding transparency. This angered international bodies including the European Union, which said it wouldn't support it, leaving the financing burden to the state.
At the time of the initial deal, Nastase said Romania could not afford to navigate a lengthy tender process if it wanted to catch up with affluent western European states. He lost power in late 2004, and a new centre-right coalition government put motorway works on hold while it renegotiated.
Those talks, which lasted for eight months, showed how the initial contract was bad for Romania. The deal committed the country to giving Bechtel an interest-free loan of 250 million euros, on top of monthly payments for works. It made it virtually impossible under Romanian law to pursue compensation if Bechtel failed to meet its obligations. It left Bechtel in charge of controlling costs, giving it a free hand to decide the route. It even contained translation errors unfavourable to Romania, the transport ministry said in 2005.
A revised contract cut 126 million euros off the overall price. It scrapped the interest-free loan, and the government took over road design -- which gave it more control over costs. At the same time, most of the terms were made public.
Researchers at Wake Forest University have developed a new type of polymer solar-thermal device that combines photovoltaics with a system that captures the Sun's infrared radiation to generate heating. By taking advantage of both heat and light, researchers say the device could deliver up to 40 percent savings on the cost of heating, as well as helping reduce power bills by producing electricity.
The hybrid cell is designed with an integrated array of clear tubes, five millimeters (approx 1/4 inch) in diameter. Lying flat, visible sunlight shines into the clear tube which is filled with an oil blended with a proprietary dye, heating the oil which then flows into a heat pump to transfer the warmth inside a home.
Electrical current is produced via a polymer photovoltaic sprayed onto the back of the tubes.
The result is a solar-thermal device with an impressive 30 percent conversion efficiency.
In comparison to flat solar cells, the tube design also has the advantage of being able to capture light at oblique angles, so it can accumulate power for a much longer stretch in the day and be more readily integrated into building materials – it could be produced to resemble a roofing tile for example.
The research team aims to produce a 3 foot square solar thermal cell over the coming months, a key step in bringing the technology closer to market.
"It's a systems approach to making your home ultra-efficient because the device collects both solar energy and heat," said David Carroll, Ph.D., director of the Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials at Wake Forest University. "Our solar-thermal device takes better advantage of the broad range of power delivered from the sun each day."
Economic problems may be fuelling a rise in depression in England, it has been suggested. Prescriptions for anti-depressant drugs such as Prozac rose by more than 40% over the past four years, data obtained by the BBC shows. GPs and charities said they were being contacted increasingly by people struggling with debt and job worries. They said financial woe could often act as a "trigger", but added other factors may also be playing a role in the rise.
The rise has happened at a time when the government has been increasing access to talking therapies, which should in theory curb the demand for anti-depressants. In the last year alone referrals for talking therapies rose four-fold to nearly 600,000, Department of Health figures showed.
Dr Clare Gerada, head of the Royal College of GPs, said some of the rise in prescribing was also likely to be due to increased awareness about the condition and doctors getting better at diagnosis.
But she added: "Of course, in times of economic problems we would expect mental health problems to worsen - and GPs are seeing more people coming in with debts racking up, or who have lost their job and are cancelling their holidays.
"They feel guilty that they can't provide for their family and these things can often act as a trigger for depression."
Mental health charity Sane also said it had seen more people contacting its e-mail and phone advice lines with money worries. Its chief executive, Marjorie Wallace, said: "It is impossible to say for sure that economic problems are leading to a rise in depression. But we are certainly hearing more from people who are worried where the next meal is coming from, job security and cuts in benefits - many who are getting in touch with us for the first time.
"It is a toxic combination, especially for those who already have darker thoughts and other problems."
Emer O'Neill, chief executive of the charity Depression Alliance UK, said: "There is an increase in the number of people suffering from depression certainly, and the economic downturn has had an impact on that. "But I think what's happened is that a lot of the stigma has lifted on depression," she told BBC Breakfast. "It's OK to say you have depression now - and people in general are getting much better information about what it is and they are coming forward and talking to GPs more about it."
Staying on drugs
The figures, obtained from NHS Prescription Services under the Freedom of Information Act, cover anti-depressant prescribing from 2006 to 2010, during which time the country had to cope with the banking crisis, recession and the start of the spending cuts.
They showed the number of prescriptions for selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, the most commonly prescribed group of anti-depressants, rose by 43% to nearly 23 million a year.
The data also showed increases in other types of anti-depressants, including drugs such as Duloxetine which tends to be used for more serious cases.
As well as increasing demand for help, the rise could also be related to patients staying on the drugs for longer.
Care services minister Paul Burstow said: "The last recession has left many people facing tough times. If people do experience mental health problems, the NHS is well placed to help.
"We're boosting funding for talking therapies by £400m over the next four years. This will ensure that modern, evidence-based therapies are available to all who need them, whether their depression or anxiety are caused by economic worries or anything else."
Three provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire were extended yesterday as Senate leaders effectively shut off debate and worked to block attempts to amend the Patriot Act to include privacy protections. The reauthorized provisions went to the House for approval and, after passing through Congress, the legislation was flown to US President Barack Obama in France so he could sign the reauthorization.
The continued granting of overly broad powers, which directly threaten Americans’ right to privacy without unreasonable search or seizure, was accompanied by passage in the House of a National Defense programs bill that included language granting the Executive Branch the authority to wage worldwide war.
A handful of lawmakers in the House and Senate attempted to make amendments or block the passage of measures that would allow powers granted to the state to greatly expand. A trans-partisan group of House representatives introduced an amendment that would have struck down the worldwide war provision. Senator Rand Paul, Senator Mark Udall and Senator Ron Wyden each made valiant attempts to have a comprehensive debate on the provisions before granting reauthorization but the Obama Administration discouraged debate.
Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake and Mike Riggs of Reason.com reported Sen. Harry Reid and others in Congress were using Obama Administration fearmongering and talking points to prevent provisions from expiration. Debate (and in effect democracy) was being obstructed because the White House was asserting, “The FBI would be able to continue using orders it had already obtained, but it would not be able to apply for new ones if further tips and leads came in about a possible terrorist operation…no one could predict what the consequences of a temporary lapse might be.”
The fearmongering induced the following reaction from Sen. Paul:
…There have been people who [have] implied in print that if I hold the PATRIOT Act up and they attack us tonight, that I'm responsible for the attack.
There [have] been people who have implied that if some terrorist gets a gun, that I'm somehow responsible. It's -- it's sort of the analogy of saying that because I believe that you should get a warrant before you go into a potential or alleged murderer's house that somehow I'm in favor of murder.
The diligent work of bloggers closely following national security issues in the United States unearthed the fraudulence of such bullying. Had the provisions not been extended, a “grandfather clause” would have permitted their continued use in investigations that were already taking place.
Paul was eventually allowed by Reid to fully engage in the legislative process and bring two of his amendments to a vote. In his statement on why he thought it important to amend the Patriot Act, he deconstructed myths surrounding the Act, calling into question whether the government should have a right to sift through millions of gun records without asking if you are suspect; whether the government should be able to monitor what books citizens read; whether the government should have access to banking records without a warrant; whether it is good security to treat everyone as a potential terror suspect; whether the Patriot Act has truly given the government tools that have led to the capture of terrorists; whether violating the Fourth Amendment should be permissible; whether we as Americans believe in the rule of law; and whether these issues should be open to debate.
Udall, in his statement on the extension, stated, “Many Americans have been demanding reforms to these provisions for years. We've known for months - years, in fact - that this was on our to-do list this Congress. We've been passing short-term extensions in order to give us time to consider a comprehensive overhaul…Yet we're now being pushed to approve a four-year straight reauthorization in just a few days. Trust me, we have time and should take that time for a full debate."
While the extension of provisions merits scrutiny, the squelching of democratic debate demands just as much scrutiny if not more. As Paul said in his statement on the floor, it is incredibly important to have debates on the floor, and “that's why there is a certain amount of disappointment to having arrived in Washington and to see the fear of debate of the constitution and that we really need to be debating these things.”
Not allowing debate was determined prior to the votes. As bloggers like Salon.com’s Glenn Greenwald highlighted, the idea was “to pass the extension with as little debate as possible to avoid a protracted and familiar argument over the expanded power the law gives to the government.”
Congress should not be a body that inhibits debate. Authorizing power to government that so clearly threatens civil liberties such as rights to privacy (and in many cases First Amendment rights) should not be scrutinized, despite the fact that there exists clear evidence of government abuses of power under the Patriot Act.
Paul sharply noted that chilling debate is something those in the Legislative Branch of government have done multiple times. On the issue of war in Libya, there was no debate. An invasion was launched without asking Congress for permission (a move, that over sixty days later, now clearly violates the War Powers Act).
We now have a war in which there has been no congressional debate and no congressional vote. But you know what they argue? They say it is just a little war. But you know what? It is a big principle.
It is the principle that we as a country elect people. It is a principle that we are restrained by the Constitution, that you are protected by the constitution, and if I ask the young men and women here today to go to war and say we're going to go to war, that there darn well should be a debate in this body.
The worldwide war authorization to grant the president additional war powers that would further expand the imperial presidency also received little to no debate in the House. Read the text of Section 1034 (the "forever war" provision) and decide whether not debating this provision should be acceptable:
Congress affirms that--
(1) the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces and that those entities continue to pose a threat to the United States and its citizens, both domestically and abroad;
(2) the President has the authority to use all necessary and appropriate force during the current armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note);
(3) the current armed conflict includes nations, organization, and persons who--
(A) are part of, or are substantially supporting, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners; or
(B) have engaged in hostilities or have directly supported hostilities in aid of a nation, organization, or person described in subparagraph (A); and
(4) the President's authority pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note) includes the authority to detain belligerents, including persons described in paragraph (3), until the termination of hostilities.
The Obama Administration indicated, prior to the vote, that it objected to this provision that would expand war powers:
The Administration strongly objects to section 1034 [the worldwide war provision] which, in purporting to affirm the conflict, would effectively recharacterize its scope and would risk creating confusion regarding applicable standards. At a minimum, this is an issue that merits more extensive consideration before possible inclusion...”
Nonetheless, there was only about twenty minutes of debate on the section of the defense bill.
In the midst of obstruction of debate by Senate leaders like Reid, four senators earned the "promise" of a hearing on the "secret and expansive Justice Department interpretation of the information collection the Patriot Act allows."
Note what is allowed and not allowed: Scrutiny during the time when scrutiny could influence the nature of provisions or legislation is inconvenient and a nuisance. Such scrutiny must be limited by preventing amendments and restricting the time allowed for floor discussion. But, in the aftermath, if senators would like to provide oversight and share with agencies or departments criticism or ideas for improvement, that is allowable. As long as there is no binding legislation to force the agencies or departments to respond to criticism and adjust operations, lawmakers may have a dialogue. (However, as this deals with national security, the public will not be privy to what goes on in such hearings. They will have to trust unquestioning lawmakers who are typically averse to scrutinizing the national security establishment.)
The collusion between the White House and Congress to curb debate becomes further troubling as one considers how it allows for the militarization and securitization of society without any accountability for the players involved in the expansion.
Thirty-five articles of impeachment for former President George W. Bush by Rep. Dennis Kucinich were introduced in Congress in June 2008. When Attorney General Eric Holder took over the Department of Justice, concerned citizens, advocacy organizations and a few lawmakers urged accountability for crimes and misdemeanors committed by former Bush Administration officials. But, Americans were told that they needed to look forward and not backward.
Thus, there has been no expenditure of government resources to address and investigate: the creation of propaganda to manufacture a false case for war in Iraq; the misleading of the American people to make them believe Iraq was an imminent threat and possessed weapons of mass destruction; invading Iraq absent a declaration of war; providing immunity from prosecution for criminal contractors in Iraq; detaining indefinitely and without charge US citizens and foreign captives; secretly authorizing and encouraging torture; kidnapping people and taking them to ‘black’ prison sites in nations known to practice torture; directing telecommunications companies to create illegal and unconstitutional databases of private telephone data from citizens and spying on Americans without a court-ordered warrant in violation of the law and Fourth Amendment.
Thus, a crisis of impunity gives way to widespread lawless conduct by power.
Impunity allows security to employ tools of repression that typically society had found to be off-limits because of certain rights society presumed should be preserved and protected. This new brand of security becomes normalized. As those keeping citizens “more safer” have more freedom, the people become less and less free.
SpaceX, the American space transport company founded by PayPal and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk, has announced a late 2013 or 2014 launch date for the world's most powerful rocket, the Falcon Heavy. Overshadowed by only the Saturn V moon rocket that was decommissioned after the Apollo program, the Falcon Heavy will be able to carry payloads of 53 metric tons (117,000 pounds or 53,070 kg) into orbit, which is more than the maximum take-off weight of a Boeing 737-200 loaded with 136 passengers, luggage and fuel.
The first of the Falcon Heavy's two stages is made up of three nine-engine cores that are used as the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket. For the Falcon Heavy, the Merlin engines have been upgraded and are currently being tested at SpaceX's development facility in McGregor, Texas. Like a commercial airliner, each engine is surrounded by a protective shell to contain a fire or chamber rupture and prevent it from affecting other engines or the vehicle itself.
At liftoff the 69.2m (227 ft) long Falcon Heavy will generate 3.8 million pounds of thrust, which is equivalent to the thrust of fifteen Boeing 747's taking off at the same time. SpaceX says this gives it more than twice the performance of the next most powerful vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy operated by the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance. SpaceX also says that with more than twice the payload of the Delta IV but at one third the cost, the Falcon Heavy sets a new world record in terms of economy at approximately US$1,000 per pound to orbit.
"Falcon Heavy will carry more payload to orbit or escape velocity than any vehicle in history, apart from the Saturn V moon rocket, which was decommissioned after the Apollo program. This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions," said Musk.
To achieve performance comparable to a three-stage rocket the Falcon Heavy will be the first rocket in history to do a propellant cross-feed from the side boosters to the center core, which leaves the center core with most of its propellant after the side boosters separate. Crossfeed can also be turned off when it is not required, such as for missions below 100,000 pounds (45,359 kg).
"It's an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat," Obama said Friday after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
With Obama in France, the White House said the president used an autopen machine that holds a pen and signs his actual signature. It is only used with proper authorization of the president.
Congress sent the bill to the president with only hours to go on Thursday before the provisions expired at midnight. Votes taken in rapid succession in the Senate and House came after lawmakers rejected attempts to temper the law enforcement powers to ensure that individual liberties are not abused.
The Senate voted 72-23 for the legislation to renew three terrorism-fighting authorities. The House passed the measure 250-153 on an evening vote.
A short-term expiration would not have interrupted ongoing operations but would have barred the government from seeking warrants for new investigations.
Congress bumped up against the deadline mainly because of the stubborn resistance from a single senator, Republican freshman Rand Paul of Kentucky, who saw the terrorist-hunting powers as an abuse of privacy rights. Paul held up the final vote for several days while he demanded a chance to change the bill to diminish the government's ability to monitor individual actions.
The measure would add four years to the legal life of roving wiretaps, authorized for a person rather than a communications line or device; court-ordered searches of business records; and surveillance of non-American "lone wolf" suspects without confirmed ties to terrorist groups.
The roving wiretaps and access to business records are small parts of the USA Patriot Act enacted after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But unlike most of the act, which is permanent law, those provisions must be renewed periodically because of concerns that they could be used to violate privacy rights. The same applies to the "lone wolf" provision, which was part of a 2004 intelligence law.
Paul argued that in the rush to meet the terrorist threat in 2001 Congress enacted a Patriot Act that tramples on individual liberties. He had some backing from liberal Democrats and civil liberties groups who have long contended the law gives the government authority to spy on innocent citizens.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he voted for the act in 2001 "while ground zero was still burning." But "I soon realized it gave too much power to government without enough judicial and congressional oversight."
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said the provision on collecting business records can expose law-abiding citizens to government scrutiny. "If we cannot limit investigations to terrorism or other nefarious activities, where do they end?" he asked.
"The Patriot Act has been used improperly again and again by law enforcement to invade Americans' privacy and violate their constitutional rights," said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU Washington legislative office.
Still, coming just a month after intelligence and military forces tracked down and killed Osama bin Laden, there was little appetite for tampering with the terrorism-fighting tools. These tools, said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, "have kept us safe for nearly a decade and Americans today should be relieved and reassured to know that these programs will continue."
Intelligence officials have denied improper use of surveillance tools, and this week both FBI Director Robert Mueller and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper sent letters to congressional leaders warning of serious national security consequences if the provisions were allowed to lapse.
The Obama administration says that without the three authorities the FBI might not be able to obtain information on terrorist plotting inside the U.S. and that a terrorist who communicates using different cell phones and email accounts could escape timely surveillance.
"When the clock strikes midnight tomorrow, we would be giving terrorists the opportunity to plot attacks against our country, undetected," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the Senate floor Wednesday. In unusually personal criticism of a fellow senator, he warned that Paul, by blocking swift passage of the bill, "is threatening to take away the best tools we have for stopping them."
The nation itself is divided over the Patriot Act, as reflected in a Pew Research Center poll last February, before the killing of bin Laden, that found that 34 percent felt the law "goes too far and poses a threat to civil liberties. Some 42 percent considered it "a necessary tool that helps the government find terrorists." That was a slight turnaround from 2004 when 39 percent thought it went too far and 33 percent said it was necessary.
Paul, after complaining that Reid's remarks were "personally insulting," asked whether the nation "should have some rules that say before they come into your house, before they go into your banking records, that a judge should be asked for permission, that there should be judicial review? Do we want a lawless land?"
Paul agreed to let the bill go forward after he was given a vote on two amendments to rein in government surveillance powers. Both were soundly defeated. The more controversial, an amendment that would have restricted powers to obtain gun records in terrorist investigations, was defeated 85-10 after lawmakers received a letter from the National Rifle Association stating that it was not taking a position on the measure.
According to a senior Justice Department national security official testifying to Congress last March, the government has sought roving wiretap authority in about 20 cases a year between 2001 and 2010 and has sought warrants for business records less than 40 times a year, on average. The government has yet to use the lone wolf authority.
But the ACLU also points out that court approvals for business record access jumped from 21 in 2009 to 96 last year, and the organization contends the Patriot Act has blurred the line between investigations of actual terrorists and those not suspected of doing anything wrong.
Two Democratic critics of the Patriot Act, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Udall of Colorado, on Thursday extracted a promise from Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that she would hold hearings with intelligence and law enforcement officials on how the law is being carried out.
Wyden says that while there are numerous interpretations of how the Patriot Act works, the official government interpretation of the law remains classified. "A significant gap has developed now between what the public thinks the law says and what the government secretly claims it says," Wyden said.
Author: JIM ABRAMS - Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman and Pete Yost contributed to this report.