February 28, 2014

Obama Orders Assassination of U.S. Citizen Believed to be Militant

Civil Liberties Groups Challenge Obama on Targeted Killing of U.S. Citizens Believed to be Militants

August 30, 2010

Reuters – Civil liberties groups sued the Obama administration on Monday over a program they said illegally tries to kill U.S. citizens believed to be militants living abroad, like the anti-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki [see next story].

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of Nasser al-Awlaki, the father of the Muslim cleric, arguing targeted killings violate the U.S. Constitution and international law.

U.S. authorities have tied the cleric to the failed bombing attempt of a U.S. commercial jet on Christmas Day in 2009 and to an Army major who went on a shooting spree that killed 13 people last year at Fort Hood in Texas.

No charges have been publicly filed against al-Awlaki, who was born in the United States but left in late 2001. He is believed to be in Yemen, where al Qaeda has been growing.
"A program that authorizes killing U.S. citizens, without judicial oversight, due process or disclosed standards is unconstitutional, unlawful and un-American," Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU, said in a statement.
President Barack Obama's National Security Council gave the Central Intelligence Agency the green light earlier this year to kill al-Awlaki, officials have said.

White House officials have also said Americans who fight alongside groups like al Qaeda are "legitimate targets" for lethal strikes.

The Obama administration declined to comment specifically about the lawsuit filed by the two group, but said the government has the right to use force to defend the country and to defeat al Qaeda.
"The U.S. is careful to ensure that all its operations used to prosecute the armed conflict against those forces, including lethal operations, comply with all applicable laws, including the laws of war," said Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

"This administration is using every legal measure available to defeat al Qaeda, and we will continue to do so as long as its forces pose a threat to this nation," he said.
The civil liberties groups argued that Americans accused of wrongdoing should be tried in court under the Constitution and could be targeted for killing only if there were an imminent threat from a person and there were no other ways to stop it.

The groups said the people being targeted are far from any battlefield like in Iraq or Afghanistan, which they said undermines the administration's justification.

They asked for a federal judge to issue an injunction preventing the Obama administration from killing al-Awlaki and forcing it to publicly reveal the criteria for determining who can be targeted.

CIA spokesman George Little said:
"This agency acts in strict accord with American law." Representatives of the Defense Department had no immediate comment.


Obama Orders Assassination of U.S. Citizen

April 8, 2010

OpEdNews.com - For the first time in history, an American president has officially ordered the assassination of a US citizen.

President Barack Obama has approved the "targeted killing" of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Muslim cleric who is reported to be in hiding in Yemen. No substantial evidence has been brought to bear against Awlaki, 38, who is accused of terrorism, and he will be afforded no legal recourse against the death sentence.

Word of Obama's decision has been intentionally leaked by multiple intelligence officials to various media sources. Reuters and the Wall Street Journal published news articles on the story on Tuesday, and these were confirmed by stories in the Washington Post and New York Times on Wednesday.

The killing of citizens declared by the executive branch to be "terrorists" was first announced as state policy by Obama's director of national intelligence, Dennis C. Blair, in February congressional hearings.
"We take direct actions against terrorists in the intelligence community," Blair said. "If we think that direct action will involve killing an American, we get specific permission to do that."
Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, has been linked by e-mail communication to Nidal Malik Hasan, the army psychologist who gunned down 13 soldiers in a November rampage at Ford Hood, Texas. No evidence has been presented, however, to suggest that Awlaki in any way planned or ordered the attack.

There have also been allegations, so far entirely unsubstantiated, linking Awlaki to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian youth who attempted to blow up an airplane as it approached Detroit on December 25, 2009. The failed attack was, in fact, made possible by the stand-down of the US intelligence apparatus--or its direct complicity.

Awlaki's family have defended him.
"I am now afraid of what they will do with my son, he's not Osama Bin Laden, they want to make something out of him that he's not," said his father, Dr. Nasser al-Awlaki, a US-trained scientist, in a January interview with CNN. "How can the American government kill one of their own citizens? This is a legal issue that needs to be answered."
The public justification for killing Awlaki is based on bald assertions and hearsay from intelligence sources who refuse to even identify themselves. Typical is the following account from the New York Times:
"American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula " They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said."
The decision to kill Awlaki takes Washington's lawlessness to a new level. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) drone assassination program has killed between 400 and 500 "militants," the vast majority in countries with which the US is not officially at war. The Bush and Obama administrations have declared the right to attack or invade countries Washington deems to be threats to US interests, and have institutionalized a worldwide regime of kidnappings and indefinite imprisonment without trial in the so-called "war on terror."

But while Washington has long flouted the laws of war, there is no precedent for a president openly ordering the assassination of a US citizen he declares to be an enemy.

This is, however, a further extension of the claim asserted by Bush and continued by Obama that the president has the power to declare individuals, citizens as well as non-citizens, to be "illegal enemy combatants" and held indefinitely in military detention without being charged or given access to the courts. The Obama administration is moving to institutionalize the policy of indefinite detention by setting up a military prison in Illinois, so-called "Guantánamo North," where scores of Guantánamo detainees will be held indefinitely without trial.

The Obama administration justifies the policy of targeting US citizens for murder by citing the September 14, 2001 congressional act, the Authorization to Use Military Force. Passed three days after the September 11 attacks, the measure allowed the US president, from that moment forth,
"to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001."
Out of 531 senators and congressmen casting votes, only one opposed this sweeping measure that is now being invoked by Obama to kill a US citizen without charge or trial.

The Obama White House is evidently seeking a new pseudo-legal justification for the policy of state murder.
"Officials now argue privately that Americans who side with the country's enemies are not ultimately "entitled to special protections'," the British Telegraph reported.
The "special protections" to be discarded are none other than the liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, which the Founding Fathers installed precisely to provide the citizenry protection from the state.

There has been no evidence that suggests Awlaki represents any immediate threat to the US people. On the contrary, his killing will only provide new fodder for terrorist groups. The administration's decision to kill Awlaki is largely motivated by the desire to establish a new precedent.

The implications are chilling. In principle, there is nothing in such a policy to stop intelligence officials from declaring political opponents of US imperialism within the 50 states to be terrorists and put on a list for liquidation. Neither Blair's initial testimony nor subsequent media accounts have spelled out any limitations to the policy of assassinating US citizens beyond assurances that the measure is to be used only against "terrorists."

The executive branch arrogates to itself the powers of judge, jury, and executioner, and those targeted for liquidation have no right to question the supposed evidence against them.

There is a deeper logic behind the order to kill Awlaki. Under conditions of economic crisis, the methods of imperialist violence abroad must inevitably be visited upon the population at home. The turn toward war and increasingly dictatorial forms of rule both rise inexorably from the deepening crisis of US and world capitalism.

There has been no opposition within establishment political quarters to Obama's order. The New York Times article on the decision reads as a legal brief defending it.
"As a general principle, international law permits the use of lethal force against individuals and groups that pose an imminent threat to a country," the leading organ of US liberalism writes. "People on the target list are considered to be military enemies of the United States and therefore not subject to the ban on political assassination first approved by President Gerald R. Ford."
This underscores the fact that no section of the political establishment retains any serious commitment to the defense of democratic rights. Only through the independent political mobilization of the working class against both parties of US capitalism and the corporate-financial oligarchy which they represent can democratic rights be defended.

February 26, 2014

Most People Don't Want to be Tracked, Traced and Databased: How to Avoid the Prying Eyes

Technology Aside, Most People Still Decline to Be Located

August 30, 2010

New York Times - Internet companies have appropriated the real estate business’s mantra — it’s all about location, location, location.

But while a home on the beach will always be an easy sell, it may be more difficult to persuade people to start using location-based Web services.

Big companies and start-ups alike — including Google, Foursquare, Gowalla, Shopkick and most recently Facebook — offer services that let people report their physical location online, so they can connect with friends or receive coupons.

Venture capitalists have poured $115 million into location start-ups since last year, according to the National Venture Capital Association, and companies like Starbucks and Gap have offered special deals to users of such services who visited their stores.

But for all the attention and money these apps and Web sites are getting, adoption has so far been largely confined to pockets of young, technically adept urbanites. Just 4 percent of Americans have tried location-based services, and 1 percent use them weekly, according to Forrester Research. Eighty percent of those who have tried them are men, and 70 percent are between 19 and 35.
“Ever since mobile phones and location technology got started, there have been conversations about the potential for doing something really incredible with this for marketers,” said Melissa Parrish, an interactive marketing analyst at Forrester. “But clearly the question is whether it has reached the mainstream, and it looks like the answer is no.”
Foursquare, for example, which lets people “check in” to public places on their phones and let their friends know where they are, has close to three million users, most of them in cities. Loopt, a similar service, has four million users, about a quarter of whom actively use it. Compare that with Twitter, which has 145 million registered users.

This month, Facebook introduced Places, which adds some Foursquare-like features to its social network. If Places catches on with Facebook’s 500 million users, many think it could bring location-sharing to the masses.
“Clearly location is not yet mainstream — it’s still a younger-demographic phenomenon — but if anyone can change it, Facebook will,” said Sam Altman, chief executive of Loopt.
For now, many people say sharing their physical location crosses a line, even if they freely share other information on the Web.

Stephanie Angelucci, who is 30 and lives in North Beach, Md., updates her MySpace page with photos of her babies, news about her health and testaments to her love of sailing. But she won’t use location apps.
“I don’t like broadcasting where we are or when my husband’s gone, just for safety reasons,” she said. And privacy concerns aside, she doesn’t see the need: “We go to playtime, the park and the grocery store. My life isn’t exciting enough to broadcast where I am and what I do.”
Some users of Foursquare like the spontaneous social gatherings it can inspire, or the way it keeps friends informed of one’s nightlife exploits. But people who are not frequent bar-hoppers need other reasons to check in. The companies that make location-based services are working to add incentives that they hope will reel in a bigger audience.

Sharing location becomes a simple cost-benefit analysis for most people, said Matt Galligan, chief executive of SimpleGeo, which sells location technology to companies building apps.
“There has to be an incentive for giving away very specific information, like coupons or points.”
Shopkick, which became available this month, offers coupons to people when they walk into stores like Best Buy and Macy’s. The application allows users to share their location just with the store and not with other people, and is making inroads with a broader demographic.

Elizabeth Aley, 38, a volunteer in Nixa, Mo., says she is “kind of addicted” to Shopkick. She uses it when she goes to Wal-Mart, Target and the Price Cutter grocery store, to rack up points for entering the stores and to get coupons that she has exchanged for Tide laundry detergent and a Swiffer.

Ms. Aley has chosen to use the app to also reveal her location to her Facebook friends and Twitter followers. The rewards make using the app worthwhile, she said, and the privacy trade-off “really never crossed my mind.”

Gowalla bills itself as a travel game that lets users stamp digital passports at places they visit, find virtual objects in real-world places in a kind of scavenger hunt, or follow trip itineraries in new cities.
“Connecting with friends is nice, but I don’t know that it alone will be enough of a driver” to make a location service widely popular, said Josh Williams, a Gowalla founder.
Foursquare hit upon the idea of allowing people to become “mayor” of places they visit most frequently, touching off competitions among users. Now it is teaming up with big companies and small stores so people see special offers when they check in, whether they are in Brooklyn or Milwaukee.

The company has signed promotional deals like a recent one with the History Channel, which sends users historical facts when they check in at a landmark.
“It’s a misconception that the service is just for city kids,” said Dennis Crowley, a Foursquare founder. “Cities have the densest use, of course, but it happens in the Midwest and all over the world.”
Still, wariness about broadcasting one’s location extends to city dwellers, too. Marsha Collier lives in Los Angeles and writes “For Dummies” books on technology. She uses Whrrl and Foursquare as a way to share information about her life with her online fans and followers — but instead of checking in when she arrives at a place, she checks in as she leaves, to avoid alerting people that she is away from home.
“If I’m going to go work out at the gym, I’ll check in on my way out,” she said. “That way, you’re going to be home soon, so your house won’t be unattended for a long time.”
Others let only a small circle of people see where they are. Ellen Lovelidge, 27, a fishery specialist and D.J. in Washington, carefully chooses who can see her Foursquare updates. She does not plan to use Facebook’s new service, since her Facebook updates go out to a large network of friends, colleagues and family.
“I like Foursquare because I can actually pick who sees where I actually am, compared to Facebook, where I have 1,200 friends,” she said. “I don’t want 1,200 people knowing where I am.”
Facebook does let users pick a smaller subgroup of friends who can see location updates, but Ms. Lovelidge said it would be too much trouble to set that up.

Location services are catching on more quickly with young people, who have grown up posting personal information online.
“The magic age is people born after 1981,” said Mr. Altman of Loopt. “That’s the cut-off for us where we see a big change in privacy settings and user acceptance.”
That rings true for Richard Sherer, 65, a freelance writer in Redondo Beach, Calif.
“I can’t think of anybody who cares where I am every minute of the day except my wife, and she already knows,” he said. “Maybe it’s a generational thing. As we old fogies die off, maybe this will no longer be an issue.”

How to Avoid the Prying Eyes

August 2, 2010

WSJ.com - Visitors to almost every major website are tracked online, a Journal investigation has found. But there are ways to limit the snooping.

Web browsing activity is tracked by use of "cookies," "beacons" and "Flash cookies," small computer files or software programs installed on a user's computer by the Web pages that are visited. Some are useful. But a subset ("third party" cookies and beacons) are used by companies to track users from site to site and build a database of their online activities.

Simple Steps

Major browsers including Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer, Mozilla Foundation's Firefox, Google Inc.'s Chrome and Apple Inc.'s Safari, have privacy features. To have the most privacy options, upgrade to the latest version of the browser you use.

Check and Delete Cookies: All popular browsers let users view and delete cookies installed on their computer. Methods vary by browser.

For instance on Internet Explorer 8 (the most widely used browser), go to the "Tools" menu, pull down to "Internet Options" and under the "General" tab there are options for deleting some or all cookies. There might be hundreds, so deleting all might be easiest. But the next time you visit a favorite site, you may need to retype passwords or other login data previously stored automatically by one of those cookies.

Adjust Browser Settings: Once you've deleted cookies, you can limit the installation of new ones. Major browsers let you accept some cookies and block others. To maintain logins and settings for sites you visit regularly, but limit tracking, block "third-party" cookies. Safari automatically does this; other browsers must be set manually.

There are downsides to blocking all cookies. If you frequent sites that require logins, you will have to log in each time you visit.

Internet Explorer lets you set rules for blocking cookies based on the policies of the cookie-placer. One option blocks cookies that don't include a privacy policy; another blocks cookies that can save your contact information without your approval. The control is under "Tools/Internet Options/Privacy."

No major browsers let you track or block beacons without installing extra software known as "plug-ins," as described under advanced steps.

Turn On "Private" Browsing: All major browsers offer a "private browsing" mode to limit cookies. Chrome calls it "Incognito." Internet Explorer calls it "InPrivate Browsing," but this option is available only in the latest version, IE8.

Private browsing doesn't block cookies. It deletes cookies each time you close the browser or turn off private browsing, effectively hiding your history.

Private browsing isn't selective. It deletes all cookies, whether useful or not. So you might want to use private browsing selectively, such as when looking at health-related information.

Monitor "Flash Cookies": Another kind of cookie uses Adobe Systems Inc.'s popular Flash program to save information on your computer. Flash is the most common way to show video online. As with regular cookies, Flash cookies can be useful for remembering preferences, such as volume settings for videos. But marketers also can use Flash cookies to track what you do online.

To identify the Flash cookies on your computer and adjust your settings, you need to go to an Adobe website: www.macromedia.com/support/documentation/en/flashplayer/help/settings_manager.html. You can delete Flash cookies stored on your computer and specify whether you want to accept future third-party Flash cookies.

The downside of blocking third-party Flash cookies: Some sites won't let you watch videos or other content.

Advanced Steps

Install Privacy "Plug-ins": Small programs called "add-ons" or "plug-ins" can help maintain privacy. Some let you monitor trackers that can't be seen through the browser; others allow you to delete cookies on a regular schedule.

Not all browsers can use all plug-ins. And some plug-ins can be tricky to set up. With those caveats, some plug-ins may be worth a look:

Abine: Developed by a Cambridge, Mass., start-up of the same name, it attempts to control several types of trackers. Once installed, the program will warn you when a site is placing cookies or Flash cookies on your machine. You can also see and block a third type of tracker called a Web "beacon" (sometimes called a "bug"). This is an invisible object embedded in a page that can interact with cookies. It's available only in "test" versions, so this is only for people who don't mind experimenting a bit with software. For Firefox, go to addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/11073/. For Internet Explorer, users need to request an invitation at getabine.com.

Better Privacy: This plug-in offers control over Flash cookies. It doesn't block them, but lets you set rules for deleting them—a distinction that can be helpful if you frequent sites that require you to use third-party Flash cookies to see their content. Better Privacy (available only for Firefox) is at addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/6623/.

Ghostery: Available at ghostery.com, it helps control beacons. It alerts you when there's a beacon on a page you're viewing, tells you who placed it and details the company's privacy policy. With Internet Explorer or Firefox, you can then block the beacon from capturing information on your computer. That feature isn't available for Chrome.

Controlling Ads

Users troubled by targeted advertising can block or limit the ads being shown. Note: These tools don't necessarily restrict tracking. Some ad networks may still collect data on your browsing behavior and share it with others, even if you instruct them not to show you targeted ads.

The Network Advertising Initiative, an industry group of marketing companies, lets computer users opt out of targeted ads from about 50 ad networks at networkadvertising.org.

If you opt out, you won't be shown ads tied to your browsing behavior from the member networks. But you'll still see ads, which may be placed based on criteria such as your location.

PrivacyChoice LLC, an independent group, maintains a Web site (privacychoice.org/choose) that covers 152 ad networks. You can opt out of most by clicking a button there. For some, you'll need to download a plug-in, but it works only with Firefox.

Ironically, these opt-out systems work by installing a cookie on your computer. That cookie tells ad networks to stop sending targeted ads to your computer. Because these systems rely on a cookie to work, you'll need to opt out all over again any time you delete cookies from your machine.

February 17, 2014

Obama Supports a Global Tax That Could Affect the Stocks, Mutual Funds, and Pensions of Ordinary Americans

Obama, Global Taxes and the Millennium Development Goals

September 16, 2010

Canada Free Press - In a classic case of misdirection, while the media are preoccupied with the fate of the Bush tax cuts, President Obama is preparing to attend a United Nations summit next week to endorse “innovative finance mechanisms”—global taxes—to drain even more wealth out of the U.S. economy.

A draft “outcome document” produced in advance of the September 20-22 U.N. Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) commits the nations of the world to supporting “innovative financing mechanisms” to supplement foreign aid spending.

The term “innovative financing mechanisms” is a U.N. euphemism for global taxes. But the document actually goes further, praising the “Task Force on International Financial Transactions for Development” for its work on the subject of mobilizing additional “resources” for countries to achieve the MDGs. This is a body tasked with proposing and implementing global tax schemes.
“We consider,” the document says, “that innovative financing mechanisms can make a positive contribution in assisting developing countries to mobilize additional resources for financing for development on a voluntary basis. Such financing should supplement and not be a substitute for traditional sources of financing.”
In other words, the revenue from global taxes should be in addition to foreign aid spending.

The document recognized the “considerable progress” made in this area, an acknowledgement that an international tax by some nations on airline tickets is already in effect and producing several billions of dollars of revenue for world organizations to fight AIDS and other diseases.

In an article in The Christian Science Monitor, under the headline,
Small global taxes would make a big difference for world’s ‘bottom billion’,” the foreign minister of France and other officials of foreign nations endorse various forms of “innovative development financing.”
One of their proposals is a tax on international currency transactions that could generate $35 billion a year.

The proposal, popular at the United Nations for decades and long-advocated by Fidel Castro, is called the Tobin Tax and named after Yale University economist James Tobin. Steven Solomon, a former staff reporter at Forbes, said in his book, The Confidence Game, that such a proposal “might net some $13 trillion a year…” because it is based on taking a percentage of money from the trillions of dollars exchanged daily in global financial markets.

He is referring to the fact that once such a tax is in place, it could be easily raised to bring in hundreds of billions of dollars or more a year to the U.N. and other global institutions.

Such financial transactions through banks and other financial institutions are commonplace on behalf of Americans who have stock in mutual funds or companies that invest or operate overseas. Hence, such a global tax could affect the stocks, mutual funds, and pensions of ordinary Americans.

The term “small global taxes” brought a stunned reaction from Senator David Vitter, when he was told of what is being proposed in advance of the U.N. summit. Vitter introduced Senate resolution 461, “Expressing the sense of the Senate that Congress should reject any proposal for the creation of a system of global taxation and regulation,” to put the Senate on record against any such measure. He has vowed to maintain pressure on the world body to avoid implementing any of these schemes and thinks that the Congress has to use whatever financial leverage it has to frustrate U.N. demands for more power and authority in world affairs.

The Vitter resolution was sent to the liberal-controlled Senate Finance Committee, which declined to act on it.

Obama has been a major U.N. supporter since he was in the Senate and sponsored a bill, the Global Poverty Act (S 2433), to force U.S. compliance with the MDGs. Joseph Biden, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tried to get it passed into law but ultimately failed.

As President, Obama is in a position to actively promote global taxation measures and clearly has done so. The “outcome document” his administration has already endorsed will be formally approved at next week’s summit.

The document affirms the so-called “Monterrey Consensus” that committed nations to spending 0.7 percent of Gross National Product (GNP) on official development assistance (ODA), otherwise known as foreign aid.
It says that “The fulfillment of all ODA commitments is crucial, including the commitments by many developed countries to achieve the target of 0.7 percent of gross national product (GNP) for ODA to developing countries by 2015…”
Over a 13-year period, from 2002, when the U.N.’s Financing for Development conference was held, to the target year of 2015, when the U.S. is expected to meet the Millennium Development Goals, this amounts to $845 billion from the U.S. alone, according to Jeffrey Sachs of the U.N.’s Millennium Project.
“We have fully embraced the Millennium Development Goals,” Obama told the U.N. in 2009.

Read more here and here.

February 16, 2014

Obama Leaves Value-Added Tax on Table

Obama Leaves Value-Added Tax on Table

Asked About Widespread Rumor Administration Considering New Levy to Fight Deficit, President Hedges

April 22, 2010

CBS/AP - President Obama suggested Wednesday that a new value-added tax on Americans is still on the table, seeming to show more openness to the idea than his aides have expressed in recent days.

Before deciding what revenue options are best for dealing with the deficit and the economy, Obama said in an interview with CNBC,
"I want to get a better picture of what our options are."
After Obama adviser Paul Volcker recently raised the prospect of a value-added tax, or VAT, the Senate voted 85-13 last week for a nonbinding "sense of the Senate" resolution that calls the such a tax "a massive tax increase that will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America's economic recovery."

For days, White House spokesmen have said the president has not proposed and is not considering a VAT.
"I think I directly answered this the other day by saying that it wasn't something that the president had under consideration," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters shortly before Obama spoke with CNBC.
After the interview, White House deputy communications director Jen Psaki said nothing has changed and the White House is "not considering" a VAT.

Many European countries impose a VAT, which taxes the value that is added at each stage of production of certain commodities. It could apply, for instance, to raw products delivered to a mill, the mill's production work and so on up the line to the retailer.

In the CNBC interview, Obama said he was waiting for recommendations from a bipartisan fiscal advisory commission on ways to tackle the deficit and other problems.

When asked if he could see a potential VAT in this nation, the president said:
"I know that there's been a lot of talk around town lately about the value-added tax. That is something that has worked for some countries. It's something that would be novel for the United States."

"And before, you know, I start saying 'this makes sense or that makes sense,' I want to get a better picture of what our options are," Obama said.
He said his first priority "is to figure out how can we reduce wasteful spending so that, you know, we have a baseline of the core services that we need and the government should provide. And then we decide how do we pay for that."

Speaking to CBSNews.com on Washington Unplugged ahead of his remarks at the Tax Day Rally last week in Washington, Ken Hoagland, Campaign Director for Online Tax Revolt, called the notion of a VAT in the U.S., "unthinkable."
"It hides the tax inside retail prices. We are already taxed enough," Hoagland told CBS. "It takes money out of the economy that could grow the economy and get us back to work and gives more money to government."
Volcker has said taxes might have to be raised to slow the deficit's growth. He said a value-added tax "was not as toxic an idea" as it had been in the past.

Since then, some GOP lawmakers and conservative commentators have said the Obama administration is edging toward a VAT.

CBSNews.com's Stephanie Condon took an in-depth look at how President Obama's policies had affected American taxpayers during the 2009 fiscal year. Contrary to what many believe according to polls, 98 percent of Americans actually paid less in taxes last year, due primarily to the federal economic stimulus legislation.

Click below to hear Condon explain Obama's tax policy:

Watch CBS News Videos Online

February 15, 2014

EPA Considering Ban on Traditional Ammunition

EPA Considering Ban on Traditional Ammunition

August 26, 2010

National Shooting Sports Foundation - With the fall hunting season fast approaching, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under Lisa Jackson, who was responsible for banning bear hunting in New Jersey, is now considering a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) – a leading anti-hunting organization – to ban all traditional ammunition under the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976, a law in which Congress expressly exempted ammunition. If the EPA approves the petition, the result will be a total ban on all ammunition containing lead-core components, including hunting and target-shooting rounds. The EPA must decide to accept or reject this petition by November 1, 2010, the day before the midterm elections.

Today, the EPA has opened to public comment the CBD petition. The comment period ends on October 31, 2010.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) — the trade association for the firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry — urges you to submit comment to the EPA opposing any ban on traditional ammunition. Remember, your right to choose the ammunition you hunt and shoot with is at stake.
The EPA has published the petition and relevant supplemental information as Docket ID: EPA-HQ-OPPT-2010-0681. If you would like to read the original petition and see the contents of this docket folder, please click here. In order to go directly to the ‘submit a comment’ page for this docket number, please click here.

NSSF urges you to stress the following in your opposition:

* There is no scientific evidence that the use of traditional ammunition is having an adverse impact on wildlife populations.

* Wildlife management is the proper jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the 50 state wildlife agencies.

* A 2008 study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on blood lead levels of North Dakota hunters confirmed that consuming game harvested with traditional ammunition does not pose a human health risk.

* A ban on traditional ammunition would have a negative impact on wildlife conservation. The federal excise tax that manufacturers pay on the sale of the ammunition (11 percent) is a primary source of wildlife conservation funding. The bald eagle’s recovery, considered to be a great conservation success story, was made possible and funded by hunters using traditional ammunition – the very ammunition organizations like the CBD are now demonizing.

* Recent statistics from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service show that from 1981 to 2006 the number of breeding pairs of bald eagles in the United States increased 724 percent. And much like the bald eagle, raptor populations throughout the United States are soaring.

Steps to take:

1. Submit comment online to the EPA.

2. Contact Lisa Jackson directly to voice your opposition to the ban:

Lisa P. Jackson
Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-4700
Fax: (202) 501-1450
Email: jackson.lisa@epa.gov

3. Contact your congressman and senators and urge them to stop the EPA from banning ammunition.

February 14, 2014

Federal Government Offering Early Retirement and Buyouts Rather Than Laying Off Employees

Q: I am contemplating retiring under a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA)/Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment (VSIP) authorization that expires Sep. 30, 2011. I realize I will take a two year, one month penalty. My question is, as a CSRS retiree, if I return to employment outside of the federal government, what is the maximum percentage of earnings I can make without affecting my annuity?

A: Whether you get a job in or out of the federal government, there wouldn’t be any limit on the amount of money you can earn after you retire. However, if you returned to work for the federal government, one of two things would happen: Either your annuity would be terminated and you’d receive the full salary of your new position or your full salary would be offset by the amount of your annuity.

Source: CSRS retirement, Federal Times, July 11, 2011

More Government Workers Quitting Voluntarily, More Private Sector Workers Getting Fired

Zero Hedge - There was nothing to smile about in today's May JOLTS release from the BLS. Those expecting a pick up in job openings (traditionally the key requirement for an sustained increase in NFP) will have to wait some more, after the May number came at 3.0 million, the same as April. This is modestly better than the all time low of 2.1 million in July 2009, but is a far cry from the 4.4 million when the Depression started.

And while there was no good news in Job Openings, there was some bad news in Total Separations which increased by over 200K sequentially from 3.833 MM to 4.059 MM. And for the first time since late 2010, the separations rates (defined to include voluntary quits, involuntary layoffs and discharges) rose to 3.1%, the same as the hires rate. Should the separations rate (especially if driven by involuntary departures) surpass the hires rate it will likely portend another period of NFP weakness ahead.

What is most surprising is that contrary to conventional wisdom, the voluntary quits level among government workers increased from 38% to 41% of total, while the layoffs and discharges level dropped from 44% to 38%, which means that government workers were not "let go" -- they left voluntarily. This throws a bit of a wrench in generic interpretations of the surge in the government component of the unemployment rate.

What is worse is that the quits rate in the Private employment stayed flat at 50%, while the layoff and discharges rate increased from 42% to 44%. Ironically, it is Private workers who are getting fired more, while it is government workers who are quitting voluntarily [Editor's Note: buyouts, perhaps?; see following article]. 

Monthly big picture summary:


Drilling down into the key Separations number:
The quits rate can serve as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to change jobs. In May, the quits rate was essentially unchanged for total nonfarm (1.5 percent), total private (1.7 percent), and government (0.6 percent). (See table 4.) Although the number of quits rose from 1.5 million in January 2010 (the most recent trough) to 2.0 million in May 2011, the number remained below the 2.8 million quits when the recession began in December 2007.
The number of quits (not seasonally adjusted) in May 2011 was higher than 12 months earlier for total nonfarm, total private, and government. Several industries experienced a rise in the number of quits over the year, and federal government experienced a decline. In the regions, the number of quits rose in the South but was little changed in the other three regions. (See table 8.)
The layoffs and discharges component of total separations is seasonally adjusted only at the total nonfarm, total private, and government levels. The layoffs and discharges rate was little changed in May for total nonfarm, total private, and government. The number of layoffs and discharges for total nonfarm was 1.8 million in May, up slightly from the recent low point of 1.5 million in January 2011, but still well below the peak of 2.5 million in February 2009. (See table B below.)
The layoffs and discharges level (not seasonally adjusted) was essentially unchanged over the 12 months ending in May for total nonfarm and total private. The level decreased over the year for federal government, returning to a more typical level after a large number of layoffs in May 2010 of temporary Census workers. The number of layoffs and discharges was steady in the regions. (See table 9.)
And looking at relative contributions:
The total separations level is influenced by the relative contribution of its three components—quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations. The percentage of total separations attributable to the individual components has varied over time at the total nonfarm level, but for the majority of the months since the series began in December 2000, the proportion of quits has exceeded the proportion of layoffs and discharges. Other separations is historically a very small portion of total separations; it has rarely been above 10 percent of total separations.
The proportions of quits and layoffs and discharges were last equal in November 2010. Since then, the proportion of quits has trended upward, again exceeding the proportion of layoffs and discharges, which has trended downward. In May, the proportion of quits for total nonfarm was 49 percent and the proportion of layoffs and discharges was 44 percent. The proportions were similar for total private with 50 percent quits and 44 percent layoffs and discharges. For government, the proportions were 41 percent quits and 38 percent layoffs and discharges. (See table C below.)
Full report

Is a Voluntary Early Retirement (VERA) from the Federal Government in Your Future?

July 26, 2011

Dennis Damp @ Federal Retirment - When I attained 25 years service at age 44 I felt a great sense of relief. I knew that with 25 years of creditable service I would at least be eligible for an early retirement and I could apply for a VERA and VSIP if offered. The FAA received VERA authority in the mid 1990s during a major reorganization and I applied for the option and was denied. My position was not included in the initial offer. I was a little apprehensive when I first applied and my wife had major reservations because my annuity would have been a fraction of what it would have been at age 55.

First and foremost, look before you leap if offered a VERA. Determine if you can afford to retire and determine what you will do to occupy your time after you leave. I applied knowing that I had another full time job waiting for me with my publishing business.

Many agencies applied for and received early out authority recently for select groups of employees. The list is growing and includes the USPS, Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, Government Printing Office (GPO), the Smithsonian Institute, Department of Defense, and the list keeps growing in light of the fiscal crisis that we find ourselves in.

VERA and VSIP programs allow federal agencies that are reorganizing or downsizing to offer early outs rather than lay employees off through a Reduction in Force (RIF). Agencies find it far easier to offer early outs to those who wish to leave than to lay federal employees off. Early outs provide more cost savings than RIF’s because younger employees subject to layoffs generally receive lower pay and benefits than the senior employees that would be eligible for early retirement.

Agencies often offer Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) to employees without a Voluntary Separation Incentive Payment (VSIP). In this case you can retire early and receive benefits however no incentive payment of up to $25,000 is offered for you to do so. To apply for an early out employees must be at least age 50 with 20 years of service or any age with 25 years of creditable service. If you are offered an early out, with or without a buyout, thoroughly understand the program and its impact on your finances, benefits, annuity, and retirement before applying.

If you apply and your VERA is approved you must leave by the date specified. This tends to play havoc with plans to sell back the maximum amount of accrued annual leave or the ability to round out your sick leave to an even month by the date of departure. Also, pay close attention to the CSRS penalty that may apply. If the CSRS employee is under age 55, this calculation is reduced by one-sixth of one percent for each full month he/she is under age 55 (i.e. 2% per year). There isn’t a penalty for FERS service.

The FERS Social Security Supplement applies under VERA for those who are at their MRA when they retire up to age 62. However, if the retiree goes back to work the Social Security earnings limit applies and for each dollar earned over $14,160 in 2011 your supplement is reduced by $1.00.

Those employees under the special 20 year retirement system, LEO, FF, ATC and NWC, can apply for a VERA if offered. If you don’t have 20 years vested in the special 20 year retirement system they will not receive the enhanced retirement benefits. With less than 20 years in the covered services their annuity would be based on the regular retirement formula. Many under LEO, FF, ATC and NWC have regular federal civil service time as well. For example, if an air traffic controller (ATC) is age 53 and has 24 years of creditable service for retirement, but only completed 17 years of ATC covered service, the controller’s retirement would be based on the regular retirement formula because he hadn’t completed 20 years under the ATC system.

So close but so far away… A site visitor’s agency was offering early outs however he was just a few months shy of the required 25 years of service. He wanted to apply his accrued annual leave to his service date to qualify. Unfortunately, annual leave can only be used with RIFs or a discontinued service retirement when an employee is involuntarily separated or has a redirected reassignment outside of their commuting area.

Military credits can be used to qualify for a VERAYou need a minimum of 5 years of civilian service to be eligible for a civilian retirement annuity. However, after the 5 years is met, the military service is creditable towards years of service for all the other voluntary retirement eligibility requirements: MRA +10; MRA +30; 60 years old with 20 years of service; and the VERA requirements – age 50 with 20 years of service or any age with 25 years of service. Review all eligibility requriements for FERS and CSRS retirement.

One major consideration, especially for those leaving in their 40s and 50s, is what you will do when you retire. Most will look for other employment and it is important to stay active and involved. Go to our Jobs Center to find employers that are specifically looking for retired feds with experience. Many companies seek out retired federal workers because of their extensive experience in many areas. Explore your options before you sign on the dotted line, especially since you will more than likely need supplemental income with an early retirement. Our job listings consolidate national listings for all occupations and in all sectors.

Complete details for VERA and VSIP programs:
What is the employee coverage in an early out?

Voluntary Early Retirement offers apply to employees covered under both the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) and the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) . When an agency has received VERA approval from OPM, an employee who meets the general eligibility requirements may be eligible to retire early. The employee must:
  1. Meet the minimum age and service requirements -
    • At least age 50 with at least 20 years creditable Federal service, OR
    • Any age with at least 25 years creditable Federal service;
  2. Have served in a position covered by the OPM authorization for the minimum time specified by OPM (usually 30 days prior to the date of the agency request);
  3. Serve in a position covered by the agency's VERA plan; and
  4. Separate by the close of the early-out period.

D-Day for Buyouts Fast Approaching

June 9, 2011

Federal News Radio - What do federal buyouts and buffaloes have in common?

They were once plentiful, then almost disappeared and are now making a comeback.

The Government Printing Office is the latest federal operation, and the first legislative branch agency this year, to offer employees the chance to take regular or early retirement and receive a buyout worth $25,000, before deductions. GPO's buyout pool is small and localized. It has 2,200 employees, mostly in the DC area, and wants to eliminate 330 positions. A buyout on that scale in a much larger operation would impact a huge number of employees. Also, it is a sign of the times and an indicator that more buyouts (called VSIPs) are coming to more federal operations.

The giant Agriculture Department is offering targeted buyouts to 544 employees in several operations. Early-retirement will be available to a much larger group of workers department-wide.

During an early-out, VERA in government lingo, employees can qualify for immediate annuities if they are at least age 50 with 20 years of service, or at any age if they have 25 years of federal/military service. The value of an immediate (as opposed to deferred) annuity is that the retiree can keep their health insurance for life. 

The Justice Department's Anti-Trust Division kicked off the buyout season this year, followed by the Federal Trade Commission, a large but targeted buyout ($20,000 max spread over two years) in the U.S. Postal Service, and the Smithsonian Institution.

Many workers would love to have the option to take early retirement IF accompanied by a buyout.  
Data indicates that early-outs are popular when coupled with a buyout, but that relatively few people take early retirement without a cash sweetener. 

Interest in buyouts is high goverment-wide. That's especially true in giant, high-burnout operations like Defense, Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and the VA. Air Force's Materiel Command is considering buyouts.

Politicians and political appointees who are increasingly concerned about the deficit are looking at the salary and benefits of government workers, including military personnel. Defense is looking at pay and benefits for civilian and military people, and especially at the high-cost to the government of military health benefits. 

Unfortunately for federal workers looking for clues, HR offices are often the last to know when a buyout is being seriously considered or about to be announced. But keep watching this space because, when they do come through, most employees will have a short take-it-or-leave it decision period.

Offer One-time Early Retirement and Buyout for CSRS Employees

July 2010

The President's Save Award - I would suggest that all departments of the Federal Government offer all (no exceptions) current employees in the CSRS pension plan a one time (never to be offered again) early out retirement option with a one-time incentive bonus (40% of their base salary). These employees would have been continuously employed by since Jan 1, 1984, and have a minimum of 25 years of Federal Service towards this pension (actually 26 years). I would add that these new retirees would not (ever) be allowed to return to Civilian Federal Service as a term of this agreement.

The benefits are numerous.
  • This will move a number of employees into a fixed cost (pension) to the government.

  • Many of these individuals are senior staff, and are near the top of the pay scale (expensive).

  • Replacement staff (new hires) could likely be brought in at up to half of the cost of the current employee cost. This lower payroll cost plus the bonus to the retiree would likely cost offset within the first two to three years.

  • Most new retirees will be replaced by their direct subordinate, opening career advancement (or hope for it) within the ranks of the Federal Government. I am tired of seeing excellent employees leave for the private sector due to poor career progression (stagnation).

  • New retirees would receive almost 50% (minimum) of their current salary per CSRS calculators.

  • This would hopefully move most CSRS members into retirement, thus lightening the workload for all HR departments.

  • Many jobs would be created, helping get people working in permanent, career track positions.
Other aspects to consider:
  • New retirees could return to work in the private sector (clearly not entry level jobs) if they chose to.

  • New retirees that chose to return to work could achieve (or complete) “40 good quarters” towards SSI benefits. (The Windfall Elimination Provision does have an SSI offset, but does not preclude a person from receiving those benefits.)

  • Allowing new retirees the ability to continue to contribute (non-matching) to TSP as part of the “one time offer”. (Not sure on this one, but it sounds nice).
The “early optional” retirement in already offered to Law Enforcement, Firefighters, and Air Traffic Controllers at 25 years, just without the incentive bonus. Why not allow all Federal employees a one time, never to be repeated chance to retire, and afford others a chance at gainful employment (jobs) in this tough economy. If implemented, this action should not be allowed to be retroactive.

I am not in the CSRS program; I am in the FERS program. I have a long way to go. This just makes sense to me.

February 12, 2014

Military and Federal Workers Are Living the Good Life While the Ones Who Pay Their Salaries Struggle

Between 2001 and 2009, per capita spending on three major components (basic pay and allowances for housing and subsistence) of cash compensation for active military personnel rose by 37 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars.

Government Would Save Billions by Capping Pay, CBO Says

March 15, 2011

GovExec.com - Reducing annual pay increases for federal civilian workers and military personnel would save the government billions of dollars during the next decade, according to the latest figures from the Congressional Budget Office in a report on trimming the burgeoning deficit.

CBO estimates the deficit will rise to $7 trillion during the next 10 years if mandatory and discretionary spending is not reined in across government. Capping military pay increases and reducing the annual across-the-board adjustment for civilian raises are two available areas, among several others, for cuts, the March 2011 report said.

The nonpartisan CBO said if the government capped the basic pay increase for service members from 2012 to 2015 and set raises at a rate 0.5 percentage points below the increase in the employment cost index,
it would save about $6 billion between 2012 and 2016, and $17 billion between 2012 and 2021. Since 2001, lawmakers have approved military pay raises for the average service member that exceeded the ECI by 0.5 percentage point.

President Obama's fiscal 2012 budget request proposes a 1.6 percent pay raise for military personnel and allocates an overall $8.3 billion for education, housing and other quality of life programs for service members.
"Between 2001 and 2009, per capita spending on three major components of cash compensation for active military personnel rose by 37 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars," the report said, citing basic pay, and allowances for housing and subsistence, as the primary compensation categories.

Overall, the Defense Department accounts for more than half of all annual discretionary funding, and any significant deficit reduction needs to take into account Defense appropriations, CBO said.
Nearly 40 percent of all spending is discretionary, totaling more than $1.3 trillion in 2010.
As for civilian compensation, CBO says the government could save about $10 billion during five years and $50 billion during 10 years by reducing by 0.5 percent the annual across-the-board pay raise expected under the 1990 Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act from 2013 to 2021. Obama has called for a federal civilian pay freeze in 2011 and 2012. Compensation costs for civilian personnel make up about 15 percent of federal discretionary spending, according to CBO.
But the report said the bigger savings would come from capping military pay.
According to CBO's analysis, "median cash compensation for military personnel -- including the tax-free cash allowances for food and housing -- exceeds the salaries of most civilians who have comparable education and work experience."
CBO acknowledged that reducing pay for service members and civilians could hinder recruitment and retention.
"That effect might be more pronounced for federal agencies that require workers with advanced degrees and professional skills."
To offset some of the pain associated with lowered base pay for service members in particular, CBO suggested expanding reenlistment bonuses. 

The report highlighted other areas for spending savings that would affect the health care benefits of Defense personnel, among them:
  • An increase in cost-sharing in TRICARE for military retirees who are not yet eligible for Medicare;

  • A limit on the TRICARE benefit for military retirees and their dependents (many enrollees who already have employer-sponsored insurance through a civilian job opt for enrollment in TRICARE Prime, which has the lowest out-of-pocket costs within the TRICARE system);

  • An increase in cost-sharing for prescription drugs under TRICARE.


NSPS Employees Can Expect 2.26 Percent Pay Boost

January 11, 2011

GovExec.com - Defense Department employees still under the National Security Personnel System will see a pay boost this month, according to Pentagon leadership.

A Dec. 27, 2010, memo from Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley clarifies the funding available for performance-based pay increases for more than 54,000 workers and creates a salary "control point," designed to match pay limits with those that will apply when employees transition out of NSPS.

According to a Defense spokeswoman, 2.26 percent of salaries within a given pay pool are available for performance-based pay increases. Employees will be eligible for performance-based bonuses that individual agencies will determine, but those awards are neither automatic nor guaranteed. According to the spokeswoman, agencies are still compiling the pay pool data for the 2010 payout, but employees must have received a rating of "3" or higher to be eligible for a performance award.

The 2.26 percent is used for calculating and budgeting the available funds for NSPS annual performance awards. Performance-based increases and raises under Accelerated Compensation for Developmental Positions, which recognizes improvement of employees in training programs and other developmental capacities, might be included in pay raise calculations, according to the memo.

A mandatory control point, however, prevents employees from receiving a performance-based raise if the increase will push their salary above Level IV of the Executive Schedule, or $155,500.

The control point does not apply to physicians or dentists, who will be eligible for higher salaries matching those paid by the Veterans Affairs Department and the private sector, Stanley wrote.

Defense transferred nearly 172,000 employees, or 76 percent, back to the General Schedule in fiscal 2010, in keeping with department estimates. The remaining NSPS workers will move into alternative pay systems this spring, and all employees must transition by the end of 2011.

Congress repealed NSPS in the fiscal 2010 Defense authorization law, giving the department until Jan. 1, 2012, to roll back the controversial pay-for-performance system completely.

CLARIFICATION: This story was updated to reflect that some, but not all, NSPS employees could receive performance-based pay increases.


Concerns Over Pay Loom as Pentagon Returns to General Schedule

May 17, 2010

GovExec.com - The Federal Managers Association is asking lawmakers to ensure Pentagon employees do not lose salary as a result of the transition from the department's defunct pay-for-performance system.
"While the [2010] law explicitly states no employee shall lose or see a decrease in pay as they transition, I am concerned that this language will allow DoD officials to freeze future pay of top performers due to current [General Schedule] rules on pay retention," FMA National President Patricia Niehaus said in a May 14 letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
According to Nieuhaus, since the average pay raise under the National Security Personnel System exceeded raises under the General Schedule, many NSPS employees are now, in terms of salary, a GS level above where they were when they entered NSPS. When these employees return to the GS grade they occupied prior to their conversion into NSPS, it is likely their salary will exceed the GS Step 10 level, Niehaus said. Under pay retention rules, these employees would receive only half the annual pay raise until the GS system catches up with them.
"We are increasingly concerned with the rush of DoD officials to transition employees out of NSPS without taking a close look at the number of employees likely to be subject to pay retention rules," Niehaus said.
An FMA survey of its members showed an average of 20 percent to 25 percent of employees are subject to pay retention rules. If FMA's members are representative of NSPS employees as a whole, then about 40,000 employees could face a decrease in pay.
"Many of these dedicated employees have crunched the numbers and determined that the General Schedule will not catch up with them by the time they retire over the next decade," Niehaus wrote. "This is unacceptable."
FMA is most concerned that pay retention would have the greatest effect on employees who were top performers under NSPS, which Niehaus said would send the message that above-average performance is not rewarded in the federal workplace.
"As members of the Federal Managers Association prepare to transition out of NSPS, I respectfully request that you take action to ensure high-performing DoD civil servants receive the compensation they have rightfully earned before they are forced to endure the effects of this unjust policy," the letter said.
The House Armed Services Committee will mark up the 2011 Defense authorization bill on Wednesday. Spokespeople from both the majority and the minority sides said they were unable to discuss the legislation heading into the markup. But it's likely the bill will address the NSPS transition, given the requirement that all Defense employees leave the system by Jan. 1, 2012.

Related:

Number of Federal Employees Getting Automatic Grade Promotions Jumped 75 Percent in Past Three Years, with Raises of 10 Percent to 20 Percent in One Year

Read More...

February 6, 2014

Bill Gates: Philanthropist or Eugenicist?

Gates, Canadian NGO Offer $32 Million for Research

December 17, 2011

AFP - The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a Canadian NGO on Friday announced $32 million to fund research for the discovery and development of affordable tools for rapidly diagnosing diseases in developing nations.

The aim is to diagnose and treat illness on the spot in the rural regions of poor countries, and potentially save more lives now lost to delays.
"Imagine a hand-held, battery-powered device that can take a drop of blood and, within minutes, tell a healthcare worker in a remote village whether a feverish child has malaria, dengue or a bacterial infection," said Peter Singer, head of Grand Challenges Canada which is partnering with the Microsoft founder Bill Gates's charitable organization on the project.
"More rapid diagnosis of malaria alone could prevent 100,000 deaths a year."
Gates's foundation is providing $21.1 million over three years to this research while Grand Challenges, backed by the Canadian government, is contributing $10.8 million, they said in a statement.

The research will focus on five areas: drawing blood and prepping it for analysis, analyzing biological samples to identify diseases, developing technologies to obtain and transmit data and receive test results back, and ensuring these devices will work in the field where there is often no electricity or refrigeration.

Read More...

February 3, 2014

Optical Illusion or Hoax: Mysterious Buildings and Mountains Appear in China

Huangshan City Mirage, All Down to Bad Translation

June 26, 2011

Absolute Aukiman - Huangshan city mirage in a nutshell, just a winning combination of bad chinese translation and sensationalist reporting.

Huangshan City in Anhui Province, China was one city out of a number affected by the 2011 flooding in 12 or 13 provinces. By the 14th June 2011 the water had exceeded warning levels in reservoirs and inundated the city.

Incredibly, video footage of the floods, as they claimed low lying areas of the city were broadcast and sensationalised by western media who misreported an all too literal translation of the interpretation describing the amazing wet and misty weather framing the scenery.

Perhaps ironically it is the 'Chinese Whispers' phenomenon at play here but the story became one of insanely amazing mirages, the clarity of which has never been seen before. It was circulated via news websites presumably in the same hurried fashion that does away with any cross checking of facts and the youtube videos went viral, along with the emergence of the inevitable conspiracy and prophecy theories of hologram technology, the second coming and otherworldy portals.

In fact the truth is somewhat a little more mundane than the fiction, the 'floating' buildings suspended in mist above the river as described by the majority of news sites are actually nothing more than the buildings which are already currently in existence as seen THROUGH the fog, the 'floating' trees are explained by nothing more mysterious than the river having swollen and flooded low lying ground.

For easy identification the coloured key and identifiable landmarks are marked for you with the corresponding slides from the video.

Internet hype and misinformation sure does spread quickly in this day and age!


Mystery City Skyline, Mountains Appear in Middle of China River – Video

June 18, 2011
Death By 1000 Paper Cuts - Which 'mystery' city appeared in a mirage in eastern China on Thursday?
An amazing video news report from China of an 'optical illusion' that appeared at approximately 5 PM, local time on Thursday in eastern China at the Tunxi section of the Xin’an River in Huangshan City, the mirage, a spectacular skyline of a city and mountains.
According to the news report in the video, the latest 'optical illusion' is one of several that have been recently seen in the area. We wondered, does anyone know the identity of the 'mystery' city? Was the optical illusion a 'real city'?
Video of 'city skyline' optical illusion filmed in Huangshan, China, on Thursday, June 16, 2011:
The mirage or optical illusion has some wondering if the illusion is related to NASA's Project Blue Beam and/or HAARP?

On May 7, 2005, another city skyline 'optical illusion' appeared after a heavy rain off the shore of Penglai City in eastern China's Shandong Province. During the four hour appearance, thousands of residents in Penglai City saw not only a city, the residents witnessed 'bustling cars as well as crowds of people all clearly visible'.

Over at the U.K.'s Weather Online website is the explanation of mirages and optical illusions. Based on their explanation, the mysterious mirage cities seen in China are 'superior mirages.'
[Snip]
A famous superior mirage is the Fata Morgana, most frequently seen in the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily. However, Fata Morgana’s are also frequent in deserts, after night time radiation has cooled down the sand to temperatures lower than the air above. Distant objects appear extremely elongated, giving the impression of buildings and towns in the distance. This phenomenon is also known as ‘castles in the air’.
Read More...