Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
James Clapper Calls For Snowden And 'Accomplices' To Return NSA Documents
James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, has issued a blistering condemnation of Edward Snowden, calling the surveillance disclosures published by the Guardian and other news outlets a “perfect storm” that would endanger American lives.
Testifying before a rare and unusually raucous public session of the Senate intelligence committee that saw yet another evolution in the Obama administration’s defense of bulk domestic phone records collection, Clapper called on “Snowden and his accomplices” to return the documents the former National Security Agency contractor took, in order to minimize what he called the “profound damage that his disclosures have caused and continued to cause”.
Snowden has repeatedly said he acted alone in assembling and leaking a vast trove of information on the scope of US surveillance efforts, a conclusion also reportedly reached by the NSA’s official investigation into the Snowden leaks.
Asked if the journalists who possess leaked surveillance information counted in Clapper's definition of an "accomplice", Clapper spokesman Shawn Turner clarified: "Director Clapper was referring to anyone who is assisting Edward Snowden to further threaten our national security through the unauthorized disclosure of stolen documents related to lawful foreign intelligence collection programs."
Turner declined to be more specific.
University Debate: Should Neo-Nazi Students Be Named And Shamed?
Universities in Germany are unsure of how to deal with neo-Nazi students. Should they expose, expel or just ignore them? The name-and-shame approach used by anti-Nazi activists in recent incidents has sparked criticism and debate.
The professor was lecturing about "basic lessons of civil law" for freshman students at Bochum University when a group of left-wing "Antifa" (anti-fascist) activists dressed as Santa Clauses burst into the hall. They ran up to a male student and pointed at him. Few in the room knew the man, who had close-cropped hair and chubby cheeks. But Michael Brück, 23, is well-known in far-right circles. He was a member of the neo-Nazi group National Resistance Dortmund until it was banned a year and a half ago. Their members terrorized people who opposed them, held parties celebrating Adolf Hitler and attacked immigrants and police officers with knives and pepper spray. Brück is deputy regional chairman of the extremist party Die Rechte, or The Right.
The lecturer shouted "Get out! Out!" The activists yelled: "Your classmate is a neo-Nazi!" Then the professor walked up to them, grabbed a Santa Claus by the arm and pushed him towards the door. There was pushing and shoving. Borges said later that he had been attacked and beaten by masked people. But a mobile phone video taken of the incident doesn't confirm that the activists initiated the scuffle. "I couldn't accept action being taken against one of my students," said Borges. He resumed the lecture with a bloody nose.
The Antifa operation in Bochum raises a question that many universities and colleges in Germany are grappling with. How should universities respond when right-wing extremists study on campuses? And how should one react if they are publicly exposed?
Abbott, Turnbull Clash Over ABC
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has strongly defended the ABC's editorial independence in the face of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's attack on the national broadcaster, which he says ''instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's''. Mr Turnbull defended the Prime Minister's right to critique the ABC but, in comments that could be interpreted as resistance to Mr Abbott, he said the ABC was rightly accountable to its board of directors, not politicians. ''What's the alternative … the editor-in-chief [of the ABC] becomes the prime minister?'' he said. ''Politicians, whether prime ministers or communications ministers, will often be unhappy with the ABC … but you can't tell them what to write.''
The furore was sparked by the emergence of a note on Wednesday from an ABC reporter who said of the broadcaster's allegations asylum seekers were burnt by navy staff: ''My boss believes the allegations are likely to be untrue …''
Labor's communications spokesman Jason Clare, claimed Mr Abbott was laying the groundwork to cut back the ABC's $1 billion annual funding. ABC managing director Mark Scott declined to comment. Mr Scott has spoken to Mr Turnbull about the coverage of the claims asylum seekers suffered burns to their hands due to mistreatment by Australians.
The minister said, in his view, criticism of the story was justified and unfounded allegations had been given too much weight. ''I thought the allegations were beyond implausible, I thought they bordered on inconceivable,'' he said.
Former ABC managing director David Hill savaged Mr Abbott's comments against the ABC's perceived lack of patriotism. ''It's an absurd proposition, laughable if it wasn't so dangerous,'' he said. ''This is the first serious suggestion I know of, certainly in the last half a century, where a prime minister of the country is suggesting the Australian public be denied access to the truth, and the first time that a prime minister has seriously intimated that the ABC should censor and withhold information from the Australian public.''
[The Australia Broadcasting Corporation is Australia's public broadcaster. - Editor]
Outsiders, Not Auto Plant, Battle U.A.W. In Tennessee
At the Volkswagen plant nestled in Tennessee’s rolling hills, a unionization drive has drawn national attention as business groups worry about organized labor’s efforts to gain its first foothold at a foreign-owned automobile plant in the South. In a region known as anti-union, many view VW’s response as unusual, if not topsy-turvy.
Unlike most companies that confront unionization efforts, Volkswagen — facing a drive by the United Automobile Workers — has not mounted a vigorous campaign to beat back the union; instead VW officials have hinted they might even prefer having a union. And while unions that seek to organize factories often complain that the playing field is tilted because they do not have access to workers in the plant, here the union opponents are the ones protesting what they say is an uneven field.
The anti-U.A.W. forces are making themselves heard, warning that if the U.A.W. succeeds here, that will lend momentum to unionize two other prestigious German-owned plants: the Mercedes-Benz plant in Alabama and the BMW plant in South Carolina.
Two of Tennessee’s most prominent Republicans, Gov. Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker, a former mayor of Chattanooga, have repeatedly voiced concerns that a U.A.W. victory would hurt the plant’s competitiveness and the state’s business climate.
Report Questions Afghan Troop Literacy Training
A $200 million U.S.-funded program to bolster literacy rates in Afghanistan's security forces has been plagued by weak oversight and accountability, according to a report from federal inspectors published Tuesday that suggests half of Afghan police and soldiers still might not be able to read or write.
The NATO-led coalition had set a goal of having 100 percent of Afghan military and police reach the equivalent of first-grade-level literacy, and for at least half to reach third-grade level, by the end of 2014. To achieve that, it set up a literacy training program via three U.S.-funded contracts.
The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in a report released Tuesday that three years later, some command officials estimated that half of the security forces were illiterate as of February 2013 and believe the literacy targets might be "unrealistic" or "unattainable."
The report cited a long list of shortcomings: poorly defined requirements for literacy classes, no means of overseeing contractors or the quality of the instruction and high rates of attrition in the security forces making it impossible to tell if literacy-training graduates are still serving and can be counted as success stories.
Science and Technology
The Missing Monarchs
Feeding on a weed seems like a good evolutionary bet. And for a long time, it worked well for the monarch butterfly. The butterfly’s life cycle is exquisitely synchronized to the seasonal growth of milkweed, the only plant its larvae will eat. In a game of hopscotch, successive generations of monarchs follow the springtime emergence of milkweed from Mexico as far north as Canada. The hardy plant once flourished in grasslands, roadsides, abandoned lots, and cornfields across much of the continent. It fueled a mass migration that ended each winter with more than 60 million butterflies converging on pine forests in the Sierra Madres.
Then came Roundup.
The monarch population sank while agriculture boomed. More than a million acres of Upper Midwest grassland have been plowed under in recent years for corn and soybean fields—a rate of loss comparable to deforestation in places like Brazil and Indonesia. Demand for these crops has surged with the rise of biofuels. At the same time, technology enabled farmers to squeeze ever more from each acre. For monarchs, the most important development was Roundup Ready corn and soybeans.
Since the turn of the century, these genetically modified crops have risen to dominance in the Midwest. Designed to withstand dousing from the Monsanto company’s Roundup weed killer, the plants enabled farmers to swiftly kill competing weeds, including milkweed, while leaving their crops untouched. In 2013, 83 percent of all corn and 93 percent of soybeans in the United States were herbicide tolerant, totaling nearly 155 million acres, much of it in the Midwest.
It’s no coincidence monarchs faltered at the same time. Karen Oberhauser, a conservation biologist at the University of Minnesota, and a colleague estimated that as Monsanto’s Roundup Ready corn and soybeans spread across the Midwest, the amount of milkweed in farm fields fell by more than 80 percent. Oberhauser determined that the loss of milkweed almost exactly mirrored the decline in monarch egg production. “We have this smoking gun,” Oberhauser said. “This is the only thing that we’ve actually been able to correlate with decreasing monarch numbers.”
Long-Awaited Synthetic Particle Created
Amherst College and Aalto University researchers have now created and photographed synthetic magnetic monopoles under laboratory conditions. These observations lay the foundation for the underlying structure of the natural magnetic monopole -- the detection of which would be a revolutionary event comparable to the discovery of the electron.
The results were recently published in Nature magazine.
[Observation Of Dirac Monopoles In A Synthetic Magnetic Field]
"The creation of a synthetic magnetic monopole should provide us with unprecedented insight into aspects of the natural monopole," says Prof. David S. Hall from Amherst College, USA. "It's not every day that you get to poke and prod the analogue of an elusive fundamental particle under highly controlled conditions in the laboratory," he continues.
Evidence for magnetic monopoles has been sought in sources as diverse as lunar samples and ancient micas. The multibillion-euro LHC particle accelerator at CERN has also been used in the search -- but no magnetic monopoles have been convincingly identified. The discovery of the synthetic monopole provides a stronger foundation for these efforts.
A magnetic monopole is a particle just like an electron, but with a magnetic rather than an electric charge. Some 80 years ago Paul A. M. Dirac, one of the founders of quantum physics, discovered a quantum-mechanical structure allowing the existence of magnetic monopoles. Dirac's original framework has now been experimentally realized for the first time.
Society and Culture
Vatican, Japan To Catalog ‘Lost’ Archive Of Christians’ Persecution.
The Vatican Library and four Japanese historical institutes have agreed to inventory, catalog and digitize 10,000 documents from a “lost” archive in modern-day Oita Prefecture recounting the persecution of Christians in Japan from the 17th to 19th centuries.
The Rev. Cesare Pasini, head of the Vatican Apostolic Library, said the so-called Marega Papers represent the largest known civic archive of its kind.
An Italian missionary priest retrieved the 22 bundles of documents in Japan in the 1940s and took them to Rome. They sat in the library’s storage depository for decades until a Vatican researcher who could read the characters could read the characters realized their importance in 2010.
“It is clear that these documents are unique,” Pasini said Tuesday in an interview. “The Japanese experts say that there is no other collection this big.”
Jesuit missionaries first began spreading the faith in Japan in 1549, and had made considerable headway by 1585. But a backlash against Christians was already brewing and persecution became rampant and systematic, with Christians executed en masse, including the famous 26 martyrs crucified in Nagasaki in 1597. A famous anti-Christian edict was passed in 1612 and a few years later Christianity was banned outright.
Dear Mr. President:
Our Baby Is Due in Three Weeks and Our Drinking Water Is Toxic
Dear Mr. President,
I am writing you as a dutiful, concerned, and stressed-out husband and expectant father from Charleston, West Virginia. My first child is due on February 20th, just three weeks away. As it currently stands, according to the CDC and our doctors, my wife, Sarah, is still not cleared to safely use the water in our home. We have been dealing with this for three weeks already, and based on the information available, it doesn't look like the water will be safe anytime soon for her use. Our water still smells like 4 methylcyclohexanol, and experts are saying that this chemical could be in our water system at a detectable amount for a very long time. I don't know how I am going to safely care for my son after he is born when I can't trust my water supply. We're not using it, so I'm surely not going to use it on my newborn.
To add to this, due to Freedom Industries' lack of concern for public safety and West Virginia American Water's late warning on the evening of January 9, 2014, my wife and unborn son suffered unnecessary exposure to the contaminated water as well. She drank it, ate food prepared with it, and showered in it within minutes of the late warning. We both felt ill that evening as a result, which lets me fully know that we ingested this chemical. This is after an entire pregnancy where she gave up unhealthy foods, preservatives, unnatural dyes, caffeine, soda, and even chewing gum due to artificial sweeteners for the life-long health of our unborn son. To say the least, I am extremely upset and frustrated that we have been subjected to unknown dangers that were outside of our control, and it doesn't feel like a whole lot is being done to correct this horrible injustice
There is an entire population of people like ourselves still suffering and struggling down here. We are being given no options except to bring outside water into our homes, while we receive large water bills in the mail. It is your duty to help us, and I can assure you that we most definitely need your help. Make the people responsible for this accountable both economically and criminally. Overhaul the West Virginia DEP because they are the ones who allowed this to happen. Quit allowing the coal and chemical industries down here to have despotic rule over everyone's lives. Do something people will finally respect you for in this region! Help me and others move our pregnant wives and young children out of this area into a safe environment. Lastly, use every expert you have to get safe water back to this area. If you could stop allowing things to happen that directly jeopardize my family's health and safety, maybe then I'd sign up for Obamacare.
Resident of Charleston, West Virginia.
Well, that's different...
Flatulent Cows Make Shed Explode, Report Says.
As Reuters reports, these cows were cooped up together and the products of their flatulence had nowhere to emerge.
The methane gas built up until, according to the local police in Rasdorf: "a static electric charge caused the gas to explode with flashes of flames."
I wonder whether the cows felt as proud as little boys who try this trick (with a match, rather than static electricity) at scout camp.
The report suggests that one cow was burned in the act and the roof of the shed suffered damage.
Bill Moyers and Company: