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Lead Off Story
Islamic State Militants Grab New Weapon - Iraqi Wheat
After seizing five oil fields and Iraq's biggest dam, Sunni militants bent on creating an Islamic empire in the Middle East now control yet another powerful economic weapon – wheat supplies.
Fighters from the Islamic State have overrun large areas in five of Iraq's most fertile provinces, where the United Nations food agency says around 40 percent of its wheat is grown.
Now they're helping themselves to grain stored in government silos, milling it and distributing the flour on the local market, an Iraqi official told Reuters. The Islamic State has even tried to sell smuggled wheat back to the government to finance a war effort marked by extreme violence and brutality.
International officials are drawing uneasy comparisons with the days of hardship under dictator Saddam Hussein, when Western sanctions led to serious shortages in the 1990s. "Now is the worst time for food insecurity since the sanctions and things are getting worse," said Fadel El-Zubi, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative for Iraq.
Hassan Nusayif al-Tamimi, head of an independent nationwide union of farmers' cooperatives, said the militants were intimidating any producers who tried to resist. "They are destroying crops and produce, and this is creating friction with the farmers. They are placing farmers under a lot of pressure so that they can take their grain," he said, adding that farmers had reported fighters were also wrecking wells.
Oil Prices Dip To Nine-Month Low
Global oil prices have fallen to their lowest level in nine months, despite fears that conflicts in Ukraine and Iraq would inflate prices.
Brent crude oil has fallen to $103.70 (£62) a barrel, its lowest rate since November 2013.
The current dip in price has led to an increase in demand from wealthy states.
Iraq has scheduled to export about 2.4 million barrels per day of Basra Light crude in September, up from 2.2 million in the previous month.
In a report on Tuesday, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said: "Oil prices seem almost eerily calm in the face of mounting geopolitical risks spanning an unusually large swathe of the oil-producing world."
Ukraine Accuses Russia Of Cynicism Over Convoy
The Ukrainian government on Wednesday denounced Russia's dispatch of a humanitarian aid convoy toward the two countries’ border as an act of unbounded cynicism serving pro-Russian separatists. Separately, the United Nations said the death toll in fighting there has doubled in the last two weeks to over 2,000.
Kiev said the trucks would not be allowed into Ukraine.
"First they send tanks, Grad missiles and bandits who fire on Ukrainians, and then they send water and salt," Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk said at a government meeting.
The comments reflected suspicions in Kiev and Western capitals that passage of the convoy onto Ukrainian soil could turn into a covert military action to help pro-Russian separatists now losing ground to government forces.
The approach of the convoy may present Kiev with a dilemma.
Clearly, Ukraine fears the convoy could become the focus of tension and conflict once on its soil, and could provide pretext for a Russian armed incursion. At the same time it does not want to seem to be blocking aid and thereby reinforcing Moscow’s moral arguments.
Violence In Gaza Leads To Youth Radicalization
A piece of a bed frame dangles from a lemon tree. Next to it hangs the remains of rattan shelves, destroyed and catapulted into the small yard by the explosion of a bomb. The detonation decimated the home of Hassan Khalil Ibrash, knocking over the mandarin-colored walls and transforming his bedroom into a terrace -- one with a grotesque view. His eyes revealing his exhaustion, Ibrash stands in flip-flops among the charred remains. Next to him, 12 stairs climb skyward like an incomplete sculpture.
He is surrounded by nothing but destruction, with dust rising from the gray ruins in the midday heat. Israeli bombs have almost completely razed Ibrash's neighborhood in Rafah, a town in the southernmost tip of the Gaza Strip.
And while Hassan Ibrash picks through the rubble where his house once stood, occasionally glancing up at the sky to identify potential dangers to his family, Mohammed al-Shaikh, 57, sits in his office just two kilometers away. He is the head of the school in Rafah that has housed displaced Gaza residents throughout the conflict -- one of seven such schools that were fired on by the Israeli army despite the fact that they were providing shelter to thousands of refugees. Ten people died in Shaikh's school, five of them children. He says that he sent the GPS coordinates of his school to the Israeli army twice each day.
Shaikh shrugs his shoulders and straightens his glasses. He isn't authorized to speak about the attack on his school, but he has plenty to say about the effects of the war on his six children. His generation, he says was completely different than the current one. He always hoped that the situation in the Gaza Strip would change one day, he says, and that peace, or at least a modicum of normality, would prevail.
But his children, Shaikh says, lost any such hope in the three wars that have taken place during their young lifetimes. Trapped in the squalor of the Gaza Strip, he says, they have become radicalized. Shaikh explains that he tried to demonstrate to them that living a normal life was possible, but he failed because of the wars. There's an air of resignation in his voice.
Hurricane Season Continues With 2 More Growing Storms
The busy Pacific hurricane season continues this week with a new storm forming off Mexico, heading west, and another storm system closer to Hawaii with the potential to grow into a tropical cyclone, forecasters said Wednesday.
The National Hurricane Center said Wednesday morning that Tropical Storm Karina, 400 miles south of Baja California, should grow into a hurricane by Friday as it heads west. The storm's five-day track has it remaining at hurricane strength early next week as it heads closer to the Central Pacific. It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph as of Wednesday morning.
Closer to the Central Pacific, the National Hurricane Center also issued an advisory Wednesday on a weather system about 1,300 miles east-southeast of the Big Island, which forecasters say has a 70 percent chance of forming into a tropical cyclone within the next five days.
"Shower and thunderstorm activity has also become a little better organized, and environmental conditions are expected to become more conducive for development over the next several days when the system enters the Central Pacific Hurricane Center's area of responsibility," the advisory said.
Former Red Light Camera CEO Indicted, Federal Probe Expands
The ex-CEO of Redflex Traffic Systems and the former head of Chicago's red light camera program were indicted today on conspiracy charges in an expansion of the federal investigation into an alleged $2 million bribery scheme..
Prosecutors accused the former CEO, Karen Finley, of agreeing to enrich former city manager John Bills in exchange for his help securing the Chicago contract and growing it into the largest red light camera program in the nation. Bills was charged with bribery in a May criminal complaint.
Bills' longtime friend Martin O'Malley, who was hired by Redflex as a Chicago consultant, was also indicted Wednesday on a charge that he served as the bagman for some $2 million in Redflex payments, much of it intended for Bills.
Prosecutors have alleged that Bills, the former transportation official who managed the Redflex red light contract until 2011, coached Redflex officials in a series of clandestine meetings and helped arrange their selection. In return, they allege, Bills received hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash spent on a vacation home, a boat and a Mercedes convertible, along with dozens of trips and a condominium near the company's Arizona headquarters.
The Tribune reported earlier this year that federal authorities are working with the cooperation of fired Redflex Executive Vice President Aaron Rosenberg, who acknowledged he was cooperating with authorities in a civil defamation lawsuit against the company. Rosenberg accused Redflex of doling out bribes and gifts at "dozens of municipalities" in 14 states and said he was made a "scapegoat" to cover up the long-standing practice after the Tribune began asking questions about the Chicago contract.
Invader Batters Rural America, Shrugging Off Herbicides
The Terminator — that relentless, seemingly indestructible villain of the 1980s action movie — is back. And he is living amid the soybeans at Harper Brothers Farms.
About 100 miles northwest of Indianapolis, amid 8,000 lush acres farmed by Dave Harper, his brother Mike and their sons, the Arnold Schwarzenegger of weeds refuses to die. Three growing seasons after surfacing in a single field, it is a daily presence in a quarter of the Harper spread and has a foothold in a third more. Its oval leaves and spindly seed heads blanket roadsides and jut above orderly soybean rows like skyscrapers poking through cloud banks. It shrugs off extreme drought and heat. At up to six inches in diameter, its stalk is thick enough to damage farm equipment.
Botanists call the weed palmer amaranth. But perhaps the most fitting, if less known, name is carelessweed. In barely a decade, it has devastated Southern cotton farms and is poised to wreak havoc in the Midwest — all because farmers got careless.
After Monsanto began selling crops genetically engineered to resist glyphosate in the 1990s, the herbicide’s use soared. Farmers who once juggled an array of herbicides — what killed weeds in a cotton field might kill cornstalks in a cornfield — suddenly had a single herbicide that could be applied to almost all major crops without harming them.
There were even environmental benefits: Farmers relied less on other, more dangerous weed killers. And they abandoned techniques like tilling that discouraged weed growth, but hastened erosion and moisture loss. But constantly dousing crops in glyphosate exacted a price. Weeds with glyphosate-resisting genetic mutations appeared faster and more often — 16 types of weed so far in the United States. A 2012 survey concluded that glyphosate-resistant weeds had infested enough acreage of American farmland to cover a plot nearly as big as Oregon, and that the total infestation had grown 51 percent in one year. Glyphosate-resistant palmers first surfaced in 2005, in a field in Macon County, Ga. Nine years later, they are in at least 24 states.“There’s no substantive argument about whether the problem’s gotten far worse in this era of genetically resistant crops,” said Charles Benbrook, a professor and pesticide expert at Washington State University. “The advent of herbicide-tolerant crops made it possible for farmers to load up so much herbicide on one crop that it was inevitable that it would develop resistance.”nyt
Science and Technology
Meet MonsterMind, the NSA Bot That Could Wage Cyberwar Autonomously
Edward Snowden has made us painfully aware of the government’s sweeping surveillance programs over the last year. But a new program, currently being developed at the NSA, suggests that surveillance may fuel the government’s cyber defense capabilities, too.
The NSA whistleblower says the agency is developing a cyber defense system that would instantly and autonomously neutralize foreign cyberattacks against the US, and could be used to launch retaliatory strikes as well. The program, called MonsterMind, raises fresh concerns about privacy and the government’s policies around offensive digital attacks.
Although details of the program are scant, Snowden tells WIRED in an extensive interview with James Bamford that algorithms would scour massive repositories of metadata and analyze it to differentiate normal network traffic from anomalous or malicious traffic. Armed with this knowledge, the NSA could instantly and autonomously identify, and block, a foreign threat.
“An individual record of an individual flow only tells you so much, but more revealing might be patterns of flows that are indicative of an attack,” [Cryptographer Matt Blaze, an associate professor of computer science at the University of Pennsylvania] says. “If you have hundreds or thousand of flows starting up from a particular place and targeted to a particular machine, this might indicate you’re under attack. That’s how intrusion detection and anomaly-detection systems generally work. If you have intelligence about the attack tools of your adversary, you may be able to match specific patterns to specific tools that are being used to attack.”
Think of it as a digital version of the Star Wars initiative President Reagan proposed in the 1980s, which in theory would have shot down any incoming nuclear missiles. In the same way, MonsterMind could identify a distributed denial of service attack lobbed against US banking systems or a malicious worm sent to cripple airline and railway systems and stop—that is, defuse or kill— it before it did any harm.
'Street View' Goes Undersea To Map Reefs, Wonders
It's easy to go online and get a 360-degree, ground-level view of almost any street in the United States and throughout the world. Soon, scientists hope people will be able to do the same with coral reefs and other underwater wonders.
U.S. government scientists are learning to use specialized fisheye lenses underwater in the Florida Keys this week in hopes of applying "street view" mapping to research and management plans in marine sanctuaries nationwide. Some of the rotating and panoramic images will be available online this week, including a selection on Google Maps, giving the public a window into ecosystems still difficult and costly to explore for long stretches of time.
About 400,000 images have been produced so far of reefs off Australia and in the Caribbean, but this is the first time the technology is being used in U.S. waters.
In images previewed Monday by project director Richard Vevers, endangered elkhorn coral, bleached fields of dead coral and coral nurseries suspended like hanging plants in the Keys' blue waters were in sharp focus as they rotated on screen.
In an hour-long dive, each camera can capture images over an area up to 20 times larger than what's available with traditional underwater photography equipment, Vevers said. The technology also records GPS data and quickly stitches the images together into panoramic views or 360-degree views.
Antarctic Midge's Genome Is Smallest In Insects To Date:
Bare-Bones Genome Is Adaptation To Deep Freeze
Scientists who sequenced the genome of the Antarctic midge suspect the genome's small size -- the smallest in insects described to date -- can probably be explained by the midge's adaptation to its extreme living environment.
Its genome contains only 99 million base pairs of nucleotides, making it smaller than other tiny reported genomes for the body louse (105 million base pairs) and the winged parasite Strepsiptera (108 million base pairs), as well as the genomes of three other members of the midge family.
The midge genome lacks many of the segments of DNA and other repeat elements that don't make proteins, which are found in most animal genomes. The lack of such "baggage" in the genome could be an evolutionary answer to surviving the cold, dry conditions of Antarctica, said senior author David Denlinger, Distinguished Professor of entomology and of evolution, ecology and organismal biology at The Ohio State University.
"It has really taken the genome down to the bare bones and stripped it to a smaller size than was previously thought possible," Denlinger said. "It will be interesting to know if other extremophiles -- ticks, mites and other organisms that live in Antarctica -- also have really small genomes, or if this is unique to the midge. We don't know that yet."
Once called "junk DNA," these DNA segments and repeat elements in genomes are now known to have important functions related to gene regulation. They also are implicated in many disease processes. So could a bare-bones genome be the secret to midge survival?
Well, that's different...
The robber of a Chase Bank in Tucson, Arizona, in March is still on the loose even though surveillance video has been widely distributed. An additional detail from the video: The man pulled the holdup while carrying a small dog in a basket.
Bill Moyers and Company:
Facing Evil With Maya Angelou
In this second of two programs celebrating the life and work of the late Maya Angelou, Bill Moyers revisits a 1988 documentary in which he and Angelou attended a conference on “Facing Evil,” held in the Hill Country of central Texas.
Watch the first program:
Going Home With Maya Angelou.
Revisit an episode from over 30 years ago, in which Bill joined the legendary writer
on her return to the small town where she grew up.