Special thanks go to Magnifico for starting this venerable series.
Lead Off Story
Israel Pushes Ahead With Deadly Airstrikes, As Gaza Fires More Rockets
Israel’s military incursion in the Gaza Strip showed no signs of abating on Wednesday, with a slew of fresh military strikes killing at least 22 people in an open-ended operation that is said to be in response to Palestinian rocket fire from the Hamas-controlled territory.
Since the airstrikes began Tuesday, the Israeli army says it has attacked more than 400 sites in Operation Protective Edge. At least 68 Palestinians have been killed, including several children, since the assault began, and 450 others have been injured in more than 550 Israeli strikes, Palestinian news website Maan reported.
During Israel’s operation, more than 225 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza, some reaching as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, which caused several minor injuries.
The Israeli military confirmed that an anti-aircraft missile had been fired at an Israeli jet since the operation began, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. Meanwhile, sirens rang out across Israel for a second day Wednesday, with some rockets intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, with others reportedly hitting Jerusalem, Beersheva, Ashdod and Ashkelon. No injuries have been reported on Wednesday. All gatherings of more than 300 people have been forbidden in Israel.
"The operation against Hamas will expand in the coming days, and the price the organization will pay will be very high,” said Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.
NSA Experts: 'National Security Has Become A State Religion'
For more than a year now, the world has closely followed revelations disclosed by former American intelligence worker Edward Snowden. The documents from the whistleblower's archive have fueled an at times fierce debate over the sense and legality of the National Security Agency's (NSA) sheer greed for data.
In its current issue, SPIEGEL conducted two interviews it hopes will contribute to the debate. The first is with two major critics of the NSA's work -- human rights activist and lawyer Jesselyn Radack, who represents Snowden, and former spy Thomas Drake. The second interview is with John Podesta, a special advisor to United States President Barack Obama.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
SPIEGEL: Germany's federal prosecutor has opened a formal inquiry into the surveillance of Angela Merkel's mobile phone, but he did not open an investigation into the mass surveillance of German citizens, saying that there was no evidence to do so. Mr. Drake, as a former NSA employee, what's your take on this?
Drake: It stretches the bounds of incredulity. Germany has become, after 9/11, the most important surveillance platform for the NSA abroad. The only German citizen granted protection by a statement by Barack Obama is Angela Merkel. All other Germans are obviously treated as suspects by the NSA.
SPIEGEL: Ms. Radack, do you have an explanation for the German federal prosecutor's position?
Radack: Of course. They don't want to find out the truth. Either they're complicit to some extent or they don't really care to investigate.
SPIEGEL: The federal prosecutor says that he has no chance of obtaining any evidence because everything is classified and that he doesn't expect the Americans to cooperate anyway.
Radack: As a government, you have the power to make people testify, to interview people, to call them in front of a grand jury or the equivalent. I think you should at least try to subpoena them, and if they ignore the subpoena, they don't get to have their little family vacation in Europe, because they would be on a wanted list.
Typhoon Neoguri Heads For Kyushu, Death Toll Hits Four
Extreme winds and torrential rains battered the Okinawan islands and other parts of Japan on Wednesday, leaving at least four dead and threatening widespread flooding as typhoon Neoguri headed for Kyushu.
The effects of the powerful storm were widespread, and included a mudslide in Nagano Prefecture on Wednesday evening that left one person dead. As far away as Fukushima Prefecture, the typhoon was being blamed for the death of an 83-year old man whose body was found in a flooded river.
In Kyushu, a total of four people were injured, including a 77-year-old woman in Oita Prefecture who fell during the strong winds.
Typhoon Neoguri, classified as a super typhoon as it bore down on Okinawa this week, had winds gusting up to 162 kph (100 mph) on Wednesday, but weather forecasters said the major concern now was rain, especially as parts of Kyushu island were already waterlogged from heavy rain over the last week.
It may then travel across the main island of Honshu, which includes the major cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.
Afghan Taliban Bans Polio Vaccination Teams From Southern Helmand
The Taliban has banned polio vaccination teams from southern Helmand because it suspects them of spying for the government at a time of heavy clashes with government forces, the insurgent group said in a statement on its website.
The announcement is a worrying development, because although Taliban groups across the border in Pakistan have attacked and killed polio vaccinators for years, their Afghan counterparts have mostly supported, or at least tolerated, international efforts to wipe out the disease.
The last time polio vaccinators were blocked from part of Afghanistan, the insurgent group denied any role and said it supported efforts to stop the disease.
Afghanistan is one of just three countries, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic. There has been a rise in cases this year, with seven reported so far compared with just three for the same period of 2013, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
The group said Helmand has been off limits to vaccinators since February, but did not give a reason. The southern province has seen fierce fighting between insurgent and government forces in recent weeks, and the Taliban's statement was the first indication it had chased out polio eradication teams.
Perry And Obama Go One-On-One - In The Air
President Barack Obama and Texas Gov. Rick Perry had Perry's long-sought one-on-one meeting about border security and the immigration crisis shortly after the president landed in Dallas for a brief fundraising stop Wednesday afternoon.
The pair met on Marine One, the presidential helicopter, as Obama was en route from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Love Field, where both men attended a closed-door meeting on the humanitarian border crisis with Dallas officials including Mayor Mike Rawlings, County Judge Clay Jenkins, County Commissioner Elba Garcia and U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas.
Obama was to make a statement on the border issues after the meeting with officials was complete.
For at least four years, Perry has sought a face-to-face meeting with Obama on the border issues that Texas faces, most recently involving a flood of undocumented minors - more than 50,000 since last fall, most of them from Central America and El Salvador – who have crossed the Mexican border into the United States and are straining the federal and state resources needed to address the influx.
N.S.A. Records Detail Surveillance Of American Muslim Leaders
A new report based on documents provided by Edward J. Snowden has identified five American Muslims, including the leader of a civil-rights group, as having been subjected to surveillance by the National Security Agency.
The disclosure of what were described as specific domestic surveillance targets by The Intercept, published by First Look, was a rare glimpse into some of the most closely held secrets by counterespionage and terrorism investigators. The article raised questions about the basis for the domestic spying, even as it was condemned by the government as irresponsible and damaging to national security.
Dr. Hooshang Amirahmadi in 2013. Credit Julio Cortez/Associated Press
Among those identified by First Look as having been subjected to surveillance were Hooshang Amirahmadi, a Rutgers University professor who is the president of the American Iranian Council, a public policy group that works on diplomatic issues regarding relations with Iran, and Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations or C.A.I.R., a Muslim civil rights organization.
Also named were Asim Ghafoor, a defense lawyer who has handled terrorism-related cases; Faisal Gill, a former Department of Homeland Security lawyer who First Look said later did some legal work with Mr. Ghafoor on behalf of Sudan in a lawsuit brought by victims of terrorist attacks; and Agha Saeed, the national chairman of the American Muslim Alliance, which supports Muslim political candidates.
In its report, First Look said that the documents did not say what the suspicions or the evidence was against the men that justified the surveillance, acknowledging that “it is impossible to know why their emails were monitored, or the extent of the surveillance.”
Ray Nagin Sentenced To 10 Years In Prison For Public Corruption
Former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was sentenced on Wednesday to 10 years in federal prison.
Nagin, 58, the two-term mayor who was the face of the city during Hurricane Katrina, joins a list of Louisiana elected officials convicted of misdeeds. He is New Orleans' first mayor to be convicted and sent to prison for public corruption.
Nagin is set to report to prison on Sept. 8. He could serve his term at a minimum security federal detention center in Oakdale, a city in central Louisiana.
U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan handed down the sentence in a packed courtroom five months after a jury convicted Nagin on 20 of 21 counts of bribery, wire fraud, tax evasion and other charges. She said the seriousness of his crimes could not be overstated, but said he was not the leader of a conspiracy and she felt it just to sentence him below the range called for in federal sentencing guidelines.
Science and Technology
Where Does Oceanic Methane Come From? The Seas' Most Abundant Organism
Ah, the oxygen-rich surface of the ocean, where the air and water meet, and life flourishes. But you might not know that these waters are also supersaturated with methane relative to the atmosphere, a phenomenon termed the "marine methane paradox." The question being: Where does this methane come from? The answer matters because this methane eventually makes its way into the atmosphere, where it readily traps heat, giving it a 20-fold greater impact on climate change than carbon dioxide, pound for pound.
It was previously thought that methane could only be produced by bacteria in anaerobic, or oxygen-devoid environments. So what's going on here?
It turns out the culprit may have been hiding in plain sight all along, so to speak. New research suggest much of the methane is produced by the most abundant organism in the ocean, a group of very simple and tiny bacteria called SAR11. Usually these bacteria don't produce methane, but the study, published in Nature Communications, shows that they can produce the gas as a byproduct of their natural metabolism when they are starved for phosphorus.
The microbes make the methane from a substance called methylphosphonic acid, which is in turn excreted by another type of Archaebacteria. This acid contains phosphorus, and when the element becomes scarce (as it does in various parts of the ocean, often on a seasonal basis, for a variety of reasons) the SAR11 microbes digest the acid, releasing methane. The exact amount of methane produced this way is unknown. In terms of remediation, for now it makes more sense to address human-associated sources of methane, like mining, fracking, and cattle.
“Their ability to [produce] methane is an interesting finding because it provides a partial explanation for why methane is so abundant in the high-oxygen waters of the mid-ocean regions,” said study co-author and Oregon State University microbiologist Steve Giovannoni, in a statement. “Just how much they contribute to the methane budget still needs to be determined.” But the results could help fill in scientists' understanding of the carbon cycle, which could possibly help create more accurate climate models.
Yet Another Reason To Hate Ticks
Is there anything redeeming about a tick? These small arachnids — of which there are 850 members in three families in the order Parasitiformes — latch onto the skin of a pet, human or other animal and suck their blood. This classifies them as ectoparasites — a parasite that lives on the outside of a host.
We find ticks to be scary not simply due to their blood-sucking ways but because some ticks transmit diseases. People in the United States, for example, risk contracting illnesses such as Lyme disease, Colorado tick fever and the recently discovered Heartland disease. Outside the United States, there are plenty of other tickborne diseases. And pets and other domesticated animals are also at risk.
But it seems we may be missing another reason to fear ticks. In addition to being blood-sucking disease carriers, they’re also venomous, Alejandro Cabezas-Cruz of the University of Lille Nord de France and James J. Valdés of the Biology Centre of the Academy of the Czech Republic in České Budějovice argue July 1 in Frontiers in Zoology.
“Ticks are rarely considered as venomous animals,” Cabezas-Cruz and Valdés note. (A venomous animal is one that is capable of administering a poison through a bite or sting.) But there are plenty of reasons to classify ticks this way. To begin with, tick saliva is known to cause paralysis. Such an outcome from a tick bite is thankfully rare, and that might be one reason why ticks haven’t generally been considered venomous. But about 8 percent of tick species can cause paralysis with a bite.
Paralysis is just the beginning, though. Tick bites have been known to cause other symptoms, including pain, fever, inflammation, itching and blisters.
In classifying tick saliva as venom, Cabezas-Cruz and Valdés observed that the saliva not only had lethal toxins but also proteins similar to those found in the saliva of other venomous animals, including bees, spiders, scorpions and snakes. And, the scientists say, tick saliva is far more similar to that of venomous animals than to that of humans and other non-venomous creatures.
Study Cracks How Brain Processes Emotions
Although feelings are personal and subjective, the human brain turns them into a standard code that objectively represents emotions across different senses, situations and even people, reports a new study by Cornell University neuroscientist Adam Anderson.
“We discovered that fine-grained patterns of neural activity within the orbitofrontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with emotional processing, act as a neural code which captures an individual’s subjective feeling,” says Anderson, associate professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and senior author of the study. “Population coding of affect across stimuli, modalities and individuals,” published online in Nature Neuroscience.
Their findings provide insight into how the brain represents our innermost feelings – what Anderson calls the last frontier of neuroscience – and upend the long-held view that emotion is represented in the brain simply by activation in specialized regions for positive or negative feelings, he says.
“If you and I derive similar pleasure from sipping a fine wine or watching the sun set, our results suggest it is because we share similar fine-grained patterns of activity in the orbitofrontal cortex,” Anderson says.
“It appears that the human brain generates a special code for the entire valence spectrum of pleasant-to-unpleasant, good-to-bad feelings, which can be read like a ‘neural valence meter’ in which the leaning of a population of neurons in one direction equals positive feeling and the leaning in the other direction equals negative feeling,” Anderson explains.
Well, that's different...
Least Competent Criminals
Notorious San Diego tagger Francisco Canseco, 18, was present in a downtown courtroom in June for a hearing on 31 misdemeanor paint-vandalism charges and apparently could not contain his boredom. While waiting (as officials discovered only the next day), Canseco managed to tag numerous chairs in the courtroom, along with benches in the hallway. (Vandalism of a courthouse is a felony.)
Bill Moyers and Company:
Grass Roots Grow Against Greed
Jim Hightower is the guest: Organized people versus organized money.