Tag Archives: United States

Visualizing Just How Fast People’s Names Are Being Added to the Terrorist Watch List

Lung cancer is the most common and most deadly form of cancer, accounting for 27% of all cases. This year, an estimated 224,210 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer.

Almost all of us can probably think of a family member or friend who has been affected by the disease in some way.

Keep that in mind when you read this next stat: last year, the U.S. government added 468,749 to the terrorist watch list. That’s more than double the number of people who will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year.

He has a hyper-speed sleigh powered by reindeer which are clearly genetically altered and he is able to go down every chimney in the world in one night. Definitely going on the watch list

Here’s another way to think about it. Last year, the most sold car in the U.S. was the F-150, selling 521,515 units.

Imagine 9 out of every 10 people who bought a new F-150 last year was put onto the terrorist watch list and you get an idea of just how quickly names are being added.

On average, more than 1,284 names were added to the watch list every day last year. And that number has only been rising in the past couple of years. In 2009, 227,932 names were added to the database. In fiscal 2010 it was 250,847. In 2012, it was 336,712.

In the past five years, more than 1.5 million names have been added to the list. To be added to the list, authorities must have, “a reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or a suspected terrorist.”

Some of the United States’ most wanted terrorists

About 99% of the names submitted to the list are accepted, prompting many to criticize the system for being extremely loose with its classifications.

The figures were revealed in a hearing in Virginia on Friday involving a case from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which challenges the Constitutionality of the no-fly list.

Gadeir Abbas is a lawyer for the CAIR. Following the hearing, he said,

“There aren’t 1 million people who are known or suspected terrorists. This suggests the standard the government is applying is wildly loose.”

In their defense, counterterrorism officials pointed out that names are regularly removed from the list as well. As of August 2013, there were about 700,000 names on the list.

Read the full story from Yahoo here.

True/False: The Last Time A President Signed Executive Orders Less Often Than Obama Was in the 1800s

In recent months, right-wing media outlets have been pushing the narrative of Obama as a dictator who simply signs an executive order whenever he can’t get Congress to do what he wants.

I disagree with plenty of Obama’s politics, but I decided to look into the numbers for myself. Here’s what I found, courtesy of The American Presidency Project at the University of California- Santa Barbara:

executive orders

The first column of numbers shows total executive orders. As of now, Obama is at 182. Since 1900, only two presidents, Gerald Ford (169) and George Bush senior (166) have signed less total executive orders. However, both of them only served one term.

The second column of numbers shows average executive orders signed per year. Obama is currently at 33.58 orders per year.

That’s lower than both Bush Sr. (31.5) and Gerald Ford (68.92). Both were conservatives who advocated small-government.

In fact, it’s lower than any president since Grover Cleveland was in the White House from 1885-1889. He averaged 28.25 executive per order during that time (he averaged 35 during his second term from 1893-1897).

If you want to attack Obama’s executive orders, attack their content, not their numbers. You can check them out on whitehouse.gov here.

NOTE: A number of websites seeking to take advantage of the executive order myth (like Western Journalism and Four Winds 10) have posted lists of Obama’s worst executive orders.

The problem is, the orders they list are from 10990-11921. That means they were signed by John F. Kennedy during the Cold War.

Obama’s first order was #13489. While some people claimed this order was essentially a sealing of his records (so nobody could check his birth certificate), it was pretty much the opposite.

It rescinded executive order 13233 (signed by George W. Bush) which let former presidents and even their family members declare “executive privilege” to block public access to White House records for pretty much any reason.

How These All-Female Lizards Are Able to Reproduce and Thrive Without the Help of Any Males

As far back as the 1960s, scientists were aware that a number of whiptail lizards in Mexico and the southwestern United States were made up entirely of females.

The most notable of these species, the New Mexico whiptail lizard, is able to reproduce healthy, well-bred offspring without the aid of male fertilization.

Whiptails aren’t the only species that reproduce asexually. In fact, there are 70 other vertebrate species that can do it. But the New Mexico whiptail may have unlocked the secret as to how it’s possible for a species that produces exclusively asexually to thrive.

Komodo dragons are among the vertebrate species that are able to reproduce asexually

Peter Baumann works at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri. He co-authored a study on the lizards that was published in the journal Nature back in 2010.

Baumann explains that parthenogenteic species (species that reproduce without fertilization), are genetically isolated because they only inherit the DNA of one parent.

This means that any genetic weaknesses, like susceptibility to a disease or physical mutation, can’t be “overridden” by healthy genes from a second parent. The shallower the gene pool, the more likely it is to produce sick or mutated offspring.

To deal with this issue, the all-female whiptail lizard species have evolved to start the reproductive process with twice as many chromosomes as their sexually-producing lizard relatives.

New Mexico whiptail lizards were actually the result of two different species of lizard (the western whiptail and little striped whiptail) interbreeding to form a hybrid species. Because of this, these all-female lizards are equipped with a very diverse gene pool.

Left: little striped whiptail. Middle: New Mexico whiptail. Right: tiger whiptail. Click to enlarge

Instead of combining homologous chromosomes (like sexual species do, getting one set from each parent), the lizards pair recombined sister chromosomes instead. This maintains heterozygosity in the offspring.

Here’s a more simple way to think about it. Every one one us has DNA from generations and generations of our ancestors. When we reproduce, we combine our DNA with our partner’s- the resulting offspring’s genetic codes contains parts of both parents’ DNA.

But since we have such vast genetic diversity from all of our ancestors, the exact coding of the genes we pass along when we reproduce isn’t always the same, which is why brothers and sisters don’t all look the same.

A basic way to visualize how genetic information is passed on in sexual reproduction. Note that the “marbles” passed on by each individual parent are different for the two children. Click to enlarge

So, rather than combining its genetic code with that of a male, the whiptail lizard combines two different versions of its own DNA code, ensuring that each pairing of sister chromosomes will have multiple alleles (different forms of a gene), which gives the offspring the genetic diversity it needs to be healthy.

This discovery means that,

“these lizards have a way of distinguishing sister from homologous chromosomes,”

says Baumann. How do they do this? The researchers aren’t sure yet, but it’s the next question they will be investigating, along with the question of how they evolved to start reproduction with double the normal amount of chromosomes.

Female whiptail lizards perform courtship rituals with one another to stimulate ovulation. The top lizard will lay smaller eggs while the one on the bottom will lay larger eggs. They switch spots every mating season. Click to enlarge

Though it may seem like asexual reproduction would eventually hurt a species in the long run, Baumann also pointed that,

“You’re greatly increasing the chances of populating a new habitat if it only takes one individual.”

It seems to be working pretty well for these lizard ladies.

Read the original story from the Scientific American here.

The Quickest Possible Explanation of the Current Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

For all of the coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it’s come to my attention that very few people actually understand what’s going on there.

This is by no means a complete history- it’s “the quickest possible explanation”. So if you think I’m missing an important piece of information, please don’t attack me, just add it to the comments section at the bottom! 

It all started after World War II.

With millions of Jews being displaced during the Holocaust, the United Nations was looking for a good place to establish a Jewish state.

At the time, Palestine was actually a British colony, and the UN figured that Palestine (which included Jerusalem, the center of the Jewish faith) was the best place to establish the new Jewish state of Israel.

So, in late November, 1947, the UN passed Resolution 181, which divided the Palestinian territory into Jewish and Arab states.

Israeli politician Eliahu Elath presents President Harry Truman with a ceremonial ark after Truman recognized Israeli statehood in 1948

The Palestinian Arabs who were living there at the time refused to recognize the agreement. They had been told (by the United States) that no decisions would be made without consulting them. They also felt that the agreement was too favorable to the Jews, at the expense of the local Palestinians.

So, as soon as the resolution was passed, fighting began, with Arab forces attacking Israeli territories that had formerly been part of Palestine before UN Resolution 181.

The fighting intensified when Israel declared independence a year later. The Arab-Israeli of 1948 ultimately displaced hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs.

The fighting has pretty much been on and off since then. Israel, better funded and better equipped, has slowly been shrinking the Palestinian territory through settlement programs, which urge Israeli citizens to go settle in Palestinian territory, making it harder for Palestine to legitimize a claim on those areas.

Click to enlarge

In John Kerry’s first year as Secretary of State, he took a total of 14 trips to the region in an effort to broker a peace settlement. While he was unable to broker a deal, the talks did succeed in stopping the violence for a while.

But recently it started back up, as tensions over three Israeli teens kidnapped and murdered in Gaza sparked a heavy-handed response from Israel, who sent in military troops to scour Gaza for the perpetrators (killing five Palestinians in the process).

It’s important at this point to understand the Palestinian political scene.

The remaining Palestinian territory is made up of the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

A map of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Click to enlarge

The Palestinians in the West Bank (which make up the bulk of the Palestinian population) are led by Mahmoud Abbas, who is actually quite moderate and has been very much in favor of trying to broker peace deals with Israel in recent times. Just this past Monday he wrote this op-ed piece explaining his vision of a peaceful relationship between Palestine and Israel.

The problem is Hamas, a militant Islamist group founded in 1988 with the sole purpose of destroying Israel and replacing it with a Palestinian state.

Militant groups like Hamas know that their power is rooted in the fear and anger of the people, so they do everything they can to keep Palestinians scared and mad. How? Launch a few missiles at Israel to provoke a response.

Hamas doesn’t want a peaceful settlement between Israel and Palestine because it will mean the loss of most (if not all) of Hamas’s power.

Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip

Hamas needs people to hate Israel, so they launch just enough rockets to get Israel to start air-raids which are disproportionately more deadly than the rockets fired from Gaza. There are even reports of Hamas encouraging people to go out onto their rooftops during Israeli strikes so as to increase the civilian death toll.

However, many media outlets are misrepresenting the conflict, making it seem like Palestine is raining down rockets on Israeli civilians while Israel is responding by carrying out precise and strategic targeted air raids.

Israel has an extremely advanced missile dome system to shoot down rockets, and almost all of the buildings there were built to withstand these kinds of attacks. Since the conflict ramped back up, there hasn’t been a single casualty on the Israeli side.

Click to enlarge

Palestine, on the other hand, is ill-equipped to do anything about Israeli air-raids. To make matters worse, Palestinian territories are extremely densely populated, meaning lots of collateral damage when Israel bombs a target. Air raids have killed 89 Palestinians and injured another 600+ so far since the fighting resumed.

Let’s be real here: both Israel and Hamas want conflict. For Israel, the ultimate goal is to eventually take over all of the remaining Palestinian territory and make it part of Israel.

Hamas rockets allow Israel to justify air strikes which inflict serious damage to the remaining Palestinian territories. They also allow Israel to justify their refusal to stop creating new settlements in Palestine.

On the other hand, Hamas would cease to be relevant if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ended, so they do everything they can to provoke harsh military responses from Israel. The more innocent Palestinians get killed during Israel’s air strikes, the easier it is for Hamas to recruit angry young men to their cause and garner support from Arabs in the region.

The only people really losing are the average, moderate Palestinians who are simply trying to make it in one of the world’s poorest and most violent regions.

History courtesy of the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian.

Most other un-cited information came from interviews from a recent episode of NPR’s On Point with Tom Ashbrook about the resurgence in the conflict. You can listen to that interview in its entirety here.

Fatal Drug Overdoses Have Tripled In Russia Since 2012, Reaching 100,000 Per Year

Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service announced some chilling statistics on Russian drug use this past Monday.

The most frightening data was on the number of fatal drug overdoses per year in the country. Last year, that number climbed over 100,000, making it nearly three times higher than it was in 2012.

The Service also announced that of the 108,700 people convicted of drug-related crimes last year, 66% were between the ages of 19-29, and another 2% were minors.

Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service

Russia has the highest population of injecting drug users (IDUs) in the world at 1.8 million. A third of these IDUs are HIV positive and a whopping 90% have Hepatitis C.

To make the problem worse, Russia’s drug treatment programs are woefully inadequate. Many people open businesses masquerading as treatment center while using arcane “treatments” like flogging, starvation, and electric shock among others.

Russia’s Federal Drug Control Service has also admitted that more than 90% of Russians who check into a treatment center are using drugs again within a year.

A large portion of the intravenous drug users are addicted to heroin or other opioids. These drugs are derived from the poppy plant.

One factor that has contributed to the increasing use of these drugs is an increase in poppy production in Afghanistan.

Poppy production in Afghanistan. Click to enlarge

Cultivating poppies that can be processed into opium or heroin has been a lucrative business in Afghanistan since the 90s. But when the Taliban took power in 2001, the militant group outlawed the growing of poppies, reducing production to almost zero.

Since the U.S. invasion however, there has been a rapid resurgence of opium production in Afghanistan. Last year saw the highest poppy production in Afghanistan in the past 20 years. The level of production was nearly 3 times higher than the average levels before the Taliban’s time in power.

This flood of poppies means cheaper prices for opium and heroin manufacturers and consequently cheaper prices for users, not to speak of the increase in availability.

About a quarter of the heroin manufactured in Afghanistan in 2010 ended up in Russia, and that percentage has only been rising in the past 3 years.

Click to enlarge

Though many people, like Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia’s Drug Control Service, like to blame U.S. involvement in Afghanistan for Russia’s drug problems, this simply isn’t the full story.

Heroin use has actually been on the rise in Russia since the early 90s, when the fall of the Soviet Union left high levels of unemployment and poverty across the country.

In the decade between 1994 and 2004, the total number of drug users in Russia rose an astounding 900%. The war in Afghanistan and the subsequent boom in the poppy supply has only poured gasoline on a problem that was already burning out of control.

Read the original story from RBTH here. Read more about drug abuse in Russia from DrugWarFacts.org here.

Did You Know… That the U.S. Almost Dropped A Nuke on the Moon During the Cold War?

After the end of World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany, two major global powers emerged: Russia in the east, and the United States (along with its NATO allies) in the west.

More than anything, the Cold War was an arms race. Both sides had built up their nuclear arsenals during the war, and both were fearful of having less firepower than the other. Many people thought that an all-out nuclear war was imminent.

During this period, the U.S. military came up with the idea of dropping a nuclear bomb on the moon as a show of force.

Leonard Reiffel was the physicist who headed the project at the U.S. military-backed Armour Research Foundation in the late 1950s.

Leonard Reiffel, who is now 86 years old

In 2000, he sat down for an interview with The Observer to tell the story:

“It was clear the main aim of the proposed detonation was a PR exercise and a show of one-upmanship. The Air Force wanted a mushroom cloud so large it would be visible on earth…

The explosion would obviously be best on the dark side of the moon and the theory was that if the bomb exploded on the edge of the moon, the mushroom cloud would be illuminated by the sun.”

Reiffel also pointed out that a big influence on the idea was the fact that we were lagging behind in the “Space Race”.

In July of 1955, during the height of the Cold War, the United States announced that it would be launching satellites into space. Not to be outdone, Russia announced their own satellite project four days later. The U.S. lost that leg of the race when Russia launched Sputnik in October of 1957.

The front page of The New York Times on the day Sputnik was launched (October 4, 1957)

Reiffel voiced his concerns as a scientist about the idea of nuking the moon, but they seemed to fall upon deaf ears:

“I made it clear at the time there would be a huge cost to science of destroying a pristine lunar environment, but the US Air Force were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on earth.”

In 1958, officers from the Air Force had asked Reiffel to ‘fast-track’ a project to investigate what a nuclear explosion on the moon would look like, and what it’s effects would be.

So he hired none other than a young Carl Sagan to do the calculation of how a nuclear mushroom cloud would expand in the low gravity environment on the moon.

Carl Sagan

Sagan, who pioneered for the study of potential life on other planets, would later become famous for popularizing science in mainstream culture with his show “The Cosmos”.

Despite the highly classified nature of the project, it was later revealed to his biographer that Sagan actually discussed parts of the project in his application for the prestigious Miller Institute graduate fellowship at Berkley (he got in, of course).

Either way, top-secret project A119: ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’, never came to fruition. Reiffel ended his story by saying,

“Thankfully, the thinking changed. I am horrified that such a gesture to sway public opinion was ever considered.”

A spokesman from the Pentagon would neither confirm nor deny the reports. Read the full story from the Guardian here.

Watch Astronauts Play Soccer and Do Goal Celebrations in Zero Gravity on the ISS (Video)

The World Cup is in full swing, with billions of people tuning in to watch the games all over the planet. But there are also a couple of guys watching the world’s largest sporting event from space.

To commemorate the start of the tournament, NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman and Steve Swanson joined German astronaut Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency to create this awesome video of them practicing some moves in zero-G.

Then yesterday they released this video of their best goal celebrations:

This is the second World Cup that astronauts have viewed from the International Space Station (they also tuned in for the 2010 Cup). It’s pretty fitting that the astronauts are watching a tournament that brings together countries from all over the world- the ISS itself was built by five different space agencies representing 15 different countries.

The German and American astronauts actually made a bet over yesterday’s game: if the U.S. won, they could draw a U.S. flag on Gerst’s bald head. But if the U.S. lost, both the American’s had to shave their heads. I hope Gerst isn’t rubbing in that German win too much though.

(h/t Space.com)

A 16-Year Old Programmer Just Made a Plugin That Shows Where Politicians Get Their Funding

Nicholas Rubin is a 16-year old self-taught computer programmer from Seattle, Washington. He is also the inventor of Greenhouse, a new browser plugin that let’s you know exactly where politicians get their campaign funding from.

When the plugin is active, the names of House or Senate members on any given webpage are highlighted. All you have to do is hover your mouse over the name of a politician, and a box will pop up showing all the industries and groups that contributed funds to their campaign, as well as how much the politician got from each sector.

What the plugin looks like in action. Click to enlarge

The box also shows you what percentage of their contributions came from small donors (contributions of less than $200), and let’s you know whether or not they are in favor of reforming our relatively seedy campaign finance system.

Here’s the statement that Nicholas released with the plugin:

“It is my hope that providing increased transparency around the amount and source of funding of our elected representatives may play a small role in educating citizens and promoting change. If you use the extension when reading about a Congressional vote on energy policy, for example, maybe you’ll discover that a sponsor of a bill has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry. Or maybe you’ll learn that the top donors to a member of Congress who opposes tort reform are lawyers and law firms. I use data from the last full election cycle (2012) and plan to update it as more relevant data becomes available. Special thanks to OpenSecrets.org for providing access to that data.

The motto of Greenhouse is: “Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.” What it signifies is that the influence of money on our government isn’t a partisan issue. Whether Democrat or Republican, we should all want a political system that is independent of the influence of big money and not dependent on endless cycles of fundraising from special interests. The United States of America was founded to serve individuals, not big interests or big industries. Yet every year we seem to move farther and farther away from our Founders’ vision.”

I must say this is one of the best ideas I have ever seen to combat against the influence of special interest groups on our political system.

For years, politicians have pretended to personally care about issues when, more often than not, the truth is that they were bribed by that industry (through campaign finance) to make decisions that  would help the industry.

I don’t think this will make politicians At the very least, it will make politicians think twice about where they get their contributions from.

You can download the Greenhouse plugin for free here. (NOTE: because of the plugins popularity, Greenhouse’s homepage was down when this story was published, but I’m sure they will have it back up and running soon.)

(h/t Represent.Us)

An Aggressive Jumping Ant With Jaws Like A Bear Trap Is Invading Southeastern U.S.

Meet the trap-jaw ant. This gnarly family of ants has massive mandibles which can open up to 180 degrees. These jaws are coated in tiny, extremely sensitive hairs, which allow the ants to snap their jaws closed faster than their brains can even process the movement (some claim they are the fastest jaws in the world).

The Odontomachus trap-jaw  ant

These formidable ants have another amazing (but rather scary) ability: when threatened, they snap their powerful jaws against the ground, creating a massive amount of force which shoots them upwards like a piece of popcorn.

With painful stingers attached to their abdomens, being surrounded by a bunch of these jumping ants could be a very unpleasant experience.

“They look like little hammerhead sharks walking around,”

said D. Magdalena Sorger, a scientist who has been studying these insects as part of her PhD research at North Carolina State University.

There are four species of trap-jaw ants native to the U.S., but Sorger’s research has focused on a particularly aggressive species of trap-jaw ants that originated in South America.

This invasive species of trap-jaw ant, known as Odontomachus haematodus, has actually been living in the States for around 50 years now, but studies have shown that the ant has been rapidly spreading along the Gulf Coast in recent years.

The invasive trap-jaw ant species Odontomachus haematodus (Courtesy of Alexander Wild)

Why are they only spreading now? Sorger isn’t sure yet, but suggests that they were either building up their numbers before spreading, or that changes in climate have allowed them to inhabit a wider range.

So, should we be worried about a trap-jaw ant takeover? That’s pretty unlikely, according to invasive ant specialist Andrew Suarez. He points out that unlike other invasive ants (like fire ants, for example), these South American trap-jaw ants,

”don’t have colonies with tens to hundreds of thousands of workers that can overwhelm the local fauna.”

He does point out that their sting is particularly painful however, and that some people may be allergic to the venom.

Read the original story from National Geographic here.

Feature image courtesy of Alexander Wild.

Thought We Were Just “Helping” Ukraine? Their New President Has Been On U.S. Payroll Since 2006

Petro Poroshenko is Ukraine’s new president, elected after a popular uprising that overthrew the former president Viktor Yanukovych and his regime.

The uprising was a reaction to Yanukovych’s decision to turn down offers to join the EU in favor of closer economic ties with Russia. The United States, close allies with the EU, enthusiastically supported the overthrow of Yanukovych and the election of Poroshenko, a pro-EU candidate.

Ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych at a news conference in Russia (Photo: AP)

But the more time goes on, the more it seems that the U.S. government may have played a bigger role in the Ukrainian uprising and aftermath than they would have us think.

Classified cables posted to the website wikileaks.org reveal that Poroshenko was on the payroll of the U.S. State Department as early as April of 2006. Poroshenko was one of the leaders of Our Ukraine or OU, a major political party in the country- the wikileaks cables refer to him as the U.S.’s “Our Ukraine insider”.

Another cable, from May 2006, reveals that the U.S. government knew Poroshenko to be corrupt:

“Poroshenko was tainted by credible corruption allegations, but wielded significant influence within OU; Poroshenko’s price had to be paid.”

Some of the most interesting communications between the U.S. and Poroshenko came in 2009, when Poroshenko told then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton that he was very in favor of,

“the opening of a U.S. diplomatic presence in Crimea… He emphasized the importance of Crimea, and said that having U.S. representation there would be useful for Ukraine.”

New Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a press confernce with Hillary Clinton last month (Photo: Reuters)

Crimea, as you know, is the disputed peninsula in the Black Sea which Russia occupied early on during the Ukrainian revolution.

These revelations, though not damning, are certainly suspicious at the very least. It’s very hard to imagine that Poroshenko won the Ukrainian presidency without any help from the U.S. after seeing that he has been providing the U.S. with insider information on Ukraine since 2006.

Some argue that Poroshenko’s work for the U.S. was an act of treason, since it’s extremely likely that some of the information provided by him was used to help oust Yanukovych back in February.

Combine these revelations with that the fact that Hunter Biden, Vice President Joe Biden’s son, was selected to the board of Burisma Holdings (Ukraine’s largest private gas producer) in May, just a month before Poroshenko was inaugurated into office, and things start to get really fishy.

Joe Biden and his son Hunter

Ukraine has Europe’s third-largest natural gas reserves at 42 trillion cubic feet, and the country’s pipelines are a major gas route between eastern and western Europe. It makes sense that the U.S. and the EU would do everything they could to hold onto it.

Click to enlarge

Read the original story from SGC News here.