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TBR News May 18, 2015

May 18 2015


The Voice of the White House

        Washington, D.C. May 18, 2015: “Massive global political upheavals, diminishing food and water supplies and other factors are driving immense legions of Third World inhabitants into seeking refuge in more advanced countries, especially noted being armies of African inhabitants fleeing to Europe. There, they form unassimilated communities, clog the welfare rolls and create growing hostility from the natives of their countries of refuge. There are growing, and strong, anti-immigrant movements in Europe and also the United States, movements that are viewed by the media and its controllers as Naughty-Naughty-No-Nos and shoved under the carpet. The media, utterly worthless as a source of accurate news, shoves other such subjects under their rat-infested carpets of silence but the Internet has become a serious threat to them and it is there that much more accurate information can be found.”



The Computers are ListeningSpeech Recognition is NSA’s Best-Kept Open Secret  Part 2

May 11, 2015

by Dan Froomkin

The Intercept

           Researchers in the field are divided between those who don’t take NSA funding, and can only speculate about what goes on over there — and those who do take NSA funding, but won’t say what they know.

“There’s a lot of weird hush-hush that goes on,” said Bhiksha Raj, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute, who said he does not receive NSA funding. “Academics who work for the NSA must go through various clearances. They sign several papers. They hold closed meetings that are only attended by people with clearances.”

Some non-NSA affiliated academics were once “quite keen” on seeing how the NSA was faring in the face of the technical challenges in the field, Steve Young, a professor of information engineering at the University of Cambridge, recalled. “But unless you actually work for the NSA and you’ve been vetted, you’re not going to get close to the real data.”

Ironically, even GCHQ, NSA’s intelligence partner in the U.K., has complained about DARPA and NSA’s secrecy. A 2009 GCHQ assessment of speech-to-text technology said that “The DARPA evaluation programme, with significant steer from NSA, has been the main driving force behind technology improvements in the field. Unfortunately, the results of the evaluations are not put in the public domain, making reference difficult.”

All the secrecy has an obvious advantage for the NSA. If the NSA can keep their speech-recognition capabilities secret, nobody can tell them what to do. And if nobody knows what they are doing, then nobody can tell them to stop.

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., arguably the foremost congressional critic of NSA overreach, wouldn’t comment directly on the question of speech recognition. But, he said through a spokesperson: “After 14 years on the Intelligence Committee, I’ve learned that senators must be constantly on the lookout for secret interpretations of the law and advances in surveillance that Congress isn’t aware of.”

He added: “For centuries, individual privacy was protected in part by the limited resources of governments. It simply wasn’t possible for governments to secretly collect information on every single citizen without investing in massive networks of spies and informants. But in the 21st century mass surveillance is no longer difficult and expensive — it’s increasingly cheap and easy. The only privacy protections that will matter in the future are the ones that are written into law and defended by public demand for freedom and openness.”

Research on the Snowden archive was conducted by Intercept researcher Andrew Fishman.

Siri can understand what you say. Google can take dictation. Even your new smart TV is taking verbal orders.

So is there any doubt the National Security Agency has the ability to translate spoken words into text?

But precisely when the NSA does it, with which calls, and how often, is a well-guarded secret.

It’s not surprising that the NSA isn’t talking about it. But oddly enough, neither is anyone else: Over the years, there’s been almost no public discussion of the NSA’s use of automated speech recognition.

One minor exception was in 1999, when a young Australian cryptographer named Julian Assange stumbled across an NSA patent that mentioned “machine transcribed speech.”

Assange, who went on to found WikiLeaks, said at the time: “This patent should worry people. Everyone’s overseas phone calls are or may soon be tapped, transcribed and archived in the bowels of an unaccountable foreign spy agency.”

The most comprehensive post-Snowden descriptions of NSA’s surveillance programs are strangely silent when it comes to speech recognition. The report from the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies doesn’t mention it, and neither does the October 2011 FISA Court ruling, or the detailed reports from the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

There is some mention of speech recognition in the “Black Budget” submitted to Congress each year. But there’s no clear sign that anybody on the Hill has ever really noticed.

As The Intercept reported on Tuesday, items from the Snowden archive document the widespread use of automated speech recognition by the NSA.

The strategic advantage, invasive potential and policy implications of being able to turn spoken words into text are not trivial: Suddenly, voice conversations, historically considered ephemeral and unsearchable, can be scanned, catalogued and archived — not perfectly, but well enough to dramatically increase the effective scope of eavesdropping.

Former senior NSA executive turned whistleblower Thomas Drake, who’s seen NSA’s automated speech recognition at work, says the silence is telling.

“You’re seeing a black hole,” Drake told The Intercept. “That means there’s something there that’s really significant. You’re seeing some of the fuzzy contours of this whole other program.”


 Not Technically a Secret

The NSA’s ability to turn voice into text, interestingly enough, is not technically a secret.

And speech recognition technology has been heavily — and openly — funded by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) since the early 1970s.

The latest of DARPA’s many public research projects in that area is the Robust Automatic Transcription of Speech program, known as RATS, which focuses on “noisy or degraded speech signals that are important to military intelligence.”

Meanwhile, DARPA’s intelligence-world counterpart, IARPA, announced the Babel Program in 2011, with its goal of  “developing agile and robust speech recognition technology that can be rapidly applied to any human language in order to provide effective search capability for analysts to efficiently process massive amounts of real-world recorded speech.”

Despite openly announcing its speech-to-text program, IARPA declined an interview request by The Intercept.

Robert Litt, who as general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence is the intelligence community’s chief lawyer, was asked about the NSA’s speech-to-text capabilities at a forum on transparency on Capitol Hill on Friday.

He took the opportunity to lash out at The Intercept’s reporting: “I think that story is a great example of what is wrong with a lot of media coverage of this,” he said. “That story made absolutely no distinction between technical capabilities and legal authorities. There are all sorts of technical capabilities that NSA has. I’m not commenting on the existence or nonexistence of any such authority. The question is when are they used and what are the legal authorities under which they are used. And I think that that’s something that a lot of the press reporting completely ignores, including that story you wrote.”

Asked to explain in what ways the use of speech-to-text is limited, Litt repeatedly refused to even acknowledge its existence.

“I’m not saying that the government isn’t using these techniques. I am not acknowledging that these techniques exist even.”

You won’t hear much about the use of speech recognition for surveillance in academe, either.


‘Robotic carrier pigeons’: US mini-drones can eavesdrop & pick up enemy subs

May 17, 2015


US military researchers have presented a new mini-drone, which can be used on civil missions and in war. The toy-sized “Cicada” is capable of picking up enemy submarines, or eavesdropping on troops.

The “Cicada” or Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft, is a GPS-guided, micro disposable air vehicle that can glide like bird, as scientists explain, after being dropped from any aircraft, balloons, or even a larger drone.

“The idea was why can’t we make UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that have the same sort of profile,” Aaron Kahn, a flight controls engineer, from the Naval Research Laboratory told AFP. “We will put so many out there, it will be impossible for the enemy to pick them all up,” he added.

Despite its relatively tiny size, the drone can fly at about 75kph and is fairly silent, as it has no engine or propulsion system.

“It looks like a bird flying down,” said Daniel Edwards, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory, adding the drone is “very difficult to see.”

The prototype cost only $ 1,000 and the price could even be lower – about $250.

The minuscule device survived its test flight back in 2011 near the city of Yuma, Arizona – from 17,500 meters. The drone managed to land within 3 meters of its target.

The device’s inventors say the miniature drone can be used for many types of mission, from weather forecasting or monitoring traffic to eavesdropping on troops.

“They are robotic carrier pigeons. You tell them where to go, and they will go there,” Edwards said.

“You equip these with a microphone or a seismic detector, drop them on that road, and it will tell you ‘I heard a truck or a car travel along that road.’ You know how fast and which direction they’re traveling,” Kahn added.

The tiny vehicles are surprisingly robust, the researchers say.

“They’ve flown through trees. They’ve hit asphalt runways. They have tumbled in gravel. They’ve had sand in them. They only thing that we found that killed them was desert shrubbery,” Edwards said.

According to the scientists, almost every branch of the US government has become interested in the “Cicada”, including some intelligence agencies.

“Everyone is interested. Everyone!” Edwards said.


CICADA: Close-in Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft


 CICADA is a concept for a low-cost, GPS-guided, micro disposable air vehicle that can be deployed in large numbers to “seed” an area with miniature electronic payloads. These payloads could be interconnected to form an ad-hoc, self-configuring network. Communication nodes, sensors, or effectors can then be placed in a programmable geometric pattern in hostile territory without directly over-flying those regions or exposing human agents on the ground.

           Essentially a flying circuit board, CICADA has an extremely high packing factor and a very low per-unit cost. Eighteen vehicles can be contained in a six-inch cube. The vehicle is inherently stable in glide, with a glide ratio of 3.5.


Scottish Nationalists Rejoice in Big British Election Win

May 8, 2015

by Katrin Bennhold

New York Times

         PAISLEY, Scotland — When the results were in last September and the Scottish National Party lost its bid for Scotland’s independence, a spirited young separatist, Mhairi Black, walked past local officials of the Labour Party who were clapping sarcastically and goading her. “Better luck next time,” they said.

Ms. Black, a 20-year-old politics student, said she briefly considered head-butting them.

Eight months later, she got her revenge. Elected on Thursday as Britain’s youngest member of Parliament in over three centuries, Ms. Black won a once unthinkable victory against Douglas Alexander, one of the most senior Labour politicians, a former cabinet minister and the party’s national campaign strategist.

Her triumph in Paisley, a working-class town — as well as the 27-percentage-point swing in her party’s favor compared with five years ago — was emblematic of the radically changed political map that people in Scotland and Britain woke up to Friday: Scottish nationalists, who held six seats in the last British Parliament, won 56 out of Scotland’s 59 seats. Labour lost 40 of its 41 seats.

Overnight, the Scottish National Party, or S.N.P., ended Labour’s traditional dominance north of the border and emerged as the third-biggest force in Westminster, greatly complicating life for Prime Minister David Cameron as he embarks on a second term.

By Friday morning, Scotland and England looked and felt like different countries, and many wondered whether a breakup of Britain had become inevitable.

Nicola Sturgeon, the popular leader of Scotland’s semiautonomous government and of the S.N.P., has made no secret of her wish for independence. But Ms. Sturgeon, who did not run for a seat in the House of Commons, has also said that even a decisive victory in these elections would not be a mandate for another referendum. Circumstances would have to change, she said.

With Mr. Cameron still in power, they may: He has promised a referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union. If Britain left the union, a more pro-European Scotland would almost certainly make a case to leave Britain.

For many voters here, another bid for independence after Thursday’s elections is now a question of when, not if.

Fifty percent of Scottish voters backed the S.N.P. in the elections, a bigger share than the 45 percent who voted for independence last fall. But that still leaves the other half of the electorate opposed

          “It might take awhile to fall apart, but it’s very difficult to see how the union might be salvaged,” said David Torrance, a Scottish writer and journalist. “In a spiritual sense, it is more or less dead already.”

Many thought that the independence referendum in September would end the debate for a generation. Instead, it electrified politics here. Turnout in Scotland was down from the referendum’s record 84.5 percent but still impressive at 71.1 percent.

“Here is the queer thing, the thrilling thing and the frightening thing,” the columnist Ian Jack wrote in The Guardian recently. “Among the food banks and the trampled front gardens of the big housing schemes, poor people here have begun to feel they have power.”

Back in Paisley, Ms. Black loves football and still has to take her final exams at the University of Glasgow. (“It’s on Scottish politics; I think I have a chance,” she said.) She has spent much of the past two years campaigning for independence.

“There was a lot of regret, even among those who voted no,” she said in an interview before the elections. “As soon as the vote was over, Scotland felt cast aside again.”

Since the referendum, the Scottish National Party has quadrupled its membership, to nearly 110,000. Many of these new supporters used to vote for Labour but say they no longer trust a party perceived to have betrayed its working-class roots.

David Smith, 52, a security guard, is one of those new S.N.P. supporters. Labour, he said, had just become “red Tories,” little different from the Conservatives.

That perception was only reinforced by the image of Ed Miliband, the Labour leader until his resignation on Friday, standing with Mr. Cameron during the last panicked week of the referendum campaign, pressing the Scots not to leave Britain. “They’re all the same,” Mr. Smith scoffed.

These days it is the Scottish National Party, despite its centrist track record in government, that has become most associated with traditional left-wing ideas.

Across Scotland, Labour seats long perceived as safe fell to the S.N.P. The leader of the Scottish Labour Party, Jim Murphy, lost, as did a former deputy leader, Anas Sarwar. Alison Thewliss, who beat Ms. Sarwar, said the results were indicative of “a loss of faith in a Labour Party that has drifted so far from the principles that it once held dear.”

Even Edinburgh, the home of Adam Smith and David Hume, which last year voted 61 percent against independence, elected four S.N.P. lawmakers.

Mr. Alexander, the Labour campaign director who was ousted by Ms. Black in Paisley, had represented the area in Parliament since 1997. Five years ago, he won the seat with 59.6 percent of the vote. As recently as January, his was considered a safe seat.

Then the polls started turning. In recent weeks, the shift became palpable. As one former Labour member of Parliament here told The Economist: “It’s like the last days of Rome. Without sex. Or wine. In fact, with none of the fun bits.”


In U.K. election’s wake, questions on E.U., Scotland

May 8, 2015

by Dan Balz, Griff Witte and Karla Adam

Washington Post


LONDON — Newly empowered British Prime Minister David Cameron moved swiftly to establish the terms and priorities for his new government on Friday after a stunning national election that delivered his Conservative Party an unexpected majority, devastated three other parties and redrew the political map of Scotland.

Following predictions that the post-election maneuvering to form a government might take days if not weeks, the Conservative Party’s big victory produced a quick end to speculation about what or who would be in charge.

But if the election produced an unexpectedly clear outcome, it may only have heightened the degree to which the country faces a period of internal debate, ­inward-looking politics and potential instability, with questions about the durability of the United Kingdom and its place in both Europe and the world still to be answered.

Cameron will have to find a way to manage resurgent Scottish nationalists who are demanding more powers and possibly another referendum on independence. Further, his pledge to hold a referendum to determine Britain’s future in the European Union will continue to raise uncertainty about the country’s commitments and reliability there.

Barely two weeks ago, Cameron was under pressure to step up his performance on the campaign trail. On Friday, he took a ritual trip to Buckingham Palace for an audience with Queen Elizabeth II, who asked him to form a government. Minutes later he was back outside 10 Downing Street promising to bind up a nation that had come under significant strain during a campaign that inflamed the passions of nationalism.

“We must ensure that we bring our country together,” he said. “As I said in the small hours of this morning, we will govern as a party of one nation, one United Kingdom.”

Cameron reiterated his vow to hold a referendum on Britain’s E.U. membership. He also emphasized the carrots in the Conservative Party manifesto — including job-training assistance, additional child-care benefits and home-building programs — but sidestepped mention of the huge welfare cuts needed to bring these to fruition.


Political upheaval

The Conservatives will hold 331 seats in the 650-seat Parliament, while the devastated Labor Party will shrink to just 232.

The Liberal Democrats suffered even greater losses, paying a steep price for having entered into a coalition with the Conservatives after the 2010 election gave no party a majority. From 57 seats in the last Parliament, the Liberal Democrats will enter the new Parliament with just eight members.

The other big winner in Thursday’s voting was the Scottish National Party, led by Nicola Sturgeon. Eight months after losing an independence vote, the SNP captured 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in the national Parliament, destroying the Labor Party in its traditional stronghold. The stunning gains by the SNP not only redrew the politics of Scotland but will add to the challenges Cameron faces in governing a now clearly divided United Kingdom.

The U.K. Independence Party saw its support rise to 13 percent in the national vote, but could claim only one seat because of Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system.

Rather than speculation about who would form the government, Friday brought questions about the future of parties that had been shattered by the strength of the Conservative victory. In rapid succession, the leaders of three parties — Ed Miliband of Labor, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats and Nigel Farage of UKIP — announced that they would resign their positions, an unprecedented series of changes that underscored the wreckage left behind after the voters had spoken.

Labor and the Liberal Democrats face potentially lengthy periods of infighting and introspection as they seek paths back to greater strength and popular appeal. The depths to which both have fallen and the lack of clarity about who will lead them was yet another unexpected outcome in an election filled with surprises.

For all the attention it drew for its anti-immigration views and the pressure it sought to put on Cameron, UKIP ended up with just a single seat. In addition, Farage, the party’s charismatic and controversial leader, lost his bid to win a seat to a Conservative. His resignation as leader fulfilled a pre-election promise, but he did not rule out a comeback. For now, the loss of Farage robs UKIP of its most visible spokesman, leaving open questions of how the party will expand its appeal.


Economic focus

The Conservative victory was a tribute to the campaign run by Cameron and campaign chief Lynton Crosby. The campaign’s message was built around an improving economy, with a strategy designed to put Miliband and the Labor Party on the defensive over the party’s economic reliability and its potential reliance in government on support from the SNP.

Polling showed that respondents believed the economy had improved under the Conservatives, even if they did not believe the benefits had been equitably distributed. Cameron also ran ahead of Miliband on whom voters preferred as prime minister.

The Conservatives ruthlessly went after their coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, in competitive districts; through targeted messaging, the party also sought to deny Labor seats it hoped to pick up. An energized, passionate and particularly ­negative Cameron campaigned through key target areas in his final push, warning voters not to let Labor back into power.

Miliband won praise for his campaign performance but in the end couldn’t shake doubts about his party and his leadership. One such misgiving was over Labor’s economic management, a fear that the last Labor government had spent too much and would do so again.

More damaging to Miliband and Labor was the rise of the SNP and its impact on voting in both Scotland and England. Sturgeon’s performance in an early televised debate put the issue of the SNP in Parliament into the forefront of the campaign, which Cameron and the Tories quickly exploited to Miliband’s detriment.

“Nationalism squeezed Labor on both ends,” said David Axelrod, long a top adviser to President Obama who was hired to advise the Labor campaign. “The SNP played nationalism in Scotland. The Tories played fears of the SNP skillfully in England.”

          The Conservative campaign also drew heavily on the techniques employed by Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. It used analytics, modeling, targeting and ­social media to reach the voters it needed in the most competitive contests, whether in head-to-head competition with Labor or in districts where three or even four parties were taking votes from one another.

This data work was overseen by Jim Messina, Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, who was recruited by Cameron and Crosby. A week before the election, Messina’s internal projections showed the Tories on track to win 306 seats — far above any public poll at the time — though many races remained extremely close.

On the morning of the election, Messina delivered a document to Crosby projecting that the party would win 312 seats that night. By early that afternoon, based on additional calls, the number was raised to 319.

That ended up tracking almost precisely with the BBC’s projection, based on exit polls, of 316 seats — a prediction that was released as the polls closed and that produced shock waves of surprise.

Daniela Deane contributed to this report.


Sea rise threatens Florida coast, but no statewide plan

May 9, 2015

by Jason Dearen and Jennifer Kay

Associated Press

Florida. — America’s oldest city is slowly drowning.

St. Augustine’s centuries-old Spanish fortress and other national landmarks sit feet from the encroaching Atlantic, whose waters already flood the city’s narrow, brick-paved streets about 10 times a year — a problem worsening as sea levels rise. The city has long relied on tourism, but visitors to the fortress and Ponce de Leon’s mythical Fountain of Youth might someday have to wear waders at high tide.

“If you want to benefit from the fact we’ve been here for 450 years, you have the responsibility to look forward to the next 450,” said Bill Hamilton, a 63-year-old horticulturist whose family has lived in the city since the 1950s. “Is St. Augustine even going to be here? We owe it to the people coming after us to leave the city in good shape.”

St. Augustine is one of many chronically flooded communities along Florida’s 1,200-mile coastline, and officials in these diverse places share a common concern: They’re afraid their buildings and economies will be further inundated by rising seas in just a couple of decades. The effects are a daily reality in much of Florida. Drinking water wells are fouled by seawater. Higher tides and storm surges make for more frequent road flooding from Jacksonville to Key West, and they’re overburdening aging flood-control systems.

But the state has yet to offer a clear plan or coordination to address what local officials across Florida’s coast see as a slow-moving emergency. Republican Gov. Rick Scott is skeptical of man-made climate change and has put aside the task of preparing for sea level rise, an Associated Press review of thousands of emails and documents pertaining to the state’s preparations for rising seas found.

Despite warnings from water experts and climate scientists about risks to cities and drinking water, skepticism over sea level projections and climate change science has hampered planning efforts at all levels of government, the records showed. Florida’s environmental agencies under Scott have been downsized and retooled, making them less effective at coordinating sea level rise planning in the state, the documents showed.

“If I were governor, I’d be out there talking about it (sea level rise) every day,” said Eric Buermann, the former general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida who also served as a water district governing board member. “I think he’s really got to grab ahold of this, set a vision, a long-term vision, and rally the people behind it. Unless you’re going to build a sea wall around South Florida, what’s the plan?”

The issue presents a public works challenge that could cost billions here and nationwide. In the third-most populous U.S. state, where most residents live near a coast, municipalities say they need statewide coordination and aid to prepare for the costly road ahead.

Communities like St. Augustine can do only so much alone. If one city builds a seawall, it might divert water to a neighbor. Cities also lack the technology, money and manpower to keep back the seas by themselves.

In a brief interview with the AP in March, Scott wouldn’t address whether the state had a long-range plan. He cited his support for Everglades restoration and some flood-control projects as progress but said cities and counties should contact environmental and water agencies to find answers — though Scott and a GOP-led legislature have slashed billions in funding from those agencies. Spokespeople for the water districts and other agencies disputed that cuts have affected their abilities to plan.

“We will continue to make investments and find solutions to protect our environment and preserve Florida’s natural beauty for our future generations,” the governor said in a statement.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is in charge of protecting the state environment and water but has taken no official position on sea level rise, according to documents. DEP spokeswoman Lauren Engel said the agency’s strategy is to aid local communities and others through the state’s routine beach-nourishment and water-monitoring programs.

In St. Augustine, downtown streets around 19th century buildings built by oil tycoon Henry Flagler often close during nor’easters because of flooding. While the city’s proximity to the sea has always made flooding a problem, residents say it’s worsened over the past 15 to 20 years.

St. Augustine’s civil engineer says that the low-lying village will probably need a New Orleans-style pumping system to keep water out — but that but no one knows exactly what to do and the state’s been unhelpful.

“Only when the frequency of flooding increases will people get nervous about it, and by then it will be too late,” engineer Reuben Franklin said. “There’s no guidance from the state or federal level. … Everything I’ve found to help I’ve gotten by searching the Internet.”

Across coastal Florida, sea levels are rising faster than previously measured, according to federal estimates. In addition to more flooding at high tide, increasing sea levels also mean higher surges during tropical storms and hurricanes, and more inundation of drinking wells throughout Florida.

Water quality is a big concern for many communities. It’s especially bad in South Florida — just north of Miami, Hallandale Beach has abandoned six of eight drinking water wells because of saltwater intrusion. Wells in northeast and central Florida are deemed at risk too.

While South Florida water officials have led the charge in addressing sea level rise concerns in their area, their attempt to organize a statewide plan was met with indifference, documents show. The Scott administration has organized just a few conference calls to coordinate local efforts, records show. Those came only after Florida’s water district managers asked DEP for help.

In a recent visit to Everglades National Park, President Barack Obama said the wetlands, vital to Florida’s tourism economy and drinking-water supply, already are threatened by infusions of saltwater from rising seas.

The list of other problems across the state is growing. Miami Beach is spending $400 million on new stormwater pumps to keep seawater from overwhelming an outdated sewer system.

In St. Augustine, homes built on sand dunes teeter over open space as erosion eats at the foundations. Beachside hotel owners worry about their livelihoods.

Tampa and Miami are particularly vulnerable to rising seas — many roads and bridges weren’t designed to handle higher tides, according to the National Climate Change Assessment. Officials say Daytona Beach roads, too, flood more often than in the 1990s.

South Miami passed a resolution calling for South Florida to secede from the more conservative northern half of the state so it could deal with climate change itself.

Insurance giant Swiss Re has estimated that the economy in southeast Florida could sustain $33 billion in damage from rising seas and other climate-related damage in 2030, according to the Miami-Dade Sea Level Rise Task Force.

Cities like St. Augustine have looked for help, but Scott’s disregard for climate change science has created a culture of fear among state employees, records show.

The administration has been adamant that employees, including scientists, not “assign cause” in public statements about global warming or sea level rise, internal government emails show.

For example, an April 28, 2014, email approving a DEP scientist’s request to participate in a National Geographic story came with a warning: “Approved. Make no claims as to cause … stay with the research you are doing, of course,” the DEP manager, Pamela Phillips, warned.

“I know the drill,” responded Mike Shirley, manager of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve near St. Augustine.

Agency spokeswoman Engel said Phillips was a lower-level staffer whose views didn’t necessarily reflect the entire administration. When asked whether staffers are told not to assign cause, Scott’s office said “the allegations are not true”.

Most towns say they cannot afford the cost of climate change studies or regional coordination.

“For us, it’s a reality, it’s not a political issue,” said Courtney Barker, city manager of Satellite Beach. The town near Cape Canaveral used to flood during tropical weather, but now just a heavy rainstorm can make roads impassable for commuters.

“When you have to listen to that mantra, ‘Climate change, is it real or not?’ you kind of chuckle, because you see it,” Barker said.

Scott administration officials are moving forward on a five-year plan that will provide basic guidance to cities dealing with sea level rise. Scott has appointed the Department of Economic Opportunity as the lead agency overseeing the project.

The DEO has received nearly $1 million in federal grants for the plan. More than half has been spent on staff time and travel or hasn’t yet been allocated, according to documents. The rest, about $450,000, went to contract researchers who are helping create the document, due in 2016. Agency spokeswoman Jessica Sims wouldn’t comment and refused requests for the program’s manager to be interviewed.

In one grant-funded study, Florida State University researchers asked local leaders about sea rise. Some officials complained to researchers about the “poisonous political atmosphere” over climate change hampering progress. The AP obtained the report in a public records request.

“In some cases, especially at the local level, planners are constrained by perceptions among elected officials that there is a lack of reliable scientific information to support the existence of sea level rise,” report authors summarized.

Scott’s office again said “the allegations are not true” when asked about the political atmosphere in government agencies.

As for concerns over drinking water, water district officials said they were happy with the state’s funding. But internal emails show frustration among those working behind the scenes to better organize a statewide sea level rise planning group.

“I often worry about the next generations; I think they will survive in spite of us,” Dave DeWitt, a staffer at the Southwest Florida Water Management District, said in an email to colleagues. A district spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on policy beyond the district.

St. Augustine officials say they need state-level coordination, or in coming decades much of historic downtown could be ankle-deep in water at high tide.

Franklin, the engineer, said, “Are we going to be early to the game in terms of planning for this, or late?”


Is sea level rising?

Sea level is rising at an increasing rate.

May 1, 2015


          There is strong evidence that global sea level is now rising at an increased rate and will continue to rise during this century.

While studies show that sea levels changed little from AD 0 until 1900, sea levels began to climb in the 20th century.

The two major causes of global sea-level rise are thermal expansion caused by the warming of the oceans (since water expands as it warms) and the loss of land-based ice (such as glaciers and polar ice caps) due to increased melting.

Records and research show that sea level has been steadily rising at a rate of 0.04 to 0.1 inches per year since 1900.

This rate may be increasing. Since 1992, new methods of satellite altimetry (the measurement of elevation or altitude) indicate a rate of rise of 0.12 inches per year.

This is a significantly larger rate than the sea-level rise averaged over the last several thousand years.


Melt of Key Antarctic Glaciers ‘Unstoppable,’ Studies Find

by Andrea Thompson

Climate Central

          One of the biggest question marks surrounding the fate of the planet’s coastlines is dangling from its underbelly.

The melting of the Antarctic ice sheet has long been a relatively minor factor in the steady ascent of high-water marks, responsible for about an eighth of the 3 millimeters of annual sea-level rise. But when it comes to climate change, Antarctica is the elephantine ice sculpture in the boiler room. The ice sheet is so massive that its decline is, according to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment, “the largest potential source” of future sea level rise. Accurately forecasting how much of it will be unleashed as seawater, and when that will happen, could help coastal communities plan for surging flood risks.

A study published Aug. 14 in Earth System Dynamics — one that took more than 2 years and 50,000 computer simulations to complete, combining information from 26 atmospheric, oceanic, and ice sheet models from four polar regions — has helped scientists hone their forecasts for this century’s Antarctic thaw. And the results of the global research effort were more sobering than the findings of most of the more limited studies that came before it.

The world’s seas could rise anywhere from less than half an inch up to more than a foot by the end of this century solely because of the effects of balmier waters fanning Antarctica’s underside, causing ice to melt, icebergs to calve, and ice and snowpack to slough into the sea, the scientists calculated. The upper limit of that projection is more than double earlier estimates, with scientists attributing the change to advances in models.

“The largest uncertainty that we have with regards to Antarctica is, how much of the warming reaches the continent through the ocean, and how much melting does it cause?” said Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research’s Anders Levermann, who led the study. Levermann was also a lead author of the sea level rise chapter in the most recent IPCC assessment.

Those figures do not include additional sea level rise caused by melting glaciers, by the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, by the expansion of warming water, or from the effects of groundwater pumping, which shifts water from aquifers to the seas. If the most recent IPCC projections for those sources of rising seas were combined with the new Antarctic figures, the U.N. group’s upper limit for overall sea level rise by century’s end would increase to 119 cm, or nearly 4 feet. That’s up by more than a fifth compared with the figure included in last year’s assessment.

That’s a lot of water. For comparison, seas have risen about 8 inches since the turn of the 20th Century, as temperatures have risen by 1.5°F, due primarily to the burning of fossil fuels. That has increased rates of flooding across coastal U.S. and driven some Pacific Islanders to seek asylum in foreign lands. The hastening pace of sea level rise threatens to reshape the lives of more than a billion coastal dwellers and imperils potentially tens of trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure.

Of course, upper limits are just that — they represent the highest levels of sea-level rise for which science currently says coastal planning departments should brace. “It’s this upper limit that’s important for coastal planners,” said Levermann.

But rising upper limits come with rising median projections, which, by definition, have a 50 percent likelihood of being surpassed. Median projections produced through the new study suggest a rise of several inches is likely due to Antarctic melt alone.

The vast range of lower and upper limits for sea level rise caused by Antarctic ice-sheet melting that were included in the new paper — more than a foot — were partly the result of uncertainty over how much greenhouse gas pollution the world will churn out during the coming decades. The upper limit assumes that annual greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. But it also reflects the vast uncertainty in ice sheet and other models that were combined to simulate Antarctic melting.

“A reason for our higher SLR [sea level rise], and for the range in SLR, is that the present study also includes the uncertainty in the climate and ocean forcing driving the ice sheet models of Antarctica,” said Sophie Nowicki, a NASA Goddard scientist who coauthored the new paper. “In other words, more potential climatic futures are considered.”

The melting of the other great ice sheet, which blankets Greenland, is driven largely by rising air temperatures. Those processes can be difficult to understand. But the processes that melt the Antarctic ice sheet are even more convoluted. Antarctica is further from the equator than is Greenland, which keeps the air frigid even in summer, shielding most surface ice from melting. Unlike in Greenland, much of the Antarctic ice sheet is submerged below sea level, causing it to melt from beneath and crumple into the sea as oceans absorb heat that’s accumulating the atmosphere.

Antarctica’s ice sheet is more than a mile deep on average, holding enough water to raise sea levels 200 feet should it all melt. That means the southern ice sheet has more potential to flood the world than does its boreal counterpart — although the Antarctic melt is taking longer to kick into gear.

The melting of the two ice sheets was responsible for a third of sea level rise from 2002 to 2011, according to numbers in the recent IPCC report. The Antarctic ice-sheet melt caused about 40 percent of that; Greenland’s ice-sheet caused 60 percent. The melting of the ice sheets are playing growing roles in coastal floods.

It seems that the more we learn about the forces that cause ice sheets to melt, the more vulnerable we realize they are to wither. The IPCC cited “improved modeling” when it raised its forecasts for sea level rise in its recent report, compared with the projections it published in 2007.

Natalya Gomez, a post-doctoral fellow at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Science at New York University who researches ice sheet and sea level interactions, says the numbers published in the new paper are “not the final answer.” Gomez says they will continue to be refined in the coming years as ice-sheet models and other models continue to improve. She warns that the sea level rise projections could increase even further as models evolve.

The beauty of the new work, says Gomez, who was not involved in the research, lies in the fact that the scientists behind it have developed a tool that will propel a nascent and challenging field.

“What they’re assessing — the range of possible responses of the Antarctic ice sheet to future warming — is really challenging,” Gomez said.




Mentally ill inmates abused in 5,000 US detention centers – HRW

May 13, 2015


          Human Rights Watch has issued a report stating that mentally ill prisoners are being abused in detention facilities across the US, and that these practices are happening in over 5,000 facilities.

The activist group says inmates are being subjected to unnecessary and excessive use of force, and the problem is widespread.

The report provides details of cases where inmates were shocked with Tasers, and where pepper spray was used against them.

In some cases, prisoners were left in restraint chairs for days, or put in scalding showers.

“I think the public and legislators for far too long have been willing to send people to prison, without thinking a whole lot about what life behind bars [is like]. And what goes on behind bars is often hidden, people don’t know what is happening,” Jamie Fellner, one of the report’s authors and senior adviser at Human Rights Watch, told RT.

She added that prison authorities “don’t issue monthly reports on how many people they have pepper-sprayed, or how many people have had Tasers used against them.”

“What we wanted to focus on was <…> the fact that in so many cases when force wasn’t required, when you had non-violent, minor non-threatening misconduct by a prisoner that didn’t need to be responded to with force,” Fellner concluded.

Among the especially troubling cases was Nick Christie, a 62-year-old man who had recently stopped taking his medications for depression and anxiety. He was incarcerated in Florida in 2009 for a nonviolent misdemeanor.

At one point, locked in his cell and crying out for medical help, he kept yelling and banging on the cell door.

Prison officials sprayed him with chemical spray over a dozen times in 36 hours, and immobilized him in a restraint chair with a spit mask covering his face. He died from cardiac arrest.

Another Florida prisoner diagnosed with schizophrenia defecated on the floor of his cell and refused to clean it up.

Officers allegedly put him in a scalding shower, left him there for over an hour, and the inmate subsequently died.

However, the case that specifically caught the attention of human rights activists was 35-year-old Christopher Lopez. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic and was discovered on his cell floor semi-conscious.

Staff failed to call medics and instead put Lopez in a restraint chair. A few hours later, he experienced a severe seizure.

The officers finally released him from the chair, but left him lying handcuffed on the floor. Lopez died a few hours later. His lawyer spoke to RT about the case.

“His mother had contacted me and said he had died in custody, she went to look at the body and saw signs of abuse. That got me interested, I got hold of the autopsy report, and began to investigate it,” attorney David Lane said.

“What appeared to be the cause of death was an overdose of psychotropic medication to the point of electrolyte imbalance, and his heart was slowly stopping,” he added.

The lawyer also told RT that the general attitude towards mentally ill inmates in the US is that they are a “management problem,” and they are dealt with like this, “as opposed to mentally ill human beings.”

Around 20 percent of prisoners in the US have a serious mental illness, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, according to a press release issued by Human Rights Watch. Inmates suffering from such conditions often find it difficult to cope with imprisonment and to comply with instructions.


MH370 search discovers shipwreck

Australian-led team scouring the southern Indian Ocean finds anchor and debris from uncharted wreck at depth of nearly 4,000 metres

May 13, 2015

Agence France-Presse

          The hunt for missing the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has uncovered a previously uncharted shipwreck, leading officials to say on Wednesday that if the plane is in their search zone they will find it.

The Australian-led team is scouring the southern Indian Ocean seabed in hope of finding the final resting place of MH370, which vanished on 8 March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

No wreckage from the flight, which was carrying 239 people, has been found.

In an update on the search, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said it had spotted “multiple small bright reflections” on the otherwise featureless seabed which warranted close inspection.

Data from a high-resolution sonar scan using an autonomous underwater vehicle revealed possible items, mostly only about the size of a cricket ball, some 3,900 metres (12,795 feet) underwater.

While the debris field appeared to be of human-made origin, it failed to have all the characteristics of a typical aircraft debris field so authorities sent down an underwater camera which discovered the shipwreck.

“It’s a fascinating find,” said Peter Foley, director of the operational search for MH370. “But it’s not what were looking for.”

Images clearly showed an anchor, along with other objects the searchers said were human-made.

Foley said officials were not pausing in the search for MH370, whose disappearance is one of aviation’s great mysteries. “Obviously, we’re disappointed that it wasn’t the aircraft, but we were always realistic about the likelihood,” he added.

“And this event has really demonstrated that the systems, people and the equipment involved in the search are working well. It’s shown that if there’s a debris field in the search area, we’ll find it.”

The search for the aircraft has been a complex undertaking, with Australia concentrating on a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean far off its west coast spanning 60,000 square kilometres (23,166 square miles).


Many of the NSA’s Loudest Defenders Have Financial Ties to NSA Contractors

May 13, 2015

by Lee Fang

The Intercept

          The debate over the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records has reached a critical point after a federal appeals court last week ruled the practice illegal, dramatically raising the stakes for pending Congressional legislation that would fully or partially reinstate the program. An army of pundits promptly took to television screens, with many of them brushing off concerns about the surveillance.

The talking heads have been backstopping the NSA’s mass surveillance more or less continuously since it was revealed. They spoke out to support the agency when NSA contractor Edward Snowden released details of its programs in 2013, and they’ve kept up their advocacy ever since — on television news shows, newspaper op-ed pages, online and at Congressional hearings. But it’s often unclear just how financially cozy these pundits are with the surveillance state they defend, since they’re typically identified with titles that give no clues about their conflicts of interest. Such conflicts have become particularly important, and worth pointing out, now that the debate about NSA surveillance has shifted from simple outrage to politically prominent legislative debates.

As one example of the opaque link between NSA money and punditry, take the words of Stewart Baker, who was general counsel to the NSA from 1992 through 1994. During a Senate committee hearing last summer on one of the reform bills now before Congress, the USA FREEDOM Act, which would partially limit mass surveillance of telephone metadata, Baker essentially said the bill would aid terrorists.

“First, I do not believe we should end the bulk collection program,” he told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “It will put us at risk. It will, as Senator King strongly suggested, slow our responses to serious terrorist incidents. And it is a leap into the dark with respect to this data.”

Previously, in December 2013, Baker wrote in The New York Times that “Snowden has already lost the broader debate he claims to want, and the leaks are slowly losing their international impact as well.” He made similar comments in multiple news outlets, and testified before Congress to defend virtually every program revealed by the Snowden documents. Baker at one point told intelligence committee lawmakers that The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald was simply on a campaign to “cause the greatest possible diplomatic damage to the United States and its intelligence capabilities.”

Baker has identified himself at various points as a former government official with the NSA and Department of Homeland Security and as a Washington, D.C. attorney. But the law firm at which Baker is a partner, Steptoe & Johnson, maintains a distinct role in the world of NSA contracting. At the time of his pro-NSA advocacy in 2013 and 2014, the company was registered to lobby on behalf of companies which have served as major NSA contractors, including Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), Leidos and Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC).

Asked about his law firm’s lobby work for NSA contractors, Baker responded, “If you’re looking for someone with a ‘financial stake in the surveillance debate’ you should start with your boss, Glenn Greenwald, who has a $250 million stake in continuing to present the debate as ‘Snowden good. NSA evil.’ And, of course, there’s you. You’ve got a ‘financial stake’ in keeping your job. Which means that you won’t have the balls to publish my reply.” (Pierre Omidyar made a $50 million contribution and $250 million commitment to First Look Media. Glenn Greenwald is the co-founding editor of the First Look publication The Intercept, not the holder of a $250 million stake.)

Due to the secretive nature of the agency’s work, NSA contracts are often shielded from public disclosure, and identifying financial links between pundits and the agency’s web of partners is tricky. But the work of journalists and whistleblowers such as James Bamford, who was assigned to an NSA unit while serving in the Navy, gives us a sense of which companies work for U.S. intelligence agencies. Drawing largely from these disclosures, The Intercept has identified several former government and military officials whose voices have shaped the public discourse around government spying and surveillance issues but whose financial ties to NSA contractors have received little attention. These pundits have played a key role in the public debate as the White House and the agency itself have struggled to defend the most controversial spying programs revealed by Snowden’s documents.

Fox News Military Analyst Jack Keane appears regularly on the network to opine on national security issues. His credentials are strong. Keane served as a four star general, as vice chief of staff of the Army, and is currently the chairman of the Institute for the Study of War.

Keane has appeared on Fox News to discuss surveillance issues multiple times, coming down squarely in support of the NSA. Last year, as President Obama was developing reform proposals mirroring key provisions in the FREEDOM Act, including limits on the collection of phone records, he dismissed concerns about civil liberties.

“Well, I believe what the NSA has been doing has been right on the mark,” Keane told Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs. Backing down from any of the NSA programs, Keane said, would make America “less secure and more vulnerable.” In another appearance on Fox, Keane called the bulk collection of American phone records “vital for national security.”

Since 2004, Keane has served as board member to General Dynamics, a firm that contracts with the NSA — as occasionally disclosed publicly, as in October 2014, in 2010, and in 2009. For his service as a board member, Keane has earned about a quarter of a million dollars a year in cash and stock awards. According to a December 2010 Boston Globe article, Keane has also worked as a consultant to other military contractors, pushing government officials to hire his clients for government work, but failed to register his activities under the Lobbying Disclosure Act because he said his lobby activity fell below the statutory requirement for registration.

A spokesman for Keane said he “appears on TV news as much as 30 times per month, covering multiple topics at each appearance as a military analyst. He does not recall making comments on the topic you have mentioned.”

In June of 2013, following the first Snowden disclosures, retired General Wesley Clark and former Central Intelligence Agency Chief James Woolsey cast aspersions on the whistleblower who brought the NSA’s privacy violations to light.

“The American people,” Clark said confidently during an interview on CNN, “are solidly behind the PRISM program and all that’s going on.” Appearing on Fox News, Woolsey referred to Snowden’s disclosure of documents as “damaging because it gives terrorists an idea of how we collect and what we might know.” Woolsey would later comment that Snowden “should be hanged by his neck” if convicted for treason.

The men are, and were at the time, advisors to Paladin Capital Group, an investment advisor and private equity firm whose Homeland Security Fund was set up about three months after the September 11 attacks to focus on defense and intelligence-related startups. Woolsey confirmed he is paid by Paladin Capital; Clark did not respond to a request for comment. In 2014, Paladin’s portfolio was valued at more than $587 million. At the time of Woolsey and Clark’s anti-Snowden statements, it included a stake in Endgame Systems, a computer network security company that had worked with the NSA, having reportedly counted the agency among its largest customers. Paladin was also invested in CyberCore, which had provided technological work to the NSA. Later, in 2014, Paladin invested in Shadow Networks, formerly known as ZanttzZ, which also provided tech work to the NSA.

In March 2014, former Republican National Committee Chair Jim Gilmore took to the pages of the Washington Times to write that, “Mr. Snowden’s traitorous act is a perfect example of the dual threat we face from state and non-state actors.” He also promoted his view that conservatives should not embrace Snowden’s disclosures about mass surveillance during a testy debate with libertarians at the Conservative Political Action Conference last year.

At CPAC, Gilmore touted his credentials on the issue of homeland security as “the governor of Virginia during the 9/11 attack” and chairman of an advisory board on homeland security issues. But since 2009, Gilmore has also worked for a major NSA contractor as member of the board of CACI International, for which he has been compensated with more than $1 million in cash and stock awards. CACI, the firm whose contractors were behind the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, has steadily increased its stake in the cyberintelligence business, acquiring the firm Six3 Systems, an NSA contractor, for $820 million two years ago.

In an email to The Intercept, Gilmore acknowledged his relationship with CACI and noted that he served on advisory committee for Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), an NSA contractor. “I cannot confirm whether any [of] these companies contracted with NSA,” he wrote. “I do not feel I have a conflict of interest that would prevent me from commenting on public policy issues related to national security. Also, I have been very vocal in the past as to warning against the loss of civil freedoms due to reaction to the dangers we face in today’s world.”

Establishment think tanks, such as the Center for Strategic and International Studies, have also influenced the debate around NSA surveillance. CSIS put out a report defending surveillance programs along with a statement of principles calling for policymakers to recognize and maintain the “irreplaceable role” of American intelligence.

The surveillance report was released last May by a group of former government officials, including CSIS president John Hamre. The year the report came out, Hamre received close to a quarter of a million dollars as a board member to NSA contractor Leidos, as he had the year prior. In 2013 and again in 2012, Hamre took close to quarter of a million dollars as a board member at SAIC, which has served as a major NSA contractor and which split to form Leidos. (Hamre did not respond to a request for comment.) Also responsible for the report was former NSA director Mike McConnell — only identified by “Former Director of National Intelligence” rather than as vice chairman of NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, his role at the time. (McConnell “was not representing Booz Allen in his participation” in the report, a Booz Allen spokesperson said, responding to a request to McConnell for comment.)

“If journalists are writing about this they should not be naive about the immensity of the security establishment,” said Columbia Journalism School professor Todd Gitlin.

Gitlin says that he understands why media outlets would call upon former government officials to discuss NSA issues given that they have “earned their expertise by virtue of their institutional experience.” But, he adds, the onus for disclosure ultimately lies with reporters and news programs, who should be asking these experts to reveal potential conflicts of interest and to explain the basis of their assertions about national security.

“The security industrial complex, in which the revolving door is a fixture,” Gitlin remarks, “requires a high degree of caution on the part of journalists and a high degree of scrutiny.”

To critics of mass surveillance, the role of these pundits tied to the NSA contracting industry exposes deeper problems.

“The media is happy to let these people defend the surveillance state on air but less interested in reporting on how it butters their bread,” said Kevin Connor, the director of the Public Accountability Initiative, a think tank that studies political elites.

After Connor released a well-publicized report on television pundits with ties to defense contractors who stood to benefit from U.S.-led missile strikes in Syria, many of those pundits remained on the airwaves, continuing to advocate intervention without disclosing how their companies would benefit from such policies. “If you are an insider, you are a trusted expert, even if you happen to have a financial stake in the debate,” Connor continued, adding, “it also serves as a useful reminder of the myriad ways in which corporate America is implicated in the surveillance apparatus, profiting from it, and protected by it.”

For the NSA’s private sector partners, the Snowden disclosures not only invited unwelcome scrutiny of the surveillance industry, but also fears that Congress might cut back on intelligence spending.

Speaking with investors following the Snowden leaks, Bill Varner, an executive with ManTech International, which has contracted with the NSA, raised the possibility of losing business. “It is too soon to tell if there will be any fallout in terms of reduced mission scope for the intelligence community or for contractor support to that community,” he said. Speaking on an earnings call shortly after the first revelations, a financial analyst also worried that “negative media attention from Mr. Snowden” could impair future intelligence business for Booz Allen Hamilton, the contractor that briefly employed Snowden. Booz Allen’s stock dropped nearly 5 percent following the news of his leaks. But within weeks, the company’s shares rebounded.


Alleen Brown and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research to this report.


5 reasons Chicago is in worse shape than Detroit

May 13, 2015

Tim Jones


          Forget all the nicknames attached to Chicago for generations — Windy City, City of Big Shoulders, the City that Works. This gleaming metropolis of 2.7 million people is now, along with Detroit, junk city.

When Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Chicago’s debt on Tuesday to junk status, it deepened the city’s financial crisis and elevated comparisons to the industrial ruin 280 miles to the east.

Chicago partisans, starting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, argue vehemently that their city isn’t Detroit. They cite population growth, a diverse economy bolstered by an abundance of Fortune 500 companies, vibrant neighborhoods and a booming tourist trade.

Here are five reasons that, now more than ever, suggest Chicago is akin to Detroit — or, by some measures, even worse. Or, as Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner put it last month: “Chicago is in deep, deep yogurt.”


Chicago’s unfunded liability from four pension funds is $20 billion and growing, hitting every city resident with an obligation of about $7,400.

Detroit, whose population of about 689,000 is roughly a quarter of Chicago’s, had a retirement funding gap of $3.5 billion, meaning each resident was liable for $5,100. A January 2014 report from Morningstar Municipal Credit Research showed that among the 25 largest cities and Puerto Rico, Chicago had the highest per- capita pension liability.


When Detroit filed for Chapter 9 in July 2013, a federal bankruptcy judge exerted his considerable powers and decreed that everyone — taxpayers, employees, bondholders and creditors alike — would get a haircut to settle the crisis. When the Illinois Supreme Court ruled on May 8, it said the state couldn’t cut pension benefits as part of a solution to restructure the state retirement system.

That decision sent a clear signal to Chicago, which was trying to follow the state’s benefit-cutting lead. Where the Detroit judge acted, the Illinois justices told elected officials to clean up the mess of their own making.


Just as Detroit slid into bankruptcy after decades of economic and actuarial warnings, Chicago politicians have watched the train wreck rumble toward them for more than a decade. During that time, they skipped pension payments and paid scant attention to the financial damage being done. In 10 years starting in 2002, the city increased its bonded debt by 84 percent, according to the Civic Federation, which tracks city finances. That added more than $1,300 to the tab of every Chicago resident.

In Michigan, Governor Rick Snyder acted when the crisis in Detroit couldn’t be avoided. He invoked a state law giving an emergency manager what amounts to fiscal martial-law power. In Chicago’s case, there’s no political pressure to invoke a similar law. And a proposal supported by Rauner that would allow municipalities to seek bankruptcy protection without state approval is languishing in the Illinois legislature


Detroit’s bankruptcy filing allowed it to restructure its debt, officially snuffing out $7 billion of it by cutting pensions and payments to creditors.

In Illinois, the nation’s lowest-rated state with unfunded pension obligations of $111 billion, Rauner had a blunt message last week in an unprecedented address to Chicago’s City Council: The city will get no state bailout.


After years of denial, Detroit officials finally, if grudgingly, agreed to major surgery. At least for now, Chicago’s Emanuel is sticking to his view that the Illinois Supreme Court’s rejection of a state pension reform law doesn’t apply to the city. “That reform is not affected by today’s ruling, as we believe our plan fully complies with the State constitution because it fundamentally preserves and protects worker pensions,” he said in a statement on Friday.

Four days later, Moody’s begged to differ. “In our opinion,” it wrote, “the Illinois Supreme Court’s May 8 ruling raises the risk that the statute governing Chicago’s Municipal and Laborer pension plans will eventually be overturned.”


The Shroud of Turin Commentary

        The Shroud of Turin  is a 14th-century forgery and is one of many such deliberately created Jesus related relics produced in the same period, all designed to attract pilgrims to specific shrines to enhance and increase the status and financial income of the local church.

There were countless crucifixion nails, crowns of thorns, and lances. And there were burial shrouds.

There were between 26 and 40 ‘authentic’ burial shrouds scattered throughout the abbeys of Europe, of which the Shroud of Turin is just one.

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, fragments supposedly cut from the True Cross were available in almost every church in Europe.

A church in St. Omer claimed to have bits of the True Cross, of the Lance that pierced Christ, of his Cradle, and the original stone tablets upon which the Ten Commandments had been traced by the very finger of God!

Three churches in France each professed to have a complete corpse of Mary Magdalene.

Jesus’ foreskin was preserved in at least six churches.

Vials of Jesus’ tears, vials of Jesus’ mother’s milk.

One catalogue from that time includes the following: “A fragment of St. Stephen’s rib; Rusted remains of the gridiron on which St. Lawrence died; A Lock of Mary’s hair; A small piece of her robe; A piece of the Manger; Part of one of Our Lord’s Sandals; A piece of the sponge that had been filled with vinegar and handed up to Him; A fragment of bread He had shared with His disciples; A tuft of St. Peter’s beard; Drops of St. John the Baptist’s Blood.”

Many churches vied to become known for the number and importance of their relics.

As early as 1071 the cathedral at Eichstatt possessed 683 relics, while by the 1520s the Schlosskirche at Wittenburg had 19,013 and the Schlosskirche at Halle boasted more than 21,000 such objects.

About 1200, Constantinople was so crammed with relics that one may speak of a veritable industry with its own factories”.

Blinzler (a Catholic New Testament scholar) lists, as examples: “letters in Jesus’ own hand, the gold brought to the baby Jesus by the wise men, the twelve baskets of bread collected after the miraculous feeding of the 5000, the throne of David, the trumpets of Jericho, the axe with which Noah made the Ark, and so on…”

During the Middle Ages particularly, relic-mongering was rampant; and of course, there were no scientific means to test things, so all manner of things were sold as authentic.

Including shrouds of Jesus.

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