Archive | January 2013

In Vietnam, rage growing over loss of land rights

Faced with a group of farmers refusing to give up their land for a housing project, the Communist Party officials negotiating the deal devised a solution: They went to a bank, opened accounts in the names of the holdouts and deposited what they decided was fair compensation. Then they took the land.

The farmers, angry at the sum and now forced to compete for jobs in a stuttering economy, blocked the main road connecting the capital to the north of the country for one day in December. In a macabre gesture, some clambered into coffins. Police who came to break up the demonstration were pelted with rocks. Several people were arrested.

“This is an injustice,” said Nguyen Duc Hung, a rice farmer forced to give up 2,000 square meters (215,000 square feet) of land he had worked for more than 15 years. “The compensation money will help us to survive for several years, but after that, how can we make our living?”

Forced confiscations of land are a major and growing source of public anger against Vietnam’s authoritarian one-party government. They often go hand-in-hand with corruption; local Communist Party elites have a monopoly on land deals, and many are alleged to have used it to make themselves rich.

These issues unite rural and urban Vietnamese in a way that discontent over political oppression tends not to.

Land disputes break out elsewhere in Asia, notably next door in China, but they have particular resonance in Vietnam, where wars and revolutions were fought in the name of the peasant class to secure collective ownership of the land.

The farmers who blocked the road quoted the country’s revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, in the banners they posted at their camp. “Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom,” said one. “We would rather die than lose our land,” said another.

The government recognizes that the anger coursing through the countryside threatens its legitimacy, and has pledged to revise land laws this year to make them more equitable.

But establishing clear property rights and enforcing laws to protect them comes with ideological complications in a country still publicly committed to state ownership of the land even as it embraces free-market capitalism.

Vietnam abandoned Soviet-style collective farming in the 1980s and began its embrace of capitalism. In 1993, it passed a revised land law that gave citizens the right to use land for 20 years, but stopped short of allowing private ownership. Local Communist party officials can forcibly acquire land, not just for public interest projects such as bridges and roads but also on behalf of private investors building housing estates and industrial and recreational facilities.

Complaints about corruption when rezoning agricultural land to accommodate expensive industrial plots are widespread. So are allegations that the government pays farmers one-tenth the market value of their land, or less.

“Compensation rates are very low and those who take the land profit greatly,” said economist and former adviser to the prime minister Pham Chi Lan. “The land laws have many loopholes which have created fertile ground for those who, with the support of local governments, take the land from people for their personal benefit.”

Small groups of farmers, many of them women, routinely demonstrate in Hanoi outside government buildings about forced confiscation of land. They welcome people taking photos of them or trying to talk, but security forces immediately shoo visitors away from the scene.

Disputes have been commonplace for years, but are increasing in frequency as farmers become more aware of their rights and economic development increases demand for industrial land. Many 20-year leases granted in 1993 are expiring this year, bringing fresh opportunities for rezoning of the land — and more opportunity for conflict.

Government figures reported to parliament in November showed public complaints had risen to 4,200 in 2011, more than twice the total number of complaints received from 2005 to 2009. National assembly deputy Ho Thi Thuy acknowledged that corruption among local party officials was a problem.

“Some people have abused the state policies to profit illegally,” she said, according to state-run media reports at the time.

The government has sought the assistance of the World Bank in revising the land law to reduce conflict. The World Bank and other outside institutions have called on the government to allow forced evictions only for works that benefit the public, not commercial projects, and to make the process more transparent and equitable.

Communist Party officials in Quang Ninh province, some 90 kilometers (56 miles) east of Hanoi, allowed an Associated Press team to visit Kim Son village. The journalists were escorted by party officials in the village. They spoke to opponents in phone interviews

Officials insisted they had followed the rules when acquiring the land for the housing project, which they said is aimed at upgrading the small village to a township.

“We are working together to build a more prosperous Kim Son,” said Vu Van Hoc, chairman of the local people’s committee.

He said the project used land that had been owned by 852 families, and that less than 10 percent of them disagreed with the government’s compensation rate of around $6 per square meter. He said just seven families were continuing to refuse the deal.

Villagers now allege the land has been resold for $310 per square meter. Hoc denied that, saying the land had yet to be sold.

He said he hoped that by depositing the money into bank accounts in the villagers’ names, “the issue could be resolved.” He dismissed the protest in late December as the work of “village extremists who had managed to persuade others” to join.

Video of the protest was recorded by people on their cellphones and posted on the Internet by dissident groups, which seek to capitalize on the public anger generated by the conflicts.

For two minutes, police cowered behind riot shields as young men hurled rocks and bits of concrete at them, but officers eventually regained control.

State media reported that 12 people were arrested. The police chief refused to identify them, or to say whether they were still in detention weeks later.

The local communist party bused in five villagers who had no complaints about the compensation package to speak to the visiting reporters and briefly showed them the land, on which a local company is already constructing roads and drainage. Unlike those protesting the compensation, the villagers appeared to have significant holdings elsewhere, or younger families with jobs.

Mac Thi Thuc, a 50-year-old who attendant the protest, and whose family is among the seven holdouts, said authorities cut off irrigation to her land in 2010, making it impossible to farm. She said the investors in housing scheme should have negotiated with her directly, not the government.

“Over the past two months, my husband and I have had no work,” she said. “We have been trying to look for jobs, but no one hired us because we are old. We have no money and we are going hungry and we don’t know how we can survive in the months ahead.”

There is one potential source of funds: the money local officials deposited as compensation. Thuc says her family isn’t touching it.

Alabama gunman kills bus driver, seizes boy

Law enforcement personnel walk away from the perimeter of the scene of a shooting and hostage taking in Midland City, Alabama, January 30, 2013. A gunman boarded an Alabama school bus ferrying children home from school on Tuesday and fatally shot the driver before fleeing with a young child and holing up in an underground bunker, Alabama media reported. Sheriff's officials confirmed that one person had been killed in a shooting involving a school bus in Alabama's Dale County but gave scant details other than to say that a child was present at the scene in Midland City. REUTERS/Phil Sears (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW)

Alabama gunman kills bus driver, seizes boy

Police SWAT teams and hostage negotiators were locked in a standoff Wednesday with a gunman authorities say intercepted a school bus, killed the driver, snatched a 6-year-old boy and retreated into a bunker at his home with the kindergartener.

The gunman, identified by neighbors as Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65-year-old retired truck driver, was known as a menacing figure who once beat a dog to death with a lead pipe, threatened to shoot children for setting foot on his property and patrolled his yard at night with a flashlight and a shotgun.

He had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday morning to answer charges he shot at his neighbors in a dispute last month over a speed bump.

The standoff dragged on through the night and into the afternoon Wednesday after the gunman boarded a stopped school bus filled with children in the small town of Midland City, population 2,300, on Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.

Sheriff Wally Olsen said the man shot the bus driver when he refused to hand over a 6-year-old child. The gunman then took the kindergartener away.

Dykes was believed to be holed up with the boy in an underground bunker of the sort used to take shelter from a tornado.

“As far as we know there is no relation at all. He just wanted a child for a hostage situation,” said Michael Senn, a church pastor who helped comfort the traumatized children after the attack.

The bus driver, Charles Albert Poland Jr., 66, was hailed by locals as a hero who gave his life to protect 21 students.

About 50 vehicles from federal, state and local agencies were clustered Wednesday at the end of a dirt road near Dykes’ home. Authorities gave no details on the standoff, and it was unclear whether they were in contact with Dykes or he had made any demands.

Homes nearby were evacuated after authorities found what was believed to be a bomb on his property.

Mike and Patricia Smith, who live across the street from Dykes and whose two children were on the bus when the shooting happened, said their youngsters had a run-in with him about 10 months ago.

“My bulldogs got loose and went over there,” Patricia Smith said. “The children went to get them. He threatened to shoot them if they came back.”

“He’s very paranoid,” her husband said. “He goes around in his yard at night with a flashlight and shotgun.”

“Everybody up the hill tried to avoid him,” he said.

Patricia Smith said her children told her what happened on the bus: Two other children had just been dropped off and the Smith children were next. Dykes stepped onto the bus and grabbed the door so the driver couldn’t close it. Dykes told the driver he wanted two boys, 6 to 8 years old, without saying why.

According to Smith, Dykes started down the aisle of the bus and the driver put his arm out to block him. Dykes fired four shots at Poland with a handgun, Smith said.

“He did give his life, saving children,” Mike Smith said.

Patricia Smith said her daughter, a high school senior, began corralling the other children and headed for the back of the bus while Dykes and the driver were arguing. Later, Smith’s son ran inside his house, telling his mother: “The crazy man across the street shot the bus driver and Mr. Poland won’t wake up.”

Patricia Smith ran over to the bus and saw the driver slumped over in his seat. Her daughter used another child’s cellphone to call 911.

Another neighbor, Ronda Wilbur, said Dykes beat her 120-pound dog with a lead pipe for coming onto his side of the dirt road. The dog died a week later.

“He said his only regret was he didn’t beat him to death all the way,” Wilbur said. She called animal control, who came out and talked to Dykes, but nothing else happened. “If a man can kill a dog, and beat it with a lead pipe and brag about it, it’s nothing until it’s going to be people.”

Dykes had been scheduled to appear in court Wednesday to face a charge of menacing some neighbors as they drove by his house weeks ago. Claudia Davis said he yelled and fired shots at her, her son and her baby grandson over damage Dykes claimed their pickup truck did to a makeshift speed bump in the dirt road. No one was hurt.

“Before this happened, I would see him at several places and he would just stare a hole through me,” Davis said. “On Monday I saw him at a laundromat and he seen me when I was getting in my truck, and he just stared and stared and stared at me.”

Afghan Police Locked Out of Own $7.3M Facility: Report

After the U.S. government spent $7.3 million on a 12-building compound for the Afghan police, American investigators have found that the compound sits largely unused and the few policemen who are housed there don’t even have the keys to most of the buildings.

According to a report released today by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the Imam Sahib Border Police Company Headquarters in the Kunduz Province in Afghanistan was meant to service 175 police officers when it was given over to Afghan authorities in September 2012. When SIGAR investigators visited the facility two months later, however, only “about” 12 officers were there and they said they were unaware of any plans to move any additional staff over.

In addition, the investigators were only able to actually get inside three of the 12 buildings because those Afghan officers didn’t have the keys to the others. The investigators resorted to peeking through windows to try to evaluate the interiors of those buildings.

DOWNLOAD: SIGAR Report on the Imam Sahib Border Police Company Headquarters in Kunduz Province (PDF)

The SIGAR inspectors said that plans to use some of the facilities were also unclear and one building that was meant for administrative work was being used as living space. The barracks, which were designed to house the police officers, were unoccupied. The facility also had no back-up electricity, the report said.

“The site is fairly new, largely unoccupied, and, to date, has had little need for operation and maintenance support,” the report says.

In the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan’s response to the SIGAR findings, which was included in the report, officials explained that the Afghan staffing requirement had changed from 175 people for a “combined battalion and company headquarters” when the facility was planned to a 59-person company headquarters by the time it was completed. “Due to dispersed daily operations,” the report said, “facilities would rarely be at full capacity.”

Taking this facility as a lesson, the SIGAR recommended, among other things, that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) review other construction plans for Afghan Border Police facilities to make sure they are being built with operational requirements in mind. The USACE concurred with a majority of the recommendations and plans to review other facility plans.

Secret Group in House Finalizing Plan for Immigration Reform

As a group of senators unveil their bipartisan proposal for immigration reform today and President Obama heads west this week to rally support for his own ideas, a separate bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives is on the verge of finalizing its own designs forcomprehensive immigration reform.

The discussions, which top aides close to the talks discussed on the condition that they not be identified, are described as “Washington’s best-kept secret.”

Last week, House Speaker John Boehner spilled the beans on the secret group, revealing that the lawmakers had been “meeting for three or four years now” and that they are almost ready to present their proposals publicly.

“They basically have an agreement. I’ve not seen the agreement. I don’t know all the pitfalls, but it’s, in my view, the right group of members,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told the Ripon Society last week during remarks that were closed to the press, as first reported by The Hill. “My theory was that if these folks could work this out, it’d be a big step in the right direction.”

Multiple sources say those involved in the talks include Democratic Reps. Xavier Becerra (California), Luis Gutierrez (Illinois), Zoe Lofgren (California), and Republican Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart (Florida), Sam Johnson (Texas) and John Carter (Texas). Spokespersons for each congressional office refused to confirm or deny their representative’s participation in the talks on the record. Additional members have also participated, according to sources intimately involved in the talks.

The House’s not-yet-finalized proposal is expected to address five general areas of immigration reform, according to aides close to the negotiations. Secure the border, implement a permanent E-verify system nationwide, reform the visa system, address the predicament of how to handle immigrants already in the country illegally in a “fair” and “legal manner” while determining how to handle those who have applied for legal immigration and are currently waiting in line, and reform theimmigration system for future applicants.

“We don’t want to create an advantage for people who came into the country illegally or overstayed visas while millions of others wait in line,” one insider said. “We have to reform the legal immigrationsystem so you have a system that people will go through rather than go around.”

Sources said that the talks are so far along, there are draft proposals written into legislation language awaiting final approval before the plan is introduced in the House. One source hinted that the group’s proposal could be unveiled in the days surrounding the president’s State of the Union address, which is scheduled Feb. 12.

Although he would not confirm his personal participation in the talks, Diaz-Balart, the president of the Congressional Hispanic Conference, admitted that both political parties have used immigration as a campaign tool instead of working earnestly to address the problem. He said he wondered whether there are enough members willing to work across party lines “to solve an issue everybody knows is broken.”

“The American people realize that the immigration system is broken, absolutely broken, from A to Z. The question is are we going to continue, knowing that it’s broken, to ignore it or are we going to try to solve it? What you’re seeing now is a true effort to fix what’s broken,” Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said during a phone call Monday. “What I saw today in the Senate is encouraging, and in the House, pretty soon we’ll be able to show a lot of work has been done.”

The mysterious discussions have taken on an increased level of urgency now that President Obamahas been sworn in for a second term in office. Last week, the president also met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Becerra and Gutierrez, at the White House. During that meeting the president identified immigration reform as his top legislative priority. One source said if Congress fails to enact a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws by the end of the year, it won’t happen until after 2016 when there is a new president.

Lawmakers are considering “deferred adjudication,” which would hold anyone accountable who entered the country illegally without kicking them out of the country. While the details are still being worked out, sources explained one proposal under consideration would require anyone who entered the country illegally to plead guilty before a federal court, pay a penalty and serve a probation-type sentence.

“We don’t want anyone skipping line,” another congressional aide close to the talks said. “If they broke the law, they have to pay a price.”

The amount of the fine is among the final ‘unclosed issues’ as discussions near completion, aides say. Lawmakers are also attempting to settle how quickly to implement the e-verify system. While some lawmakers prefer to enforce the check within one year, others want to delay implementation for two years.

Democrat participants joined the group with the blessing of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and regularly updated her on the informal talks, according to a senior Democratic leadership aide.President Obama has also been aware of the secret discussions the past four years, one source added.

The effort has been ongoing for years with as many as 20 lawmakers involved in talks, but half of the members of the original working group left the House of Representatives after the last election, according to multiple sources. The group met at least once a week every week that the House was in session over the past two years. Sometimes members met up to three times per week, and never for less than an hour, making the success of keeping the meetings secret even more remarkable.

For a party that is anxiously trying to reshape its public perception after being defeated up and down the ballot last November, many top Republicans now appear ready to embrace politically gutsy changes to the law.

Ahead of the immigration blitz this week, former Republican vice president nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, who is not part of the working group, called immigration “a good thing.”

“We’re here because of immigration. That’s what America is. It’s a melting pot. We think this is good. We need to make sure it works,” Ryan, R-Wis., said on “Meet the Press” Sunday. “There are Republicans and Democrats, many of us are talking to each other, that can come together with a good solution to make sure that this problem is fixed once and for all.”

Still, there are some conservatives who warn that the Senate’s proposal would amount to amnesty and encourage further illegal immigration.

“When you legalize those who are in the country illegally, it costs taxpayers millions of dollars, costs American workers thousands of jobs and encourages more illegal immigration,” Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, wrote in a statement today. “By granting amnesty, the Senate proposal actually compounds the problem by encouraging more illegal immigration.”

One of the House’s most ardent advocates for strengthening border security, Rep. Steve King, said he has not been asked for any input and doubted its chances to produce an effective plan.

“If you want a particular result, appoint the people that will produce the result that you want,” King, R-Iowa, said about the secret discussions during a phone call Monday. “I don’t know when eight senators were smarter than 100, or a dozen members of the House were smarter than 435 members. Secret meetings reinforce the people inside the door and isolate folks outside of the door.”

Beyonce Dons A ‘Can I Live?’ Sweatshirt While Rehearsing For Super Bowl

  • Beyonce dons a 'Can I Live?' Sweatshirt while rehearsing for the Super Bowl in New Orleans on January 27, 2013 -- Instagram

After teasing her fans with a sneak peek of her rehearsals for her upcoming Super Bowl XLVII halftime show, Beyonce is tackling the question on everyone’s mind.

The pop star seemingly addressed her headline-making Inauguration performance with a bit of casual fashion.

PLAY IT NOW: Beyonce Lip Sync Controversy: Plugged In Panel Comes To The Singer’s Defense

The 31-year-old star posted a photo of herself on Instagram sporting a sweatshirt with the words “Can I live?” written on it.

(See Beyonce’s possible lip sync brush-off, HERE!)

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Jay-Z also has a song titled “Can I Live.”

The singer has yet to comment on reports that she used a pre-recorded track during President Obama’s second Inauguration, while performing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

In just a week, Destiny’s Child stars Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams will reportedly join Beyonce for a medley of the group’s biggest hits during the halftime show, which will air Sunday, February 3, from New Orleans.

VIEW THE PHOTOS: Game On! Sexy Male Athletes!

As previously reported, a set list for the show was revealed earlier this week.

Beyonce will reportedly kick off her set with “Crazy in Love,” and then be joined by Kelly and Michelle.

VIEW THE PHOTOS: Stars Celebrating Their First Mother’s Day In 2012

The reunited trio will reportedly then launch into their hits “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Survivor,” and end with their new single “Nuclear.”

— Jesse Spero

Copyright 2013 by NBC Universal, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pay Dirt! Antarctic Drilling Reaches Lake Surface

U.S. scientists successfully drilled into Lake Whillans, a subglacial expanse of water hidden deep beneath the Antarctic ice sheet, they reported on Sunday (Jan. 27).

About a month ago, a similar British attempt to reach subglacial Lake Ellsworth had failed. Drilling operations for the WISSARD project (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling), which is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Office of Polar Programs, started on Jan. 21.

Over the next couple of days, equipment will be lowered down the 2,625-foot (800-meter)-deep hole to carry out measurements and to obtain water samples for further study on board container-based scientific laboratories on the surface. As of Sunday (Jan. 27), theWISSARD team said they may have penetrated the lake surface.

“Sensors on the hot water drill show a water pressure change, indicating that the borehole has connected with the lake,” they write on the WISSARD blog. “Verification awaits visual images from a down-borehole camera this evening. We are excited about the latest developments at the lake!” [See Photos of Subglacial Lake Whillans Drilling Site]

The bottom of the world

On Dec. 9, I visited the WISSARD test site on the Ross Ice Shelf, just off the coast of the Antarctic continent and close to McMurdo Station, as a selected member of the NSF Antarctic media visit program. The test site resembled a small factory, with generators, water tanks, labs, workshops, data centers and, of course, the actual drilling platform – all mounted on giant skis. In the background were the tractors that would pull the whole installation to Lake Whillans, across hundreds of miles of solid ice.

“This is a first go,” said Ross Powell of the University of Northern Illinois, one of WISSARD’s 13 principal investigators. “Next year we hope to return to drill more holes.”

Frank Rack, a geologic oceanographer of the University of Nebraska who leads the WISSARD drill team, explained how a powerful jet of pressurized hot water is used to melt a hole in the ice.

“Our hot water drill is state-of-the-art,” Rack said. Part of the system, including two 225-kilowatt generators and the power distribution modules, had previously been used to drill the holes for theIceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole. The technique is simple in principle, but prone to unexpected problems. “My biggest worry is that something might get stuck,” Powell said. With the successful completion of the actual drilling at Lake Whillans, this worry has now been laid to rest.

A big concern for the WISSARD team has been to prevent contamination of samples from thesubglacial lake with microorganisms. After all, an important goal of the project is studying the lake’s ecosystem, if it exists at all. Even at 195 degrees Fahrenheit (90 degrees Celsius) — the temperature the pressurized water for drilling is heated to — water contains a lot of spore-forming bacteria. That’s why the drilling hose is fed through a collar of ultraviolet lamps: the energetic radiation kills 99.9 percent of all microorganisms.

In contrast, the Russian team that drilled into subglacial Lake Vostok last year used kerosene to lubricate the borehole – a technique significantly less clean than hot-water-drilling.

Microbiologist Jill Mikucki of the University of Tennessee is pretty sure there might be life under the ice: microorganisms that are able to thrive in the cold, dark, isolated subglacial lakes. She doesn’t expect to encounter larger organisms, because there’s so little energy available at 2,625 feet (800 m) below the icecap, but “microbes are everywhere,” Mikucki said. “There’s even potential to find new species.”

Subglacial microbes could accelerate weathering of rocks, Mikucki explained, releasing silicon and iron that finds its way into the ocean and serves as nutrients for other life forms. “I want to find out how they help to run the planet.” [Antarctica Album: Stunning Photos of IceBridge Mission]

Hidden plumbing

Meanwhile, geologists and glaciologists are eager to learn more about water transport and ice dynamics beneath the frozen Antarctic surface. Lake Whillans lies beneath a 66-foot (20-meter) wide ice stream that moves about a meter per day, as opposed to something like a meter per year for the surrounding icecap. Little is known about the possible relation between ice streams on the surface and subglacial river systems, which have only been discovered — and charted through radar — over the past couple of decades.

“Lake Whillans is just one of a few hundred interconnected lakes,” said Powell, “and radar observations have revealed that it fills and drains in a five-to-10-year cycle. We want to find out what causes these cycles. And knowing more about ice dynamics is important to better understand the effects global warming might have on the Antarctic continent. Thanks to WISSARD, we will be able for the first time to use real field data as input in our glacialogical models.”

Even the 66-foot (80-m)-deep test drill through the Ross Ice Shelf, completed in mid-December, was of interest to scientists. An earlier program called ANDRILL (for Antarctic Drilling project), also led by Rack, encountered some unusual life forms beneath the ice, including giant anemones and previously unknown organisms looking like floating spring rolls. “Pretty surprising,” Rack said. “I have a museum guy doing the taxonomy right now, and we are writing it up for Science magazine. At the WISSARD test site we could find similar — or very different — organisms. We’ll have to see.” Results from the test drilling have not yet been released. [Life on Ice: Gallery of Cold-Loving Creatures]

Planetary scientist Britney Schmidt of the University of Texas at Austin has deployed a small, tethered robotic submersible through the test borehole. Known as SCINI (Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging), it is outfitted with a lamp and a camera. “It looks for everything under the ice,” Schmidt told me at her temporary office at McMurdo Station. “There’s no reason that I could think of why we would not find interesting organisms.”

In the future, Schmidt hopes to use similar techniques to search for life in the subglacial ocean of Europa, one of the four large satellites of Jupiter. “I’m not 100 percent sure that there is life on Europa,” she said, “but if it’s not there, I’d like to learn why it isn’t there.” Again, the SCINI results from the test site are not yet published, but it’s clear that projects like WISSARD are already firing the imagination of planetary scientists and astrobiologists.

It will be a while before scientists succeed in drilling through the polar ice of Mars, or through the icy crust of Europa, but the success at Lake Whillans gives them a taste of things to come. Meanwhile, WISSARD will provide geochemists and microbiologists alike with a unique picture of an integrated subglacial ecosystem. “Other systems are much easier to study,” said Mikucki, “but from Antarctica we only have limited samples so far. Since 10 percent of the Earth’s land surface is covered with ice, we really need more data to understand our planet. Antarctica is an important piece of the puzzle.”

Woman Sues Match.Com After Date Attacks Her

A Las Vegas woman is suing for $10 million, after the online dating service allegedly paired her with a man who stabbed her 10 times in the face and chest in an attempt to kill her.

Mary Kay Beckman, 50, claims in a lawsuit filed earlier this month that she joined the website looking for a “healthy loving relationship,” but instead was nearly killed.

Beckman says she went on a few dates in October 2011 with Wade Ridley, but after ending the relationship came home one day to find him in her garage with a knife.

Ridley “brutally stabbed [Beckman] 10 times with a knife about her head, face and upper body, until the overwhelming force he applied to the stabbing caused the knife to break,” according to court documents.

According to her lawsuit, Ridley then “stomped and kicked” her in the head until she “stopped making the gurgling noise” and left her for dead.

A neighbor found Beckman and she was rushed to the hospital where she endured multiple surgeries over several weeks.

While Beckman was in the hospital, Ridley was arrested for the murder of an Arizona woman, also an ex-girlfriend. Many of the details of Beckman’s attack came from Ridley himself when police later questioned him.

He told police he waited for Beckman in her garage and had killed the other woman because he felt they had both jilted him, according to an arrest report.

Ridley, who had no prior record of dangerous crimes, was convicted of the other murder and died in jail last year while serving a 70-year sentence. argues the lawsuit is frivolous and says it offers tips for safe dating on the site. Online dating is no less safe than meeting someone “at a bar or at church,” said Match spokeswoman Eva Ross.

“What happened to Mary Kay Beckman is horrible, but this lawsuit is absurd,” Ross said in a statement. “The many millions of people who have found love on and other online dating sites know how fulfilling it is. And while that doesn’t make what happened in this case any less awful, this is about a sick, twisted individual with no prior criminal record, not an entire community of men and women looking to meet each other.”

In her suit Beckman says the tips posted on the site do not go far enough and the company needs to overtly warn users of potential dangers.

Wis. sheriff urges citizens to get gun training

A Wisconsin sheriff says he released an ad calling on residents to defend themselves because the old model of having a citizen call 911 and wait for help isn’t always the best option.

In the ad, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. tells residents that when it comes to personal safety: “I need you in the game.” He urges citizens to learn to use firearms so they can “fight back” until authorities arrive.

The ad has drawn sharp criticism from other area officials. The president of the Milwaukee Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, Roy Felber, says it sounds like a call to vigilantism.

But Clarke says he can either whine about budget cuts that have reduced the number of deputies or call on citizens to work with officers in some situations.

Could North Korea hit the US with a missile?

Could North Korea hit the United States with a ballistic missile? Could it mount a nuclear warhead on the tip of that missile?

The short answers to these questions are “in theory maybe, in practice probably not” and “no, not yet.” Longer answers revolve around the fact that experts in and outside the US intelligence community have struggled for decades to understand North Korea’s weapons programs and geopolitical intent.

Yet North Korea’s current and future military capabilities are among the most profound national-security issues facing the US. They’ve taken on a new urgency this week in the face of renewed threats from the secretive Pyongyang regime. A launcher-rattling statement from North Korea on Thursday described the US as its “sworn enemy” and announced plans for a third nuclear test and more tests of long-range missiles in the months ahead.

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“Settling accounts with the US needs to be done with force, not with words as it regards jungle law as the rule of its survival,” said the statement from North Korea’s National Defense Commission.

When it comes to ballistic missile capabilities, official US intelligence comments about North Korea tend to be fairly bland.

“North Korea continues to pursue the development, production and deployment of ballistic missiles with increasing range and sophistication,” judges a 2012 unclassified report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to Congress on threatening technology developments, for instance.

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Yet sometimes top officials sound more concerned in their public statements. In January, a few weeks after North Korea had successfully placed a satellite in orbit with the Unha-3 space-launch variant of its longest-range missile, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told American troops, “North Korea just fired a missile. It’s an intercontinental ballistic missile, for God sakes. That means they have the capability to strike the United States.”

Secretary Panetta’s predecessor, Robert Gates, before he left office, warned that North Korea would have missiles capable of reaching the continental US by 2015 or 2016. US officials have also talked about a new, road-mobile North Korean missile that may or may not have intercontinental capabilities.

In theory, a ballistic missile based on the Unha rocket would be able to deliver a nuclear warhead-sized payload as far as Alaska, Hawaii, or part of the Lower 48, according to an analysis from the Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in California.

But previous launches of Unha-based rockets in 2006 and 2009 failed, raising questions about the technology’s reliability, CNS points out. In addition, it is a liquid-fueled rocket. This means it has to stand on the launchpad for hours, indeed days, for fueling. During that time it would be a sitting duck for attack.

“Although the Unha is clearly a step toward such a capability, it does not in itself represent a reliable system capable of delivering a nuclear weapon to the continental United States,” CNS judges.

North Korea has carried out two nuclear weapons tests and now says it is planning a third. The ability to produce a nuclear explosion, however, is not nearly the same thing as the ability to produce a device small enough to fit on the top of a missile.

As noted in a recent Congressional Research Service report, it is possible that Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan provided North Korea with the same Chinese-based design for a small nuclear weapon that he provided to Libya and Iran. But most experts judge that North Korean scientists have yet to shrink their nuclear technology into a package small enough for missile delivery.

North Korean officials have long talked with bellicosity unmatched in geostrategic circles. Some say that when it comes to their nuclear missile programs, this chest thumping is largely a bluff – pro wrestling drama translated for an international stage.

Their past missile tests have been maximized to give the appearance of performance, and they have never exploded an actual nuclear warhead design, according to RAND analyst Markus Schiller.

Thus concerns about their missile tests are overblown, wrote Mr. Schiller in a lengthy 2012 report on North Korea’s missile programs.

“Every launch further depletes the limited North Korean arsenals, and North Korea gains no real experience from these events. Since the purpose of the launches seems to be political, the United States and other nations should downplay or even ignore them,” he writes.

Not all experts are so sanguine.

For instance, the South Korean Navy has managed to retrieve first-stage debris from North Korea’s December Unha-3 launch, and certain aspects of the space junk appear to reflect novel North Korean use of foreign-obtained technology.

The engine, for instance, appears to have new and slightly unexpected technological additions, such as the ability to steer with small auxiliary engines instead of jet vanes.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday condemning December’s rocket launch.

North Korea is not Iraq, whose ballistic missiles turned out to be cruder than US intelligence expected, points out Jeffrey Lewis, director of the CNS East Asia Nonproliferation Program, on theArms Control Wonk blog.

“There has been a tendency to underestimate what North Korea can do in the space and missile field, and possibly with technology in general,” Mr. Lewis writes.

Florida squatter claims ownership of $2.5 million mansion

Thomas Jefferson once said, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” But one Florida man says he’s the rightful owner of a $2.5 million mansion because he walked through the front door and never left.

The Orlando Sentinel reports that 23-year-old Andre “Loki” Barbosa is a squatter trying to cash in on a Florida law which says an individual may claim ownership of a property if they have lived there for seven years.

Sunrise real estate lawyer Gary Singer told the paper Barbosa is arguing that a Florida law known as “adverse possession” applies to him. The foreclosed, 7,522-square-foot property has reportedly been empty for about 18 months.

Barbosa reportedly filed his “adverse possession” paperwork in July 2012.

And the idea of a random stranger moving into the upscale Boca Raton neighborhood isn’t sitting well with the other, paying residents.

“This is a very upsetting thing,” neighbor Lyn Houston told the Sentinel. “Last week, I went to the Bank of America and asked to see the person in charge of mortgages. I told them, ‘I am prepared to buy this house.’ They haven’t even called me back.”

According to reports, no one saw Barbosa enter the property, so police have been unable to forcibly remove him from the 5-bedroom home. For their part, Bank of America says they are following a legal process to reclaim the property, sending a request for an eviction notice to the local court.

“The bank is taking this situation seriously and we will work diligently to resolve this matter,” BofA spokeswoman Jumana Bauwens told the paper.

A Facebook page listed under Barbosa’s name has been chronicling the situation, referring to the disputed property as “Templo de Kamisamar.” A recent post claiming to be from Barbosa declares, “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”

The Sentinel reports that Barbosa has also placed a notice on the front window of the property declaring himself the, “living beneficiary to the Divine Estate being superior of commerce and usury.”