Sunday, September 28, 2014

7 in 10 U.S. Troops Oppose Boots on the Ground in Iraq

7 in 10 U.S. Troops Oppose Boots on the Ground in Iraq

7 in 10 U.S. Troops Oppose Boots on the Ground in Iraq

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 09:51 AM PDT

A large majority of the U.S. military’s rank and file are opposed to sending troops back to Iraq in combat roles, according to a new Military Times poll, even as the Pentagon commits to a broadening program of air strikes against Islamist extremists in the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

The poll of active-duty members also showed a sudden hike in negativity over the past year about the success of the army’s combat mission in Iraq, with a large number of troops now questioning what U.S. military operations in the country had achieved.

Just over 70% of the troops polled were opposed to the U.S. military sending a “substantial number of combat troops to Iraq to support the Iraqi security forces.”

Of the 2,200 U.S. troops surveyed in the Military Times poll, just under 60% said the war in Iraq was not very or not at all successful, up from 31% in 2013; just 30% thought the war was very or somewhat successful this year, compared with 53% last year.

The mounting pessimism among troops over the U.S. involvement in Iraq could explain why more than seven in 10 troops support President Obama’s commitment not to get “dragged into another ground war” in Iraq. Many troops have adopted a non-interventionist attitude, with one Army infantry officer telling the Military Times, “It’s their country, it’s their business.”

One officer said troops should have stayed in Iraq longer to secure the country. “I know there are other political issues, but for our job, we should have stayed until it was secure,” said Army Capt. Eric Hatch, a logistics officer at Fort Bliss, Texas. “I think we were close to being done [in 2011], but I think we could have stayed another year or two.”

[Military Times]

Modi Courts Indian-Americans at Madison Sq Garden

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 09:10 AM PDT

NEW YORK (AP) — A day after addressing a hushed U.N. General Assembly, where headphone-wearing delegates rarely break into a smile, India’s new prime minister is assured a raucous reception as he addresses a crowd from a rotating stage at Madison Square Garden.

Exhibiting unusual glitz for a visiting leader, Narendra Modi takes a star turn at the famous New York auditorium as he courts the Indian-American community on his first U.S. visit since sweeping to power in May.

Modi is no stranger to a big stage. Backed by huge corporate wealth, he was the center of the slickest election campaign India has seen, drawing huge crowds. Indian media quickly gave him the celebrity-like nickname of “NaMo.”

Madison Square Garden, however, takes it up a notch. It is home to the New York Knicks basketball team, and was where John Lennon played his last concert. Muhammad Ali fought his first bout against Joe Frazier there.

Organizers expect about 18,500 Indian-Americans to attend. They are among more than 30,000 across the U.S. who had registered for free tickets. The speech will also be broadcast on a big screen in Times Square.

Modi won a spectacular electoral victory in May and was catapulted into the international arena. This marked a major change since 2005, when the U.S. denied him a visa for his alleged complicity in sectarian violence in his home state of Gujarat.

Now he’s being courted by world leaders, and on Monday and Tuesday, President Barack Obama will host Modi at the White House.

The Indian leader, a Hindu nationalist, hasn’t entirely shed questions about his past.

A federal court in New York on Friday issued a summons for Modi for a lawsuit brought by a U.S. human rights group. It was filed on behalf of victims of the Gujarat violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives, mostly Muslims.

The group offered a $10,000 reward for anyone who is able to serve the summons on Modi, even though as a head of state he enjoys immunity from lawsuits in American courts while in the U.S.

While some anti-Modi protesters are expected outside the venue, the audience inside will be sympathetic — and high-powered too. U.S. lawmakers, Indian celebrities and prominent Indian-American business people are due to attend.

Modi will speak from a rotating platform measuring 15 meters (yards) across. He will speak Hindi, but is expected to give some remarks in English, according to event organizer, the Indian-American Community Foundation.

The foundation says more than 400 partner organizations have helped to spread the word and distribute tickets for the event, with financial support by Indian American people and businesses. They are billing it as one of the largest receptions ever held for a foreign head of state in the U.S.

Although Modi remains a divisive figure, the event is a sign of his appeal not just at home but among the Indian diaspora as a leader who can tackle pervasive corruption and inefficiency, and revive the sluggish Indian economy.

It also reflects the growing clout of the 2.8 million Indian-Americans, one of the wealthiest diaspora communities in the U.S. which can help Modi spur trade and foreign investment.

US-Led Airstrikes Hit Syria Oil Refinery by Turkey

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 09:01 AM PDT

SANLIURFA, Turkey (AP) — Airstrikes likely carried out by the U.S.-led coalition struck an oil refinery in Syria held by the Islamic State group on Sunday, shaking buildings and sending flames shooting into the air near the Turkish border, a witness and activists said.

Al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate meanwhile warned that Muslims would attack countries taking part in the coalition air raids, which have targeted both the Islamic State extremist group — with which al-Qaida is at war — as well as hardline militants battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Explosions lit the sky for two hours at the refinery in the northern Syrian town of Tel Abyad around 2:30 a.m. local time (2330 GMT Saturday), said Turkish businessman Mehmet Ozer, who lives in the nearby Turkish town of Akcakale.

“Our building was shaking and we saw fire, some 60 meters (65 yards) high, coming from the refinery,” he said. The strikes were also reported by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Turkey’s Dogan news agency. Dogan said the strikes targeted an oil refinery and the local headquarters of the Islamic State group.

U.S. Central Command, which is overseeing the air campaign, did not immediately comment on the strikes.

The U.S.-led coalition has been targeting oil installations across Syria controlled by the extremist group, aiming to cripple its finances. The group is believed to earn some $3 million a day from selling smuggled oil on the black market as well as kidnapping and extortion.

The United States and five Arab allies launched an aerial campaign against Islamic State fighters Tuesday with the aim of rolling back and ultimately crushing the extremist group, which has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border. The U.S. has been carrying out airstrikes against the group in neighboring Iraq since August.

In seizing territory, the Islamic State group has massacred and beheaded its opponents, chased out tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis who belong to minority groups and imposed a harsh interpretation of Islamic law on residents,

The Islamic State group has also abducted Syrian activists, international aid workers and journalists, and has beheaded a British aid worker and two American reporters.

The coalition includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan. Several European countries also are contributing to U.S. efforts to strike the Islamic State group in Iraq, including France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Britain.

The campaign against the oil facilities is expected to be a long, slow task as most of the refineries held by the Islamic State group are small and scattered across their territory.

The Britain-based Observatory says at least 19 civilians have been killed so far in coalition strikes in Syria. Most recently, six oil workers in the far northeast province of Hassakeh were killed overnight, said the Observatory, which obtains information from a network of activists on the ground.

Overall, some 190,000 people have been killed in Syria’s three-year conflict, and nearly one-half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million people has been displaced.

In Syria, the strikes are also targeting the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s official branch in the country.

Washington views the group as a terrorist organization, while most Syrian rebels see it as a highly effective ally against both President Bashar Assad’s government and the Islamic State extremist group, which has been rejected by al-Qaida’s central leadership.

The Nusra Front’s ultimate goal is to impose Islamic law in Syria. But unlike the Islamic State group, it has fought alongside other rebel groups, seeing the overthrow of Assad as its first priority.

On Sunday, a spokesman for the Nusra Front warned that jihadists around the world would strike back against the coalition.

“This will have a response,” spokesman Abu Firas al-Souri said in a video uploaded to social media networks by Nusra loyalists. “These countries undertook an ugly act that will place them on the lists of targets for jihadi forces all over the world.”

Al-Souri said the strikes on the Nusra Front were “against the Syrian people… who rose against the oppressor and fought in the way of God.”

Al-Souri’s speech was preceded by mournful music and images of what appeared to be dead Nusra fighters and rubble from bombing. The video appeared genuine and corresponded to Associated Press reporting.

Syrian rebels have expressed anger at the coalition airstrikes, both because they have targeted the Nusra Front — which they see as an ally — and because they are not hitting forces loyal to Assad, which are the best placed to benefit from any rolling back of the Islamic State group.

Denzel Washington Rules Box Office With The Equalizer

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 08:55 AM PDT

Denzel Washington’s The Equalizer led the box office this weekend with a $35 million debut, proving that the veteran of Malcolm X and Remember the Titans is as popular as ever in the United States.

The thriller reunites Training Day director Antoine Fuqua with Washington, who saw the third-best debut of his career Friday and Saturday, following American Gangster ($43.6 million) in 2007, and Safe House ($40.2 million) in 2012, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The film, which earned strong reviews — including a positive one from TIME’s Richard Corliss—stars Washington as a former special forces member who comes out of a quiet life to battle violent Russian gangsters. It didn’t hurt that The Equalizer played in Imax theaters and and large-format screens, and also featured Eminem’s new single “Guts Over Fear.”

The second-biggest box office debut of the weekend, the 3D family film Boxtrolls, earned $17.3 million.

[The Hollywood Reporter]

This Discovery Brings Us One Step Closer to Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 08:19 AM PDT

Researchers at the University of Rochester seem to be taking the words of science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke’s to heart: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Inspired in part by the famous Invisibility Cloak from Harry Potter, scientists at Rochester have discovered new ways to use complex lenses to hide objects from view. While previous cloaking devices distort the background and make it apparent that an object is being cloaked, the four lenses used at Rochester keep an object hidden as the viewer moves up to several degrees away.

“This is the first device that we know of that can do three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking, which works for transmitting rays in the visible spectrum,” said Joseph Choi, a PhD student at Rochester’s Institute of Optics who is working with physics professor Joseph Howell at the university.

While the lenses do truly disguise the image of an object, scientists aren’t claiming a suit-sized version of the lens will work, much less help its wearers sneak past Death Eaters or into a Room of Requirement.

But there are practical uses for the technology: Howell says that the lenses could help a surgeon “look through his hands to what he is actually operating on,” and the lenses could be applied to a truck to allow drivers to see through blind spots on their vehicles.

Here’s a video that shows in more detail how the lenses work:


Report: Secret Service Bungled White House Shooting Response in 2011

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 08:09 AM PDT

The Secret Service badly bungled its response to a shooting outside the White House in 2011, according to a new report, taking four days to realize that shots had actually hit the presidential residence.

A detailed report in the Washington Post chronicles the Secret Service’s slow and inadequate response to a 2011 shooting outside the White House in which an Idaho man, Oscar R. Ortega-Hernandez, fired at least seven bullets into the house’s upstairs residence 700 yards across the South Lawn, and to the attack.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were away during that weekend, but their younger daughter, Sasha, was in the White House, the Post reports, and their older daughter, Malia, was expected home any minute.

While Secret Service officers rushed to respond to the shots, a call came from the supervisor on duty: no shots fired, stand down. The officers complied, even as Ortega sped away from the scene at 60 mph. The supervisor apparently believed the noise had been a construction vehicle backfiring.

Although it acknowledged later that night that shots had been fired in the vicinity, the agency initially suggested they had come from a gang gunfight near the front lawn of the White House, and not from a deliberate attack.

It took more than four days for the Secret Service to piece together that shots had hit the White House, and only then because a housekeeper noticed the damage. The Secret Service did not interview key witnesses until days later, when the bullets were found, and only conducted a superficial inspection of the White House for damage.

The Obamas were only made aware of the shooting when an assistant White House usher told the First Lady about the bullet holes another housekeeper had found. The officers who believed shots had hit the White House were either ignored or afraid to contradict their superiors.

Ortega was eventually arrested and sentenced to 25 years in prison. A spokesman for the Secret Service declined to speak with the Post.

[Washington Post]

Chris Pratt Hosts SNL: Best, Worst, and Weirdest Moments

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 07:42 AM PDT

Here is a question that I didn’t think I’d have to ask: Did anyone at Saturday Night Live know who Chris Pratt was before he agreed to host last night?

The season premiere, SNL‘s 40th, played way more to the idea of Pratt (handsome, open-minded blockbuster-er) than to his human Slinky strengths, which kept being hidden behind wigs, like the wigs were the joke. He is the joke! But too many of the sketches expected him to do so much with so little; or, worse, didn’t expect anything much from him at all. (When his chest flashed across the screen in the final sketch, the audience roared.) That said…

The Good, The Bad, The Weird

The best joke came in Pratt’s monologue, otherwise an affair not quite louche enough to be lovable. After a word or two, he pulled out a guitar, but warned the audience: “I know I’m not half the singer that Ariana Grande is, but I am technically three times her body weight. So the math works out.”

The best sketch, and Pratt’s best moments, played expertly on two things: 1) that everyone in America has seen Guardians of the Galaxy and 2) that we all love the same two things about it. SNL puréed that into a marketing video touting a new slate of films under the banner, “Marvel Can’t Fail.” Coming soon: Bus People, Marvel’s Pam, Pam 2: The Winter Pam, and Some Shopping Carts, with the footage all cued to the strut down the hallway from the original Guardians trailer, with “Hooked on a Feeling” playing in the background. It’s a joke that’s easy to over-explain, but funniest — like here — in endless variation.

The worst sketch was the second of the night, which saw toys brought to life by a young boy’s wish, like Toy Story only with loincloths and genitalia. And I do mean only those things. Taran Killam, as ThunderCats leader Lion-O, discovered the joys of cake and self-pleasure. Pratt, as He-Man, swung his sword and kept swinging and then smashed through a kitchen wall in pursuit of a teenage girl. The sketch had the night’s first Ariana Grande appearance, as He-Man’s twin sister, She-Ra. (She was definitely there! Is the thing that you can say about it to all of your friends.)

The weirdest sketch came late in the episode, as they almost always do, this one more thought experiment than pay-off. Imagine: Everyone on Friends had been swapped out with the cast of Lifetime’s TV movie The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story — and you’d be about halfway there. Pratt, et al. played three roommates driven apart when Pratt is seduced into a dark friendship with a group of young boys. Everything is styled and shot like a classic, learn-your-lesson sitcom of the ’80s and ’90s.

Other Things

Weekend Update returned with a new co-host, Michael Che, alongside head writer/and more Colin Jost. The segment lacked for zingers but not cast members, bringing in Cecily Strong, Pete Davidson, and Leslie Jones as respectively experts on Ebola, teens, and singledom. Bringing back Strong, Che’s talented predecessor in the Update chair, so quickly could have been just a make-nice moment, but she’s too funny away from the desk not to use.

Don Pardo, SNL’s longtime announcer, who died in August, was remembered during the episode with a title card and moment of silence.

Ariana Grande sang two songs, with one surprise each: First was “Break Free,” which started as a piano-backed cabaret piece before halfway through transforming into its original version, as a full-on Zedd-sterpiece. Her “Love Me Harder” nearly ended the episode, with The Weeknd dropping by to duet. (Have you seen his hair lately? We’ve all been talking and we think you should say something.)

Aidy Bryant was the night’s workhorse, a crucial part of no fewer than four sketches, including a standout that saw her spitting Nicki Minaj-style come-ons to Pratt, as the object of her affections. (That sketch, playing out a theme for the night, involved more twists and turns than it involved Pratt.) Bryant’s joke is still usually her volcanic charisma, how her voice is like a roller coaster blowing out syllables into triple entendres, but that isn’t automatically a bad thing. It’s a well the show feels inspired to tap.

If You DVR’d It

Skip: The episode’s NFL jokes, including a Candy Crowley-themed cold open, which took almost 90 minutes to hit anything like humor.

Do not skip: new cast member Pete Davidson’s appearance on Weekend Update. As a teen expert called to comment on the recent case of a Pennsylvania boy facing jail time after simulating a lewd act with Jesus statue, Davidson instead plows into a winding digression about the moral economics of fellatio. Bottom line: “If you don’t go down on a guy for $1 million, you obviously don’t care about your family.”

Obama: Ferguson Exposed ‘Gulf of Mistrust’ Between Cops and Communities

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 07:04 AM PDT

President Barack Obama said Saturday that the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo. last month exposed the “gulf of mistrust” that exists between law enforcement and local residents in many communities.

Speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus awards dinner, the President said that the shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in the St Louis suburb “awakened our nation once again to the reality that people in this room have long understood, which is, in too many communities around the country, a gulf of mistrust exists between local residents and law enforcement.”

Statistically, the President noted, blacks in the United States are targeted at a substantially higher rate than whites in their cars and on the street, and more likely to get the death penalty. “Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement, guilty of walking while black, or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.”

“And that has a corrosive effect—not just on the black community; it has a corrosive effect on America,” Obama continued.

To reverse the widening gap between minority communities and the people who police them, said Obama, “we need to help communities and law enforcement build trust, build understanding, so that our neighborhoods stay safe and our young people stay on track.”

Obama’s remarks Saturday came nearly two months after the shooting of Brown sparked a week of sometimes violent protests in Ferguson and outrage around the country at the local police’s handling of the situation.

You can read the speech below:

America’s Big Bet On Natural Gas And Big Short On Coal

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 07:00 AM PDT

This post originally appeared on

America is betting the kitchen sink on natural gas. No matter which estimate you look at — the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the International Energy Agency, or Wall Street banks — two things are clear: the United States is slated to consume enormous amounts of natural gas and the dominant fuel of electricity generation for the last 50 years, coal, is diminishing.

First, America’s energy darling: natural gas. It is difficult to overstate the effect shale gas production has had on the United States. In 2006, shale gas production accounted for about 5 percent of natural gas production. In 2013, it accounted for roughly 40 percent. As industry leaders clamored to take advantage of the vast supply of newly accessible domestic natural gas, analysts began to forecast longer and longer projections of low natural gas prices. The result is big expectations for natural gas.

The EIA expects natural gas production to grow at a 1.6 percent annual rate from 2012 through 2040, resulting in a dry natural gas production of 23.04 quadrillion BTU in 2013 and a production forecast of 38.37 quadrillion BTU in 2040. Demand will come from residential, commercial, and transportation use, but the largest demand increase will be from the electric power sector, particularly combined cycle power plants. Today, the U.S. has a combined cycle generating capacity of roughly 190 gigawatts. By 2040, capacity is forecasted to increase to approximately 316 gigawatts.

Meanwhile, the outlook for coal continues to appear bleak. This week, the Government Accountability Office released a newreport with increased projections for the number of coal plants expected to retire in the coming years. The report estimates that 42,192 megawatts, or 13 percent of coal-fueled summer generating capacity, will retire between 2012 and 2025 as a result of environmental regulations, lower natural gas prices, and decreasing electricity demand. These retirements are on top of the 150 coal-fueled units with a summer generating capacity of 13,786 megawatts that have been retired since 2000.

America’s gamble will not affect everyone in the country equally. Almost 40 percent of the retired coal capacity will take place in in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Fortunately, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and to a lesser degree West Virginia, have economies that will be better prepared for this transition as a result of surging production from the Marcellus and Utica shale plays.

The story is the same for exports. Last week, the U.S. Energy Department gave the final approval to build two more LNG export terminals.

Related: This Natural Gas Giant Is Worth The Risk At These levels

The outlook for coal exports is much different. Last month, Oregon’s Department of State Lands denied a key permit to Australia-based Ambre Energy to build a coal export terminal on the Columbia River. On Sept. 15, Ambre Energy was dealt another blow when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied its appeal. Corps spokesman Scott Clemans said, “We could do [the review] and make a yes or no determination, but given the lack of clarity right now as to whether the required state authorization is going to happen, and given the amount of time and energy we still need to devote to this project, it doesn’t make sense to devote resources to a project that may not happen.”

For everyone’s sake, let’s hope the gamble pays off. Because if natural gas fails to live up to the high expectations, there will be less coal to back it up.

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Pink Floyd Roll Out Plans For The Endless River, First LP in 20 Years

Posted: 28 Sep 2014 06:00 AM PDT

This post originally appeared on Rolling Stone.

After months of rumors, Pink Floyd have finally announced the details of their new album The Endless River, which hits shelves on November 10th. It’s the group’s first new release since 1994’s The Division Bell. According to a press release, The Endless River is a “four-sided instrumental album,” though one track, “Louder Than Words,” has lyrics by David Gilmour’s wife Polly Samson. It was produced by Gilmour, Phil Manzanera, Youth and Andy Jackson and is available for pre-order right now.

MORE: In Pics: The 10 Best Pink Floyd Albums

The project began with Gilmour and Floyd drummer Nick Mason sorting through music they recorded with keyboardist Rick Wright (who died in 2008) during the Division Bell sessions. “We listened to over 20 hours of the three of us playing together and selected the music we wanted to work on for the new album,” Gilmour said in a statement. “Over the last year we’ve added new parts, re-recorded others and generally harnessed studio technology to make a 21st century Pink Floyd album. With Rick gone, and with him the chance of ever doing it again, it feels right that these revisited and reworked tracks should be made available as part of our repertoire.”

Adds Mason: “The Endless River is a tribute to Rick. I think this record is a good way of recognizing a lot of what he does and how his playing was at the heart of the Pink Floyd sound. Listening back to the sessions, it really brought home to me what a special player he was.”

MORE: Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time

Pink Floyd quietly disbanded in late 1994 at the conclusion of their worldwide stadium tour in support of The Division Bell. They reformed with Roger Waters for a four-song set at Live 8 in 2005. The following year, Gilmour went on a solo tour that featured Richard Wright on keyboards. (Waters played a handful of gigs with Mason around the same time.) Gilmour and Mason joined Waters at a 2011 stop on his The Wall Live show in London, but have consistently shot down any talk of a reunion tour. Waters has no involvement with The Endless River and the group hasn’t announced any plans to support the disc with any live work.

MORE: Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time

Here is a complete track listing for The Endless River:

1. “Things Left Unsaid”
2. “It’s What We Do”
3. “Ebb and Flow”

1. “Sum”
2. “Skins”
3. “Unsung”
4. “Anisina”

1. “The Lost Art of Conversation”
2. “On Noodle Street
3. “Night Light”
4. “Allons-y (1)”
5. “Autumn’68″
6. “Allons-y (2)”
7. “Talkin’ Hawkin'”

1. “Calling”
2. “Eyes To Pearls”
3. “Surfacing”
4. “Louder Than Words”


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