Tag Archives: United States

House intelligence chiefs: we have seen no evidence for Trump’s wiretap claim

The top Republican and Democrat on the House intelligence committee said they have still not seen any evidence to support Donald Trump’s extraordinary claim that Barack Obama tapped his phones at Trump Tower.

“We don’t have any evidence that that took place and in fact I don’t believe – just in the last week of time, the people we’ve talked to – I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” the committee chairman, Devin Nunes, a Republican from California and a supporter of Trump’s campaign, said during a joint press conference with the panel’s top Democrat on Wednesday.

The committee has asked that the justice department provide information by 20 March.

Continue reading House intelligence chiefs: we have seen no evidence for Trump’s wiretap claim

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Civil Society Intimidation In Hungary

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. (File)

The United States is concerned about an apparent campaign of intimidation directed toward civil society and independent media in Hungary.

The United States is concerned about an apparent campaign of intimidation directed toward civil society and independent media in Hungary.

The harassment began in April 2014 when the Hungarian government accused organizations that conduct legitimate work in human rights, transparency and gender equality of serving so-called foreign interests. 

 

The Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office alleged that non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, that monitor and evaluate grant proposals for the European Economic Area, or EEA, -Norway NGO fund were tied to an opposition party.

Members of the media in Hungary report that they practice self-censorship because they fear retaliation for articles critical of the government.

Treatment of the media overall shows a disturbing willingness to use pressure to undermine media pluralism, from an independent radio station’s long legal battle to finally win a broadcasting license, to a new advertising tax that apparently targets the largest independently owned television station.

Most recently, on September 8th, Hungary’s National Bureau of Investigation initiated a series of police raids on two NGOs responsible for the EEA-Norway NGO grant program in Hungary.

With no prior warning, and in a show of intimidation, over 30 officers entered the NGO facilities and seized the organizations’ documents and computers.

These police raids, said U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Kaye Byrnes, “Appear to be aimed at suppressing critical voices and restricting the space for civil society to operate freely.  The United States again reminds Hungary of its OSCE commitments to human rights and fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law.”

Több helyszínen is tartották házkutatást

The United States continues to encourage the government of Hungary to observe its human rights commitments and to allow NGOs and the independent media to operate without further harassment, interference, or intimidation.

Upholding these values will help Hungary become a more prosperous, robust, and inclusive democracy.

Russia Offers To Help Resupply The International Space Station

Moscow (AFP) – Russia on Wednesday offered to help the United States with deliveries to the International Space Station after an unmanned American supply rocket exploded on lift-off.

“If a request is made for the urgent delivery of any American supplies to the ISS with the help of our vessels then we will fulfill the request,” Russian space agency official Alexei Krasnov told state-run RIA Novosti news agency, adding that NASA had not yet asked for assistance.

An unmanned rocket owned by private firm Orbital Sciences Corporation exploded Tuesday in a giant fireball and plummeted back to Earth just seconds after a launch from Wallops Island, Virginia on what was to be a resupply mission.

Orbital’s Cygnus cargo ship was carrying 5,000 pounds (2,200 kilograms) of supplies for the six astronauts living at the research outpost, a US-led multi-national collaboration.

Officials said the cost of the rocket and supplies was over $200 million, not including the damage caused on the ground.

A NASA video image shows an Orbital Sciences Corporation unmanned spacecraft exploding on October 28, 2014 at Wallops Island, Virginia, six seconds after launch

Europe stopped delivering supplies to the ISS this summer, and the outpost is now resupplied by Russia and two NASA-contracted private American firms — Space X and Orbital Sciences.

Russia on Wednesday successfully launched its own supply mission from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan.

The Russian cargo ship Progress took off for the ISS on a planned mission to replace a sister vessel.

Krasnov said that the impact of the loss of the rocket on Russian operations at the space station would be “minimal.”

GREEN COTTAGE GETAWAY IN MAINE (PHOTOS)

On an island 20 miles off the coast of Maine, a writer, with the help of his daughter, built not only a room but an entire green getaway of his own.

Exterior view of modern cottage in Maine

The Porter cottage makes the most of its unwieldy site. The cottage was sited as close to the water as legally allowed to take advantage of the views and far enough away from the graywater leach field where the soil is deep enough to allow for proper run off. The screen porch was angled to capture direct southern exposure for the solar panels.

Living on one of the outermost inhabited islands on the American eastern seaboard requires a vigilance in numbers, and the villagers of the community of Criehaven (technically Ragged Island) take their record-keeping seriously, but not too seriously. The library—–still littered with evidence of a raucous game of Texas hold ’em—–is a fine example. In addition to portraits of the Crie and Simpson families, early residents of the 0.7-square-mile island 20 miles off the Maine coast, one mile south of Matinicus Island, there are photo albums dating back to the early 1970s documenting island life. There’s also a copy of the “2010 census,” a cartoonish rendering of the 20 family homes on the island. In it, a series of circumflex rooflines populate the page, save for an aberrant addition on the eastern end: a simple backslash of a roof, under which is written “Welcome Porters!”

 The deck off the front is also minimally furnished with elegant lines of beach rock and two Leaf chairs by Arper. Photo by Eirik Johnson.

The interior is furnished with Lubi Daybeds from CB2, which Howell and Porter designed to include hidden cubbies behind and beneath the cushions.

Bruce Porter, a journalist and retired professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has owned a roughly three-quarter-acre lot on this remote, off-the-grid island for years, but it’s taken nearly a lifetime for him to build anything. The Porters first came to Criehaven in 1971, the summer his oldest daughters, Alex and Nell, turned two and six, but it wasn’t until the late 1990s that he seriously considered building. “I was getting older and older, and I thought, If not now, when?” Bruce recalls. Over the course of 30-plus years, Bruce devised and abandoned countless plans for what to put there, including a Sisyphean scheme that involved shipping a tiny cabin from the Adirondacks. The lot, however, mainly sat empty and unused. It wasn’t until Bruce divorced, remarried, and adopted his third daughter, Hana, that he finally resolved to build. By that time, Alex had grown up and become an architectural designer, founding her own practice, Alex Scott Porter Design, and Bruce’s last and best plan was to have her design something. He’d envisioned an unobtrusive abode that would blend with the local color, to which Alex replied, “Well, Dad, if you want something like a Maine farmhouse, you don’t need me!”

 The interior is clad exclusively in white pine, the diagonal orientation adding visual interest to the neutral palette. Alex sourced utilitarian features like cattle fencing and plumbing pipe for the loft sleeping area. Photo by Eirik Johnson.

Alex devised a system that takes advantage of ocean views while protecting the cottage from that same northeasterly orientation. The large windows and doors can be shuttered with corrugated aluminum panels.

Despite the aesthetic differences, their first real hurdle was finding the borders of the lot, which had come to be known as “the floating acre” among the local fishermen. Nobody was exactly sure of the property lines, so as soon as she graduated from ­architecture school in 1997, Alex flew to the island with a surveyor. (In clement weather, chartering a flight to Criehaven is the cheapest and easiest way to get there.)

 Alex enjoys a sun-filled breakfast at the built-in dining table and bench, one of many space-saving designs. Photo by Eirik Johnson.

After determining the site lines, Alex, Bruce, and their contractor, Josh Howell, spent one stormy afternoon in June 2008 siting the house. From the shelter of a pup tent, Alex rendered the house in CAD on a laptop while Bruce and Howell braved the rain with a compass. The difficulty of this task made it clear that building on the island would require foresight and exhaustive precision. “I wanted the interior to be super simple, using local material,” Alex explains. “We did every­thing on a 24-inch grid. I’m in New York and Josh is up here in Maine, so I tried to make it very easy; you could always tell what size everything was going to be.” Additionally, over 90 per­cent of the building material had to be organized and shipped to the island on an amphibious vehicle, or “sea truck.” Compared to mainland projects, much of the construction work of the home was done without the aid of power tools, and the primary vehicle used to haul supplies on-site was
a converted riding lawnmower.

 One of the early challenges of building the house was defining the property lines of the lot, which had come to be known as "the floating acre" among the local fishermen. Photo by Eirik Johnson.

The deck off the front is also minimally furnished with elegant lines of beach rock and two Leaf chairs by Arper.

Time, it seems, has had a curious effect on Criehaven. Technologically speaking, it has moved backward, not forward. When the year-round population of ten lobstering families held tight, there was a telephone line and a power generator (plus a schoolhouse, post office, and general store). Over the years those services withered, leaving the island’s transient residents to their own devices. Personal generators are now the norm, but the Porters have challenged this by installing solar panels and an on-demand water heater. Bruce’s motivation for incorporating these systems, however, was more practical than ideological. After watching a friend haul propane tanks over from Matinicus then schlep them on foot to his house, Bruce was determined to make island life a bit more leisurely. Fortunately, Howell, an avid outdoorsman, armed with an equally intrepid crew, was up to the challenge of building in harsh conditions. The Porters would have been hard-pressed to find a better man for the job. As Bruce recalls with both horror and admiration, “Josh and the workers would drink straight from the cistern!”

Gardening Can Help Keep Kids in School

If we want to lower childhood obesity rates, educating kids about the need to swap junk and fast food for healthier choices is essential. But is teaching students how to grow fruits and vegetables the key to getting them to come to school and engage in the academic curriculum?

That’s what South Bronx teacher and administrator Stephen Ritz believes. Ritz has been gardening with students for years, and he launched the first indoor edible gardens in New York City’s public schools. He believes that growing fruits and vegetables ensures that kids have something other than a bag of chips to eat and also makes them want to show up for class almost every day.

“The kids really believe that they are responsible for [the plants], and attendance has increased from 43% to 93%,” Ritz wrote in the The Guardian. “Students come to school to take care of their plants — they want to see them succeed. Along the way, the kids succeed too. That’s great, because if I have their bodies in school, I have their brain.”

Once they’re in the building, Ritz’s students learn the academic curriculum while being immersed in the agricultural process. They also pick up skills that are transferable to the job market. The Bronx, where Ritz is based, has long been known as the poorest congressional district in the United States. Generational poverty is rampant, and jobs are scarce.

“A lot of these kids’ families are on minimum wages, so we are giving them the skills to use in well paid culinary careers,” wrote Ritz. “We are creating the next generation of customer service specialists and gourmet chefs.”

As a result of all their hard work, the gardens produce enough food to feed 450 kids. Ritz has received plenty of accolades; last spring he and his students were invited to the White House.

Through his nonprofit Green Bronx Machine, which he started in 2011, Ritz hopes to help schools in other communities jump-start comparable agricultural programs. “I can’t expect everyone to be a Herculean farmer in a classroom, but running a similar growing project in your school is safe, lightweight, and no kids are getting dirty,” he wrote.

Kodak’s First Digital Moment

Imagine a world where photography is a slow process that is impossible to master without years of study or apprenticeship. A world without iPhones or Instagram, where one company reigned supreme. Such a world existed in 1973, when Steven Sasson, a young engineer, went to work for Eastman Kodak.

Two years later he invented digital photography and made the first digital camera. Mr. Sasson, all of 24 years old, invented the process that allows us to make photos with our phones, send images around the world in seconds and share them with millions of people.

The same process completely disrupted the industry that was dominated by his Rochester employer and set off a decade of complaints by professional photographers fretting over the ruination of their profession.

It started out innocently enough.

Soon after arriving at Kodak, Mr. Sasson was given a seemingly unimportant task — to see whether there was any practical use for a charged coupled device (C.C.D.), which had been invented a few years earlier.

“Hardly anybody knew I was working on this, because it wasn’t that big of a project,” Mr. Sasson said “It wasn’t secret. It was just a project to keep me from getting into trouble doing something else, I guess.”

He quickly ordered a couple of them and set out to evaluate the devices, which consisted of a sensor that took an incoming two dimensional light pattern and converted it into an electrical signal. Mr. Sasson wanted to capture an image with it, but the C.C.D. couldn’t hold it because the electrical pulses quickly dissipated.

To store the image, he decided to use what was at that time a relatively new process — digitalization — turning the electronic pulses into numbers. But that solution led to another challenge — storing it on RAM memory, then getting it onto digital magnetic tape.

The 1989 version of the digital camera, known as the Ecam (electronic camera). This is the basis of the United States patent issued on May 14, 1991.
The 1989 version of the digital camera, known as the Ecam (electronic camera). This is the basis of the United States patent issued on May 14, 1991.Credit George Eastman House

The final result was a Rube Goldberg device with a lens scavenged from a used Super-8 movie camera; a portable digital cassette recorder; 16 nickel cadmium batteries; an analog/digital converter; and several dozen circuits — all wired together on half a dozen circuit boards.

It looks strange today, but remember, this was before personal computers – the first build it yourself Apple computer kit went on sale that next year for $666.66.

The camera alone was a historic accomplishment, but he needed to invent a playback system that would take the digital information on the cassette tape and turn it into “something that you could see” on a television set: a digital image.

“This was more than just a camera,” said Mr. Sasson who was born and raised in Brooklyn. “It was a photographic system to demonstrate the idea of an all-electronic camera that didn’t use film and didn’t use paper, and no consumables at all in the capturing and display of still photographic images.”

The camera and the playback system were the beginning of the digital photography era. But the digital revolution did not come easily at Kodak.

“They were convinced that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a television set.”Steven Sasson

Mr. Sasson made a series of demonstrations to groups of executives from the marketing, technical and business departments and then to their bosses and to their bosses. He brought the portable camera into conference rooms and demonstrated the system by taking a photo of people in the room.

“It only took 50 milliseconds to capture the image, but it took 23 seconds to record it to the tape,” Mr. Sasson said. “I’d pop the cassette tape out, hand it to my assistant and he put it in our playback unit. About 30 seconds later, up popped the 100 pixel by 100 pixel black and white image.”

Though the quality was poor, Mr. Sasson told them that the resolution would improve rapidly as technology advanced and that it could compete in the consumer market against 110 film and 135 film cameras.

Trying to compare it with already existing consumer electronics, he suggested they “think of it as an HP calculator with a lens.” He even talked about sending images on a telephone line.

Their response was tepid, at best.

“They were convinced that no one would ever want to look at their pictures on a television set,” he said. “Print had been with us for over 100 years, no one was complaining about prints, they were very inexpensive, and so why would anyone want to look at their picture on a television set?”

The main objections came from the marketing and business sides. Kodak had a virtual monopoly on the United States photography market, and made money on every step of the photographic process.

If you wanted to photograph your child’s birthday party you would likely be using a Kodak Instamatic, Kodak film and Kodak flash cubes. You would have it processed either at the corner drugstore or mail the film to Kodak and get back prints made with Kodak chemistry on Kodak paper.

It was an excellent business model.

When Kodak executives asked when digital photography could compete, Mr. Sassoon used Moore’s Law, which predicts how fast digital technology advances.

He would need two million pixels to compete against 110 negative color film, so he estimated 15 to 20 years. Kodak offered its first consumer cameras 18 years later.

“When you’re talking to a bunch of corporate guys about 18 to 20 years in the future, when none of those guys will still be in the company, they don’t get too excited about it,” he said. “But they allowed me to continue to work on digital cameras, image compression and memory cards.”

Steven Sasson in 1973, the year he started working at Eastman Kodak.
Steven Sasson in 1973, the year he started working at Eastman Kodak.Credit Steven Sasson

The first digital camera was patented in 1978. It was called the electronic still camera. But Mr. Sasson was not allowed to publicly talk about it or show his prototype to anyone outside Kodak.

In 1989, Mr. Sasson and a colleague, Robert Hills, created the first modern digital single-lens reflex (S.L.R.) camera that looks and functions like today’s professional models. It had a 1.2 megapixel sensor, and used image compression and memory cards.

But Kodak’s marketing department was not interested in it. Mr. Sasson was told they could sell the camera, but wouldn’t — because it would eat away at the company’s film sales.

“When we built that camera, the argument was over,” Mr. Sasson said. “It was just a matter of time, and yet Kodak didn’t really embrace any of it. That camera never saw the light of day.”

Still, until it expired in the United States in 2007, the digital camera patent helped earn billions for Kodak, since it — not Mr. Sasson — owned it, making most digital camera manufacturers pay Kodak for the use of the technology.

Though Kodak did eventually market both professional and consumer cameras, it did not fully embrace digital photography until it was too late.

“Every digital camera that was sold took away from a film camera and we knew how much money we made on film,” Mr. Sasson said. “That was the argument. Of course, the problem is pretty soon you won’t be able to sell film — and that was my position.”

Today, the first digital camera Mr. Sasson made in 1975 is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. President Obama awarded Mr. Sasson the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at a 2009 White House ceremony.

Three years later, Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

Ex-KGB General: Russia Has Already Won

Russia has already won “the real victory”​ in Ukraine, according to a former KGB general living in the United States.

“The Crimea is now Russian, that’s very important,” Oleg Kalugin, one of the top Soviet spies in the United States during the Cold War, told National Review Online. “Southeast of Ukraine, that’s part of the general battle between the Russians and Ukrainians, but it’s not as crucial as the real victory and pride of Russia — the Crimea, I mean.”

The Thursday-morning phone interview took place in the context of media reports that Russia had invaded Ukraine, but Kalugin reiterated that he does not believe Russian president Vladimir Putin wants annex another region of the country.

“I believe they’re just trying to do their best to keep as much as they can of pro-Russian population and communities in that area; but Russia does not plan, I am sure, to take the southeastern part of Ukraine just like they did with the Crimea,”Kalugin said.

“It will certainly do it’s best to provide secure access to the Crimea through that part of Ukraine, because otherwise the Crimea can only be accessed by the Black Sea, by water, and this is not the safest way,” he added.

Kalugin said he doubts Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko’s claims that “Russian troops were brought into Ukraine.”

“For political leaders, it’s important to maintain their stance and make people feel that things are still quite dangerous while he may know well that things are going to a peaceful solution,” Kalugin said. “Russia will not move any [troops] forward while western nations are alerted” due to the risk of expanded economic sanctions.

“It’s not in the interest of Putin,” Kalugin said. “His position as of today is fairly strong in the country, in his own country, so why put it at risk by moving further?”

Although Kalugin expects the Russians to keep a “low-profile” in Ukraine, he agreed that Putin has an interest in fomenting unrest in the country by providing weaponry and perhaps special forces assistance to the separatists.

“The tactical victory would be most likely the pro-Russian forces in that part of Ukraine will eventually triumph and Russia will be satisfied,” he said. “It will not necessarily be exactly to a Russian notion of how things should be, but at least it will not be pro-NATO, pro-Western.”

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