The field of private space ventures is gaining a new competitor, Stratolaunch Systems, the brainchild of former Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. According to press reports, Allen is prepared to commit at least $200 million of his own fortune to the creation of a launch vehicle he believes will allow for inexpensive launches of satellites into low Earth orbit. While the U.S. government’s manned space program has floundered for years, lacking a destination and the will to develop new launch vehicles in a timely fashion to replace the obsolete space shuttle, several private corporations are actively pursuing technologies for carrying people and cargo to Earth orbit. On December 13, Allen announced the creation of Stratolaunch Systems, which would, the company claimed, reunite Allen and Burt Rutan “to develop the next generation of space travel.” Allen and Rutan collaborated on SpaceShipOne, which flew in September 2004. According to a corporate press release, the goal of Stratolaunch Systems is to “bring airport-like operations to the launch of commercial and government payloads and, eventually, human missions. Plans call for a first flight within five years. The air-launch-to-orbit system will mean lower costs, greater safety, and more flexibility and responsiveness than is possible today with ground-based systems.”
The New American has been reporting on the controversy surrounding the Christmas season, particularly when Christians attempt to display the Nativity scene or assert the holiness behind the Christmas holiday in any way. These reports would seem to indicate that Christmas brings out the worst in people; however, it's salutary to note that it also brings out the best. A prime example of the latter can be found in reports from Kmarts across the nation that anonymous donors are paying off strangers’ layaway accounts in the spirit of the holiday. In Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, for example, an employee at the Kmart confirmed that an anonymous donor sent a $500 gift card to pay $100 on five different layaways. Store manager Barb Winowiecki then randomly selected which accounts to fund through the gift card. “Those with layaways are in for a happy surprise when they come in to pay on their account,” Winowiecki observed. “We’re not informing them ahead of time, so they can have a happy surprise.” “Unlike giving to organizations," she added, "people who anonymously donate this way know exactly where their money is going. It seems to be contagious. A local resident paid on another person’s layaway.”
U.S. forces will not be leaving Afghanistan when Afghan troops are scheduled to take responsibility for the country's security in 2014, American officials in Kabul have said. “If you're waiting for us to go, we're not leaving,” Marine General John Allen, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces, said, according to a report in Monday's USA Today. The United States has 90,000 troops in Afghanistan, along with 30,000 from NATO allies. By the end of next summer, the American troop level is expected to be reduced the 68,000. Americans will be training the Afghan Air force until 2016, but how many troops will remain or what additional roles they will play has not been announced and may not yet be decided. "This is a work in progress," Allen said. "The continued work beyond '14 in terms of development of economic capability and governance will continue. We will also see, probably, a U.S. military capability beyond '14." “I don’t know what we’re going to be doing in 2014,” Ryan C. Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan told journalists earlier this month. A continued American military presence would be contingent on the wishes of the government in Kabul, he said. “They would have to ask for it,” Crocker said. “I could certainly see us saying, ‘Yeah, makes sense.’ ” That request will likely be forthcoming, since Afghan leaders earlier this year called for continued political and military support for at least another decade. That would extend America's military involvement to 20 years from the time U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban government in the fall of 2001.
North Korea’s official government-controlled media announced that the country’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-Il, died on Saturday at age 69 from “physical and mental overwork.” A teary-eyed TV anchorwoman claimed, “It is the biggest loss by the party … and it is our people and nation’s biggest sadness … [but we must] change our sadness to strength and overcome our difficulties.” Those "difficulties" can be traced back to at least the assumption of power by Kim Il-Sung in 1945 as he established a Stalinist totalitarian system in the country and enforced it with iron rule until his death in 1994. His son, Kim Jong-Il assumed the mantle of dictator after having been groomed for the position for years prior to his father’s death. A “cult of personality” was firmly established by the “Eternal President” (a title given to Kim Il-Sung at his funeral service) and extended by his son: Portraits of them hang in every building and every North Korean wears a Kim Il Sung lapel pin.
The cost of the Obama family’s annual Hawaiian getaway swells as First Lady Michelle Obama’s separate trip stands to cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars more. While President Obama remained in Washington wrapping up this year's contentious congressional session, Michelle and her two daughters, Malia and Sasha, jetted off on the 17-day vacation a little early, days before the President will join them. According to government estimates, the military jet flight that Michelle and the girls took Friday costs more than $60,000, and that’s not including the additional cargo flight, limousines, and other furnishings and equipment. The First Lady also requires her own Secret Service protection and staffers, clocking the total bill at well over $100,000, according to White House Dossier, which the White House declined to address during Friday’s daily press briefing. Estimates are that the trip may cost as much as $4 million.
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on the West Coast moved into a new phase of “direct action” this past week with efforts to close down shipping at major ports from San Diego, California, to Anchorage, Alaska. Occupy Wall Street (OWS) organizers designated Monday, December 12 as “Occupy the Ports Day” and had hoped to inspire ongoing strikes and blockades that would shut down import-export commerce long-term. However, except for the stoppage of shipping at Oakland, California, the plan has failed to achieve anywhere near the magnitude of disruptions that organizers had hoped for. Smaller OWS blockades at ports in Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon, caused lesser disruptions, while most other ports continued normal operations, as small groups of protesters marched, chanted, and sometimes attempted to block traffic in and out of port facilities. Police in some cities prevented demonstrators from blocking port traffic. In Oakland, however, several hundred OWS activists were allowed to close entrances to America’s fifth busiest port, costing the city, workers, and businesses several million dollars. Under orders from city officials, Oakland police allowed the Occupy demonstrators to carry out their day-long disruption without police interference, in an effort to avoid violent confrontation. However, when organizers voted to continue the disruption through Tuesday, December 13, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan accused them of “economic violence” against the city and the 99 percent they claim to represent.
Donald Trump’s announcement on YouTube on Tuesday night that he was cancelling the Republican presidential candidate debate scheduled for December 27 tried to pin the blame on the Republican Party. A lot of the candidates aren’t coming to his debate “because they think I’m going to run for political office, something I can’t do now … But around the middle of May I’ll be able to do whatever I want and I could run as an Independent. The Republican Party doesn’t want me running as an Independent. So they’ve made this debate pretty impossible…”
Are African elephants an endangered species? Like so many questions, the answer depends on who’s giving it. Villagers in northern Uganda whose food the animals devour would likely call them an endangerment — or worse. “[After] I found the elephants eating my crops in the garden, I started banging an empty jerry can to scare them but one of the big elephants charged at me. I was lucky because I ran in between the trees and the elephant stopped. I gave up my garden of millet and rice,” said Mateo Ojok. He’s one of the “internally displaced persons (IDPs) … struggling to resettle because persistent elephant incursions into their fields are threatening their livelihoods, and sometimes, their lives.” Mr. Ojok added, “[Life in] this place is a struggle between the elephants and human beings. The elephants are giving us a hard time, they are really aggressive.” So aggressive, in fact that “the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates … the annual cost of elephant raids to crops in Africa” at “US$60 in Uganda … per affected farmer.” That’s a sizable chunk of wealth in a country where the “gross national income per capita” for 2009 was $511.9 in “current US [dollars].”
A week after Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA’s approval of giving minors access to the Plan B abortion pill, a federal judge is preparng to hear arguments in a suit, filed over a year ago, that may trump the decision of Sebelius. As reported by LifeNews.com, “Judge Edward Korman, a federal judge based in New York City, says he will hear arguments in a case filed by the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights over whether the FDA should have ultimately allowed teens to buy the Plan B drug without a doctor’s order. The pro-abortion group says such drugs are being held to a different standard than other drugs and that decisions are not based on science, but on politics.” As reported by The New American, FDA head Margaret Hamburg was poised to approve sales of Plan B, which is currently available over the counter without a prescription only to women over 17, and by prescription to minors under 17. But in an unprecedented move, Sebelius overruled the FDA, explaining her reasoning to Hamburg in a published memo: “It is commonly understood that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age, which I believe are relevant to making this determination as to non-prescription availability of this product for all ages.”
At a speech in Sacramento, California, on December 10, Richard Mack, former sheriff of Graham County, Arizona, and founder of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), announced that within a matter of days he will be filing a lawsuit in federal court against the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for slander, libel and defamation. Sheriff Mack, who successfully challenged the 1993 federal Brady handgun control act in a landmark case that went all the way through the United States Supreme Court, has been an outspoken champion of constitutionally limited government and a critic of federal usurpation and abuse of police powers. The forty-year-old Southern Poverty Law Center is notorious for lionizing left-wing extremists (such as unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers) and equally notorious for smearing innocent individuals and organizations with the “racist,” “extremist,” “anti-semitic,” “anti-government,” and “hate group” labels. It is not surprising then that it has targeted Richard Mack for vicious treatment in a number of its publications and web sites over the years. But even more troubling than what it has published about him, says Sheriff Mack, are the lies that it has spread to law enforcement agencies about him in the seminars and training programs the SPLC conducts for federal, state, and local agencies.