The Upshot
  • AP100623057435-1There's no end in sight to the battle of the berms.

    Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other state officials have been pushing to continue to use money that BP has set aside to mitigate damage from the Gulf oil spill in order to construct a battery of offshore sand barriers, or berms, that are supposed to block the coastal marshlands of Louisiana from taking on oil washing ashore from the spill.

    However, scientists and environmental group say the berms are ineffectual at best — and at worst pose their own disruptive threat to the Gulf ecosystem. When state officials announced the first phase of berm construction this summer, Western Carolina University professor of coastal ecology Robert Young wrote, "I have yet to speak to a scientist who thinks that the project will be effective."

    Now the fight is still raging, even though most of the oil in the Gulf is of the dispersed variety — i.e., broken up into particles many believe are too tiny for the berms to filter out effectively anyway. What's more, the existing berm system has proven to be something of a bust, by some accounts.

    Read More »from Fight over Jindal’s sand berm project rages on
  • Amid talk of spending cuts, scant focus on defense

    Rand and Ron PaulRand and Ron PaulJust about all of today's leading Republicans talk a good game about the need to slash spending if the party takes control of Congress this fall. But as the Wall Street Journal notes, most of them have given little indication that they're willing to take an ax to the largest discretionary portion of the federal budget: defense spending.

    The Republican Party's "Pledge to America" platform makes a generalized call to reduce spending but specifically disclaims any plans to cut defense spending.  GOP candidate Marco Rubio, who looks likely to win a U.S. Senate seat from Florida, has presented himself as a deficit hawk but opposes measures to cut the Pentagon's budget. And Sarah Palin has said defense spending shouldn't be touched.

    It's difficult to make much of a dent in the budget without cutting defense spending, which currently accounts for around 20 percent of total government spending, according to figures from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The $715 billion the United States is spending this year on defense is more than six times the amount spent by our closest competitor, China.

    Read More »from Amid talk of spending cuts, scant focus on defense
  • sestak toomey

    Are Democrats regaining their mojo in Pennsylvania?

    After months of dismal poll numbers, in part due to President Obama's declining popularity in the state, Democrat Joe Sestak has suddenly surged in the state's closely watched Senate race, eliminating GOP rival Pat Toomey's once-sizable lead.

    Three separate polls this week have found Sestak and Toomey in a dead heat. A Morning Call daily tracking survey found the two tied, with 43 percent apiece. A Public Policy Polling survey found Sestak up by 1 point, leading Toomey 46 to 45 percent. A Quinnipiac University poll released just yesterday found Toomey leading by 2 points, 48 percent to Sestak's 46 percent. All results were well within the polls' margins of error.

    That's a major switch from polling as recently as last week, in which Toomey held anywhere from a 5 to 10 point lead over Sestak in the race. According to Quinnipiac, Sestak is enjoying a sudden surge a little over a week before Election Day because Democrats "have begun to come home."

    Read More »from Sestak and Toomey in a dead heat in Pennsylvania

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  • Syrian rebels attack peacekeepers in Golan Heights
    Syrian rebels attack peacekeepers in Golan Heights

    BEIRUT (AP) — Clashes erupted between al-Qaida-linked Syrian rebels and U.N. peacekeepers in the Golan Heights on Saturday after the militants surrounded their encampment, activists and officials said, as the international organization risked being sucked further into the conflict.

  • U.S. authorities investigate suspected threat against Obama: reports

    (Reuters) - Authorities in Connecticut on Friday were investigating a possible threat against President Barack Obama, local media reported. The U.S. Secret Service, which is responsible for presidential security, issued a statement saying, "Information has been received by law enforcement regarding a potentially suspicious person and vehicle. We are working with our local law enforcement partners to determine the validity of the information provided. ...

  • Saudi king warns of terrorism threat to U.S., Europe

    Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said terrorism would soon spread to Europe and the United States unless it is quickly dealt with in the Middle East, the Saudi state news agency reported late on Friday. "I ask you to convey this message to your leaders... Terrorism at this time is an evil force that must be fought with wisdom and speed," said King Abdullah. "And if neglected I'm sure after a month it will arrive in Europe and a month after that in America." The world's top oil exporter shares an 800-km (500-mile) border with Iraq, where Islamic State militants and other Sunni Islamist groups have seized towns and cities. Britain raised its terrorism alert on Friday and Prime Minister David Cameron said Islamic State posed the greatest ever security risk to the country.

  • Polish president warns Germany of Putin's 'empire' ambitions

    Polish President Bronis law Komorowski said that Vladimir Putin is trying to build a new Russian empire for Moscow and that the region now had to choose whether it wanted "a Cossack Europe or a democratic one". "Russia has carried out an invasion in Ukraine," the Polish head of state told German public radio, according to excerpts of an interview to be broadcast later on Saturday. Komorowski said Putin was quite open about his ambitions to "rebuild the empire". The Polish president, whose post is largely ceremonial but does give him a say in foreign policy, is an ally of Prime Minister Donald Tusk from the centrist Civic Platform (PO).

  • Brewer Releases 99-Pack of Beer
    Brewer Releases 99-Pack of Beer

    We all know the saying "Everything is BIG in Texas." But for beer lovers everywhere, this is even cooler than big hats, belt buckles, and barbecue. Actually, this would be ideal with a lot of freshly charred barbecue. Austin Beerworks has just unveiled a new over-the-top way to get its beer into your gut with a limited-edition 99-pack of brewski. The big box of brew will set you back $99 (or a buck a can), which is pretty good for a can of this Texas good stuff. But don't expect it to fit in your compact car with ease. The packaging is insanely exaggerated at seven feet long. The brewery released the gigantic box as part of a social media campaign for its Peacemaker Anytime Ale.

  • Smash! Aftermath of Colossal Impact Spotted Around Sunlike Star
    Smash! Aftermath of Colossal Impact Spotted Around Sunlike Star

    Astronomers have spotted the wreckage of a mammoth collision around a distant young star, a landmark find that could shed light on how our own solar system's rocky planets took shape long ago. "This is the first detection of a planetary impact outside of our own solar system," study lead author Huan Meng, of the University of Arizona in Tucson, told Space.com. Further, NGC-2547 ID8 is the same mass and size as our sun, and it's just 35 million years old — the same age the sun was when similar impacts were building Earth, Mars and the other rocky planets in our neck of the cosmic woods. Meng and his colleagues studied NGC-2547 ID8 using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and several different ground-based instruments.

  • Lesotho military seize police HQ in 'coup' attempt
    Lesotho military seize police HQ in 'coup' attempt

    Lesotho's military seized control of police headquarters in the tiny African kingdom in the early hours of Saturday, a government minister told AFP, describing the events as a coup attempt. "The armed forces, the special forces of Lesotho, have taken the headquarters of the police," sports minister and leader of the Basotho National Party Thesele Maseribane said. "The [military] commander said he was looking for me, the prime minister and the deputy prime minister to take us to the king.

  • 20 miners rescued, five still missing in Nicaragua collapse
    20 miners rescued, five still missing in Nicaragua collapse

    Rescuers in Nicaragua on Friday rescued 20 miners who had been trapped deep underground for nearly two days after a cave-in at an unlicensed gold mine, but five others were still missing. "We give thanks to God our Lord and the Virgin Mary for having saved from death 20 artisanal miners," First Lady Rosario Murillo, the presidential spokeswoman, told reporters. "Hopefully we can find them in the coming hours," she said, adding that President Daniel Ortega was aware of the rescue efforts. The accident happened at an artisanal mine near the town of Bonanza, which is perched on the side of a hill, in a region that is home to Nicaragua's biggest gold mines.

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