More carmakers caught in headlights of VW engine-rigging scandal

More carmakers caught in headlights of VW engine-rigging scandal
Volkswagen has admitted it installed illegal software into 11 million 2.0 liter and 3.0 liter diesel engines worldwide (AFP Photo/Josh Edelson)

Volkswagen emissions scandal

Iran's 'catastrophic mistake': Speculation, pressure, then admission

Iran's 'catastrophic mistake': Speculation, pressure, then admission
Analsyts say it is irresponsible to link the crash of a Ukraine International Airline Boeing 737-800 to the 737 MAX accidents (AFP Photo/INA FASSBENDER)

Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts

Missing MH370 likely to have disintegrated mid-flight: experts
A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 commercial jet.

QZ8501 (AirAsia)

Leaders see horror of French Alps crash as probe gathers pace

"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Saturday, May 31, 2014

This Algae Battery Could Power A Tesla With 200X The Charge

TechCrunch, Sarah Buhr, May 31, 2014

In a small lab, near a lake at the edge of West Berkeley, sits the prototype of what could revolutionize battery power as we know it. The secret to this power? Algae.

OK, just hang with me here. Lots of research has already been done on algae’s possible power capabilities. Prototype creator Adam Freeman says this new kind of battery, the one he’s working on, could power even a Tesla. And he says it could do it 200X greater than the current lithium-based battery used today.

He’s created a research company called alGAS that aims to prove just that.

Freeman says the algae battery also charges faster and lasts longer than current ion batteries used in, say, your cell phone, iPad… or a Tesla. As Freeman explains, paper-thin fibers in algae provide an easier surface for ions to get through, resulting in a charge in as little as 11 seconds, not minutes or hours.

Here is how a current battery charges, using lots of rare earth minerals that may be going extinct or, worse, cause cancer:

Though there isn’t much by way of illustration to show how this works for algae, Ryan Bethencourt, founder of the Berkeley Biotech Labs, was able to send me this brief video that sort of explains the process.

Previous tests proved algae has a charge and could theoretically work as battery power, but what’s not known is how much of a charge and how much of it will be needed to power, say, a car. Freeman believes he’s figured out the answer. What he needs now is the funding to bring it into mass production.

Those rare earth materials currently used in ion batteries (cell phones, etc.) — 95 percent of which are shipped from China — are hard to extract. This makes them quite expensive.

Tesla pledged to use U.S. materials only, which does cut the cost. Still, it’s got to be more than what it costs to grow and use algae powered batteries, right? Right. Freeman only needs $1,500 for the prototype and says he can have his algae battery ready for mass production for a mere $5,000 by this summer.

The implications for this go beyond cars. In theory you could power your entire house. Yes, a living, breathing algae plant could make your house “go.” A French biochemist already powered a streetlight with the stuff.

What makes Freeman’s prototype different from previous tests is the use of a bio-safe polymer. The polymer is a critical element that binds the fibers together to create a better interaction with the electron charge.

While the prototype is still basically just a bunch of jars full of algae on the shelf of some lab, the potential, according to Freeman, is very big.

“Think of driving your car on a living battery that charges in seconds with a battery that costs almost nothing and is actually good for the environment.”

Related Articles:

Friday, May 30, 2014

Ford recalls over a million cars for technical faults

America’s second-largest carmaker Ford has recalled 1.4 million vehicles to fix problems with steering columns and other technical defects. The move came in the wake of a major safety scandal at rival General Motors.

Deutsche Welle, 30 May 2014

In the largest of the recalls, Ford said on Thursday it’s calling back some 915,000 million sport utility vehicles (SUVs) to fix a problem with the torque sensor within the steering column that could potentially cause a loss of power steering – a factor that could raise the risk of a crash.

Another additional recall affects Ford’s Taurus sedans built between 2010 and 2014 because they could be prone to a corrosion problem. Finally, a problem with floor mats potentially coming into contact with the gas pedal has also prompted the company to pull back over 80,000 FordFusion, Mercury Milan, Lincoln Zephyr and Lincoln MKZ cars from the 2006 through 2011 model years.

Most of the Ford recalls are in the United States and Canada. The company has not said how much the recall campaigns are expected to cost the carmaker.

GM, Toyota cases heighten concerns

The move comes amid growing scrutiny of automobile safety in the US by regulators. Car giant General Motors is under intense pressure to improve its safety standards after it was accused of failing to address technical defects that began with its ignition switch issue in older model cars. Those faults have been linked to 13 deaths.

GM was fined a record $35 million (25.7 million Euros) earlier this month, the maximum allowed by US law. The car giant has recalled over 13 million cars in the US so far this year.

In a separate case, US authorities recently made carmaker Toyota pay a $1.2 billion penalty for concealing information from government safety regulators.

Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said the recalls could be caused by heightened concern by automakers because of the GM and Toyota cases.

"I do think manufacturers are more willing to issue a recall at this point because their sheer number in recent months has become a sort of background white noise for consumers," he said in a statement.

Reuters/AP /sp

Hunan farmer invents suitcase you can ride home

Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2014-05-30

He riding the City Cab, May 28. (Internet photo)

He Liang, a farmer from near Changsha in south-central China's Hunan province, has spent 10 years developing what he calls the City Cab — a three-wheeled motorized suitcase that can carry up to two passengers a distance of up to 60 kilometers.

The three wheels are designed small so as to stabilize the vehicle and it relies on a rechargeable lithium battery which does not occupy much space, leaving the inside of the case entirely the same as a normal suitcase except for the buttons and steering panel on the grip.

The case can travel at up to 20 kilometers per hour and is equipped with GPS. It weighs only 7 kg.

He has obtained a patent for the City Cab as a multifunctional traveling case and is eager to see it on the road soon.

UN calls for wider use of surveillance drones

Yahoo – AFP, May 30, 2014

UN calls for wider use of surveillance drones (AFP)

United Nations (United States) (AFP) - UN peacekeeping missions should deploy more drones and state-of the art technology to become more effective, limit boots on the ground and keep aid workers safer, their chief said Thursday.

On International Day of UN Peacekeepers, staff paid tribute to more than 3,000 peacekeepers who have died since 1948, including 106 last year, and to those still serving on the frontline.

The head of UN peacekeeping, Herve Ladsous, said, on average, a peacekeeper dies every 30 days, and technology needs to be upgraded to assist a record number of UN boots on the ground.

The Security Council last month approved a new mission in Central African Republic and in December voted to send an extra 5,500 soldiers to war-torn South Sudan.

"Clearly we cannot continue to afford to work with 20th century tools in the 21st century," he told reporters in New York.

Ladsous said drones had already helped in DR Congo and could be vital in improving humanitarian access.

"They (convoys) can use the images of the machines to make sure they are not going to be attacked or hijacked on the way. That I think is a very significant development," Ladsous said.

"We do need them (drones) in countries like Mali, like Central African Republic and clearly in South Sudan it would be my desire that we might deploy them," he said.

Surveillance drones could replace some military observers and make a big difference.

"In some cases using technology can make it necessary not to have so many boots on the ground and also, lets never forget, to improve on the delivery," Ladsous said.

Looking to NATO, EU

Ladsous expressed hope that the quickening departure of Western troops from Afghanistan could see more EU and NATO countries take part in UN peacekeeping missions.

"This is an opportunity for them to come back or move into United Nations peacekeeping, especially with high-tech assets, state of the art equipment... that could make the difference."

He pointed to Ireland, in the Golan Heights, and the Netherlands and Sweden, in Mali, as examples of EU and NATO countries who had also served in Afghanistan.

Ameerah Haq, head of field support, told reporters that fuel-efficient cars, solar power, night-vision capabilities and tethered balloons would also be useful.

"What gives the best capability to the troops? And if that is technology then certainly we want to study to see what is in our means to deploy," she said.

Haq said UN peacekeepers were more at risk than ever.

"We are facing the specific targeting of peacekeepers and also we are seeing the merging of conflict and international criminal activities," she said.

Ladsous singled out the UN missions in Darfur and South Sudan as the deadliest in 2013.

He also expressed frustration about the extra 5,500 troops approved for South Sudan being "too slow" to deploy.

"The ceasefire is not really implemented. The political process is marking time and of course we have to keep insisting that this situation has to stop," he said.

In Darfur, he said violence was also on the rise, with another 300,000 people internally displaced since the end of last year -- the same number as during the whole of 2013.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Google reveals driverless car prototype

First of 100 test vehicles is unveiled with no steering wheel or pedals, two seats and a top speed of 25mph, Guardian staff, Wednesday 28 May 2014

Google's prototype driverless car has been unveiled at the company's
California headquarters. Photograph: /Google

Google has demonstrated its own driverless car, a design that does away with all conventional controls including the steering wheel, and says it will build 100 of the vehicles for testing with the eventual aim of "bringing this technology to the world safely".

The company had for several years been testing everyday cars equipped with sensors, navigation equipment and computers to drive themselves but in the meantime it has secretly developed a prototype from scratch that will have no facility for a human to take control, other than an emergency stop button.

An initial 100 testbed versions would retain manual controls, Google said as it unveiled the car on Tuesday. The controls are needed to comply with the law in California which along with Nevada and Florida allows autonomous vehicles but only if a driver can take charge.

Chris Urmson, director of Google's self-driving car project, said the aim was to run extended tests in California where Google is based. Urmson argued driverless cars would improve road safety, calling the development "an important step toward improving road safety and transforming mobility for millions of people".

Google said its testing had suggested it was safer to remove conventional controls altogether because the results of a human having to take over safely and suddenly were unpredictable and potentially dangerous. “We saw stuff that made us a little nervous,” Urmson told the New York Times.

The toy-like concept vehicle has two seats, a screen displaying the route and a top speed of 25mph (40km/h). An array of sensors allows the vehicle's computer to determine its location and surroundings and it can "see" several hundred metres, according to Google.

Related Article:

Flight MH370: Malaysia releases new satellite data

Malaysia's civil aviation authority releases raw satellite logs to public following calls from relatives of those on board, Matthew Weaver and agencies, Tuesday 27 May 2014

Malaysian authorities have released the data 80 days after the plane
vanished with 239 people on board. Photograph: Greg Wood/Pool/EPA

Satellite data used to narrow down the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, MH370, has been released after demands from relatives of the passengers.

The data [pdf], which was drawn up by the British company Inmarsat, was released 80 days after the Boeing vanished with 239 people on board.

It consists of a 47-page table of satellite logs from 4pm on 7 March when the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur until its last known contact of this type early the next day. Malaysia's civil aviation authority said the raw data was being released for "public consumption".

The data was used by Inmarsat to calculate that the Beijing-bound plane changed course and was likely to have gone down in the southern Indian Ocean. No trace of the plane has yet been found despite an extensive search in the area led by Australia, first on the surface by air and boat, and then underwater using specialist submarines.

Explanatory notes to the newly released data point out that the ping signals were used to estimate the distance between the satellite and the aircraft, but that they do not pinpoint its exact location.

Family members of the missing passengers have called for the data to be made public for independent analysis. They have criticised the Malaysian authorities for the way information about the search has been released and claimed they were wrong to give up hope by concluding that the plane went missing in the southern Indian Ocean.

Last week in a report to the governments of Malaysia and Australia they said: "There is no mention on why they are so sure the Inmarsat data is highly accurate and reliable."

Inmarsat's interpretation of the data has been verified by the international investigation team, which includes Malaysia's Department for Civil Aviation, the US National Transport Safety Board, Britain's Air Accidents Investigations Branch, and China's Aircraft Accident Investigation Department.

Analysts said it would take time to draw any conclusions from the new technical data.

Shukor Yusof, an aviation analyst with Malaysia-based Endau Analytics, said the satellite data was "highly technical" and required an expert to decode.

"There are very few people who can make head or tail as to what the numbers indicate. To me as a layman, it looks like a sequence of signals that were given out by the aircraft possibly indicating its flight path," he said.

Greg Waldron, Singapore-based managing editor with aviation publication group Flightglobal, said the satellite data was consistent with what Inmarsat had previously revealed.

"Basically it shows the timings of the handshakes of the plane with the satellite over the Indian Ocean," he said.

"But I would not dare to guess if they are searching in the right place. The fact that they are using this type of data shows how desperate the search for the plane is."

Malaysia's civil aviation authority previously stressed that satellite data was just one of several elements being examined by investigators.

Australia has committed up to £50m towards the search operation over two years.

Related Article:

Sunday, May 25, 2014

India's once iconic Ambassador car stalls

Yahoo – AFP, 25 May 2014

Indian holy men load an Ambassador car with their belongings in
Allahabad on February 17, 2013 (AFP Photo/Sanjay Kanojia)

New Delhi (AFP) - The maker of India's Ambassador car has suspended production, citing debt and lack of demand for the iconic vehicle which came to define the country's political class, a company official said Sunday.

Hindustan Motors, India's oldest car maker, shut down its factory on Saturday at Uttarpara in West Bengal state, where it has been making the Ambassador -- based on Britain's long-defunct Morris Oxford -- since 1957.

"Work has been suspended indefinitely at the Uttarpara factory. It is being done to ensure the company doesn't bleed more (money) and to enable us to draw plans for its revival," the senior official told AFP.

The company informed the Bombay Stock Exchange in a letter on Saturday, citing "very low productivity, growing indiscipline, critical shortage of funds, lack of demand for its core product ... and large accumulation of liabilities".

The curve-shaped Ambassador, whose design has changed little in nearly 60 years, once ruled India's roads and for years was the only car driven by politicians and senior government officials, particularly in New Delhi.

The car's "power status" allowed Islamist militants to drive an Ambassador past security and stage a deadly attack on the parliament building in 2001, bringing nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan to the brink of war.

But the Ambassador, easily the most recognisable car on India's roads, has been muscled out over the years by the entry of more modern vehicles, particularly SUVs increasingly favoured by senior bureaucrats.

The car still remains popular with taxi drivers, some politicians and tourists looking for a bit of nostalgia on India trips.

The country's once-booming car market has suffered a slump in recent years, with the economy growing at under five percent deterring new customers.

The Hindustan Motors official said Ambassador sales have long been falling, with the factory recently churning out just five cars a day.

Sales have dropped from 24,000 cars a year in the 1980s to less than 6,000 in the 2000s, according to the Times of India on Sunday, which predicted the end of the road for the "grand old lady" or "Amby".

"Had HM (Hindustan Motors) continued to evolve the Amby over the past 60 years without changing the DNA, it would have been the Rolls Royce of India," the paper quoted India's leading auto designer Dilip Chhabria as saying.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Red faces as new French trains 'too wide' for stations

Yahoo – AFP, 21 May 2014

Cash-strapped France will have to trim back some 1,300 rail platforms at a cost of 50 million euros after realising a brand new fleet of trains are too big to fit its stations, rail operators admitted Wednesday.

The problem affects 182 regional trains supplied by French manufacturer Alstom (Paris: FR0010220475 - news) and 159 from Canada's Bombardier (Toronto: BBD-A.TO - news) , due to come into service by 2016.

Two state rail bodies, the Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer (SNCF) and the Reseau Ferre de France (RFF), acknowledged the embarrassing situation in a joint statement on Wednesday after it was revealed by satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaine.

Introducing "wider trains in response to the needs of the public requires us to modernise 1,300 of the 8,700 platforms in the French rail network," they said.

France's secretary of state for transport, Frederic Cuvillier, called it a "tragically comical", "mind-boggling" mix-up, blaming a lack of coordination between the SNCF and the RFF.

The two bodies are to be merged into one under reform plans to be unveiled in June.

According to the Canard Enchaine, the SNCF drew up the specifications for the new-generation trains, including the carriage width.

"But the SNCF's clever engineers forgot to check on the reality on the ground," where the space between platforms varies between stations.

So far, 300 station platforms have been adapted since work began in 2013, with the project set for completion in 2016.

"It can involve chipping a few centimetres off the edge of a platform, or moving an electricity power box located a bit too close to the platform edge," said RFF.

"It's a bit like buying a Ferrari that you want to fit into your garage, but then realising your garage isn't quite Ferrari-sized, because up until now you didn't own a Ferrari," it offered by way of analogy.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Beijing, Moscow set to develop large aircraft together

Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2014-05-21

Putin arrives in Shanghai for a two-day visit, May 20. (Photo/CNS)

While Vladimir Putin began his two-day visit to Shanghai on May 20, the Moscow-based Kommersant reported that the Russian president will offer his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping a chance to jointly develop Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopters and also aid in the development of large commercial aircraft.

A Russian delegation source told Kommersant on May. 19 that China needs at least 1,000 long-range and wide-body commercial aircraft to compete with Airbus and Boeing in the future. The Moscow-based United Aircraft Corporation has put forward concept designs for such an aircraft that can meet the needs of Chinese airlines in the global market. Putin and Xi will likely discuss details during the two-day visit, the Russian paper said.

Beijing is also looking for a chance to produce the Russian-built Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopters for the People's Liberation Army. Prior to the trip, Putin announced that an agreement had already been reached between the two nations to build large commercial planes as well as a heavy helicopter. Putin believes that Beijing and Moscow are capable of designing and building competitive products for the global market, Kommersant said.

Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin meanwhile told the Moskovsky Komsomolets, a newspaper run by the Moscow Communist Youth League, that China and Russia are moving closer together in the development of aircraft. Since Russia alone is unable to compete against the United States and France in producing large commercial aircraft, Rogozin said that cooperation from China is necessary to change this situation.

GM announces second million-strong recall in a week

American auto giant General Motors has recalled millions more vehicles citing mechanical problems. The announcement follows an unprecedented fine imposed on the carmaker by federal regulators in the US for negligence.

Deutsche Welle, 20 May 2014

American automaker General Motors said Tuesday it was recalling another 2.4 million vehicles due to various safety defects, its second such announcement in under a week.

The company cited problems with seatbelts, airbags and gear boxes in its Buick, Chevrolet and Pontiac models, bringing the total number of cars and trucks GM has recalled so far this year to 15 million.

Just last week the carmaker recalled 2.7 million vehicles due to problems with headlamps and power brakes that left 13 people injured.

A day later federal regulators in the US fined GM an unprecedented $35 million (25.5 million euros) for failing to report in a timely manner ignition switch defects that were linked to 13 deaths.

The company said no fatalities had been reported in connection with the latest recall, but noted it expected recall-related costs to double in the second quarter to about $400 million.

cjc / sri (Reuters, dpa, AFP)
Related Article:

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hainan Airlines flight forced to land after bird strike

Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2014-05-20

The nose of the Hainan Airlines plane had a massive indent from the
impact with a bird, May 16. (Internet photo)

Passengers on a Hainan Airlines flight from Taiyuan in northern China's Shanxi to Xiamen in southern China's Fujian province experienced an unexpected delay to their journey on May 19 when their plane was grounded after hitting a bird.

One of the passengers, surnamed Zhu, said the flight had gone as planned until reaching its transit airport, Hefei Xinqiao International Airport, in eastern China's Anhui province. He said that he then felt a sudden jolt that did not feel like turbulence, adding that passengers feared the worst. After successfully landing, the flight attendants asked the passengers to take all of their belongings with them instead of simply letting them wait in the airport lounge — a bizarre request considering that the airport was only a transit stop, Zhu said.

The reason became evident upon disembarking the plane, however, as the nose of the plane was misshapen with blood all over it, Zhu said.

The passengers were forced to wait in the lounge for hours, only to be told that the flight was cancelled. The airline made the necessary arrangements to get the passengers to their destinations, Zhu said, but after a ten-hour delay, the airline refuses to compensate the passengers for the trouble.

The situation could have been much worse, however. Birds hit airplanes every day and are a source of millions of dollars in damage, while in the worst cases they can cause the plane to crash.

Monday, May 19, 2014

MH370 have been shot down by US-Thai exercise: Cawthorne

Want China Times, Staff Reporter 2014-05-19

The cover of Nigel Cawthorne's new book.
(Internet Photo)

Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which despite a months long international effort still remains missing, may have been shot down accidentally during joint United States-Thai military exercises in the South China Sea, Nigel Cawthorne posits in the first book out on the aircraft disappeared on March 8.

"The drill was to involve mock warfare on land, water and air, and would have included live-fire exercises," said Cawthorne about the joint exercise in the book. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the MH370, which took off for Beijing, could have been shot down by a joint US-Thai joint strike fighter team. Despite the fact that aircraft, vessels and satellites from 26 nations were dispatched to participate in rescue operations, they were looking at wrong direction for cover up according to Cawthorne.

"Say a participant accidentally shot down Flight MH370. Such things do happen. No one wants another Lockerbie, so those involved would have every reason to keep quiet about it," said Cawthorne in his work. Search operations in the South Indian Ocean have yet to turn up any black box. "Even if the plane's black box is eventually found, it may not be the original black box," said Cawthorne.

While Cawthorne's claim seems to be controversial and suspicious and he has been criticized by the families of the passengers aboard the missing aircraft, he said that a man from New Zealand working on a oil rig in the Gulf of Thailand near the South China Sea personally witnessed the explosion of the MH370. Cawthorne said that the South Indian Ocean is not the right direction to conduct search and rescue operations for the plane.

Related Articles:

Sunday, May 18, 2014

China Southern Airlines orders 80 Airbus planes

Want China Times, Xinhua 2014-05-18

An A320 aircraft operated by China Southern Airlines lands at
Zhangjiajie Airport, Hunan province. (File photo/Xinhua)

China Southern Airlines, the country's largest airline by fleet size, has signed contracts with aircraft manufacturer Airbus for the purchase of 80 A320 planes, Airbus China said in Beijing on Saturday.

The order includes 30 of the existing models of the A320 planes, priced between US$85.8 million-US$110.1 million each, and 50 of the more energy-efficient A320Neo model, priced between US$94.4 million-US$120 million, Airbus China said.

The planes will be delivered to China Southern Airlines from 2016 to 2020.

According to airline, the deal is expected to increase its transportation capacity by 12.1% and help optimize its fleet structures, thus maximizing its operation efficiency and enhancing competitiveness.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Mali flies into international storm over purchase of $40m presidential jet

Purchase of Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's private plane may be a tipping point in Mali's relations with aid donors, Alex Duval Smith in Bamako, 16 May 2014

Mali prime minister Moussa Mara with Andris Piebalgs, the European development
commissioner, and French MP Annick Girardin. Photograph: Habibou Kouyate/EC

Controversy about the purchase of a presidential jet and recriminations over transparency overshadowed a meeting in Bamako on Thursday between the Malian government and international aid donors.

The conference was called a year to the day after a massive $4.1bn (£2.4bn) was pledged to Mali by 55 countries and institutions. It took place as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has granted the country a phased three-year extended credit facility worth $23m, demanded explanations regarding the acquisition of a Boeing 737 costing about $40m.

In a robust speech aimed at deflecting donor criticism, Mali's prime minister, Moussa Mara, called for more transparency from the country's partners. He confirmed that $1.2bn of the pledged money had been spent. But he complained that only about a third of that amount had been channelled through government ministries and just $280m had gone directly into the treasury.

Mara told donors gathered at Bamako's international conference centre: "For the sake of the transparency you are all attached to, we demand that the concerned partners inform us of the use of the money and its impact. We want the remaining money to be used in a way that is totally traceable."

Mara, 39, appointed in a cabinet reshuffle last month, Mara, was responding to a passionate speech by Annick Girardin, the French secretary of state for development. Girardin insisted "the Brussels conference was not only about economics, it was deeply political" and had committed Mali to profound institutional reform.

Malian president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, whose acquisition of a private jet has
 raised questions among donors, at Conakry airport. Photograph: Cellou Binani/


She said: "Parliament must deal with the social and economic development of the country. It must also – and I am thinking in particular of the fight against corruption and justice reform – [accept that] these are areas where vigorous measures are expected.''

In a direct reference to the presidential plane, she added: "I am thinking also of financial and economic management – an area where the Malian government must respond to legitimate questions raised by international institutions."

The scandal surrounding the purchase of the Boeing 737 in April is likely to be at the forefront of donors' thoughts in forthcoming weeks as they decide how to reconfigure aid and loan payments to serve more effectively the needs of 14 million people living in one of the world's poorest countries.

The swiftness with which the multimillion-euro French-led military operation ousted the core of Islamists occupying northern Mali last year has been matched only by the alacrity with which President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta's government – elected by a landslide in August 2013 – appears to have revived some of the poor governance practices that opened the door to extremism in the first place: nepotism, high-living, lack of accountability, political aloofness and what the IMF sees as "threats to the integrity of the budgetary process".

Most of the pledged money has been spent through established international aid organisations that have revived existing programmes, targeting Mali's longstanding shortfalls in sanitation, health, education and food security. But continuing security fears in the underdeveloped north, where the government has failed to initiate meaningful peace talks with rebel groups, mean much aid is still spent in the south of Mali, which was never occupied. At least a quarter of a million northerners are still displaced or living in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

For months after he came to power in an EU-funded election, diplomats gave Keïta and his government the benefit of the doubt. Wary of being accused of colonial-style heavy-handedness, they tolerated his seemingly endless round of expensive foreign trips, his failure to travel to the far north of his own country, the lack of regular broadcasts to the crisis-bound nation, and an initial round of political appointments that included his son and three members of his wife's family.

Hints were dropped by visiting ministers, especially those from France, and by the UN security council. But the international silence has proved dangerous. Malians are beginning to believe in a conspiracy theory – never dismissed by Keïta – that suggests greedy "foreign powers" have secret information about massive oil and mineral wealth in the north of Mali and are siding with secessionist rebels.

Finally, last month, on the sidelines of the Rwandan genocide commemorations, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon took Keïta to task about his failure to hold talks with northern armed groups. But when Keïta returned from Kigali on 9 April, his new plane had been delivered. A tour of the aircraft at Sénou airport followed, and international pressure for more rigour, accountability, peace talks and general leadership was, it would seem, a distant memory.

It has taken until now for the IMF to shame Keïta's government by demanding an explanation for the purchase of the aircraft. "I learned about the plane by reading the local media,'' said Op de Beke, a senior economist at the IMF. "It had not been mentioned by the government when our team carried out its review in March.''

Since the purchase of the jet was never put to parliament, little is known about it beyond airport staff observations that it arrived with an Arab-speaking crew. Mara claims it cost $40m; the presidency says $34m. The biggest question surrounds whether Keïta needs a new plane; Mali already has one, which ferried his predecessor, the interim president Dioncounda Traoré.

De Beke says the IMF has also asked for explanations about a state guarantee of $200m given for defence procurement. Again, details of what the amount was or will be spent on – and whether aid money has been part of the guarantee – are subject to speculation. But the Malian army was recently, and somewhat mysteriously, rekitted in new uniforms, boots and hats, and given a new logo.

Ordinary Malians are not about to take to the streets, however. The middle classes have been tweeting frantically to decry the jet, but 80% of Malians are illiterate. In the election, they voted for "IBK", as he is called, because religious leaders told them to do so. Most like their president, and are from the south; the security situation at the time of the election left thousands of displaced northerners without voting cards.

Now that the conference is over, many donor chiefs – including European development commissioner Andris Piebalgs – are staying on in Mali to visit projects they are funding. They must decide how and if they are to release a remaining $140m in direct budget support to Mali's treasury. And they must insist that Mali moves swiftly to incorporate more checks and balances in its own government processes, so that the national budget cannot be treated as petty cash.

Indonesia’s first presidential plane. (JG Photo/Ezra Sihite)

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Air Force prepares to dismantle HAARP ahead of summer shutdown

Antennas for the newly completed High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program
 (HAARP) is seen near Gakona, Alaska on Wednesday, June 27, 2007. The world's
 most advanced high-energy radio physics experiment was declared fully operational
in a Wednesday afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony. (AP Photo/Mark Farmer)

FAIRBANKS -- The U.S. Air Force gave official notice to Congress Wednesday that it intends to dismantle the $300 million High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program in Gakona this summer.

The shutdown of HAARP, a project created by the late Sen. Ted Stevens when he wielded great control over the U.S. defense budget, will start after a final research experiment takes place in mid-June, the Air Force said in a letter to Congress Tuesday.

The University of Alaska has expressed interest in taking over the research site, which is off the Tok Cutoff in an area where black spruce was cleared a quarter-century ago for the Air Force backscatter radar project that was never completed. But the school has not volunteered to pay $5 million a year to run HAARP.

Responding to questions from Sen. Lisa Murkowski during a Senate hearing Wednesday, David Walker, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology and engineering, said this is "not an area that we have any need for in the future" and it would not be a good use of Air Force research funds to keep HAARP going. "We're moving on to other ways of managing the ionosphere, which the HAARP was really designed to do," he said. "To inject energy into the ionosphere to be able to actually control it. But that work has been completed."

Comments of that sort have given rise to endless conspiracy theories, portraying HAARP as a superweapon capable of mind control or weather control, with enough juice to trigger hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.

Scientists say all of that is nonsense, and that the degree of ionosphere control possible through HAARP is akin to controlling the Pacific Ocean by tossing a rock into it.

Built at a cost of more than $290 million, the site has 180 antennas on 30 acres that are used to direct energy into the ionosphere, which is 55 miles to 370 miles above the Earth, and monitor changes in the flow of charged particles. Stevens was the godfather of HAARP, which he helped start two decades ago with annual earmarks slipped into the defense budget.

At the hearing on defense research and innovation, featuring six representatives of the Pentagon, no one said HAARP has a future in the defense budget.

Walker said the Air Force has maintained the site for several years and the last project is one by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Once completed, the site will close.

DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said, "The 'P' in DARPA is projects. We're not in the business of doing the same thing forever, so very naturally as we conclude that work, we're going to move on. It's not an ongoing need for DARPA despite the fact that we had actually gotten some good value out of that infrastructure in the past."

Walker said the Air Force would like to remove critical equipment this summer to avoid the expense of winterization.

Alan Shaffer, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, said HAARP is a "world-class facility," but the department does not need it anymore.

"With all the other issues and problems and challenges facing the department at this time, we just don't see that that investment, over a long-term period, is where we would prioritize our investment," said Shaffer.

"No one else wants to step up to the bill, ma'am," Shaffer said to Murkowski.

On another topic, Murkowski asked Shaffer about small modular nuclear reactors for remote areas. She said, for example, Eielson Air Force Base could benefit from "reliable energy security that nuclear power can provide."

Shaffer said the "sticker shock" of an initial $1 billion investment for a small nuclear reactor is a huge obstacle.

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"... In An Hour with an Angel in Aug. of 2013, Archangel Michael and I had this exchange on the subject.

Steve Beckow: XX would like to know if HAARP has been deactivated.

Archangel Michael: Yes, it has. (2)  ...."

Russian rocket rocket falls back to Earth after liftoff

Yahoo – AFP, 16 May 2014

File photo taken on April 28, 2014 shows a Russian Proton rocket, carrying
 Russian lay satellite Luch-5V and Kazakh communication satellite KazSat-3,
blasting off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan

A Russian Proton rocket carrying a European-built satellite fell back to Earth on Friday shortly after liftoff in the latest accident to hit the country's once-proud space industry.

Russian space officials said the rocket's control engine failed 545 seconds after it took off from the Baikonur space centre that Moscow leases in Kazakhstan.

State television showed the rocket and its Express-AM4P communication satellite reported to be worth $29 billion (21 million euros) burning up in the upper layers of the atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean.

"We have an emergency situation," Channel One television showed a Russian flight commentator as saying.

"The flight is over," the commentator said.

Russia's Roscosmos federal space agency said it had formed a special commission "to analyse the telemetric data and discover the reasons for the emergency situation."

Channel One said the satellite -- built for Russia by Airbus Group's Astrium corporation -- was meant to provide Internet access to far-flung Russian territories with poor access to communication.

Russia sacked its previous Roscosmos chief Vladimir Popovkin in October 2013 after less than two years on the job because of a string of failed launches and other embarrassing incidents to the country's underfunded but fiercely proud space industry.

New Roscosmos head Oleg Ostapenko has been charged by President Vladimir Putin to overhaul the entire sector with billions of dollars in extra state funding.