Vote count begins after chaotic Afghan elections
Monday, October 22
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan authorities have begun counting votes after chaotic parliamentary elections marred by violence, technical glitches and unprecedented delays, the election commission said Monday.
Independent Elections Commission Chairman Abdul Badi Sayat said that around 4 million out of 8.8 million registered voters cast their ballots over the past two days at 4,640 polling centers across the country. Voting in the southern Kandahar province was delayed until next Saturday after a Taliban attack last week killed two senior security officials.
The Taliban had warned people not to vote, and the Interior Ministry said insurgents launched some 250 attacks across the country during two days of voting, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than a hundred others.
The voting was also marred by delays and technical issues related to a new biometric system, which forced many voters to wait in line for hours and authorities to extend the voting into a second day on Sunday.
Sayat said a special committee has been established which “will investigate all irregularities,” including voter list discrepancies, delays in opening polling centers and problems with the biometric system.
Preliminary results will not be released before mid-November and final results will not be out until December.
The elections, the first since 2010, came as a resurgent Taliban have seized nearly half the country, with near-daily attacks on security forces. The Taliban view the U.S.-backed government as a dysfunctional Western puppet and have refused repeated offers to negotiate with it.
In the eastern Nangarhar province, the military said troops killed seven insurgents in a raid on a village overnight. But Attahullah Khogyani, spokesman for the provincial governor, said local residents brought five bodies that appeared to be civilians to the district headquarters. Gov. Hayatullah Hayat has promised an investigation if it turns out that civilians were killed.
Why radiation protection experts are concerned over EPA proposal
October 19, 2018
Author: Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress, Scientist-in-Residence and Adjunct Professor, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
Disclosure statement: Ferenc Dalnoki-Veress receives funding from James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) at the Middlebury Insitute of International Studies (MIIS) in Monterey, CA. MIIS/CNS is my employer.
The Takata Corporation sold defective air bag inflators that resulted in the death of 16 people in the United States and a massive recall of cars. While it was rare for the air bags to fail, the brutal consequences of this defective device in even minor collisions was easy to recognize. But the effects of low-dose ionizing radiation – high energy waves or particles that can strip electrons from atoms and physically damage cells and the DNA within – on people’s health is much harder to see, and prove.
When the Associated Press reported that the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency solicited the advice of a controversial toxicologist, Edward Calabrese, to consider changes to how it regulates radiation, it sent shock waves through the radiation protection community. Calabrese is well known for his unconventional and outlying view that low-dose radiation is not dangerous.
I’m a physicist at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies who focuses on risks of emerging technology. I am keenly aware of the danger of exaggerating the effect of ionizing radiation, which has led to a phobia of radiation and stigma toward those who suffered radiation exposure. However, underestimating these effects can be just as detrimental. And doing so may only be in the interest of certain stakeholders that have the ear of the current administration.
High-dose radiation kills; what do low doses do?
A man sits on a whole body counter to have his radiation level measured at Citizens’ Radioactivity Measurement Station in Fukushima, Japan. Risks are much higher for children, and no one can say for sure what level of exposure is safe. What’s clear is Fukushima will serve as a test case for long-term exposure to low-dose radiation. AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye
It is important to note that the health effects of high doses of radiation are well established. We all know about the horrific effects based on studies of the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki after the atomic bombs were dropped. Then there was also the recent case of Russian defector Alexander Litvenenko who quickly sickened and died 23 days after being poisoned with the radioactive isotope polonium-210 in 2006.
However, the effects of low doses of radiation are not well understood. Part of the reason is that these low doses are difficult to measure.
Current understanding of the health effect of radiation relies primarily on a decades-long study of the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb attacks. That population was exposed to a one-time large dose of radiation, with individual exposure dependent on where they were at the time of the explosion.
In those high-dose radiation studies, researchers found that there is a proportionate relationship between dose and effect. The way the EPA gauges the effect of low doses of radiation draws from these studies as well as studies following other incidents. The current guidelines for the EPA adhere to what is called the linear no-threshold (LNT) model, which implies that even low doses of radiation have an effect across a population. Some scientists dubbed it to be a “reverse lottery,” where an unlucky few within a given population will get cancer during their lifetime due to their exposure to radiation.
There have been questions as to whether the LNT model is appropriate for measuring cancer risk from low doses of radiation. That’s because when the radiation-induced cancer rate is low, and the sample size is small, there is more statistical uncertainty in the measurement. This allows more wiggle room in putting forward alternative dose-response models such as Calabrese’s, which have little scientific backing but that promise financial benefits for regulated industries.
Overall, the general feeling in the radiation protection community is that for now until new research proves otherwise, the LNT model, because of the lack of understanding of the effect of low doses, is the prudent model to use to set protective limits.
Also, not being able to determine the effect of a low dose of radiation is a problem in measurement, not in the underlying linear threshold model. As doses of radiation decrease, fewer cases of radiation-induced cancers occur, making it more difficult to identify those specific cases.
This is especially true given that cancer is already a common occurrence, making it nearly impossible to disentangle radiation exposure from many other potential cancer risk factors. This is where the analogy with Takata air bags fails, because it is not possible to prove that a specific cancer death is due to ionizing radiation, but this does not make it any less real or significant.
Who profits if radiation guidelines change
The EPA issues guidance and sets regulations to “limit discharges of radioactive material affecting members of the public” associated with the nuclear energy industry. The EPA defines what radiation levels are acceptable for a protective cleanup of radioactive contamination at Superfund sites. It also provides guidance on the levels of radiation exposure that would trigger a mass evacuation. It is not surprising that certain stakeholders would welcome modifications in EPA assessment of low-dose radiation exposure given the high costs involved in preventing or cleaning up sites and in compensating victims of such exposure.
Recently, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) – scientists who provide guidance and recommendations on radiation protection under a mandate from Congress – supported the LNT model. NCRP analyzed 29 epidemiological studies and found that the data was “broadly supportive” of the LNT model and that “no alternative dose-response relationship appears more pragmatic or prudent for radiation protection purposes.”
In fact, the National Academies’ Nuclear and Radiation Studies Board, the International Council on Radiation Protection, and other international bodies and regulators all use the LNT model for guidance and radiation protection.
From my perspective, as someone who has worked with radioactive sources, the EPA should be cognizant of the warning by the late Harvard sociologist Daniel Yankelovich that just because an effect can’t be easily quantified does not mean it is not important or does not exist.
Would a Space Force mean the end of NASA?
October 18, 2018
Author: Wendy Whitman Cobb, Associate Professor of Political Science, Cameron University
Disclosure statement: Wendy Whitman Cobb does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Space, that final frontier, is something that catches the attention of a country naturally inclined to believe in ideas like “Manifest Destiny” and American exceptionalism. But how well does a Space Force fit that bill? And would a Space Force reignite a military space race and fuel diplomatic tensions with China and Russia?
Growing up in Florida, I was lucky enough to watch space shuttle launches with something that resembled regularity. As I got older and first learned about the history of NASA, its exploits during the Space Race and then its challenges, I never lost the sense of wonder at what NASA could do. I also gained an appreciation for the difficulties it had to overcome in order to reach those achievements. I’ve turned this interest into an academic career studying the politics of space, science and medicine.
NASA’s influence is clearly seen in these other fields as well as in our everyday lives. Technologies developed to allow space exploration have led to such consumer innovations as scratch-resistant lenses and CAT scans. Our cellphones would not be possible without the miniaturization of chips during the Apollo program or military GPS satellites. Given these benefits, we often forget the difficult nature of spaceflight and the resources required to accomplish it.
Indeed, examining the experiences and political lessons of NASA reveals the difficulties of establishing a new government agency and launching an organization whose job is to do hard things at a high cost. Looking at the ups and downs of NASA’s history shows us that there are potential benefits domestically but that they could come with greater international risk.
What is a Space Force, and what would it do anyway?
While at a rally in March this year, President Donald Trump first mentioned the idea of a Space Force. Since then, the president has both tweeted about the idea and directed the Pentagon to develop a plan to create an independent sixth branch of the military. Responding to the president’s directives, the Pentagon released a report in August. Although the report was labeled as “final,” its 15 pages are short on detail, long on talking points, and light on details on why there needs to be a Space Force.
The White House and Congress have been considering the idea for some time. During the debate over the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, members of the House Armed Services Committee inserted a provision establishing a “Space Corps.” The proposed Space Corps was to be housed within the Air Force but the provision was later removed during House-Senate negotiations because of objections from both the White House and Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Although he has expressed support for a Space Force now, Mattis originally opposed it over budgetary and overhead concerns.
The focus on space was also apparent in the National Security Strategy released in December 2017 and the National Space Strategy released in March.
Beyond tweets and mentions, the White House has not, in my opinion, made a compelling case for why such a force is needed. The Pentagon report, which supposedly lays its foundation, states that “potential adversaries are now actively developing ways to deny our use of space in a crisis. It is imperative that the United States adapts its policies, doctrine and capabilities to protect our interests.”
The military roots of space exploration and NASA’s early lessons
To say that military and space are intertwined is an understatement. Satellites provide civilian communications but also do the same for military units. Space analysts call this “dual-use” and it is also what makes it so difficult to separate peaceful, civilian activities from military ones.
The military and civilian roots of space exploration are bound up tightly with one another. When the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in October of 1957, it set off a panic in the United States about the capability not of the Soviets to explore space, but about their ability to launch deadly attacks on Americans. Thus, the Space Race was born not out of a desire to peacefully explore space, but Cold War politics.
President Dwight Eisenhower, careful not to read too much into the Soviet abilities, was cautious in responding to the threat. Although Eisenhower initially wanted the space effort to be run by the military, he was persuaded to create a more open, civilian space program in part to lessen “attention on U.S. national security space efforts.” Legislation creating NASA was passed in 1958 with NASA opening its doors Oct. 1 of that year.
There are two lessons to be taken from NASA’s establishment and early history. First, it was an agency born of a crisis. The United States was seemingly falling behind its Cold War adversary and the public demanded that the government respond. Crisis often precedes the establishment of new government agencies and provides those agencies with a base of public and political support.
In terms of a Space Force, there is no apparent crisis. We know that both Russia and China have been developing military capabilities in space. China first tested an anti-satellite weapon in 2007 and more recently, Russian satellites have been demonstrating new capabilities. There are most likely other military activities in these states, and perhaps others, they have undertaken that remain classified. If this is the case, then I believe the administration needs to lay a stronger foundation for why a Space Force is needed because lacking a crisis, support is often hard to come by.
A second, and related, lesson is in terms of public support. Although Americans tend to remember the space programs of the 1960s favorably, public support for NASA began to fall in the early 1960s and as Roger Launius, a NASA historian, writes, the data “do not support a contention that most people approved of Apollo and thought it important to explore space.” Along with this came a drop in funding that left NASA scrambling in the late 1960s to accomplish Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Studies of public opinion often demonstrate a “thermostatic” relationship between public opinion and funding.
For the Space Force, public opinion is upside down. In recent polls, CNN found that 55 percent of Americans do not support the establishment of a Space Force while Rasmussen (typically a Republican-leaning poll) found that 40 percent of Americans are opposed, while 27 percent were unsure. If support and funding go hand in hand, these findings do not put the Space Force on a sustainable footing.
Consequences of a Space Force for NASA and militarization of space
Should the Trump administration succeed in establishing a Space Force or something like it, the move may have serious consequences for NASA. Depending on its mission, the Space Force is likely to require launch capabilities for satellites and perhaps human missions. Although a Space Force may be able to purchase these services from companies like SpaceX, if they choose to develop an in-house launch system, they may duplicate already existing NASA efforts. Doing so would also likely cause a brain drain at NASA as in-house engineers and experts migrated to the Space Force with promises of new missions and new funding.
There is also a question of whether the Space Force may simply take over current NASA missions. In the wake of the Space Force announcement, the Trump campaign sent out an email to supporters asking them to vote on a potential logo. Although this was a fundraising maneuver, one of the “logos” was themed around Mars with the wording “Mars Awaits.” Given that the overall mission of the Space Force remains unclear, there could be a push for human spaceflight efforts to be subsumed under a Space Force. NASA’s recent failures in the development of the Space Launch System, or SLS, and the James Webb Space Telescope only further reinforce the image of a NASA spread too thin to accomplish major space endeavors.
Finally, NASA’s budget is already quite low considering its mission: US$19.7 billion in 2017 with $19 billion requested for 2018. This represents less than 0.5 percent of the overall federal budget. A Space Force could feasibly take away funding from NASA, especially for the development of human spaceflight capabilities thus cannibalizing NASA’s already low budget.
In terms of geopolitics, establishing a Space Force could create a point of no return in of militarization of space. From Eisenhower onwards, U.S. policymakers have avoided the appearance of overt military influence in space. Both the United States and the Soviet Union joined the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which stipulated, among other things, the peaceful use of outer space and a ban on nuclear weapons. Following the Space Force announcement, Russian officials warned about potential violations of the treaty and that Russia might choose to withdraw from the treaty if the U.S. did.
Joan Johnson-Freese, a space policy expert, warns in her recent book that the pace of American militarization of space has been increasing, perhaps to the point of no return. Her warning is that policymakers think about further actions before stepping into an arms race for which no one is prepared. While President Trump has certainly shaken up America’s relations with other countries, such a drastic change in American posture could have significant and irreversible effects, creating a second space race. While it could have benefits for American society much as the original space race did, this time, I believe the dangers are likely to be far higher.
Two snowstorms may target northeastern US through late October as abnormally cold air persists
The pattern will bring snow showers over the Great Lakes and may bring steady snow to parts of the central and northern Appalachians and perhaps closer to the coast, depending on the formation, track and strength of two upcoming storms.
AccuWeather Global Weather Center – October 23, 2018 – With the exception of a day here and there, the overall weather pattern will remain chilly in the northeastern United States with opportunities for snow through the end of October.
Typical highs in late October range from the upper 40s F in northern Maine to near 60 F in New York City and the middle 60s F in southeastern Virginia. Temperatures much of this week will average 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit below normal. With extensive cloud cover and gusty winds, AccuWeather RealFeel Temperatures will dip into the teens, 20s and 30s at times.
The pattern will bring snow showers over the Great Lakes and may bring steady snow to parts of the central and northern Appalachians and perhaps closer to the coast, depending on the formation, track and strength of two upcoming storms.
The most significant blast of chilly air so far this season brought the season’s first snow showers to many areas from the Upper Midwest to the interior Northeast this past weekend.
Potential for heavy snow to target northern New England at midweek
A reinforcing burst of chilly air will race southeastward from north-central Canada during the first part of this week. Expect snow showers to accompany the Canadian air as it rolls from the upper Great Lakes late Monday and Monday night to the lower Great Lakes on Tuesday.
A weak storm accompanying the chilly push may garner enough strength for an accumulating snowfall in parts of central and northern New England from Tuesday night to early Wednesday.
Snowfall through Wednesday night
A period of steady, accumulating snow is most likely in the central and northern parts of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and northeastern New York state.
The heaviest snow will fall from northern Maine to northwestern New Brunswick, eastern Quebec and southern Labrador, where a general 6-12 inches (15-30 centimeters) are forecast with locally higher amounts. In this area, snow will accumulate on some of the roads. The snow may cling to trees and weigh them down to the point where some branches may break and cause sporadic power outages.
Storm may bring snow, rain, wind to Northeast this weekend
While it is too early to give details on the timing, intensity and which areas may get snow, there seems to be the likelihood of substantial travel delays and disruptions to outdoor activities from the mid-Atlantic coast to New England and perhaps as far west as the Great Lakes region.
“A period of heavy rain is most likely along the coast. Coastal areas may have to contend with beach erosion and flooding at time of high tide. Wet snow is possible over the higher terrain across the interior. Impacts from gusty winds from the strengthening storm could be a factor throughout the region,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist Evan Duffey.
Depending on the track and strength of the storm, the risk of heavy snow may be again confined to northern New England or perhaps extend farther southwest across parts of the central Appalachians.
A storm that tracks well offshore of the mid-Atlantic, then strengthens and hooks northwestward toward New England would likely spare the central Appalachians of heavy snow.
A storm that hugs the mid-Atlantic coast and gets progressively stronger is more likely to bring heavy snow to the central Appalachians but perhaps less snow to northern New England.
AccuWeather will continue to provide updates on the storms and potential for snow.
Download the free AccuWeather app for the latest forecast for your area or your travel destination.
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