Oldest Animal With A Skeleton Found

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (UPI) — Paleontologists say they’ve discovered fossils of the oldest animal with a skeleton, between 560 million and 550 years old, in South Australia.

The age of Coronacollina acula places it in a time known as the Ediacaran Period, named after the Ediacara Hills of South Australia, ranging from 630-542 million years ago, before the explosion of life and diversification of organisms that took place on Earth in the following Cambrian period from 542 million to 488 million years ago, they said.

“Up until the Cambrian, it was understood that animals were soft bodied and had no hard parts,” Mary Droser, a geology professor at the University of California, Riverside, who led the team making the discovery, said.

“But we now have an organism with individual skeletal body parts that appears before the Cambrian. It is therefore the oldest animal with hard parts, and it has a number of them — they would have been structural supports — essentially holding it up. This is a major innovation for animals.”

Apart from its hard parts, it is constructed in the same way that Cambrian sponges were constructed, she said in a university release Friday.

“It therefore provides a link between the two time intervals,” Droser said. “We’re calling it the ‘harbinger of Cambrian constructional morphology,’ which is to say it’s a precursor of organisms seen in the Cambrian. This is tremendously exciting because it is the first appearance of one of the major novelties of animal evolution.”

The finding suggest the initiation of skeletons was not as sudden in the Cambrian as was thought, and that older Ediacaran animals are part of the evolutionary lineage of animals as we know them today, she said.

Senate Backs Obama In Rejection Of Keystone Pipeline

Democratic Senators voted to ratify President Barack Obama’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipelines, leaving the oil project in limbo and ensuring that it will remain a political issue in the near future, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, Obama personally lobbied Democrats to support his decision, and reaped the rewards when 42 of these Senators sided with him in opposition of the pipeline – enough lawmakers to sustain a filibuster against a GOP-led effort to undo the President’s rejection.

“The Democrat-controlled Senate just turned its back on job creation and energy independence,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a response to the move. “President Obama’s personal pleas to wavering senators may have tipped the balance against this legislation. When it comes to delays over Keystone, anyone looking for a culprit should now look no further than the Oval Office.”

The Chicago Tribune reported that Republicans are eager to showcase Obama’s decision to withhold approval of the Canada-to-Gulf-Coast pipeline as proof that the Administration is not doing enough to increase the Nation’s energy supplies and generate jobs.

Oil Industry, GOP Call For More Domestic Gas Production To Curb Prices

Congressional Republicans and oil industry executives called for more U.S. gas production to counter rising prices that have been recorded across the country, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, Democrats have focused on conservation and the role of Wall Street speculators in driving up prices. Jack N. Gerard, chief executive officer of the American Petroleum Institute, told a House energy panel that the U.S. has a significant amount of resources that are not being tapped to their full potential.

The AP reported that Gerard noted President Barack Obama, who called for an “all-of-the-above” energy approach, has threatened the oil and gas industry with billions of dollars in tax increases.

“Mr. Chairman, this is sending the wrong message to the global markets. This needs to change,” Gerard told the panel.

The New York Times reported that the current average price for regular-grade gasoline is $3.74 in the U.S., and recent forecasts have outlined how this could rise to $4.50 in places like California. Some analysts have speculated that the price may hit $5 a gallon.

Justice Department Threatens Tech Giant Over Alleged E-Book Price Increases

The Justice Department has warned Apple Inc. and five of the biggest U.S. publishers that it plans to sue them for allegedly working together to raise the price of electronic books, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

According to the news outlet, several of the parties have held talks to settle the antitrust case and head off a court battle that could be potentially damaging for the companies. If the Justice Department is successful, such a settlement could have wide-ranging repercussions for the industry.

The Journal reported that this may eventually lead to cheaper e-books for consumers. The five publishers facing a potential suit are CBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster Inc.; Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group; Pearson PLC’s Penguin Group; Macmillan, a unit of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH; and HarperCollins Publishers Inc., a unit of News Corp., which also owns The Wall Street Journal and NewsCore.

BBC News reported that the issue has flared up because electronic books are sold according to a different formula than the one that is used to govern the sale of physical books.

Senate Comes To Agreement On Transportation Overhaul

Democratic and Republican leaders reached a deal that clears the way for a Senate vote on passage of a $109 billion bill to overhaul Federal transit and highway programs, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the agreement limits the number of amendments to be voted upon to 30, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) noted that after a day of deliberations, the vote could occur in the coming days.

The AP reported that Reid plans to immediately send the bill over to the House, where leaders from the GOP have been struggling to corral enough votes to pass their own five-year bill.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) warned rank-and-file Republicans that if they do not act quickly to pass their own bill, he will bring the Senate bill to the House floor for a vote.

The Hill reported that Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that she was thrilled to hear Boehner could put the chamber’s version of the legislation up for a vote in the House.

“I love it,” Boxer said of Boehner’s statement. “The fact is this is a proven bipartisan bill.”

U.S., Yemen Agree To Restart Controversial Military-Training Program

U.S. and Yemeni officials have agreed to restart a controversial military-training program to help the Arab nation’s new President tackle the al-Qaida militants that exist in the country, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the news outlet, President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi has openly turned to the U.S. as part of an attempt to get the upper hand over the terrorist group. However, this move may have a key drawback – upsetting the political balance of power in the country and making the overhaul of the nation’s security forces more complicated.

Dozens of U.S. special operations forces that are already in the country are set to resume their training of counterterrorism forces. This restart occurs after a lull last year amid a wave of new sophisticated assaults by the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida and loosely linked jihadi groups, the Journal reported.

Reuters reported that the presence of U.S. troops in Yemen has already allegedly led to the attack of an American intelligence officer, as al-Qaida said on an Islamist website that the action came as a result of the rising number of troops entering the nation.

Obama Announces Push For Vet Housing Plan

President Barack Obama announced a new plan to provide veterans and active members of the military with mortgage relief in the form of government-backed loans, his latest attempt to reinvigorate the housing sector, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, the President laid out his housing-relief proposal in his first full news conference of the year. Obama specifically spoke to the veterans and service members whose deployments and mandatory moves have made them particularly vulnerable to the pitfalls of the housing crisis.

The Times reported that the President's plan reduces fees for qualifying borrowers with Federal Housing Authority-insured loans who want to refinance their home at a lower rate. This move would build on the landmark housing settlement with major mortgage lenders by the White House and 49 State attorneys general last month.

The Washington Post reported that Obama also outlined a new agreement with banks to review foreclosures for members of the military, as deals that took place since 2006 will be looked at and compensation may be provided to anyone who wrongfully lost their home. 

Senator Calls For Action From Congress On Mine Safety Bill

Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) has said it is time for Congress to stop delaying the passage of Federal legislation that would help to keep coal miners safe, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, his comments came on the heels of an internal review that criticized the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for its handling of West Virginia's Upper Big Branch mine prior to an explosion in 2010 that led to the deaths of 29 men.

The AP reported that Rockefeller noted that the depth of the agency's failures were appalling and unacceptable, saying that the MSHA must address the report's issues and help to ensure that the potential disastrous consequences are avoided in the future.

Rockefeller noted that legislation should be passed to give the MSHA more enforcement authority and increase penalties for violators.

According to The Wall Street Journal, a 308-page report from the MSHA outlined how the agency did not scrutinize parts of the mines and did not pursue aggressive policies to deter the company despite repeated violations. 

Holder Defends Killing American Terrorists Abroad

American military and intelligence agencies can legally kill American citizens overseas if these individuals are al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the U.S. and cannot be captured, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced on March 5, The Washington Times reported.

According to the newspaper, the comments made by Holder represent the first time that a Cabinet member has addressed the legal justification for last year’s drone strike on American-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. U.S. officials noted that he was a senior leader of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which operates as the terrorist group’s affiliate in Yemen.

“Although I cannot discuss or confirm any particular program or operation, I believe it is important to explain these legal principles publicly,” Holder said in a speech at Northwestern University’s law school.

The Associated Press reported that Holder outlined the three steps that the U.S. must take in order to ensure that killing an American citizen is legal. These consist of determining they pose an imminent threat, capture is not feasible and that the killing would be consistent with laws of war.

Israeli Prime Minister Says He Won’t Let Country Live In Fear Of Iran

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vigorously asserted his nation's right to defend itself against the nuclear threat that is emanating from Iran, noting that time is growing short and declaring he would not "gamble with the security of the state of Israel," The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, Netanyahu's tough talk in a speech to thousands of American Jewish supporters was his strongest suggestion that he and his countrymen wouldn't hesitate to launch a unilateral pre-emptive attack on Iran.

The AP reported that this approach was in stark contrast to President Barack Obama's appeal to give diplomacy and sanctions more time to work before resorting to force. But, the Israeli leader noted that his country had "patiently waited" and the time for a peaceful action may be over.

"None of us can afford to wait much longer. As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation," he said in his speech.

Reuters reported that during the speech, the Israeli Prime Minister held a copy of a 1944 letter from the U.S. War Department to world Jewish leaders turning down their request to bomb Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in Poland.

Pennsylvania Battles With EPA Over Gas Drilling

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Pennsylvania are currently sparring over gas drilling and possible regulations for the massive Marcellus Shale formation, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the battle between the agency and the State has left the future of one of the nation's most productive gas fields up in the air, as the site holds trillions of cubic feet of gas.

The AP reported that the State has said the EPA is meddling in its affairs while the agency has claimed it is just doing its job. A group of Pennsylvania residents are awaiting the results of tests done by the environmental group in order to determine if their allegedly contaminated water source is a result of the drilling.

However, the State's top environmental regulator noted that Pennsylvania does not need Federal help in protecting the environment.

"There's no question that EPA is overstepping," Katherine Gresh, a spokeswoman for Michael Krancer, told the AP. "DEP regulates these facilities and always has, and EPA has never before shown this degree of involvement."

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the Marcellus Shale operation supported nearly 140,000 jobs in 2010.
 

Obama Expected To Urge Israel Against Strike On Iran At Meeting

President Barack Obama has noted that he does not want war but insists an American attack against Iran would come if it was the only option left to stop the Arab nation from getting a nuclear weapon, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the President noted that "loose talk of war" only plays into Iran's hands. He will try to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to decrease the mounting pressure from many in his hawkish government to attack Iran's disputed nuclear development sites.

The AP reported that Obama is trying to avert a strike by the Israelis against Iran that could come as early as this spring, something that the U.S. government sees as dangerously premature.

"Now is not the time for bluster," Obama said of the potential for failure related to a pre-emptive attack. "Now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in."

USA Today reported that Obama took time to defend his support of Israel in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, noting "there should not be a shred of doubt by now – when the chips are down, I have Israel's back."

Unemployment Applications Drop To Lowest Number In Four Years

The number of Americans who are seeking unemployment benefits dropped slightly last week to the lowest point in four years, another indication that the U.S. job market is improving, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, a seasonally adjusted 351,000 people sought unemployment aid, a drop from the 353,000 that filed for the government help the previous week, Labor Department figures showed on March 1. This figure represents a four-year low level.

Bloomberg reported that economists had forecast that the number would actually rise to 355,000.

According to the news outlet, firing is also on a downward trend as employers have gained confidence in the outlook for economic growth and a smaller number of job reductions also allows for these companies to hire additional employees as demand picks up.

“Firing is not holding back the labor market,” Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania, told Bloomberg. “Businesses recognize that they don’t need to lay off any more people. Down the road, they’re going to realize they need to hire more people.”

Obama Notes Apology Over Quran Burnings Helped Quell Violence In Afghanistan

President Barack Obama said that his apology for the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base has "calmed things down" in Afghanistan, after the incident triggered an outbreak of violence that led to the death of four U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans last week, NewsCore reported.

According to the news outlet, two more American troops were killed by an Afghan soldier and civilian opening fire on them on Thursday.

In an interview with ABC News' Bob Woodruff, Obama was asked if he thought his apologizing to Karzai and the Afghan government had improved the situation. President noted that "it calmed things down," but asserted that the U.S. was "not out of the woods yet."

"The reason that it was important is same reason that the commander on the ground, General Allen, apologized and that is to save lives and to make sure our troops who are there right now are not placed in further danger," said the President.

Reuters reported that the incident arose when Afghan workers found charred copies of the Quran at the U.S. military base near Kabul.

Birth Control Policy Faces First Vote In Senate

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are gearing up for the first vote in what has become a fierce battle over President Barack Obama's mandate that healthcare providers must cover the cost of contraceptives, Fox News reported.

According to the news outlet, the Senate will vote on March 1 to decide whether or not they want to quash the so-called "conscience" amendment that was authored by Senator Roy Blount (R-Mo.), a proposal that is designed to counter Obama's mandate.

This move would allow insurers and employers to opt out of any provision in the President's healthcare law to which they object on moral or religious grounds. That would include the requirement to cover the cost of birth control.

The Associated Press reported that Blount has led the push and presented the amendment to the Senate.

"The word 'contraception' is not in (the legislation) because it's not about a specific procedure," Blount said. "It's about a faith principle that the First Amendment guarantees."

U.S. Treasury Blocks Banks Dealing With Iran

The U.S. Treasury Department disrupted a Dubai-based banking operation that the Federal Government believes had become Tehran’s primary channel for evading international sanctions and processing its oil sales, according to a source who was briefed on the operation, The Wall Street Journal reported.

According to the news outlet, the effort to circumvent the sanctions was particularly sensitive because the institution-in-question in the United Arab Emirates is partly owned by the local government of Dubai, an ally of the U.S. The chairman of the bank, known as the Noor Islamic Bank, is the son of the ruler of the emirate.

The Journal reported that Noor, in mid-December, agreed to close off what the people briefed on the operation characterized as Iran’s single-biggest channel for repatriating foreign-currency receipts for oil purchases. According to estimations, this counted for as much as 60 percent of the Middle Eastern nation’s foreign oil sales by late 2011.

Reuters reported that the U.S. Treasury said banks who are involved with Iran “risk losing their correspondent account access to U.S. financial institutions,” according to David Cohen, the Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

GAO Audit Shows Federal Government Still Wasteful

A year after the investigators identified 81 areas where the government double-spends or has the potential to cut costs, President Barack Obama and Congress have solved just four of these problems, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a follow-up report on February 28.

The Washington Times reported that in another report looking at other facets of the government, the GAO found more duplication or places where better use of technology or more clearly defined goals may save money for Washington.

"There are tens of billions of dollars that could be saved," Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro, head of the GAO, said in submitting both reports to Congress.

The Hill reported the report set off a new round of finger-pointing and blaming the other side by lawmakers from both parties in Washington. The only problems that were addressed by the government were the streamlining of arms-control agencies, ethanol production, explosives investigation and a crackdown on the use of tax deductions by legal, non-resident aliens.

This alleged lack of progress in Washington was targeted by conservative lawmakers.

"Congress has done almost nothing to address problem areas GAO has already identified. This report shows why Congress has a 9 percent approval rating," Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said in a statement.

Obama Urges Governors To Increase Funding For Education

President Barack Obama urged governors across the country to invest more State resources in education, as he noted that a highly skilled workforce is crucial for the U.S. to remain competitive with other nations, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, Obama made his pitch at a White House meeting with governors in Washington as part of the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association. The President and first lady hosted a black-tie event for the politicians on February 26.

The AP reported that the President sympathized with the governors whose State budgets have been significantly diminished by the economic downturn, but noted that this was no reason to cut resources from schools.

“The fact is that too many states are making cuts in education that I think are simply too big,” Obama said at the event. “Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state than the decisions you make about where to invest. Budgets are about choices.”

CNN reported that the President also spoke to how the economic outlook is improving from the early days of his Administration, noting “our recovery is gaining speed.”

A Letter From Barry

Dear Joe:

Joe, as you know, my popularity numbers have been dropping faster than a free-falling safe. I’ve tried all the usual stuff like blaming my predecessor for everything, making up personal experience stories and flat out lying. The economy is in the toilet, and we are fighting so many wars that they even want me to give back my Peace Prize.  I’ve tried the liberal-standard “deny, deflect, delay” schemes and nothing has worked, so I’m in a bind. You know we even got the kids a dog and he really likes peeing in the Rose Garden. Michelle is really fond of all the servants, and I’m hooked on being able to play golf on all the best courses and not having to worry about inconvenient tee times. My Messiah image is getting shopworn, and people are talking about me being a one-term president.

You, on the other hand, have been a constant source of much amusement with your gaffes and have earned the reputation of being the village idiot. Hillary said, “It takes a village.” People can’t wait to see which foot you will put in your mouth next.

I’ve got a healthcare bill that I convinced the Congress to ram through, never thinking in my wildest dreams that anybody would actually read it. Well, they did read it, and I look like an idiot. I’ve got Attorney General Eric “Fast and Furious” Holder hanging around my neck like an anchor, but he’s “one of my people” so he’s untouchable. What I really need is a way to deflect attention from my lack of accomplishment and experience.

I’ve got the Occupy Wall Street bunch, which I initially supported. I even made a statement in support of them. Well, it turns out I backed the wrong horse in that race, because they are showing themselves to be nothing more than dope-smoking weirdos who don’t even want a job. Let’s face it: Defecating on a police car or stealing from a church is not something that looks good on a resume. Hey, even the American Nazi Party endorsed them! Luckily, Nancy (God Bless Them) Pelosi and Maxine Waters also praised them; so I can have my mouthpiece, Jay Carney, say something like, “What the President really meant,” thereby deflecting the blame.

I keep saying that we need to tax the millionaires, but the fact of the matter is that they are becoming an endangered species because of the lousy economy. Back in 2007, there were 400,000 of them; but in 2009, they dropped to just 235,000. I know what you’re going to tell me is that there are still enough of them to fill my re-election campaign coffers but I’ve got to protect what I’ve got, because the truth of the matter is that it doesn’t look like there are going to be any new millionaires anytime soon. The number of people 16 and older who have been unemployed for more than a year averaged 1.3 million in the past three recessions, but in 2010 there were 4.3 million. Twenty -Ten, Joe, that’s on my watch!! So how do I deflect that?

Joe, I have to cut this short because I have a 10 a.m. tee time. I’ll only be able to play 18 holes because Michelle wants me to take her out on a date night later on. Jeez, there’s not enough time to squeeze all this in. So let me get right to the point: I need you to take one on the chin for the home team. There’s no easy way to say it so I’ll come right out with it. Joe, I’m dumping you as my Vice President. There, I said it. You’re an old politician so you know it’s not personal, just business.

Look at what Hillary can bring to the table once you announce that you are stepping down for health reasons or because you want to spend more time with your family — you know the line. The most important thing is that she hasn’t been associated with the disastrous economic policies. Another thing is that she is going to be bringing the older white folks with her, and we need those votes — especially the women’s. She’ll also be bringing Bill. Lots of younger women like him, and he likes lots of younger women. More votes.

As you know, I’ll be going on another vacation with Michelle, the kids, the mother- in- law and about 50 close friends next week. Will that give you enough time to make your announcement, or do I need to get some of my Chicago friends to make you an offer you can’t refuse?

I’m also still searching all 57 states for any remaining golf courses I may have missed, so my time is limited.

Remember: It’s just business,

Barry

BARACK


–Frank Grochowski

Gold Prices Rise As Euro Increases Ahead Of ECB Financing

The price of gold rose on February 28, as a drop in the value of the American dollar coupled with gains made by the euro pushed the precious metals market skywards, Bloomberg reported.

According to the news outlet, the dollar fell versus the euro prior to the European Central Bank (ECB) allotting a second round of unlimited three-year funds to help bolster the region's banks.

"I like the $1,700 to $2,000 range based on the macroeconomic factors as they exist today," Chuck Jeannes, chief executive officer at producer Goldcorp Inc., told Bloomberg in an interview. "It’s certainly set the table for a much higher gold price."

Reuters reported that the euro climbed to a three-month high against the dollar ahead of the expected cash injection from the ECB, as the financial institution is expected to contribute 500 billion euros to help deal with the euro zone debt crisis.

Bloomberg reported that gold for April delivery, the most actively traded contract on the Comex in New York, rose 0.3 percent to $1,781.10 an ounce early in the morning on February 28. 

White House Money Helped Fund NYPD Surveillance

Millions of dollars in White House money has helped to fund New York Police Department programs that placed entire American Muslim neighborhoods under constant surveillance, The Associated Press reported.

According to the news outlet, the money is part of a little-known grant that was initially intended to help law enforcement combat drug crimes. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the President Barack Obama and Former President George W. Bush Administrations have provided $135 million to the New York and New Jersey region.

The AP reported that part of this funding was redirected to help pay for the NYPD's wholesale surveillance of places where Muslims eat, work, shop and pray.

The New Jersey Star-Ledger reported that this surveillance was initially done in 2005 with the permission of then-Governor Richard Codey, according to the State's records. The NYPD was given open-ended authority to operate in New Jersey in limited circumstances.

According to the newspaper, a letter was filed by several lawmakers in the State of New Jersey to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, calling for a probe of the surveillance.

"I am deeply concerned by reports that the NYPD’s law enforcement efforts focused on individuals who were not suspected of any criminal activity," wrote Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Representative Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). "While I strongly support credible efforts to prevent terrorism, I have grave concerns about any program that targets communities with no credible law enforcement intelligence."

Obama Adviser Defends President On Gas Prices

The rising cost of gas has prompted a public outcry in the U.S., something that the White House has looked to push back against as an adviser defended President Barack Obama over the pain at the pump argument made by the GOP, The Washington Times reported.

According to the news outlet, Obama spoke to the lack of Presidential power when it comes to energy prices in his weekly address on February 26, but Republicans attacked this notion, prompting a reply from one of the President's campaign advisers.

"There are a series of people that want [to] tell you that there are very easy magic-bullet solutions to the problems that we face. We know that’s not true," Robert Gibbs said in an interview with CNN.

Gibbs also spoke to the potential move by the White House to tap the nation's emergency oil supply, the Strategic Petroleum Reserves. This move would help to ease rising prices and was suggest by Democratic Congressmen, according to the Times.

Reuters reported that the national average cost for a gallon regular gasoline rose to $3.69, according to a survey of gas stations across the U.S.