Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Jugend ForschtSixteen-year-old Shouryya Ray, a student from Dresden who was born in Calcutta, submitted a paper proposing analytical solutions to two problems in particle dynamics.
By Alan Boyle
A research paper that claims to fill in a gap in Isaac Newton's formulas for the physics of falling objects has drawn worldwide attention to a 16-year-old student in Germany, but physicists are reserving judgment until they've seen the proof.
The focus of the buzz is Shouryya Ray, an Indian-born student who won second prize this month in the math and informatics category for Germany's Jugend Forscht student science competition. Ray tackled a couple of longstanding puzzlers for physics students: How do you account for air resistance in calculating the trajectory of ball thrown out at an angle? And precisely how does a ball thrown against the wall rebound?
The first question relates to Newton's law of universal gravitation: In his Principia Mathematica, published in 1687, Newton laid out how a gravitational field would affect a thrown object — but he didn't account for the effect of air resistance. Through the centuries, physicists have used numerical approximations to take drag into account, and when computers come into play, those approximations can be incredibly precise. But Ray said he wanted to come up with a set of formulas that could calculate the effect directly, even though his instructors said that had never been done.
"I asked myself: Why can't it work?" he told the German newspaper Die Welt.
That's what Ray tried to do in his prize-winning paper, titled "Analytical Solution of Two Fundamental Unsolved Problems of Particle Dynamics" ("Analytische Lösung von zwei ungelösten fundamentalen Partikeldynamikproblemen"). In addition to the falling-ball problem, Ray took on a puzzler of more recent vintage, having to do with the description of a particle's collision with a wall, as described by 19th-century theory. But it was the "kid-trumps-Newton" angle that really stirred up a buzz.
Die Welt's report came early in the game: The Daily Mail and The Sunday Times of London picked up the story, adding to the sensation. The idea that a teenager could figure out something that Newton didn't is irresistible — particularly when the teen is an immigrant from Calcutta who says he's no genius. But the story just sparked more questions among inquiring minds in such online hangouts as Physics Forum, Slashdot and Reddit: What exactly did Ray do? And were these problems really such mysteries to solve?
That's a challenge, because Ray's paper was a school project submitted for a contest, and thus not subject to the publication process and peer review that professional work typically goes through. For that reason, the experts are reluctant to weigh in.
"This story seems rather suspicious," Richard Fitzpatrick, a physicist at the University of Texas in Austin, told me in an email. "None of the news reports give any details of the calculation. None of the people who hailed Shouryya Ray as a genius are scientists, and none of them give the impression that they have seen the calculation in question. It is impossible to gauge the scientific merit of the calculation until it is made public."
Syracuse University physicist Simon Catterall said in an email that calculating the trajectories of falling objects hadn't been seen as a particularly grand puzzle of physics. "The background given in the article seems genuine enough, so it may indeed be true, but I haven't heard anything about a new solution to a Newtonian problem on the grapevine," he told me.
Based on what's come out about the work so far, the consensus seems to be that Ray has done amazing work for his age — and if he had to choose between his passion for science and his passion for soccer, he'd be well-advised to pick math and physics. His paper putting forth an "analytical solution to two fundamental unsolved problems" may not be the breakthrough that some of the reports have made it out to be, but that doesn't take anything away from the teenager's achievement.
By the way, the first-place winner in the math and informatics category, Julius Kunze, wrote a paper on relativistic ray tracing. But that's a different story...
Update for 5 p.m. ET: Other experts on Newtonian physics have replied to my follow-up queries via email:
Oxford University physicist James Binney: "Doesn't sound too interesting to me. The resistance of air to the ball won't be susceptible to simple analytic formulae — if the ball is of ordinary size, [greater than a centimeter] radius — the flow around it will be in the high Reynolds-number regime and involve a thin boundary layer. Such flows were extensively studied from the last part of the 19th century, so it's true that they lie beyond Newton's knowledge. A good approximation will be to take the drag force as pi r^2 rho v^2, where r is the radius of the ball, v its speed and rho the density of air. I'm unaware of a puzzle regarding bouncing balls. In detail the bounce will depend on the physical properties of the ball — as any squash player knows. Usually one adopts a coefficient of restitution. To be impressed we need to know details."
University of Bristol physicist Michael Berry: "Without seeing the details of what Ray has claimed, it's impossible to comment intelligently. It depends crucially on how he has modeled the air resistance. But a falling body with air resistance (however modeled) is hardly a 'fundamental unsolved problem,' as he seems to think. There's a powerful aroma of hype."More about physics:
Pope Benedict's butler, Paolo Gabriele, has been arrested for stealing confidential documents and leaking papal secrets. The Vatican says this is "the beginning of a large investigation." NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports.
By msnbc.com news services
Benedict made his first direct comments on the scandal in off-the-cuff remarks at the end of his weekly general audience. He lashed out at some of the media reports about the scandal, saying the "exaggerated" and "gratuitous" rumors had offered a false image of the Holy See.
The Italian media have been in a frenzy ever since the pope's butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested last week after Vatican investigators discovered papal documents in his Vatican City apartment. He remains in detention and has pledged to cooperate fully with the investigation.
The scandal represents one of the greatest breaches of trust and security for the Holy See in recent memory given that a significant number of documents from the pope's own desk were leaked to an investigative journalist. The Vatican has denounced the leaks as criminal and immoral and has opened a three-pronged investigation to get to the bottom of who was responsible.
'Spirit of sacrifice'
"The events of recent days about the Curia and my collaborators have brought sadness in my heart," Benedict said at the end of his audience. But he added: "I want to renew my trust in and encouragement of my closest collaborators and all those who every day, with loyalty and a spirit of sacrifice and in silence, help me fulfill my ministry."
Few people think Gabriele worked alone, and his promise to cooperate with the investigation has fueled speculation that other might be arrested soon.
The motivations for the leaks remain unclear: Some commentators say they appear designed to discredit Benedict's No. 2, the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. Others say they're aimed at undermining the Vatican's efforts to become more financially transparent. Still others say they aim to show the 85-year-old Benedict's weakness in running the church.
Gabriele is an employee of the Holy See, a citizen and resident of the Vatican city state. He is being held by Vatican police who have accused him of stealing the pope's personal papers.
The scandal broke in January when Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi revealed letters from a former top Vatican administrator who begged the pope not to transfer him for having exposed alleged corruption that cost the Holy See millions of euros (dollars) in higher contract prices. The prelate, Monsignor Carlo Maria Vigano, is now the Vatican's U.S. ambassador.
Documents leaked to journalists over several months allege corruption in the Church's vast financial dealings with Italian business including infrastructure contracts awarded at inflated prices.
In one example, the Vatican was said to have paid $550,000 for a traditional nativity scene in St Peter's Square, thought to be at least double its real value.
Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty ImagesPaolo Gabriele (bottom left), the pope's butler, was arrested three days ago for allegedly feeding documents to Italian journalists.
By msnbc.com news servicesVATICAN CITY -- The worst crisis in Pope Benedict's pontificate deepened on Monday when Italian media said at least one cardinal was among those suspected of leaking sensitive documents as part of a power struggle at the top of the Catholic Church. The pope's butler, who has been arrested, has pledged to cooperate in the probe.
Leading Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera and Il Messaggero reported Monday that the pope's butler — arrested three days ago for allegedly feeding documents to Italian journalists — clearly did not act alone, and that an unidentified cardinal is suspected of playing a major role.
The scandal exploded last week when within a few days the pope's butler was arrested, the head of the Vatican's own bank was abruptly dismissed and a book was published alleging conspiracies among the cardinals or "princes of the Church."
Vatican cops arrest pope's butler over leaked papers alleging corruption
However, the Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, denied the reports that a cardinal might be the next target of the "Vatileaks" probe. He said many Vatican officials were being questioned but insisted: "There is no cardinal under suspicion."
Meanwhile, the lawyer for the pope's butler says his client has pledged "full cooperation" in the investigation and wants the truth to come out.
The commitment by butler Paolo Gabriele to cooperate raises the specter that higher-ranking prelates may soon be named in the scandal. Leaks of confidential Vatican correspondence have shed light on power struggles and intrigue inside the highest levels of the Catholic Church.On his final day in Cuba, Pope Benedict noted that the Cuban government has taken steps to allow greater freedom of religion, but still has room for improvement. Vatican analyst George Weigel talks about the Pope's message and his meeting with Fidel Castro.
Gabriele, the pope's personal butler since 2006, was arrested Wednesday evening after documents he had no business having were found inside his Vatican City apartment. He remains in detention in a Vatican detention facility, accused of theft, and has met with his wife and lawyers.
The 46-year-old father of three was always considered extremely loyal to Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II, for whom he briefly served. Vatican insiders said they were baffled by his alleged involvement. Gabriele's lawyer, Carlo Fusco, reported Monday that Gabriele was "very serene and calm."
So far, Gabriele has been the only one arrested, but Lombardi stressed that the investigation was continuing.
Pope at Easter vigil: Technology without God is dangerous
The probe is working on two separate tracks. Vatican magistrates are pursuing the criminal investigation, and Gabriele was arrested as part of that. Separately, Pope Benedict appointed three cardinals to form an investigative commission to look beyond the narrow criminal scope of the leaks.
Those cardinals have the authority to interview broadly across the Vatican bureaucracy, Lombardi said, and can both share information with Vatican prosecutors and receive information from them.
They report directly to the pope, who Lombardi said, was being kept informed of the investigation.The Catholic Church accused the nation's largest organization of American nuns of espousing "radical feminist" ideas. MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell discusses the charges with Sister Jeannine Gramick, who was once silenced by the Vatican, and Jeff Stone, communications director of Dignity USA.
Like a Dan Brown book? Vatican allows mobster to be exhumed
Benedict has not commented directly on the scandal.
Meanwhile, hundreds of demonstrators marched to St. Peter's Square on Sunday to demand information on Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican messenger who disappeared in 1983 at the age of 15.
Various theories have surrounded her disappearance, linking her kidnapping to an attempt to free the Turkish gunman who shot John Paul in 1981, or to alleged Vatican financial dealings with a Rome criminal gang.
The march came a day after an Italian prosecutor told CNN that a priest who used to run a church in Rome is under investigation on suspicion of complicity in her abduction.
By Robert Windrem
The Flame virus, which is intended to gather intelligence -- not destroy equipment or data, as was the case with the notorious Stuxnet virus -- is too sophisticated to be the work of another country, said one U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It was U.S.,” said the official, who acknowledged having no first-hand knowledge of how the virus operates or was introduced into the Iranian computers.
The U.S. was also believed to have a hand in the creation and insertion of the Stuxnet virus, which targeted Iran’s uranium-enriching centrifuges.
The newly discovered Flame virus essentially “colonizes” the targeted computers, giving hackers control over critical data stored on them, according to cybersecurity experts who spoke with NBC News.
U.S. intelligence officials declined to discuss the virus. “We have no comment,” said one. Israeli officials, suspected in previous attacks, denied involvement.
The virus was first discovered and announced over the weekend by a Russian cybersecurity organization after reports of massive data losses in Iranian government computers.
Kaspersky Lab told Reuters it found the Flame infection after the International Telecommunications Union asked it to investigate. By some accounts, the virus has been operating in the wild for as long as five years.
"This is the most serious (cyber) warning we have ever put out," Marco Obiso, cybersecurity coordinator for the U.N.'s Geneva-based ITU, told Reuters on Tuesday, referring to a bulletin about the virus expected to be issued in the next few days.
The confidential warning will tell member nations that the Flame virus is a dangerous espionage tool that could potentially be used to attack critical infrastructure, Obiso said.
Other experts said the virus appears to be a different type of invader than Stuxnet.
"From reading press reports, this appears to be penetrating networks to surveil, as opposed to destroy, as was the case with Stuxnet,” said Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center and now an NBC News analyst. “Such computer network operations are core components of what our and other intelligence services do day in and day out.
“Our intelligence services know that any weakness in an information system can mean the entire system is vulnerable. This makes defense very, very hard. Network defenses must work reliably and in real time across the entire network to defend against persistent intruders."
Iran’s cybersecurity officials seem to agree. The New York Times reported Iran’s Computer Emergency Response Team Coordination Center issued a warning Tuesday, saying, “This malware is a platform which is capable of receiving and installing various modules for different goals.”
If this is indeed a U.S. cyberwarfare operation, said computer security expert Roger Cressey, the target is likely to be Iran’s nuclear program and its decision-making apparatus.
"Whoever has developed this is engaged in very sophisticated intelligence gathering on computer networks throughout the region. Clearly, Iran is a top priority for this program," said Cressey, former chief of staff of the President’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board under George W. Bush and now an NBC News analyst.
Two years ago, the U.S. and Israel were suspected of inserting the Stuxnet virus into the Iranian centrifuge center at Natanz. When the control software was corrupted, the motors that control the uranium centrifuge operations didn’t operate correctly, wobbling instead of spinning the way they’re supposed to, U.S. officials say.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that the work of Kaspersky Labs helped Iran uncover the infection and remove it from the centrifuge control program. Cybersecurity officials have told NBC News that the infection, while heavily publicized, was not as effective in disrupting Iran’s nuclear program as has been portrayed in some media accounts.
But Stuxnet is an example, said one U.S. official, of how those aiming to slow the Iranian nuclear program, which the U.S. says is aimed at producing nuclear weaponry, can have an effect similar to that of economic sanctions. The Iran program keeps making progress, he said, but never quite gets there.
Other U.S. officials said that the viruses not only affect the targeted program; they also make Iranian officials “paranoid.” Additionally, countering the attacks diverts valuable assets and resources from the core mission, they said.
While the Flame virus appears to be aimed more at gathering intelligence on the Iranian program, it, too, aims to make the Iranians paranoid, the officials said. It does so by making them wonder about security and by raising questions about whether the enemy knows the intricacies of Iranian decision making, not just on the nuclear program but on a host of other issues important to the U.S. and the West, they said.
Robert Windrem is a senior investigative producer for NBC News; Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel contributed to this report.
We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for May 30, 2012
Wed May. 30, 2012 7:38 AM PDT
Spc. Michael Sanchez, a gunner with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, loads an M2 .50-caliber machine gun before his gun truck leaves base on a combat logistics patrol to resupply a combat outpost May 26, 2012, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. The M2 is considered a heavy machine gun. US Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.
Australia teen dies after YouTube 'Final Goodbye' video goes viral
A video uploaded to the Internet by a terminally ill 17-year-old has been watched by more than a million people around the world. Australian Shaun Wilson-Miller's film was originally intended to tell his friends he was dying, after his body rejected a second heart transplant, but a glitch uploaded the video to YouTube instead. ITN's Damon Green reports.
By Jim Gold, msnbc.com
"I won't be here for as long as I thought,'' he said in the video.
"This has been an awesome ride. I have no regrets,” he said. “Live life to the fullest because you never know what's going to happen.''
Dad Cameron Miller said his son's positive outlook had never faltered, with Shaun giving him constant hugs in recent days, the Herald Sun reported Sunday.
"He passed peacefully with me holding his hand; that is something the family will hold with us,'' he told the Herald Sun.
Tributes immediately began flowing in from around the world and from his beloved Essendon Football Club, the newspaper said.
Shaun Wilson-Miller, as seen in his YouTube video, "My Final Goodbye."
He had also found love with a fellow heart patient, the Herald Sun reported.
Shaun had sighed: "The hardest thing for me is leaving her, knowing that I won't get to marry her. To have kids together. To grow old together. That is what makes me sad.''
He recently filmed a guest appearance on the Australian TV show “The Neighbors” and met Essendon captain Jobe Watson.
Condolences message on his parents Facebook pages include, "You showed so much courage for so long,'' ninemsn TV reported. "Fly high sweet angel."
A June 15 fundraiser Shaun was planning for Heartkids has now been turned into a tribute for the teen, ninemsn reported.
Carlos Barria / ReutersA laborer works at a shipyard in Yueqing City, Zhejiang province in this March 27, 2012 file photo.
By John W. Schoen, Senior Producer
An emerging renaissance in American manufacturing is staring at the oncoming threat of a global economic slowdown.
After investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in high tech equipment last year, Drew Greenblatt’s manufacturing business is beginning to see a return on that investment. Business was up 20 percent in 2011 at Marlin Steel, which makes wire baskets for industrial customers.
Exports are helping a lot. Greenblatt’s company just shipped to China a $20,000 order made at his Baltimore, Md., factory with steel supplied by a mill in Illinois.
Low wages and low-cost manufacturing used to make Chinese markets tough for U.S. manufacturers to break into. Today, rising wages in China are giving American companies second thoughts about moving their manufacturing jobs to China, Greenblatt said.
“All of a sudden, if your math says, ‘I’ve got to pay the guy $7.50 an hour in Shanghai or I can hire a guy for $12 a hour in Canton, Ohio,’ why would I do it in Shanghai?” said Greenblatt. “I’ve got intellectual property issues over there, there’s no rule of law, there’s a lot of corruption. Plus if I make it here, I get the stuff six weeks faster: there’s no freight. So a lot of the reasons to push jobs overseas are starting to fall apart.”
Other companies are doing the same math. A report in March by the Boston Consulting Group found seven industry groups, selling about $200 billion in Chinese-made imports, that will likely shift production back to the U.S. to duck rising costs in China. That could add between $20 billion to $55 billion to U.S. gross domestic product before the end of the decade, the authors estimated.
U.S. export gains in Chinese and other global markets will create between two million and three million American jobs, lower the U.S. unemployment rate by between 1.5 to 2.0 percentage points and cut the U.S. merchandise trade deficit by 25 to 35 percent, according to the study.
Demand for Chinese exports, meanwhile, is being hurt by the ongoing recession in Europe, China’s largest trading partner. The hit to China’s exports so far has been relatively mild compared to the sharp downturn that followed the financial panic of 2008, according to Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics. Lost exports amount to about $300 billion - about half the losses from the 2008 downturn – and the Chinese economy is better able to weather the loss because its large and its currency is stronger than in 2008, he said. But he figures the drop in exports hasn’t run its course and could get a lot worse.
The slowdown in China is also starting to take a bite out of the economies of smaller, emerging economies and trading partners that supply the raw materials needed to feed China’s export machine.
“Asia should be very worried if the European situation continues to unravel," said Rob Subbaraman, chief Asia economist, at Nomura Group. “It can handle moderate growth in Europe or the U.S. But if we start to move toward a deep recession there’s a tipping point where Asia gets hit very hard again.”123
To be sure, China’s economy is still growing at a pace that would feel like wild prosperity in larger developed economies like the U.S. or Europe. But as the last major engine of growth, some forecasters are cautioning that the loss of Chinese demand threatens to spark a wider global slowdown that will crimp demand for U.S.-made products.
U.S. manufacturers are “about to face a negative shock from the hit to exports from the deepening European downturn and the spreading impact on demand in other key trading partners in Asia,” said David Rosenberg, chief economist at Gluskin Sheff.
One big unknown is whether Chinese consumers will pick up the slack from the lost growth in exports. China continues to pursue an ambitious, 30-year plan to transform itself from a rural agrarian society to an urbanized manufacturing and consumer-driven economy. The ongoing flood of workers from farms to factories -- the largest peace-time migration in human history -- will continue to drive demand for new housing, cars and other consumer products.
But in the short-run, consumer spending isn’t kicking in fast enough. Retail sales, adjusted for inflation, are slowing. As the government continues to invest heavily in public products and state-owned businesses, consumer spending makes up a smaller portion of the economy than it did five years ago. More than 50 percent of the Chinese economy still relies on some form of government spending: consumers account for roughly a third of GDP – about half the level in the U.S.
To revive growth, China’s leaders are expected to continue heavy government investment. After years of trade surpluses with the rest of the world, the government has plenty of cash to invest. But the risk now is that the government is creating a massive infrastructure and real estate bubble.
“They have been overbuilding everything to create jobs for these rural migrants,” said Harry Dent, an author and economic forecaster. “They have 20 to 30 percent more capacity built in their main industries –- cement, aluminum, steel, on and on. They just build stuff to create jobs and to keep people happy. And they’ve been doing this for over a decade.”123
China’s central bankers also face a difficult choice in trying to stimulate growth. The usual path of lowering interest rates could add heat to a real estate market that has already reached bubble levels in many urban areas. China’s bankers are also coping with a pile of bad loans to failing state-owned companies after an earlier round of easy credit aimed at heading off the 2008 recession.
That means easier credit may not produce the economic stimulus China’s leaders are hoping for.
“The positive, long-run outlook doesn’t give firms an incentive to invest today if China largely has all the apartments and car production lines it needs for the next couple of years,” said Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics.
It remains to be seen how badly U.S. manufacturers would be hurt by a wider, deeper coordinated global slowdown. Once recessions spread around the world, they become more difficult to reverse.
Greenblatt is upbeat. He sees an opportunity in export markets as competitors pull back. He also thinks the U.S. is somewhat insulated from a trade shock. Only about 10 percent of U.S. GDP comes from exports compared to the economies of China or Germany, where nearly a third of total output relies on exports.
“Most American factories don’t even consider exporting -- it doesn’t even cross their mind,” he said. “Because it’s easier sell to Denver and Duluth than it is to Denmark.”Discussing whether China's economy could be on the brink of collapse, with Gordon Chang, Forbes columnist, and Peter Navarro, UC-Irvine business professor.
But Dent argues that the wider cause of the global economic slowdown -- a historic shift in demographics -- will continue to weigh on global growth for another decade or so no matter how hard governments try to spur more growth.
Most developed countries are seeing their Baby Boom population peak, which slows consumer spending and adds to the cost of government-funded social programs. That means global growth won’t revive to historic levels for another decade, until the next generation of Millennials reaches its own peak spending years, said Dent.
“Were all slowing down,” he said. “And China does not have good demographics going forward. They only have this export machine and urbanization and they’ve overdone both.”
Romney's birth certificate evokes his father's controversy
George Romney faced his own 'birther' issue in 1968 presidential race
By Mark Hosenball
updated 5/29/2012 10:35:23 PM ET
WASHINGTON — Finally, there is definitive proof: The presidential candidate was born in the United States, and his father was not.
His mother, Lenore, was born in Utah and his father, former Michigan governor and one-time Republican presidential candidate George Romney, was born in Mexico.
So on a day when real estate and media mogul Donald Trump was trying to help Mitt Romney by stirring up a new round of questions about whether Democratic President Barack Obama was born in the United States, Romney's own birth record became a reminder that in the 1968 presidential campaign, his father had faced his own "birther" controversy
With Texas win, Romney secures delegates to win nomination
Records in a George Romney archive at the University of Michigan describe how questions about his eligibility to be president surfaced almost as soon as he began his short-lived campaign.
In many ways, they appear to echo today's complaints that Trump and some other conservative "birthers" have made about Obama while questioning whether Obama - whose father was from Kenya and mother was from Kansas - was born in Hawaii.
As early as February 1967 - a year before the first 1968 presidential primary - some newspapers were raising questions as to whether George Romney's place of birth disqualified him from the presidency.
Video: Romney's Roots: Meet Mitt Romney's relatives in Mexico (on this page)
By May 1967, U.S. congressman Emmanuel Celler, a Democrat who chaired the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, was expressing "serious doubts" about George Romney's eligibility.
The next month, another Democratic congressman inserted a lengthy treatise into the Congressional Record in which a government lawyer - writing in a "personal capacity" - argued that George Romney was ineligible for the White House because he was born outside U.S. territory.
In what today might seem like deja vu, eminent legal authorities soon were queuing up to argue in favor of George Romney's eligibility.
The New York Law Journal published a lengthy argument by a senior partner from Sullivan & Cromwell, one of Manhattan's elite law firms, arguing that the fact that both of George Romney's parents were U.S. citizens clearly established him as a "natural born citizen" who was eligible to be president.
George Romney himself was unequivocal.
"I am a natural born citizen. My parents were American citizens. I was a citizen at birth," he said, according to a typewritten statement found in his archives.
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At one point, the Congressional Research Service - an arm of the Library of Congress that is supposed to provide authoritative but impartial research for elected members - advised that its analysts agreed with George Romney, according to a congressional source.
In a paper in November aimed at clarifying presidential eligibility, the Congressional Research Service declared that the practical, legal meaning of "natural born citizen" would "most likely include" not only anyone born on U.S. soil but anyone born overseas of at least one parent who was a U.S. citizen.
Romney's dance with Trump
Mitt Romney has tried to avoid getting caught up in Trump's focus on Obama's birthplace.
"Governor Romney has said repeatedly that he believes President Obama was born in the United States," said Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser to Romney.
Michael Cohen, special counsel to Trump, said that Trump and Romney never talk about issues Trump has raised elsewhere regarding Obama's birth certificate. Instead they talk about jobs, the economy and other matters of public policy.
Romney plays with fire in Trump association
Asked whether Trump sees any double standard in going after Obama when Romney's father faced similar questions about his presidential eligibility, Cohen told Reuters: "I don't think (Trump) has ever thought about Mitt Romney's father's birth certificate."
Cohen said Trump recently revived the issue of Obama's birthplace because journalists asked him about the issue after a right-wing website published an old blurb for an Obama book that suggested that Obama was born in Kenya. The literary agent who wrote the blurb subsequently said it was written in error.
Cohen said Trump believes "the president of the United States should be the single most transparent human being on this planet. This president lacks that transparency."
Jacquelyn Martin / AP file
Lori Anne Madison, 6, of Lake Ridge, Va., walks through river water while playing with friends in a park in McLean, Va., on May 11.
By Sevil Omer, msnbc.comLori Anne Madison may be only 6 years old, but she's got a big talent: She's among the best spellers in the nation.
“It’s been a busy day for everyone and I know her parents want her to get some rest and to be ready for the competition,” Ria Schalnat, spokeswoman for the bee, told msnbc.com on Tuesday.
Schalnat said Lori Anne's parents have refused interviews until Thursday, “and that is dependent on whether she qualifies for the semifinals.”
The annual spelling bee continues through Thursday. Preliminary competition starts at 8 a.m. ET Wednesday. The championship finals, slated for 8 p.m. ET Thursday, will be aired live on ESPN.
Lori Anne started making waves in March when she correctly spelled “vaquero” to win her regional bee in northern Virginia, according to the Washington Post.
'D-i-r-i-g-i-b-l-e': 6-year-old nails her first word at National Spelling Bee
So close! Youngest speller misses on 'ingluvies' at National Spelling Bee
But she misspelled "ingluvies" during the third round later that afternoon. Ingluvies means a craw or crop of birds; Lori Anne provided the spelling, e-n-g-l-u-v-i-e-s. The error does not eliminate her from the Bee but will count toward her final score of the day, which will determine whether she moves on to the semifinals.
Smart young people from across the nation compete to become the next National Spelling Bee champion. Above, Lori Anne Madison of Lake Ridge, Va. is the youngest-ever contestant in the National Spelling Bee.
"It was shocking," The Associated Press quoted Sorina Madison as saying. "I didn't expect all the media attention. We're private people. We're regular people. It was intimidating. But I'm happy for her. She loves it and she does it because it's a passion, and we never push her into anything and want her to make her own choices."
Take the test: Could you keep up with these kids?
Lori Anne says she wants to be an astrobiologist.
Why? She told the AP: "I'm going to sort of find life forms. And, plus, alien planets are new."
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Over the Memorial Day holiday, fuel prices dipped to around $3.65 a gallon, about 27 cents lower than their national peak in early April.
By Paul A. Eisenstein, The Detroit BureauIt wasn’t all that long ago that American motorists were being greeted with shrill headlines forecasting $4, even $5-a-gallon gas by summer.
It certainly seemed plausible after the rapid run-up during late winter and early spring, prices at the pump coming within pennies of the all-time record set back in July 2008. But a funny thing has happened just as the traditional driving season approached: fuel prices began to tumble and the downward trend may well continue through the summer.
Over the Memorial Day holiday various tracking services showed that fuel prices dipped to around $3.65 a gallon, about 27 cents lower than their national peak in early April.
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“Had you asked me back in January if the national average would have been that low on Memorial Day, I likely would have chuckled,” said Patrick DeHaan, a senior analyst with GasBuddy.com. Looking forward, he told TheDetroitBureau.com, “prices could go either way,” depending upon a variety of factors, though for now, the trend appears to be downward.
The tracking service shows that just since the holiday pump prices have continued sliding: to a national average of $3.646 today, down from $3.807 at the beginning of May. In fact, rather than seeing a record high, motorists are now paying less than they did a year ago, when the price of a gallon of unleaded regular averaged $3.779 at self-serve pumps.
“I’m not sure who to thank, but I’ll take it,” laughed motorist Jerry Benjamin after filling up his big Chevrolet Suburban at Sunny’s Sunoco in Pleasant Ridge, Michigan. “If I can save a quarter a gallon on a tank like this that’s $5, $10 a week extra for me and the family.”
Who to thank – like whom to blame for the spring run-up – is a complex topic.
Chrysler Killing Town & Country, Keeping Dodge Caravan
One might be tempted to point fingers at Washington, and certainly, Pres. Barack Obama came under fire when fuel prices started nearing $4 a gallon. His challenger for the White House, Mitt Romney, said last month that the president, "gets full credit or blame for what's happened to this economy and what's happened to gasoline prices under his watch."
In reality, suggested GasBuddy’s DeHaan, the White House was responsible for neither this year’s run-up in fuel prices nor its sharp decline. Among the factors he and other analysts cite:
- A fire at a Washington State refinery last February led to short supplies of gas, especially on the West Coast, a situation that worsened as other refineries scheduled maintenance or lost production during the annual switch to summer-blend fuels designed to reduce emissions in hot weather;
- Demand has been surging in China, India and other emerging markets stretching thin global petroleum supply lines and refinery capacity;
- The nascent economic recovery in the U.S. led petroleum traders to bid up fuel prices even further.
Then there’s the economic crisis in Europe. With Spain’s economy in free-fall and Greece facing the prospect of having to abandon the common currency the value of the Euro has been tumbling against the dollar. “And that’s driving oil prices down,” according to analyst DeHaan.
Maserati, Ferrari, Lambo Plants Shuttered After Earthquake
As of Wednesday morning, benchmark crude prices had dipped below $90 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, largely due to concerns about Europe, marking a 15% decline in just four weeks.
"Fears of contagion amid Greek and Spanish debt and economic issues will continue to force downward revision in global economic growth and hence world oil demand," wrote energy trader and consultant Ritterbusch and Associates in a new report.
But “volatility is increasing all the time,” he warns, offering a long list of factors that could see motorists hammered once again: that includes the still-unresolved issues of Iran’s nuclear program; the possibility of a positive resolution in Greece; further increases in demand by China and other emerging markets; and a significant upturn in the U.S. economy.
Initial data suggest that American motorists celebrated their good fortunes by climbing behind the wheel over the long Memorial Day weekend. The AAA estimated 30.7 million people took trips requiring drives of more than 50 miles, an increase of 400,000, this year.
Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute reported demand for gasoline surged 0.9% in April compared to 0.3% for the year overall, suggesting usage could be rising fast.
But for now, at least, motorists are getting a much-needed break, according to Tom Kloza, the chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, and any talk of record gas prices is likely well off into the future.
By msnbc.com staff and news services
LOS ANGELES -- James Lee Crummel, a pedophile and convicted killer sentenced to die for the 1979 murder of a teenage boy, has hanged himself on California's death row, months before voters in the state are due to decide whether to abolish the death penalty, prison officials said on Tuesday.
The 68-year-old was found hanging in his cell at San Quentin State Prison, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Sam Robinson said in a written statement.
He was pronounced dead at 4:20 p.m. local time (8.20 p.m. ET) on Sunday, Robinson said.
Crummel had been housed on death row since he was sentenced to death in 2004 for the 1979 kidnapping, sexual abuse and murder of 13-year-old James Wilfred Trotter.
Trotter was snatched as he walked to meet his school bus in Costa Mesa, California, in April of 1979. His charred remains were found more than a decade later, in 1990, but not confirmed as that of the boy until 1996.
Crummel was also convicted in San Bernardino County, California, for molesting three boys in Big Bear City, and was suspected of abducting and killing 9-year- old Big Bear Lake resident Jack "J.D." Phillips, who disappeared near his home in 1995, the San Bernadino Sun newspaper reported.
It said Jack's remains have never been located, and his father said in June 2004 that Crummel refused to disclose to authorities where the boy's remains were located unless the death penalty was taken off the table.
The ballot initiative focuses on the high cost of the death penalty in a state that has executed 13 people since capital punishment was reinstated in the nation in 1976. More than 720 inmates sit on death row pending lengthy and expensive appeals.
Crummel joins another 20 inmates who have committed suicide while on California's death row. According to the corrections department, since capital punishment was reinstated in California in 1978, 57 condemned inmates in the state have died from natural causes and six died from other causes.
A federal judge halted all California executions in 2006 after ruling that the three-drug protocol that has been used for lethal injections carried the risk of causing the inmate too much pain and suffering before death.
California has since revised its protocol but an appeals court has blocked resumption of executions over the same objections.
A 1997 profile of Crummel and the detective who helped secure a key conviction against him, was re-published by the Orange County Register on Wednesday.
By Bo Gu, NBC NewsBEIJING – A stray dog has become China’s newest celebrity after latching onto a group of cyclists and traveling more than 1,100 miles over at least 12 mountains, some as high as 13,000 feet, in China’s southwestern Tibetan Plateau.
The homeless dog, nicknamed Xiao Sa, finished her 24-day journey from China’s Sichuan Province to Lhasa, Tibet on May 24.
“At first we didn’t think about adopting her at all,” said 22-year-old cyclist and college student Xiao Yong in an interview with China Central TV. “But we were shocked by her perseverance. She followed us [from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province] to Litang [a town in Sichuan province with a 2.6 mile altitude]. We then decided to make a cage for her when we had a steep road going downhill.”
The long march began with a chicken leg Xiao Yong tossed to the puppy when he started his bike ride in early May. The little mutt followed the cyclist team after that and became part of the cycling group.
They came up with the nickname “Xiao Sa” by combining the term “xiao,” which means “little,” with the last syllable of Lhasa, the administrative capital of Tibet and the cyclists final destination.
“She once ran 37 miles in one day, going uphill. We were very impressed by Xiao Sa’s persistence, that inspired us all the way till our destination, the Potala Palace [in Lhasa, Tibet],” said Xiao Yong. “I’ll take Xiao Sa back home. I think she’s taking me as her owner now.”
Lu Bo, another team member, said the little white fur-ball was an inspiration to the whole team. The dog “made us so happy. Once a few of our team members lagged behind, she ran from hill top to the bottom, to bring these guys to the rest of the team. She injected power into us,” said Lu.
She is now with her new owner, Xiao Yong, in Wuhan, capital city of the southern Hubei province.
And like a true celebrity, Xiao Sa has even opened her own Weibo account, China’s most popular Twitter-like service. It is called “GoGoXiaoSa,” where fans can check out her latest photos and whereabouts. And she already has over 82,000 followers.
President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former University of Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, May 29, 2012. Looking on at left is author Toni Morrison who also received the Medal of Freedom. (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)
This year's recipients include cultural icons like Bob Dylan and Toni Morrison, as well as groundbreaking pioneers like former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Pat Summit, the winningest basketball coach in NCAA history. Also honored were Dolores Huerta, who cofounded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, and Jan Karski, whose work in the Polish resistance allowed him to share a first-hand account of the Holocaust with Western Allies.
The President said:
Together, the honorees on this stage, and the ones who couldn’t be here, have moved us with their words; they have inspired us with their actions. They’ve enriched our lives and they’ve changed our lives for the better. Some of them are household names; others have labored quietly out of the public eye. Most of them may never fully appreciate the difference they’ve made or the influence that they’ve had, but that’s where our job comes in. It’s our job to help let them know how extraordinary their impact has been on our lives. And so today we present this amazing group with one more accolade for a life well led, and that’s the Presidential Medal of Freedom.The Medal of Freedom is highest honor awarded to civilians in the United States. It was established in 1963 by President Kennedy and is presented to those who have made "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
President Obama Names Presidential Medal of Freedom RecipientsWASHINGTON – Today, President Barack Obama named thirteen recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. The awards will be presented at the White House in late spring.
President Obama said, “These extraordinary honorees come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, but each of them has made a lasting contribution to the life of our Nation. They’ve challenged us, they’ve inspired us, and they’ve made the world a better place. I look forward to recognizing them with this award.”
The following individuals will be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
From 1997 to 2001, under President William J. Clinton, Albright served as the 64th United States Secretary of State, the first woman to hold that position. During her tenure, she worked to enlarge NATO and helped lead the Alliance’s campaign against terror and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans, pursued peace in the Middle East and Africa, sought to reduce the dangerous spread of nuclear weapons, and was a champion of democracy, human rights, and good governance across the globe. From 1993 to 1997, she was America’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Since leaving office, she founded the Albright Stonebridge Group and Albright Capital Management, returned to teaching at Georgetown University, and authored five books. Albright chairs the National Democratic Institute and is President of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation.
Doar was a legendary public servant and leader of federal efforts to protect and enforce civil rights during the 1960s. He served as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. In that capacity, he was instrumental during many major civil rights crises, including singlehandedly preventing a riot in Jackson, Mississippi, following the funeral of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evars in 1963. Doar brought notable civil rights cases, including obtaining convictions for the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and leading the effort to enforce the right to vote and implement the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He later served as Special Counsel to the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary as it investigated the Watergate scandal and considered articles of impeachment against President Nixon. Doar continues to practice law at Doar Rieck Kaley & Mack in New York.
One of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century, Dylan released his first album in 1962. Known for his rich and poetic lyrics, his work had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades. He has won 11 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award. He was named a Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Art et des Lettres and has received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. Dylan was awarded the 2009 National Medal of Arts. He has written more than 600 songs, and his songs have been recorded more than 3,000 times by other artists. He continues recording and touring around the world today.
A physician and epidemiologist, Foege helped lead the successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. He was appointed Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1977 and, with colleagues, founded the Task Force for Child Survival in 1984. Foege became Executive Director of The Carter Center in 1986 and continues to serve the organization as a Senior Fellow. He helped shape the global health work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and remains a champion of a wide array of issues, including child survival and development, injury prevention, and preventative medicine. Foege’s leadership has contributed significantly to increased awareness and action on global health issues, and his enthusiasm, energy, and effectiveness in these endeavors have inspired a generation of leaders in public health.
Glenn is a former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States Senator. In 1962, he was the third American in space and the first American to orbit the Earth. After retiring from the Marine Corps, Glenn was elected to the U.S. Senate in Ohio in 1974. He was an architect and sponsor of the 1978 Nonproliferation Act and served as Chairman of the Senate Government Affairs committee from 1987 until 1995. In 1998, Glenn became the oldest person to visit space at the age of 77. He retired from the Senate in 1999. Glenn is a recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal and the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
Hirabayashi openly defied the forced relocation and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. As an undergraduate at the University of Washington, he refused the order to report for evacuation to an internment camp, instead turning himself in to the FBI to assert his belief that these practices were racially discriminatory. Consequently, he was convicted by a U.S. Federal District Court in Seattle of defying the exclusion order and violating curfew. Hirabayashi appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against him in 1943. Following World War II and his time in prison, Hirabayashi obtained his doctoral degree in sociology and became a professor. In 1987, his conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Hirabayashi died on January 2, 2012.
Huerta is a civil rights, workers, and women’s advocate. With Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the National Farmworkers Association in 1962, which later became the United Farm Workers of America. Huerta has served as a community activist and a political organizer, and was influential in securing the passage of California’s Agricultural Labor Relations Act of 1975, and disability insurance for farmworkers in California. In 2002, she founded the Dolores Huerta Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing community organizers and national leaders. In 1998, President Clinton awarded her the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights.
Karski served as an officer in the Polish Underground during World War II and carried among the first eye-witness accounts of the Holocaust to the world. He worked as a courier, entering the Warsaw ghetto and the Nazi Izbica transit camp, where he saw first-hand the atrocities occurring under Nazi occupation. Karski later traveled to London to meet with the Polish government-in-exile and with British government officials. He subsequently traveled to the United States and met with President Roosevelt. Karski published Story of a Secret State, earned a Ph.D at Georgetown University, and became a professor at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Born in 1914, Karski became a U.S. citizen in 1954 and died in 2000.
Juliette Gordon Low
Born in 1860, Low founded the Girl Scouts in 1912. The organization strives to teach girls self-reliance and resourcefulness. It also encourages girls to seek fulfillment in the professional world and to become active citizens in their communities. Since 1912, the Girl Scouts has grown into the largest educational organization for girls and has had over 50 million members. Low died in 1927. This year, the Girl Scouts celebrate their 100th Anniversary, calling 2012 “The Year of the Girl.”
One of our nation’s most celebrated novelists, Morrison is renowned for works such as Song of Solomon, Jazz, and Beloved, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988. When she became the first African American woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1993, Morrison’s citation captured her as an author “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality.” She created the Princeton Atelier at Princeton University to convene artists and students. Morrison continues to write today.
An ardent advocate for Israel's security and for peace, Shimon Peres was elected the ninth President of Israel in 2007. First elected to the Knesset in 1959, he has served in a variety of positions throughout the Israeli government, including in twelve Cabinets as Foreign Minister, Minister of Defense, and Minister of Transport and Communications. Peres served as Prime Minister from 1984-1986 and 1995-1996. Along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Peres won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for his work as Foreign Minister during the Middle East peace talks that led to the Oslo Accords. Through his life and work, he has strengthened the unbreakable bonds between Israel and the United States.
John Paul Stevens
Stevens served as an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, when he retired as the third longest-serving Justice in the Court’s history. Known for his independent, pragmatic and rigorous approach to judging, Justice Stevens and his work have left a lasting imprint on the law in areas such as civil rights, the First Amendment, the death penalty, administrative law, and the separation of powers. He was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford, and previously served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Stevens is a veteran of World War II, in which he served as a naval intelligence officer and was awarded the Bronze Star.
In addition to accomplishing an outstanding career as the all-time winningest leader among all NCAA basketball coaches, Summitt has taken the University of Tennessee to more Final Four appearances than any other coach and has the second best record of NCAA Championships in basketball. She has received numerous awards, including being named Naismith Women’s Collegiate Coach of the Century. Off the court, she has been a spokesperson against Alzheimer's. The Pat Summitt Foundation will make grants to nonprofits to provide education and awareness, support to patients and families, and research to prevent, cure and ultimately eradicate early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.