Israel and Hamas agree to a 72-hour ceasefire

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour ceasefire beginning on Friday. The United Nations and the United States announced today that the planned ceasefire would finally allow negotiations on a more durable truce in the 24-day-old Gaza war.

The U.S. and U.N. said they had gotten assurances that all parties to the conflict had agreed to an unconditional ceasefire. The statement was released in New Delhi, where Secretary of State John Kerry is currently traveling.

“This humanitarian ceasefire will commence at 8 a.m. local time on Friday, Aug. 1, 2014. It will last for a period of 72 hours unless extended. During this time the forces on the ground will remain in place,” the statement said. “We urge all parties to act with restraint until this humanitarian cease-fire begins, and to fully abide by their commitments during the cease-fire.”

The ceasefire is much needed to give civilians a pause in the violence. Civilians in Gaza will be able to receive humanitarian relief and have time to bury the dead, take care of the injured, and restock food supplies. Water and energy infrastructure will also be repaired during this time.

There have been efforts to establish ceasefires in the past, but each were broken by renewed fighting.

The announcement came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to destroy Hamas’ tunnel network “with or without a cease-fire” and as the Palestinian death toll soared past 1,400.

“We have neutralized dozens of terror tunnels and we are committed to complete this mission, with or without a cease-fire,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks. “Therefore, I will not agree to any offer that does not allow the military to complete this important mission for the security of the people of Israel.”

There was no immediate Israeli comment on the announcement. Earlier, the Israeli military said it was calling up an additional 16,000 reserve soldiers to pursue its campaign against the Islamic militants.

At least 1,441 Palestinians have been killed, three-quarters of them civilians, since hostilities began on Jul. 8, according to Gaza health officials — surpassing the at least 1,410 Palestinians killed in Israel’s last major invasion in 2009, according to Palestinian rights groups.


California increases efforts to stop college rape

California Democrats Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Susan Davis proposed new legislation on Wednesday to address campus sexual assault.

The Survivor Outreach and Support Campus Act, or SOS Campus Act, requires the designation of a survivor advocate who acts independently of a university and reports to “someone outside the university’s sexual assault adjudication chain of command,” according to Boxer’s office.

“Wherever a conflict exists between the university’s interest and the victim’s interest,” a one-pager on the bill explains, “the advocate must side with the victim.”

By separating the rape reporting process from the school, the advocate will be better able to properly address the situation. In particular, the advocate would be available to guide victims of sexual assault through the many processes of the ordeal, including reporting the assault, counseling, administrative procedures, medical, health and academic accommodations, and legal processes of the institution or local law enforcement. The advocate would be required to attend any university adjudications on the assault on behalf of the victim, if the victim requests. The advocate also would be required to “maintain the privacy and confidentiality of the victim.”

Under the legislation, every university employee who receives a report of sexual assault would be required to provide the victim with an advocate’s contact information.

The SOS Campus Act was introduced by Boxer’s office with the support of the University of California, a system home to some of the nation’s top public colleges. In a letter from UC President Janet Napolitano to Boxer, the university chief praised the SOS Campus Act for creating a system that would allow schools to “build on their own efforts, rather than follow a one-size-fits-all approach.”

“The University of California strongly agrees with the goals of this legislation to ensure that all colleges and universities have a single point of contact for victims of sexual assault, and to provide victims of sexual assault with ready access to the information and services they need,” Napolitano said.

The bill from Boxer and Davis also carried the endorsements of the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence, the National Women’s Law Center, Jewish Women International, the American Association of University Women and Legal Momentum, a nonprofit organization that has helped students file Title IX complaints against colleges.


Narcotics officers accused of robbing drug dealers

Six Philadelphia narcotics officers were arrested and charged of robbing drug dealers of over $500, 000 in cash over a period of years, authorities reported on Wednesday. The arrest comes as the result of a two-year long investigation that involved the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s office, and the Philadelphia police department.

Officers Perry Betts, Thomas Liciardello, Linwood Norman, Brian Reynolds, John Speiser, and Michael Spicer face allegations of numerous accounts of robbery, racketeering, civil rights violations, and falsifying records from February 2006 to November 2012.

Prosecutors claim that the defendants would routinely rob the occupants of suspected dealers’ cars or homes. The officers are even believed to have occasionally kidnapped drug dealers. There have also been reports that in one instance a man was held over an 18th story balcony in an attempt to extract a computer password.

“The conduct is really egregious,” said U.S. Attorney Zane David Memeger on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, a very small percentage of police officers continue to toss their oath aside and act like the very criminals they have sworn to bring to justice.”

Mr. Speiser will face up to 40 years in prison while the other five officers may face life sentences. All cases will be reviewed once more by the District Attorney’s Office since post-conviction relief may be warranted.

“I’ve been a police officer for over 40 years, and this is one of the worst cases of corruption I’ve ever heard. These officers don’t represent the majority of this department,” Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said.


Wrongly imprisoned Connecticut man seeks millions in compensation

44-year-old Kenneth Ireland described his 21 years in prison as a “nightmare” during a hearing a Tuesday before a state commissioner who can award him up to $8 million in compensation.

Ireland was 18 when he was found guilty of the rape and murder of a 30-year-old woman in 1989 and subsequently sent to prison. Ireland was released from prison in 2009 at the age of 39 after DNA tests exonerated him.

Ireland testified on Tuesday before the first hearing of a state commission established in 2008 to review claims of wrongful conviction. He said he had been subjected to daily physical and psychological abuse in prisons in Connecticut and Virginia and was “scared every minute I would die in prison.”

The hearing was held before Claims Commissioner J. Paul Vance and featured a video of a 17-year-old Ireland repeatedly proclaiming his innocence in an interview with police detectives. Ireland is seeking $5.4 million to $8 million in compensation from the state.

“Accusing me of raping and murdering a woman I didn’t know and never met was the worst nightmare, ” Ireland told the hearing. “But I wish it were an actual nightmare … because then I could have woken up instead of spending 21 years in a tiny cell with the most violent criminals who targeted me because I was a convicted sex offender.”

The same DNA evidence that exonerated him led to the arrest and 2012 conviction of Kevin Benefield, who had known victim Barbara Pelkey. Benefield was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

“My son had 21 years of his life taken away that no amount of money can ever replace,” Ireland’s mother, Cherry Cooney said. “To see your son in prison and watch him suffer and lose all hope he will ever be free is the worst kind of hell imaginable.”


Indiana sheriff accused of giving a prostitute his uniform

An Indiana sheriff was accused of patronizing a prostitute by giving the woman a deputy’s badge and uniform so she could get hotel discounts, and then pressured her to get rid of the evidence. Authorities released details relating to the case on Tuesday.

Clark County Sheriff Daniel N. Rodden was charged by a federal grand jury with lying to FBI agents and advising the woman to dispose of the credentials and uniform he had given her.

Interestingly, Rodden’s arrest came just weeks after a suburban Indianapolis sheriff resigned over his own relationship with a prostitute.

Although prosecutors did not say whether the cases are linked, a person with knowledge of the connection claimed that they involve the same woman. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the connection has not been made public.

The indictment alleges Rodden met the woman in mid-May 2013 at a Louisville, Kentucky hotel, where he provided her “with law enforcement credentials and an official deputy’s badge” so she could obtain a government employee’s rate at hotels. The indictment also alleges Rodden met the woman again in late May and paid her $300 to perform a sex act.

He faces seven counts of making false statements and one count of encouraging the destruction of evidence.

Rodden, 60, has denied the charges. He has served as sheriff since 2007 and has been married for 29 years and has two adult children.

Deputy U.S. Attorney Brad Blackington said the investigation into Rodden started when the FBI developed an informant who had information about prostitution and wire fraud activity.

“Mr. Rodden was one of the people that was alleged to have patronized the prostitute in question,” he said.

The indictment charges Rodden with lying to federal agents during investigation. Rodden was interviewed by the FBI three times this year.


Federal court keeps Mississippi's only abortion clinic open

A federal appeals court recently ruled against a law that would have closed Mississippi’s only abortion clinic. Mississippi had some of the most stringent anti-abortion laws in America.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Jackson Women’s Health Organization can stay open. The decision comes after the Mississippi House passed a bill in 2012 requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Three doctors work in the clinic in the Mississippi capital, only one of whom meets this requirement. Physicians affiliated with the Jackson Women’s Health Organization tried to get such privileges at all the hospitals in the state capital, but the efforts were not successful.

The ruling said that the law shifts the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal in 1974, to neighboring states. The court said that closing the Jackson Women’s Health Organization would burden women who would have to travel hundreds of miles to obtain an abortion.

“The ultimate issue in this appeal is whether the state of Mississippi can impose a regulation that effectively will close its only abortion clinic,” the judges wrote in the prevailing opinion.

“We … hold that Mississippi may not shift its obligation to respect the established constitutional rights of its citizens to another state,” the judges also wrote. “Such a proposal would not only place an undue burden on the exercise of a constitutional right, but would also disregard a state’s obligation under the principle of federalism — applicable to all 50 states.”

“There’s nothing inherently burdensome about crossing state lines,” said Paul E. Barnes, the attorney for Mississippi.

“Today’s ruling ensures women who have decided to end a pregnancy will continue to have access to safe, legal care for now in their home state,” said Nancy Northup, President and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which represented Jackson Women’s Health Organization in court. “But there is still only one clinic in the entire state, and it is still threatened by a law advanced by politicians over the opposition of respected medical associations, with the sole intent of closing that clinic permanently.”


Newly-lauched U.S. satellites to keep tabs on other countries’ spacecraft

According to Business Insider, the United States has just launched a pair of satellites that are meant to keep an eye on other countries’ orbiting spacecraft. The satellites were launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida on July 28 at 7:28 p.m. Eastern Time. The two satellites are components of the Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program (GSSAP), an Air Force initiative that was first declassified in February of this year.

GSSAP “will bolster our ability to discern when adversaries attempt to avoid detection and to discover capabilities they may have which might be harmful to our critical assets at these higher altitudes,” said General William Shelton, head of Air Force Space Command, in the speech that revealed the program’s existence. Technical and expenditure details for GSSAP have not yet been revealed.

The two satellites were constructed by the private company Orbital Science Corp. They will both be orbiting above and below the 22,300-mile-high zone, an area in which many communications satellites and other man-made objects already orbit.

The GSSAP satellites will also be used to monitor space junk that could threaten other satellites. The current telescopes and radar installations are able to detect orbital debris larger than four inches wide. Right now, the Air Force keeps track of around 23,000 fragments of orbiting junk, including discarded rocket parts and the debris from a satellite that China destroyed in 2007 during a test of an anti-satellite missile.

The Delta 4 launch was originally scheduled for July 23, but had to be put off once while a technical fault in ground support equipment was being fixed. Following that, it was set back three more times due to inclement weather. The delay in the launch also ending up pushing back NASA’s first test flight of its Orion crew module. That particular launch is now scheduled for December.


Huge telescope approved for construction in Hawaii

On July 25, the Hawaii Board of Land and Natural Resources approved a sublease that will allow commencement of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The sublease had already been reviewed and approved by Kahu Ku Mauna, the Mauna Kea Management Board, and the University of Hawaii Board of Regents. With the sublease’s approval, the TMT International Observatory (TIO) Board of Directors, which oversees the project, gave the go-ahead for the first phase of construction.

According to a TMT statement, the giant telescope will be built on the Big Island of Hawaii near the summit of Mauna Kea, which is already peppered with several top-of-the-line observatories. The first construction phase will include grading of the site to facilitate further construction and a dedication ceremony in October.

“TMT has worked for many years to design an unprecedented telescope, but also to work with the community to incorporate respect for Mauna Kea in our stewardship,” said Gary Sanders, TMT Project Manager. “It is an honor and a privilege to now begin building our next-generation observatory in so special a place.”

Even as building gets underway in Hawaii, TMT components are being fabricated elsewhere. The articulated steering system for the main mirror and laser components are being made in China. More than 60 zero-expansion glass components for TMT’s thirty-meter main mirror are being made in Japan. The TMT adaptive optics facility is being build in Canada. Mirror actuators and sensors are being made in India.

The conception and building of the TMT have been supported by $141 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. TMT itself will carry many benefits for the state of Hawaii. Building the telescope will create around 300 full-time jobs. Once operational, the telescope will have a staff of 120 to 140 people. A program will train Hawaiians for jobs with TMT and other high-tech entities. TMT will also give $1 million each year to The Hawaii Island New Knowledge Fund, which encourages K-12, secondary, and post-secondary education in the sciences, mathematics, technology, and engineering.


FBI headquarters to move to Virginia or Maryland suburbs

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may move its headquarters from Washington, D.C. to the Virginia or Maryland suburbs. Three new sites are possible for the FBI.

The FBI is currently located in the J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue. The FBI has been in that building since 1975. The FBI says it needs a new headquarters to consolidate the thousands of employees from 20 local locations.

Though Washington will lose the FBI, the Hoover building will be renovated for redevelopment. The redevelopment could revitalize the building and business on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The GSA has proposed paying for the FBI’s headquarters by offering real estate developers the chance to trade for the Hoover building. Developers will be able to compete to acquire the legendary building.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the D.C. non-voting delegate, issued a statement saying she took “considerable comfort in knowing that at last the current FBI headquarters site is now ripe to bring new jobs and revenue to the District of Columbia”. “The District alone, among those competing, could not lose in the FBI headquarters selection process,” added Holmes Norton.

The General Services Administration (GSA) has chosen three possible new sites for the FBI. They are Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland and Springfield in Virginia. Some critics in Virginia say that Maryland is too far for FBI headquarters. Maryland politicians disagree with that claim.

“Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong,” said Maryland senator Benjamin Cardin . “Most of the percentage of the workers of the FBI live in Maryland. Check their facts. Secondly, we’re more convenient to the Metro. Check the facts. Third, we have the campus facility and land that they need and you can get a fully consolidated FBI site. And last – which they forgot to mention, because even they would not challenge this – the cost would be less in Prince George’s County.”

“It will completely change the landscape here, especially in terms of economic development,” added Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker in an interview.

Maryland representative Steny Hoyer said he was glad the GSA has made a decision to move the FBI from a “relatively ugly, out-of-date building will be replaced by an up-to-date commercial building.”

“The FBI is one of the most respected law enforcement agencies in the world,” Hoyer said. “The kind of people that work there are well-educated, very professional, and I think any jurisdiction would be more than happy to have that kind of facility.”


Exploitation of Moon minerals is a grey area

According to, the question of who has rights to the Moon’s mineral resources is a vexed one. With commercial enterprises entering a fray formerly the purview of government entities, guidelines governing the use of lunar resources could become essential in the near future.

One such commercial endeavor is underway by American company Bigelow Aerospace. Bigelow has submitted a request for a payload review to the Federal Aviation Administration’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation (FAA-AST). The payload review asks AST to confirm that they would approve a launch license for a moon base and that they would not approve licenses for entities that would interfere with Bigelow’s activities.

The payload review request is under review by the FAA-AST’s advisory body, the Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC). At a meeting in December 2013, COMSTAC said it is seeking verification that private companies own and may use resources obtained on the Moon or an asteroid at their discretion. COMSTAC also affirmed its commitment to encouraging private investment and a federal legal framework that respects the property rights of private companies. COMSTOC also emphasized the need for governmental oversight of private space activities, to ensure that they do not undermine U.S. national security and foreign policy.

Even as COMSTOC’s consideration of Bigelow’s request brings the question of space property rights to the forefront, other communities are urging caution. “We have a situation where the science community is still ‘blithely’ planning missions to celestial bodies without taking into account that the entrepreneurial/corporate/legal community is moving to claim many of the attractive targets as private property,” said William Hartmann, a senior scientist at the Planetary Science Institute. “Should we be moving more publicly and proactively to resolve the impending collision of these two paradigms?”