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NYPD highest ranking official suddenly resigns with no explanation

Philip Banks III, New York City’s highest ranking uniformed police officer within the New York Police Department abruptly announced his resignation earlier this week, days before beginning a new high-ranking promotion. He was set to begin his new position Monday, November 3 before informing Commissioner Bill Bratton minutes before a weekly briefing with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The only public explanation Banks has given so far was a tweet saying:

“Chief Banks’ commitment to the NYPD and the people of this city has been demonstrated throughout his impressive 28 years of police service,” said NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton in a statement. “He has served this Department in all ranks as an exceptional leader and effectively worked with the community to support our efforts to make New York City one of the safest largest cities in the world.”

Although Banks was apparently being groomed for the top spot in the department, there were internal power struggles between himself and Bratton. While a source said that Banks’ decision “caught everybody off guard;” other officials familiar with the situation offered possible explanations for Banks’ abrupt resignation.

“I think they were looking to isolate him because he was his own man,” said a former official who served under previous police commissioner Raymond Kelly.

“Under Kelly the position of first deputy had no legs,” said a current NYPD official. “If nothing [else], it is definitely a precursor to being police commissioner.”

Banks is also the highest ranking African American on the New York police force, and his resignation marks the second minority leader to resign from the NYPD in recent months. City Council members Jumaane D. Williams and Vanessa L. Gibson released a statement that expressed outrage over the fact that Banks was offered an empty “‘promotion‘ to a ceremonial position that does not hold the authority it deserves.”

“Throughout Chief Banks’ tenure, his leadership has played a critical role in helping to navigate difficult relationships between NYPD and communities of more color as we attempted to deal with chronic issues in policing,” said the statement.

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Researchers: Lasers could be used to propel spacecraft

According to a statement from The Optical Society, a pair of Russian researchers has devised a means of propelling spacecraft through the use of lasers. The researchers, Yuri Rezunkov of the Institute of Optoelectronic Instrument Engineering and Alexander Schmidt of the Ioffe Physical Technical Institute in Saint Petersburg, proposed a new system of laser ablation.

Current spacecraft are limited in their speed by the quantity of solid or liquid fuel they can accommodate. Attaining a great maximum speed means carrying and burning more fuel. Lasers represent a possible means of surpassing this limitation; a laser at a distant site could give a spacecraft additional thrust.

The most encouraging results have been obtained through use of the laser ablation technique. In laser ablation, a pulsed laser beam is aimed at a surface on a spacecraft; as the beam heats the surface, material is burned off, generating a plasma plume. This flow of charged particles acts almost like a rocket engine, providing thrust to the spacecraft.

Rezunkov and Schmidt proposed a system that would combine laser ablation technology with traditional nozzles on a spacecraft. This combination lessens the amount of fuel that must be burned and increases the speed of the gas flowing out of the nozzle.

Using laser ablation in concert with nozzles can mitigate the factors that reduce the efficiency of current laser propulsion technologies; these factors include the instability of supersonic gases streaming through the nozzle and the generation of shock waves that can block the nozzle’s inlet, cutting down on thrust.

Rezunkov and Schmidt found that the plasma plume generated by laser ablation should be redirected so that it flows closer to the nozzle’s interior walls; their simulations showed that such an arrangement dramatically increases the thrust from the nozzle.

“Summarizing the data obtained, we can forecast the application of the supersonic laser propulsion techniques not only for launching small satellites to Earth orbits but also for additional acceleration of supersonic aircrafts to achieve Mach 10 and more,” Rezunkov said.

The new research was published on October 29 in the journal Applied Optics.

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Marine banned from daughter's school after dispute over Islam lesson

A former U.S. Marine has been banned from his daughter’s school in Charles County, Maryland, after a dispute with administration over an Islam lesson, FoxNews.com reports.

Veteran Kevin Wood reportedly became upset after learning that his daughter’s homework assignment required her to list the benefits of Islam.

According to The Christian Science Monitor, Wood first talked with an administrative assistant who inquired about a different assignment. Shortly afterward, Vice principal Shannon Morris allegedly told Wood that his daughter needed to complete the assignment to pass her world history class.

After a heated argument with Morris about the nature of the assignment, the principal at La Plata High School issued a No Trespass order against Wood.

“The vice principal believed he threatened to cause problems at the high school on Monday morning,” Charles County Schools Spokesperson Katie O’Malley Simpson told the New York Daily News. “He said he would cause a disruption at the school.”

Wood, however, denies the vice principal’s account of what happened.

“I have witnesses that have said I did not threaten anybody,” Wood told MyFoxDC.com. “I don’t force my religious views on them, so don’t force your religious views on me.”

Did Wood have a right to be upset? Start a conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments section.

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U.S. federal building security to be ramped up after Canada terror attack

The recent terrorist attack at Canada’s Parliament has affected security measures in the United States. The Department of Homeland Security has increased security at federal buildings in the aftermath of the attack.

Alleged gunman Michael Zehaf-Bibeau killed a soldier after storming Canada’s national war memorial and Parliament in the nation’s capital, Ottawa. He was later killed by police.

After the attacks, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper called the tragic event a terrorist attack. It was revealed after the shooting that Zehaf-Bibeau was a radical Islamist who wanted to travel to Turkey and Syria.

In response to the attacks, the Department of Homeland Security decided to add heightened security measures to federal buildings nationwide.

“The reasons for this action are self-evident: the continued public calls by terrorist organizations for attacks on the homeland and elsewhere, including against law enforcement and other government officials, and the acts of violence targeted at government personnel and installations in Canada and elsewhere recently,” said Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

“Given world events,’’ added Johnson, “prudence dictates a heightened vigilance in the protection of U.S. government installations and our personnel.”

Johnson refused to give specific information as to what types of security measures will be taken at the federal buildings.

“The precise actions we are taking and the precise locations at which we will enhance security is law-enforcement sensitive, will vary and shift from location to location, and will be continually re-evaluated,’’ Johnson said.

“This is a precautionary step to safeguard U.S. government personnel and facilities, and the visitors to those facilities,’’ said a senior Department of Homeland Security official.

“The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Nusrah Front have both publicly threatened to retaliate against the West. We are taking all necessary measures to protect U.S. interests overseas and at home, ” added the official.

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Hillary Clinton feels the heat for botched job creation remark

The U.S. Secretary of Commerce gave a simple answer when asked about former Secretary of State Hill Clinton’s recent comment on job creation.

“Yes, the private sector creates jobs,” Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said Wednesday in response to a question about Clinton’s remarks from John Harwood at the Washington Ideas Forum, according to The Washington Free Beacon.

Clinton’s bumbled job creation remark has already been spun by conservative groups, including America Rising, an anti-Clinton super-PAC. CNN notes that the line has been turned into a “Top Story” with video on the conservative website.

“Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs,” Clinton said at a campaign rally for Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley Friday.

Several days later, Clinton took the opportunity to clarify her remark.

“I short-handed this point the other day, so let me be absolutely clear about what I’ve been saying for a couple of decades,” Clinton said Monday while campaigning for New York Rep. Sean Maloney, according to BuzzFeed News.

“Our economy grows when businesses and entrepreneurs create good-paying jobs here in America and workers and families are empowered to build from the bottom up and the middle out. Not when we hand out tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs or stash their profits overseas.”

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GOP receives enormous donations in final stretch of Senate race

In recent months, business groups have been giving more money to Republican candidates than to Democrats in seven of the most competitive Senate races. Groups have even been backing the candidate challenging sitting senators, a highly unusual move.

Political-action committees created by businesses had given 61% of their donations in those races to Democrats this election cycle through June. However, this reversed in the closing months of the campaign, with only 42% going to Democrats and 58% to Republicans in the July-to-September quarter.

The change in money flow from business PACs is partly a signal of the groups’ policy preferences and partly a sign of expectations of who is likeliest to win. “Wall Street expects return on investment,” said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group, a brokerage firm. “It makes no sense to contribute to a losing campaign.”

This shift in business donations may prove to be foreshadowing for the outcome of the upcoming election. In the past, similar shifts have precluded the outcome of several elections. For example, business PACs began shifting toward Democrats late in the 2006 midterm cycle, ahead of a political wave in which Democrats regained control of both the House and Senate. Business contributions swung again early in 2010, ahead of a wave that year that gave Republicans a House majority and gains in the Senate.

The contributions to GOP candidates helps offset the hefty advantage Democrats traditionally hold among labor PACs, which gave 99% of their contributions to Democratic candidates in the seven Senate races this election cycle through June.

According to Mike Podhorzer, political director of the AFL-CIO, labor organizations tend to support Democrats because “in each particular race, the Democrat has a more pro-worker point of view.”

Business lobbyists claim that the current political climate favors the GOP, and therefore companies see backing Republican challengers over Democratic incumbents as less of a risky move.

“It’s increasingly likely we’re going to reestablish a pro-business majority in the Senate,” said Rob Engstrom, national political director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which mostly backs conservative candidates.

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Controversial FBI website trap has many criticizing the agency’s ethics

On Monday, Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the ACLU tweeted that the FBI used an infected link masked to look like a Seattle Times/AP newswire story about a recent bomb threat at a high school in an attempt to lure a teenager suspected of plotting mass violence at his local school.

The FBI then sent the link to the suspect via MySpace, who clicked the link and was subsequently apprehended from the gleaned information. The trick worked, but the revelation of the length and breadth that the FBI went to breach confidence of the public in the name of news organizations has left civil rights advocates unsettled.

“Of course the FBI should investigate bomb threats to schools, but the ends do not justify the means,” said Soghoian. “It’s a dangerous road impersonating the media. If people do not trust the news media, then our democracy cannot function properly.”

Likewise, the media outlets involved denouonced the acts as perfidious and a gross erosion of the common trust the public confidence the media upholds through unbiased reporting.

“Our reputation and our ability to do our job as a government watchdog are based on trust. Nothing is more fundamental to that trust than our independence — from law enforcement, from government, from corporations and from all other special interests,” said Kathy Best, editor of The Seattle Times. “The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.”

“We are extremely concerned and find it unacceptable that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Associated Press and published a false story attributed to AP,” Paul Colford, director of AP media relations. “This ploy violated AP’s name and undermined AP’s credibility.”

The FBI, however, cited public interest and the need to prevent mass violence in high schools, such as the recent tragedy that occurred in the metro Seattle Marysville High School last week, when a student opened fire on classmates.

“Every effort we made in this investigation had the goal of preventing a tragic event like what happened at Marysville and Seattle Pacific University,” said Frank Montoya Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI in Seattle. “We identified a specific subject of an investigation and used a technique that we deemed would be effective in preventing a possible act of violence in a school setting.”

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Exploding nova 14,800 light-years away captured in time-lapse sequence

Novae are among the most violent events in the cosmos. They occur when a white dwarf star has siphoned so much hydrogen from its larger companion star that it reaches a critical mass and begins thermonuclear fusion. At this point, the ‘ocean’ of hydrogen on the white dwarf explodes in a tremendous fireball, and the star quickly goes from being dim to radiant, before fading away.

Now, a new study led by Gail Schaefer of the Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy (CHARA) at Georgia State University has produced the first time-lapse images of an exploding nova. According to a Georgia State statement, the observed nova was discovered in the constellation Delphinus on Aug. 14, 2013, by Japanese astronomer Koichi Itagaki.

Only 15 hours after that initial observation and 24 hours after the explosion itself, CHARA’s telescopes were trained on the nova, dubbed Nova Delphinus 2013. The expanding size of the nova was measured on 27 nights over two months.

The measurements of the actual explosion revealed that the nova is 14,800 light-years away. When CHARA began observing the nova, the fireball’s size was approximately equivalent to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. Forty-three days later, it had swelled to almost 20 times that size, traveling at over 600 kilometers per second. CHARA’s observations showed that the fireball was somewhat elliptical, rather than spherical.

“These new data allow us to study in detail exactly how the fireball evolves as the gas expands and cools. It seems like the ride is a lot more complicated and bumpy for the gas than the simple models used previously would have predicted,” said Theo ten Brummelaar of Georgia State in a statement from the collaborating University of Sydney.

CHARA combines the light gathered by six telescopes and uses optical interferometry to achieve extremely high resolution, making it capable of observing events such as Nova Delphinus 2013; CHARA’s power is like that of a telescope 300 meters wide. The data gathered by CHARA were combined into a series of images at the University of Michigan’s Infrared Beam Combiner.

The new study has been published in the journal Nature.

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Mitch McConnell will either realize a dream or a nightmare Nov. 4

After years of working in various facets of the United States Senate, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell is now extremely close to realizing a dream of his 50 years in the making– becoming Senate Majority Leader.

“There’s no question that this is the ultimate goal of his life, ” said former Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS). “He’ll want to do something with it if he gets it.”

But before McConnell can begin exerting his newfound power on freshman senators, he must eke through his re-election campaign. He is currently in a dead heat with Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes.

“Every senator has one vote,” said Sen. McConnell at a recent rally. “But every senator doesn’t have equal influence.”

The hard fought race to represent Kentucky in the Senate has garnered national attention as the two candidates face off over coal and ideals in one of the nine crucial toss-ups, that will decide the fate of the Senate control. The importance of this race is not lost on McConnell, who has tried to relay the gravity of this November’s election to his constituents.

“The majority leader gets to set the agenda not only for the country but to look after Kentucky’s interests,” said Sen. McConnell.

McConnell currently holds a four point margin over Grimes in the Kentucky race. Although the polling is close, it seems as if the national Democratic party has resigned their chances, or are at least reserved about her chances. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced earlier in October that they would not be allotting any money for ads supporting Grimes in Kentucky in the run up to the election. However, the DSCC reversed course a few days ago, and pledged $650,000 to her campaign for ad time. Meanwhile, Sen. McConnell just wrote his campaign a $1.8 million check from himself in order to keep his operations funded through November 4th.

According the the most recent analysis from Real Clear Politics, the battle for the majority of the Senate will come down to the wire. Democrats have a solid lock on 45 seats while Republicans are projected to pick up 46 seats safely, the last nine races will determine the fate of the Senate for the next two years. As of right now, if current projections hold, Democrats will pick up four seats and Republicans five from the nine contested races, leaving Mitch McConnell and the Republicans with a razor thin 51-49 majority in the Senate.

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Amazon's Fire Phone considered a flop by industry analysts

When Amazon’s new Fire Phone was introduced in the summer of 2014 the company advertised its special and unique 3D features that one couldn’t find on your average Android or iOS flagship. However, end-of-quarter financial results released by the company this past week show that the device was not up to par.

When Amazon rolled out the Fire Phone, the device sold foe $199 on a two-year AT&T contract despite boasting of midrange specifications. However success wasn’t to be had for the Fire Phone, as just two months after the device hit stores Amazon permanently reduced contract pricing to 99 cents.

According to an Oct. 25 Modern Readers report, analyst Avi Greengart said the device failed for a lot of reasons, mainly being that Amazon provided no good reason for consumers to buy it. “It’s another example of why 3D phones are widely considered gimmicky handsets with little to no practical use for the average user,” Greengart said.  “It was too expensive, (selling for a flagship-level $650 off-contract), didn’t come with features the average Tom, Dick, and Harry could relate to, and got way more attention than it deserved.”

Similarly, 24/7 Wall Street’s Jon C. Ogg said that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in particular has hardly done anything to address that the Fire Phone is a serious disappointment.

Modern Readers commented that it wasn’t surprising either that Bezos (last week) deftly redirected analysts away from the Fire Phone and other current financial issues, rather talking about Amazon’s plans for the ongoing holiday quarter.  According to the now-embattled CEO, Amazon is focused on making the customer experience easier and more stress-free than ever.