Tag Archives: U.S.

Bacteria in Space Grows in Strange Ways

Bacteria in Space Grows in Strange Ways

Pseudomonas-aeruginosa

When bacteria grows in a dish of fake urine in space, it behaves in ways never-before-seen in Earth microorganisms, scientists say.

A team of scientists sent samples of the bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa into orbit aboard NASA’s space shuttle Atlantis to see how they grew in comparison to their Earth-dwelling counterparts.

The 3D communities of microorganisms (called biofilms) grown aboard the space shuttle had more live cells, were thicker and had more biomass than the bacterial colonies grown in normal gravity on Earth as controls. The space bacteria also grew in a “column-and-canopy” structure that has never been observed in bacterial colonies on Earth, according to NASA scientists.

“Biofilms were rampant on the Mir space station and continue to be a challenge on the [International Space Station], but we still don’t really know what role gravity plays in their growth and development,” NASA’s study leader Cynthia Collins, an assistant professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., said in a statement. “Our study offers the first evidence that spaceflight affects community-level behaviors of bacteria, and highlights the importance of understanding how both harmful and beneficial human-microbe interactions may be altered during spaceflight.”

Most biofilms found in the human body and in nature are harmless, but some are associated with disease, NASA officials said.

The space bacteria were cultured in artificial urine on NASA’s Atlantis shuttle in 2010 and again in 2011 before the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program. Collins and her team of researchers used fabricated urine because it can be used to study the formation of biofilm outside and inside the body. Understanding how to safely remove and recycle waste is particularly relevant because of its importance in long-term spaceflight, NASA officials said.

“The unique appearance and structure of the P. aeruginosa biofilms formed in microgravity suggests that nature is capable of adapting to nonterrestrial environments in ways that deserve further studies, including studies exploring long-term growth and adaptation to a low-gravity environment,” Collins said in a statement. “Before we start sending astronauts to Mars or embarking on other long-term spaceflight missions, we need to be as certain as possible that we have eliminated or significantly reduced the risk that biofilms pose to the human crew and their equipment.”

Scientists sent 12 devices with eight vials of P. aeruginosa — a bacterium that can be associated with disease on Earth — into orbit on Atlantis. Once in space, astronauts on the shuttle introduced the bacterium to the fake urine while scientists on the ground began the control experiment.

After the samples arrived safely on Earth, Collins and her team took a detailed 3D image of the biofilms to investigate their internal structure, and used other research methods to investigate the colony’s thickness and cell growth.

The study, published in the April 20 issue of the journal PLOS ONE, also could have implications for bacterial research on Earth. It’s possible that this kind of research could help scientists and doctors more effectively limit the spread of infection in hospitals, Collins said.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/07/10/bacteria-growth-space/

Sandy Prompts FCC Hearings on Communications Outages

Sandy Prompts FCC Hearings on Communications Outages

Sandy-prompts-fcc-hearings-on-communications-outages-69523f55c6

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday it will hold field hearings examining ways to keep communications systems up and running during natural disasters like Superstorm Sandy.

Lawmakers called for probes into communications outages after Sandy left as much as 25% of cell sites in its path inoperable when it hit the East Coast in October.

“This unprecedented storm has revealed new challenges that will require a national dialogue around ideas and actions to ensure the resilience of communications networks,” FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement.

The hearings will start in 2013, with the first round in New York and continuing in other disaster-prone areas of the country.

In the wake of Sandy, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called for the FCC to determine where system weaknesses exist and develop plans to make communications networks more resilient.

“Field hearings will increase our understanding of the problems encountered during Superstorm Sandy and harvest the best ideas to ensure that mobile phone service doesn’t fail after future storms,” he said in a statement after the FCC announced the hearings. “Mobile communication has become an essential part of our lives, and increasing its reliability must be a top priority.”

Several House Democrats have also called for a congressional hearing on the issue.

Harold Feld, senior vice president at the consumer group Public Knowledge, said he hopes the outages will lead to federal standards for communications networks.

“Hopefully, the experience with Sandy underscores how dependent we as a nation have become on these networks, and that the federal government does indeed have a role in setting minimum standards for preparedness and response,” he said.

Image courtesy of Flickr, edenpictures

This article originally published at National Journal
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/21/sandy-fcc-outages/

Hillary Clinton Opens the Social Good Summit

Hillary Clinton Opens the Social Good Summit

Hillary-clinton-opens-the-social-good-summit-video--7431a17dfe

The third annual Social Good Summit kicked off Saturday in New York with a surprise address from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Leaders around the world are coming together around at the United Nations seeking solutions for some of the toughest challenges we might face,” Clinton said. “At the same time a revolution in social media is helping people everywhere take part in a global conversation about how we can work together to advance the common good.”

Clinton encouraged the connected generation to get involved helping to build a better future.

“We need your help,” she said. “Please use this unprecedented opportunity to become involved. Share your ideas. Mobilize your friends. Take action online and off.”

Even if you couldn’t make it to New York, you can catch all of the excitement on the Social Good Summit livestream.

About Ericsson

Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit:

Day One:

Day Two:

Day Three:

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/22/hillary-clinton-social-good/

Why You Can’t Vote Online Tuesday

Why You Can’t Vote Online Tuesday

Why-you-can-t-vote-online-tuesday-45644281c0

A decade and a half into the web revolution, we do much of our banking and shopping online. So why can’t we vote over the Internet? The answer is that voting presents specific kinds of very hard problems.

Even though some countries do it and there have been trial runs in some precincts in the United States, computer security experts at a Princeton symposium last week made clear that online voting cannot be verifiably secure, and invites disaster in a close, contentious race.

“Vendors may come and they may say they’ve solved the Internet voting problem for you, but I think that, by and large, they are misleading you, and misleading themselves as well,” Ron Rivest, the MIT computer scientist and cryptography pioneer, said at the symposium. “If they’ve really solved the Internet security and cybersecurity problem, what are they doing implementing voting systems? They should be working with the Department of Defense or financial industry. These are not solved problems there.”

The unsolved problems include the ability of malicious actors to intercept Internet communications, log in as someone else, and hack into servers to rewrite or corrupt code. While these are also big problems in e-ecommerce, if a hacker steals money, the theft can soon be discovered. A bank or store can decide whether any losses are an acceptable cost of doing business.

Voting is a different and harder problem. Lost votes aren’t acceptable. And a voting system is supposed to protect the anonymity of a person’s vote — quite unlike a banking or e-commerce transaction — while at the same time validating that it was cast accurately, in a manner that maintains records that a losing candidate will accept as valid and verified.

Given the well-understood vulnerabilities of networked computer systems, the problem is far from solved, says David Dill, a Stanford computer scientist. “Basically, it relies on the user’s computer being trustworthy. If a virus can intercept a vote at keyboard or screen, there is basically no defense,” Dill says. “There are really fundamental problems. Perhaps a system could be tightened so some particular hack won’t work. But overall, systems tend to be vulnerable.”

This year, the U.S. Department of Defense canceled plans to allow Internet voting by military personnel overseas after a security team audited a $22 million system developed by Accenture and found it vulnerable to cyberattacks.

While some nations, including Estonia, allow Internet voting — and other European nations and cities are pursuing projects (Italy is conducting a large test this year), Dill says these adoptions do not prove that they are secure. “I contend that nobody knows whether there is fraud in those nations, because there is no way to detect it,” Dill said.

Some of the theoretical hacking problems could already plague electronic voting systems that are widely used in the United States and other countries, especially if the machines do not produce paper records. But these machines, because they are disconnected from the Internet, are vulnerable to a much narrower range of attacks.

The problems of Internet voting were made clear in a trial two years ago, when the District of Columbia set up a system that let voters go online, enter an ID code they’d received in the mail, cast a vote, and get a record of the result. Election officials invited computer scientists to try to hack the system in a mock election.

Alex Halderman, a computer scientist at the University of Michigan, and two grad students accepted that offer — and soon found an error in the source code that “allowed us to completely steal the election,” Halderman said at the Princeton symposium. They were even able to change the choice of candidates that appeared on people’s screens.

Rivest put the matter in plain terms. “I think when we talk about voting over the Internet, my gut reaction says: Why vote over the Internet? Why? Why are you doing this? Why? Really, why? Why? I think you need to ask that question a lot, just like a two-year-old,” he said. “There are other approaches to getting information back and forth that are better, and have better security properties.

Voting over the Internet is rarely going to be the best choice. It’s very complicated, and you are asking for trouble. Would you connect your toaster to a high-tension power line? Putting a voting system online is very much like that. Would you invest your pension in credit default swaps? You want to stay away [from] complexity. You want something simple. You are entering a world of attacks and risk that you don’t want to be in.”

Photo courtesy Flickr, Theresa Thompson.

This article originally published at MIT Technology Review
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/11/05/why-you-cant-vote-online/

See Space Station and Cargo Ship in Night Sky This Week

See Space Station and Cargo Ship in Night Sky This Week

Stargazing

The International Space Station and a European cargo-carrying spacecraft are locked in a cosmic dance, and you can see it all unfold right from your own backyard.

The European Space Agency’s bus-size Automated Transfer Vehicle-4 (ATV-4) — a space cargo ship loaded with food, rocket fuel and experiments — launched toward the space station last Wednesday. This week, weather permitting, you’ll be able to see both the station and the ship (named “Albert Einstein”) pass overhead.

This is a sight that should easily be visible to almost anyone, even those in brightly lit cities across southern Canada, all of Europe and much of the United States.

The appearance of either the International Space Station or an ATV cargo ship moving across the sky is not unusual. On any clear evening, within a couple of hours of local sunset and with no optical aid, you can usually spot several Earth-orbiting satellites creeping across the sky like moving stars.

Satellites become visible only when they are in sunlight and the observer is in deep twilight or darkness; this usually means shortly after dusk or before dawn.

What makes this week’s prospective passages so interesting is that you’ll be able to see the ATV-4 gradually “chase down” the space station around the Earth, ultimately catching up and docking with the orbiting outpost. Docking is scheduled for Saturday, June 15 at 9:46 a.m. EDT.

Both vehicles will appear to travel across the sky along the same path, and the gap between the two will diminish as the week unfolds.

Today they have about 42 minutes of travel time between them. By Wednesday, they’ll be 36 minutes apart and, by Thursday, 20 minutes apart. But on Friday evening — mere hours before docking — they will be flying in close tandem with each other.

Resembling a pair of bright “stars,” the International Space Station will shimmer brightly and seem to lead the dimmer Albert Einstein across the sky. The space station is, by far, the largest and brightest object currently orbiting the Earth. It shines as brightly as Jupiter and can occasionally even rival Venus in brilliance.

Traveling in their respective orbits at 18,000 mph (29,000 km/h), both should be visible for about one to four minutes as they glide with a steady speed across the sky.

Although the “chase” will be visible in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it will be difficult to spot in parts of the southern United States (particularly in Florida and the Gulf Coast region), as the few (if any) passes will occur before sunset in the daytime sky.

So what is the viewing schedule for your hometown? You can easily find out by visiting Chris Peat’s Heavens Above or NASA’s SkyWatch.

Both websites will ask for your ZIP code or city and, using that information, will formulate a list of suggested spotting times. Predictions computed a few days ahead of time are usually accurate to within a few minutes. They can change, however, due to the slow decay of the space station’s orbit and the periodic reboosts to higher altitudes. Check frequently for updates.

Another site, N2YO.com, tracks more than 8,000 satellites in real time. Check out the website’s sidebar for additional data, including the satellite’s speed, elevation and altitude. The sidebar also provides a forecast (with a corresponding map) of any given satellite’s movements in the next five days.

Image courtesy of Flickr, jacsonquerubin

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/12/see-iss-in-the-sky/

NASA Plans to Launch 3D Printer Into Space Sunday

NASA Plans to Launch 3D Printer Into Space Sunday

The International Space Station may soon get its first 3D printer.

A 3D printer is planned to be among the supplies sent to the the space station on SpaceX’s resupply mission, slated for 2:00 a.m. ET Sunday morning.

Once there, the 3D printer, NASA says, will be used to make replacement parts and tools aboard the space station. It will be the first time astronauts on the ISS will have access to a 3D printer. The astronauts are expected to also conduct research on 3D printing in space and study how the process works in zero gravity.

The launch was previously scheduled for Saturday morning, but was pushed back due to weather conditions.

The Zero-G printer was specially designed for zero gravity by the startup Made in Space, who partnered with NASA on the project. The company tested the printer on Earth on more than 400 flights that simulated microgravity environments prior to the launch.

“The on-demand capability can revolutionize the constrained supply chain model we are limited to today and will be critical for exploration missions,” Niki Werkheiser, manager of NASA’s “3-D Printing in Zero-G” project at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, said in a statement.

The astronauts plan to eventually add a recycling mechanism to the printer that will break down and reuse the excess plastic. Made in Space says they are planning to launch a larger “more capable” printer into space in coming years.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2014/09/20/nasa-sending-3d-printer-to-space/

Watch NASA Launch New Sun-Watching Probe Tonight

Watch NASA Launch New Sun-Watching Probe Tonight

Sun-watching

NASA will launch its newest solar observatory tonight, kicking off a two-year mission to study how energy moves around the active sun.

A rocket carrying the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph satellite, or IRIS, is scheduled to take off from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:27 p.m. EDT tonight underneath a carrier aircraft. The plane will release its payload high above the Pacific Ocean one hour later, at which point the rocket will kick on and blast IRIS into orbit.

You can watch NASA’s IRIS solar observatory launch live on SPACE.com courtesy of a NASA webcast. The webcast begins at 9 p.m. EST and the space agency’s NASA TV channels will beam it out in real time.

Scientists hope IRIS helps them solve some puzzling solar mysteries, such as why the sun’s surface is so much cooler than its outer atmosphere, or corona.

“What we want to discover is what the basic physical processes are that transfer energy and material from the surface of the sun out to the outer atmosphere, to the corona,” IRIS Principal Investigator Alan Title, a physicist at Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Technology Center Solar and Astrophysics Laboratory in Palo Alto, Calif., told reporters earlier this month.

“And remember, the corona extends throughout the heliosphere,” Title added, referring to the huge bubble of charged particles the sun puffs out around itself. “We live in the sun’s outer atmosphere.”

A New View of the Sun

IRIS is part of NASA’s Small Explorer program, which mounts missions for $120 million or less. The spacecraft is small, measuring just seven feet long by 12 feet wide (2.1 by 3.7 meters) with its solar panels deployed.

IRIS will launch to Earth orbit tonight aboard a Pegasus XL rocket, which is made by Virginia-based aerospace firm Orbital Sciences. A L-1011 carrier aircraft will drop the Pegasus at 10:27 p.m. EST. At that point, the rocket and spacecraft will be 39,000 feet (11,900 meters) above the Pacific Ocean about 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Vandenberg, NASA officials said.

Once in orbit, IRIS will peer in ultraviolet light at a sliver of the sun between the solar surface and corona. A better knowledge of this interface region, which is just 3,000 to 6,000 miles (4,800 to 9,600 kilometers) wide, could shed light on why temperatures jump from 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius) at the sun’s surface to several million degrees in the corona, researchers said.

While other NASA spacecrafts — like the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) — look at the entire solar disk, IRIS will focus on just 1% of the sun at a time, mission team members said.

“IRIS almost acts as a microscope to SDO’s telescope,” Jim Hall, IRIS mission manager for the Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida,said in a statement. “It’s going to look in closely, and it’s going to look at that specific [interface] region to see how the changes in matter and energy occur in this region. It’s going to collectively bring us a more complete view of the sun.”

Launch Delay

IRIS was originally slated to launch Wednesday (June 26), but a power outage across much of California’s central coast on Sunday, June 23 knocked out some key components of Vandenberg’s tracking and telemetry systems, causing a one-day delay.

While IRIS team members would have preferred to get off the ground on time, they said the delay was oddly appropriate in a way.

“We believe that some — maybe a lot — of power outages actually have a lot to do with solar activity. So the better we can understand the physics going on, the better we can understand the activity, the better that we can potentially predict and mitigate some of these problems,” said Pete Worden, director of NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., which is responsible for IRIS mission operations and ground data systems.

“So it was sort of, in some sense, unfortunate to delay the launch, but it’s also fortuitous to highlight the importance of this mission,” Worden told reporters Tuesday, June 24.

Image courtesy of NASA

This article originally published at Space.com
here

Read more: http://mashable.com/2013/06/27/nasa-sun-watching-probe/

The Air Force's New Ultra-Fast Jet Has an Epic Fail

The Air Force’s New Ultra-Fast Jet Has an Epic Fail

The-air-force-s-new-ultra-fast-jet-has-an-epic-fail-7ef1d7d91a

The X-51A Waverider — a hypersonic technology that could one day transport passengers from London to New York in an hour — launched successfully on Tuesday off the coast of California, but failed to complete its full mission, according to the Air Force.

The Waverider, which was attached from the wing of a B-52 bomber, separated as planned. However, after 16 seconds in the air, one of its cruiser control fins malfunctioned and it was unable to maintain control. Program officials are currently determining what went wrong. Before the mission, the Air Force said they wouldn’t be recovering the Waverider.

The U.S. Air Force, NASA and the Pentagon are collectively testing a new kind of technology that can reach “hypersonic” speeds within the atmosphere, defined as anything above Mach 5. The X-51A Waverider was expected to hit Mach 6 for about 300 seconds later before crashing into the Pacific Ocean. The flight would also transmit data back to the testers.

“It is unfortunate that a problem with this subsystem caused a termination before we could light the Scramjet engine,” said Charlie Brink, X-51A Program Manager for Air Force Research Laboratory, in a statement. “All our data showed we had created the right conditions for engine ignition and we were very hopeful to meet our test objectives.”

The Waverider was designed to propel itself with a combination of scramjet technology, which uses oxygen from the atmosphere as fuel, and its ability to ride the shockwave it generates from breaking the sound barrier. The Air Force hopes future weapons may be able to use the tech to evade anti-missile systems, since no missile can travel as fast.

The technology also has the potential to transport cargo and even people across the world in minutes instead of hours and days. The program was developed in 2004 and is said to have cost about $140 million, according to military analysis site GlobalSecuriy.org. This was the third of four Waveriders built.

“This particular control subsystem had proven reliable in the previous two flights of the X-51A including the historic May 2010 flight when the Waverider flew for more than three minutes at Mach 4.88 under scramjet power – nearly five times the speed of sound,” the U.S. Airforce said in a statement.

It’s unknown at this time if the remaining vehicle will fly.

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/08/15/the-air-forces-new-ultra-fast-jet-has-an-epic-fail/

At Age 11, This Girl Named the Curiosity Rover

At Age 11, This Girl Named the Curiosity Rover

At-age-11-this-girl-named-the-curiosity-rover-a60456c52b

On Aug. 5 at 10:31 p.m. PST, a rover named Curiosity touched down safely on the surface of Mars, and I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat.

My name is Clara, and when I was in 6th grade, I won the essay contest NASA held to name its next Mars rover. The essay I wrote was not even 250 words long, but somehow it was enough to change my life.

I still remember that chilly December day, sitting in science class. I’d finished a worksheet early and decided to get a TIME for Kids magazine off of Mrs. Estevez’s bookshelf. It was the 2008 Invention Issue, but that wasn’t the only thing that caught my eye. In the magazine, there was an article about a girl who named the Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

The article also talked about the essay contest NASA was holding to name its next Mars rover. Before I even knew anything else about it, a single word flooded my 11-year-old mind: Curiosity.

“Before I even knew anything else about it, a single word flooded my 11-year-old mind: Curiosity.”

I couldn’t wait for the bell to ring so I could get started on my essay. That afternoon, I raced home from the bus stop, sat down at the computer, and typed until my fingers ached. It turns out I was just in time. A few days later, and the contest would have closed.

Five months later, shortly after I had turned 12, I was watching a National Geographic special on mammoths when the phone rang. My mom answered, and immediately, a wide smile spread across her face.

When she told me that I had won, I was happier than I could ever remember being. I screamed and ran up and down the stairs and all around the house. I completely forgot about the mammoths and did not even remember to turn off the TV until it was really late.

Curiosity is such an important part of who I am. I have always been fascinated by the stars, the planets, the sky and the universe. I remember as a little girl, my grandmother and I would sit together in the backyard for hours. She’d tell me stories and point out constellations.

Here in the heart of the country, my grandmother would say, there were no bright city lights to compete with the brilliance of the stars. There was just the chirping of the cicadas and the soft summer breeze.

My grandmother lived in China, thousands of miles away from my home in Kansas. I loved the stars because they kept us together even when we were apart. They were always there, yet there was so much I didn’t know about them. That’s what I love so much about space. No matter how much we learn, it will always possess a certain degree of mystery.

In the past, space exploration may have been a competition to see who got somewhere first or the fastest. But now, it is one of the few things that bring people together. Science is a language that needs no translation. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what you look like — you just have to have a thirst for knowledge and a passion for learning in order to succeed.

People often ask me why we go to faraway places like Mars. Why do we explore? My answer to that is simple: because we can. Because we’re curious. Because we as human beings do not just stay holed up in one place. We are constantly wondering and trying to find out what’s over the hill and beyond the horizon.

The Curiosity rover is more than just a robot. It is more than just a titanium body and aluminum wheels. Curiosity represents the hard work, passion, love and commitment of thousands of people from all over the world who were brought together by science.

Science is so awesome. It is breathtaking and mind-blowing, intertwining and unifying; and sometimes, it’s just a little bit crazy. The discoveries we make about our world are incredibly humbling. They move us forward and have the potential to benefit all of mankind.

This December it will be four years of my life that have been tied to Curiosity in some way. I’ve met so many amazing people through this experience, from scientists to engineers to administrators to volunteers. Their dedication and fervor inspire me immensely. My journey with Curiosity and the MSL mission team has shaped the person that I am today, as well as the person I would one day like to become.

I am deeply grateful to everyone who made it possible for me to have this amazing adventure.

And to you, I hope your curiosity takes you far.

Why Tech and New Media Can Help End Modern Slavery

Why Tech and New Media Can Help End Modern Slavery

Why-tech-and-new-media-can-help-end-modern-slavery-70698b587dMira Sorvino is an Academy Award-winning actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking. At this year’s Social Good Summit, Sorvino discussed her fight against human trafficking and her role in the film Trade Of Innocents.

People are not aware of the realities of the situation with regards to human trafficking. I have to believe that the public’s heart is by nature good and will be revolted and broken when exposed to the realities of modern day slavery, both labor and sexual (about 50-50 in the U.S.).

As the UNODC Goodwill Ambassador to combat Human Trafficking, my life has been indelibly affected by the many survivors I have met.  In order to have that same effect on the population at large, perhaps we can find actual survivors willing to tell their stories, audio and hopefully video, and put them in PSAs on TV, on specialized websites, YouTube — you name it.  This must be done very carefully and with the victim’s mature consent to avoid re-exploiting them — one survivor told me, “All people care about is my story, but they have no interest in hearing what is going on with me today, helping me get back on my feet” — so people can have the visceral connection to their horrendous experiences and feel more compelled to help the other 99% of victims who, at this juncture, have no statistical chance of being rescued. (Only 1 in 100 people living in slavery is currently discovered and rescued.)

We must take that awareness and funnel it into active solutions immediately — link to online petitions in our areas for legislative reform, or to Polaris Project or ECPAT USA to find out how we can lobby for legal change, or again to Polaris or NOT FOR SALE to be linked in to local organizations we can be a part of, volunteering whatever our special skills are.

Media can also support all feature films, documentaries and written word materials on human trafficking, especially those which not only decry the problem, but highlight achievable responses that combat the problem, such as our film Trade Of Innocents, which premieres this week.

Not Enough Money

Every month, the U.S. government spends twice as much on military marching bands as it does in a year to battle human trafficking, and more is spent in a single month fighting the War on Drugs than all monies ever expended domestically and internationally fighting slavery, even though the trade in people is tied for second most lucrative criminal enterprise, after the illicit drug trade, to the tune of $32 billion per year.  

“Every month, the U.S. government spends twice as much on military marching bands as it does in a year to battle human trafficking.”

Organized crime is branching into the human trade big time. A person as commodity is obtained either for free or extremely cheaply, then sold and resold, sometimes reaping a return 200 times greater than its initial cost within the first year.  

Media, both traditional and innovative, must cry foul at this blatant sin of omission by our own government and those abroad.  As in everything, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and although there are vital caucuses growing here consisting of trafficking survivor activists (CAST LA has one), most of the 27 million slaves in the world today have no mouthpiece, save us.

Commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, can we really stand by as slavery gets a free ride in the 21st century?

Money = Solutions

On the NGO side, the number of victims discovered, saved, supported through criminal trials to prosecute their traffickers, and ultimately rehabilitated so they may enjoy the destiny they were meant for is 100% dependent upon fundraising.  I will shamelessly use this opportunity to call for donations to the UN Voluntary Trust Fund to aid victims of human trafficking. It is one of the only worldwide grants out there currently awarding NGOs who directly help victims on the ground, instead of advocacy grants.

In a recent case involving a pedophile in Pattaya, Thailand, a notorious stomping ground for the purchase of boys, I was told by the leader of an NGO that rescues street children:

He loved to sexually abuse children, and he was arrested.  He paid off the lawyer, the police and the victim’s family so the child would not appear in court. On the other hand, the work that we [the NGO] are doing on this side of the case, we don’t even have money sometimes to buy the kids lunch. These criminal networks have so much power, so much influence, so much money … What [we need] are those people brave enough to take action against the opposing forces that influence.

Laws Not Being Enacted

In the U.S., only roughly 10% of police stations have any protocol to deal with human trafficking at all.   In a recent UNODC Global Report on Human Trafficking, two out of five countries signatory to the Palermo protocol against human trafficking had zero convictions of traffickers on the books at all.

I propose more watchdog organizations to observe if laws are being put into use. In Spain, I learned from an NGO that the law concerning giving suspected victims of HT a period of reflection (crucial for recovering from trauma, separating from traffickers and finding the courage to cooperate with law enforcement) had not been put to use once in the year following its introduction, even though there was a well-documented case of a pregnant Nigerian woman who wasn’t given the period and was rapidly deported back into her own country, even though several NGOs had certified that she was a trafficking victim.  When I informed local government officials of this disuse, they were absolutely surprised, having thought, once passed, they would be automatically put into practice.  

Media should monitor the number of cases taken on per year by law enforcement, and follow through from the initial arrests to the court trials. I was personally following a trial in Thailand while we were shooting Trade of Innocents there, involving two Uzbek victims of HT, who were coerced by their embassy to change their testimony and perjure themselves on the stand.  The real criminals went scot-free, and the terrified girls had to flee the country to avoid incarceration for perjury.

“If you run away, they will arrest you and throw away the key.  In this country, you are lower than a dog.”

The traffickers enjoy an atmosphere of impunity, both here and abroad.  The California sweatshop labor survivor told me her trafficker said, “If you run away, they will arrest you and throw away the key.  In this country, you are lower than a dog; people have organizations set up to help them. No one here cares about you!” Sentenced to only one year of house arrest, the trafficker was soon back on the road, trying to find the victim again by bribing and threatening her family in Mexico.  

Watchdog organizations need to make sure the laws are as tough on trafficking as they are on the other most severe crimes; Polaris Project can tell you where your state stands on that.

Solutions From the Business Community

Current laws in California and proposed on the federal level call for voluntary self-monitoring to keep slavery out of businesses’ supply chains, but I call for stiffer legislation that requires independent auditing.  

It’s not all bad news: A Harvard University study found “sales rose for items labeled as being made under good labor standards, and the demand for the labeled products actually rose with price increases of 10-20% above …unlabeled ones.”

Media can also help consumers make choices to patronize vendors who have zero tolerance policies. At the checkout counter, they can ask for goods verified to be slavery-free and vote with their dollars.

The Internet’s Sex Marketplace

Commercial sex creates demand for slaves, and the Internet is a huge marketplace for it, especially for trafficked youth.

If you are a man about to engage in commercial sex, just don’t.  There is no way to know if you are raping someone, and you will definitely create further demand for innocent women and children as sexual slaves.

When asked if mafias tried to control independent prostitutes, a survivor said, “Control, no.  Get rid of them, out of the zone, yes, so they could put their own women in their place … They gave them such ferocious beatings that they ended up in the hospital, up to the point where this person, out of fear of the beatings, gave up her area, so they can bring their own girls.”

Solutions

Use their own weapons against them. Let the incredible power of the Internet search out and destroy pedophilic activities before they can purchase a child and destroy his or her life.  

I know that there are people working on efforts to profile pedophile behavior as a way to track the would-be criminals before they strike. Work on projects like Polaris’ Vision 20/20, which seeks to create a worldwide network of communication and synthesis of resources worldwide, linking activists, NGOs and law enforcement so that data can be shared, and that together (for cooperation is crucial) we can begin to get a leg up on the criminals.

In This Country: Huge Need for Training, Services and Safe Harbor

One of the most integral tools for the identification and rescue of victims and the prosecutions of perpetrators lies with in-depth training on human trafficking, not only for law enforcement, prosecutorial staff and the judiciary, but with all first responders, with the medical, educational, travel, educational, social services and foster care industries, so that they may all be able to recognize victims for the brief moments they surface, understand the laws they have at their service and the delicate treatment the victims will require.

Once these victims are brought in by law enforcement, it is absolutely critical that they are provided with all the services they need to recover and cooperate.  Currently, foreign victims of human trafficking are entitled by federal law to some of these services, but our own domestic minors, especially those who have been sexually trafficked, are not immediately given any of these services, not considered “victims of extreme abuse and neglect” by the state unless they have been trafficked by a relative.

The states where this does not hold true are the 11 which have passed “safe harbor” laws. These immensely necessary laws define children under 18 as victims of the severest form of human trafficking, and not perpetrators of the crime of prostitution.  Stiff penalties are assigned to the real perpetrators, and any criminal records that might otherwise haunt the victims are expunged.  They are given rights to housing, counseling, medical care, education, legal help, etc., even though at current time, the money is not being spent specifically to enable those services to be given. Senator Ron Wyden’s bill, which has been incorporated into the latest version of the TVPRA, would be a step in the right direction. And I personally call for all Democrats and Republicans to stop throwing up roadblocks over mandatory minimum sentencing and reproductive health issues to the re-passage of this crucial act for the sake of the victims.

Child Sex Trafficking

This touches on the subject of our film Trade of Innocents and the final issue I would like to bring up — that of child sex trafficking.  We made a film about children being sold for sex, and in the story, an American tourist is trying to buy the services of little Cambodian girls, but the fact is, it occurs all over the world.  I have had my heart broken by children not quite four-feet-tall and teenagers alike who have been bought and used again and again.  I must absolutely assert that no one under the age of 18, no matter what they may claim, has the mens rae, the legal, psychological or mental capacity to consent to their own sexual exploitation, and must never be treated as criminals.

I have met the most amazing survivors who always, when given a chance, try to help their sisters and brothers still in bondage.  As a former sex trafficking victim told me in the shelter where she now volunteers for younger rescued girls, “The men thought we were nothing.  That we were lower than cockroaches, that we were born for this.  But we are not nothing  — we were born for so much more than this!”  She is now studying to be a prosecutor to fight trafficking.

About Ericsson

Read more of Mashable’s coverage of the 2012 Social Good Summit:

Day One:

Day Two:

Day Three:

Read more: http://mashable.com/2012/09/24/slavery-trafficking-tech-media/