A talk on the dark side with Brian Greene

Three Americans physicists took home the Nobel Prize today for demonstrating that the expansion of the known universe is accelerating. The discovery supports the notion that a mysterious force called “dark energy” is pushing the cosmos apart. Dark energy has been a top priority for many in the astrophysics community, because the long standing conventional wisdom was that the expansion of the universe is actually slowing down due to gravitational forces. The notion that dark energy may be “pushing” harder than gravity is “pulling” has major repercussions for how the universe will look in the distant future.

Last year, I spoke with bestselling author and Columbia physics professor Brian Greene about why the existence of dark energy spells trouble for stargazers.

Watch the full episode. See more Need To Know.

Photo: Spreading the word

As the Occupy Wall Street protest in lower Manhattan entered its third week Monday, related sit-in demonstrations are popping up in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. Later this week, similar rallies are scheduled for Detroit, Minneapolis, Baltimore, Sante Fe and many other cities. More than 700 people were arrested in the NYC Occupy Wall Street protest over the weekend as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

ACLU criticizes killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, calling it a ‘dangerous’ precedent

Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on the internet. This image was taken by SITE Intelligence Group on Monday, November 8, 2010. Photo: AP Photo/SITE Intelligence Group

Yemen’s state news agency and American officials confirmed Friday that Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric, had been killed in an American missile strike. The killing of Awlaki, who had been a charismatic and Internet-savvy mouthpiece for Jihadists around the world, was seen as the biggest U.S. counter-terrorism success since the death of Osama bin Laden in May. “This is further proof that Al Qaeda and its affiliates will have no safe haven anywhere in the world,” President Obama said in remarks Friday.

But the killing of Awlaki, an American citizen born in New Mexico, raises grave questions about the use of lethal military force by American officials. By all accounts, Awlaki was the first American citizen deliberately targeted for killing by U.S. military officials, who accused the radical, Yemen-based cleric of playing an important operational role in several attempted terrorist attacks on the U.S., and claimed broad powers to hunt Awlaki down and kill him. Civil liberties organizations, such as the ACLU, have derided the policy as an aggressive overreach of Constitutional authority.

“We continue to believe that the targeted killing program violates both U.S. and international law,” Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, said in an interview Friday morning with Need to Know. “As we’ve seen today, it’s a program under which U.S. citizens far from any battlefield can be executed by their own government without judicial process and on the basis of standards and evidence that are secret.”

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Republicans, searching anew for a standard-bearer, eye New Jersey’s Chris Christie

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

It was just six weeks ago that Texas Gov. Rick Perry rode defiantly into a crowded Republican presidential contest and was immediately crowned a savior, the white knight of a restive Republican electorate unimpressed with the wooden Mitt Romney and the seemingly unelectable Michelle Bachmann. Now, with more than a few chinks in his armor, Perry is being brushed aside, his poll numbers sagging precipitously. Fearing once again the prospect of a fractious field without a standard-bearer, Republicans are searching anew for a guardian of the faith, and have apparently settled on New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Christie has been governor for not two years, but conservatives across the country are mesmerized by Christie’s blunt-talking, confrontational style. With Christie, the thinking goes, you get the swagger of a Perry, the polish of a Romney and the track record of, say, a Jon Huntsman. And he would almost certainly be more sure-footed in public appearances and nationally televised debates than Perry has been. Republicans fear the Texas governor has already antagonized large swaths of the electorate after calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” and embracing a compassionate approach toward the children of illegal immigrants.

To conservatives, New Jersey’s labyrinthine bureaucracy and general open-mindedness about social issues bears an unmistakable resemblance to the current administration. In his two years as governor, Christie has challenged an entrenched Democratic establishment and tangled with some of the country’s most powerful and well-organized labor unions. His duels with the teachers’ union, in particular, have won him glowing praise in conservative circles. When, at a town hall meeting last year, a teacher complained to Christie about cuts to her benefits and salary, Christie retorted, “You know what then? You don’t have to do it.”

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Parts of Alabama’s controversial immigration law upheld in court

Brian May, of Birmingham, Ala., signs a petition against Alabama's new law cracking down on illegal immigration on Saturday, June 25, 2011. Despite protests, the law went into effect today. Photo: AP Photo/Jay Reeves

A federal judge in Alabama issued a ruling today that allowed parts of Alabama’s controversial immigration law, widely considered the nation’s strictest immigration policy, to go into effect.

The law, known as HB 56, was passed earlier this year by Alabama’s legislature – the first Republican-led legislature in more than 140 years – and signed on June 9 by Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, who called it a crucial measure to protect the jobs of legal U.S. citizens in the state. The federal government filed a lawsuit against Alabama over the law, arguing that it infringes on federal authority over immigration policy. The law was also challenged by religious and civil rights groups in Alabama.

HB 56 requires schools to verify the immigration status of students upon enrollment, allows local law enforcement to check the status of people they have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented during routine stops and arrests, prohibits renting property to undocumented immigrants, and penalizes companies that employ undocumented immigrants. Additionally, the law makes it a felony for undocumented immigrants to apply for a driver’s license, license plate, or business license.

U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn upheld most of these measures in today’s ruling, saying that they were consistent with federal law, but notably blocked four provisions of the law that:

  • criminalize harboring, transporting or hiding undocumented immigrants
  • make it a crime for undocumented immigrants to seek employment in the state
  • prohibit businesses from deducting wages paid to undocumented workers from their taxes
  • allow for discrimination lawsuits against employers who hire undocumented workers and dismiss employees who are U.S. citizens.

The law was scheduled to go into effect in early September, but Blackburn delayed enforcement while she reviewed the case. However, according to Alabama’s Huntsville Times, the law has already unleashed “unintended consequences” : As soon as the legislature passed HB 56, undocumented workers and their families began to leave the state in droves. Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan told the Huntsville Times that produce was “rotting in the fields” due to the shortage of farm labor. The newspaper also notes that the loss of construction workers was thwarting Alabama’s efforts to rebuild communities devastated by tornadoes in April.

Photo: The universe, over easy

Astronomers have used European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope to image a rare yellow hypergiant star called IRAS 17163-3907. Its diameter is about a thousand times bigger than our Sun and shines more than 500,000 times brighter. It is the closest yellow hypergiant found to date at approximately 13,000 light-years from Earth. The star and its shells resemble an egg white around a yolk center, leading it to be nicknamed the Fried Egg Nubula. Photo: ESO/E. Lagadec

Jobs bill proposes protections against hiring bias for the unemployed

Is bias against long-term unemployed job seekers a basis for a discrimination claim? Under President Obama’s proposed American Jobs Act, it could be. The jobs bill currently sitting in Congress includes a provision whereby job applicants can sue employers for damages if there is cause to believe their application was rejected because they were unemployed.

The proposal follows several reports of employers actively screening out unemployed applicants when hiring for open positions, which has prompted state-level legislation in recent months to prohibit such activity. About six million people make up the pool of America’s long-term unemployed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These job seekers, particularly the middle-aged, face disadvantages in the hiring process from employers’ perceptions that they lack up-to-date skills and that they are undesirable candidates at other workplaces.

President Obama’s new proposal would make hiring biases against candidates solely on the basis of their unemployment status an “unlawful employment practice” for businesses and job agencies. It would also prohibit employers or job posting websites from displaying job listings that explicitly screen out unemployed applicants. Those who decide to take businesses or job agencies to court could sue for damages up to $1,000 “for each day of the violation,” as well as “reasonable attorney’s fees.”

The New York Times notes that employment discrimination claims surge in times of high unemployment and slow economic growth. Some Republicans, as well as business owners, have come out against this provision in the American Jobs Act, saying that it only benefits trial lawyers while adding to list of costly and complex regulations that employers already face. Proponents of the policy say that it’s a necessary move to protect the long-term unemployed at a time when they already face so many disadvantages in the job market.

Photo: A long way for a close look

Several specialized inspectors will repell down the side of the 555-ft. Washington Monument on Tuesday, Sept 27, looking for damage caused by a 5.8-magnitude earthquake last August. They will inspect each stone for cracks like the ones found between the stone and mortar joints at the top of the pyramidion, which were up to 1.25 inches wide. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Photo: Occupy Wall Street

Participants at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are entering their 10th day camping out in the financial district of New York City. Several hundred activists have been gathering near Wall Street since September 17, protesting the mortgage crisis, bank bailouts, wealth inequality and the cost of war, among other things. More than 80 people were arrested Saturday for disorderly conduct and blocking traffic when they marched from Zuccotti Park to Union Square. Photo: Flickr/David Shankbone