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The Spill: De-Escalation

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Iran De-Escalation and Plane Crash

Relations between Iran and the U.S. slightly calmed this week after tensions had risen surrounding the death of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, ordered by President Trump. After holding a three-day funeral and public procession of mourning for the high-ranking official, Iran retaliated against the U.S. by firing over a dozen rockets at military bases in Iraq with a U.S. military presence.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (photo by Farzad Khorasani)

Iran informed the Iraqi authorities of the attack in advance so that the bases could be evacuated. No direct deaths or injuries resulted from the attack. President Trump was swift in sending out a message stating that “All is well.” The move was widely interpreted as an attempt to de-escalate the situation; a way for Iran to “save face” by retaliating against the U.S. for Soleimani’s death, but also to avoid further conflict.

President Trump shortly afterward appeared in the White House Grand Foyer to deliver a public response to the strikes. While he did not advocate for further military action against the Middle Eastern country, Trump announced that the U.S. would place “additional punishing economic sanctions,” which, he vowed, “will remain until Iran changes its behavior.” Sanctions are penalties applied to a country, and often take the form of economic restrictions or bans on trade, with the aim of limiting the target country’s resources. Trump also stated clearly that “As long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will never be allowed to have a nuclear weapon.” Despite these limits, the president suggested the two countries could come to an agreement in the future. “We must also make a deal that allows Iran to thrive and prosper,” he said, “and take advantage of its enormous untapped potential. Iran can be a great country.”

Although the Iranian rocket attack didn’t end any military lives, it did result in a plane crash that killed over 170 people. The passenger plane had departed from Tehran airport on its way to Ukraine when it crashed. Although Iran initially denied that it had brought the plane down, it later admitted that “because of human error and in an unintentional way,” the flight was mistaken for an incoming missile and shot down. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tweeted that “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake. My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families. I offer my sincerest condolences.” The country has been facing protests from its own citizens since the admission, and several people have been arrested over the incident.

World’s First Living Robots?

Scientists claim they have created the world’s first “living robots,” using cells from frogs. Researchers from the University of Vermont and Tufts University used a supercomputer to design the life-forms, which were then replicated using biological material. Resembling a clump of cells, the organisms are called “xenobots” after the African clawed frog species from which the tissue was taken, Xenopus laevis.

“These are novel living machines,” says Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert who co-led the research. “They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism.”

“You look at the cells we’ve been building our xenobots with, and, genomically, they’re frogs. It’s 100% frog DNA–but these are not frogs. Then you ask, well, what else are these cells capable of building?” added co-lead researcher Michael Levin.

The organisms are able to move around on their own, are biodegradable, and can regenerate themselves after sustaining damage, unlike a robot made of metal or plastic, which needs to be repaired by a mechanic if it breaks.

The scientists claim the half-animal, half-robot beings could be used for applications ranging from scraping plaque from arteries inside the human body to collecting microplastics in the ocean or cleaning up radioactive contamination. Others, however, may express worries about the results and ethical implications of rushing to manipulate the basic building blocks of life with technology. That fear is not unreasonable,” Levin says. “When we start to mess around with complex systems that we don’t understand, we’re going to get unintended consequences.” He suggests, however, that teams like his are taking the first steps toward exploring these areas of knowledge.

Joe Biden

Who Will Challenge Trump in November?

With the beginning of 2020, Americans have entered an election year. This November, citizens will get to choose the next president of the United States. Will President Trump win a second term, or will he be defeated?

Senator Bernie Sanders

The Democratic Party is hoping to mount an effective challenge against Trump for the White House. To do so, it must first determine through a series of primary votes who will be the presidential nominee. When the election season began, around two dozen candidates stepped forward, and over the last few months, we have seen several drop out either from lack of funds or lack of national support. So who is most likely to go head-to-head against the president?

Senator Elizabeth Warren

At present, former Vice President Joe Biden is ahead in most national polling. Having had experience in the White House, and being a recognizable figure across most of the U.S., he is predicted to be the eventual nominee. But it would be a mistake to discount other candidates too easily.

The Vermont Independent Senator Bernie Sanders has recently done very well in polls; he is a close second to Biden and may win many of the state primaries on March 3, Super Tuesday. Sanders ran against Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination back in 2016, and many of his supporters were angry and disappointed that he didn’t win. Favoring a socialist approach to politics, many wonder whether he can bring in the votes in a race against Donald Trump.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren also has a fighting chance to win the nomination. Although she is behind both Biden and Sanders in the race, she has a lot of support among those who feel there should be a woman in the White House. Her early polling numbers were very high; in fact, they were higher than even Joe Biden’s. How she performs in the upcoming primary ballots will determine if she stays in the race or perhaps gets offered the role vice president.

Now that some well-known politicians like Cory Booker, Julian Castro, and Beto O’Rourke have dropped out, only 12 candidates remain in the race.

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