Tag: Obama administration

Pipeline Spill Dumps 105,000 Gallons of Oil on California’s Coastline

Oil from a broken pipeline coats miles of the Pacific Ocean and shoreline near Goleta, Calif., May 20, 2015, after a 24-inch underground pipeline broke May 19th and leaked into a culvert leading to the ocean. Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline said an thousands of gallons of oil were released before the pipeline was shut down. Photos by Jonathan Alcorn/Greenpeace. Steve Horn, DeSmog BlogUp to 105,000 gallons of oil obtained via offshore drilling have spilled from a p [...]

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Why the U.S. Gave Up on the Moon

Moon nearside



Excerpt from spacenews.com


Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.  What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit).  What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject?  If, as the Alliance for Space Development suggests, our nation wishes to move toward a path of permanent space settlements, the most logical step is our own planet’s satellite.

Lunar base conception
A 2006 NASA conception of a lunar base. Credit: NASA


A base on the lunar surface is a better place to study space settlement than a space station or Mars for many reasons. Unlike a space station, the base does not have to contend with aerodynamic drag, attitude control issues or contamination and impingement from its own thrusters. Unlike a space station, which exists in a total vacuum and resource void, a lunar base has access to at least some surface resources in the forms of minerals, albeit fewer than might be available on Mars.  Many people naturally want to go directly to Mars as our next step. Even SpaceX has publicly stated this as its ultimate goal, with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell noting that “we’re not moon people.” However, Mars makes sense only if we think the technology is ready to safely support humans on another surface for long periods of time. Furthermore, budget restrictions make an ambitious goal like going immediately to Mars an unlikely prospect. Why are we afraid to take the seemingly necessary baby steps of developing the technology for a long-term base on a surface that can be reached in mere days instead of months?  The tendency to want to skip a lunar settlement is not a new phenomenon. Even before the first landing on the moon, U.S. and NASA political leadership was contemplating the future of manned space, and few of the visions involved a lunar base. The early space program was driven by Cold War competition with Moscow, and the kinds of ideas that circulated at the time involved milestones that seemed novel such as reusable spaceplanes, nuclear-powered rockets, space stations and missions to Mars. 

When the United States was on the verge of a series of landings on the moon, building a permanent base just didn’t seem like much of a new giant leap. NASA's ConstellationNASA’s Constellation program, featuring the Orion manned capsule set atop the Ares 1 launch vehicle, was meant to send astronauts back to the moon. Credit: NASA  The idea of a lunar landing mission was not reintroduced seriously until the George W. Bush administration and the introduction of the Constellation program. This program came at a complex time for NASA: The space shuttle was recovering from the Columbia disaster, the space station was in the midst of construction and the United States found itself with large budget deficits. However, despite its budgetary and schedule problems, which are common in any serious aerospace development project from space programs to jumbo-jet development, it provided NASA with a vision and a goal that were reasonable and sensible as next steps toward a long-term future of exploration beyond Earth. 

Constellation was nevertheless canceled, and we have since returned to a most uncommon sense.  The decision to avoid any sort of lunar activity in current space policy may have been biased by the Obama administration’s desire to move as far away as possible from the policies of the previous administration. 

Regardless of the cause, discussion of returning to the moon is no longer on the table.  Without the moon, the only feasible mission that NASA could come up with that is within reach given the current technology and budget is the Asteroid Redirect Mission.  
Even planetary scientists have spoken out against the mission, finding that it will provide little scientific value. It will also provide limited engineering and technology value, if we assume that our long-term goal is to permanently settle space. The experience gained from this sort of flight has little applicability to planetary resource utilization, long-term life support or other technologies needed for settlement.  

If we are to have a program of manned space exploration, we must decide what the long-term goals of such a program should be, and we should align our actions with those goals. When resources such as funding are limited, space agencies and political leaders should not squander these limited resources on missions that make no sense. Instead, the limited funding should be used to continue toward our long-term goals, accepting a slower pace or slight scale-back in mission scope.  Establishing a permanent human settlement in space is a noble goal, one that will eventually redefine humanity. Like explorers before us, it is also not a goal that will be achieved in a short period of time. We would be wise to keep our eyes on that goal and the road needed to get us there. And the next likely stop on that road is a permanent home just above our heads, on the surface of the brightest light in the night sky.  

Paul Brower is an aerospace systems engineer on the operations team for the O3b Networks satellite fleet. He previously worked in mission control at NASA for 10 years.
Recently, several space advocacy groups joined forces to form the Alliance for Space Development. Their published objectives include a mention of obvious near-term goals such as supporting the commercial crew program, transitioning from use of the International Space Station to future private space stations and finding ways to reduce the cost of access to space.
What is notably missing from these objectives and those of many other space agencies, companies and advocacy groups is any mention of building a permanent settlement on the moon. It’s as if the lunar surface has become our crazy uncle that we all acknowledge exists but we’d prefer not to mention (or visit).
What made the next logical step in mankind’s progression beyond the bounds of Earth such a taboo subject?
If, as the Alliance for Space Development suggests, our nation wishes to move toward a path of permanent space settlements, the most logical step is our own planet’s satellite.
Lunar base conception
A 2006 NASA conception of a lunar base. Credit: NASA
A base on the lunar surface is a better place to study space settlement than a space station or Mars for many reasons. Unlike a space station, the base does not have to contend with aerodynamic drag, attitude control issues or contamination and impingement from its own thrusters. Unlike a space station, which exists in a total vacuum and resource void, a lunar base has access to at least some surface resources in the forms of minerals, albeit fewer than might be available on Mars.
Many people naturally want to go directly to Mars as our next step. Even SpaceX has publicly stated this as its ultimate goal, with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell noting that “we’re not moon people.” However, Mars makes sense only if we think the technology is ready to safely support humans on another surface for long periods of time. Furthermore, budget restrictions make an ambitious goal like going immediately to Mars an unlikely prospect. Why are we afraid to take the seemingly necessary baby steps of developing the technology for a long-term base on a surface that can be reached in mere days instead of months?
The tendency to want to skip a lunar settlement is not a new phenomenon. Even before the first landing on the moon, U.S. and NASA political leadership was contemplating the future of manned space, and few of the visions involved a lunar base. The early space program was driven by Cold War competition with Moscow, and the kinds of ideas that circulated at the time involved milestones that seemed novel such as reusable spaceplanes, nuclear-powered rockets, space stations and missions to Mars. When the United States was on the verge of a series of landings on the moon, building a permanent base just didn’t seem like much of a new giant leap.
NASA's Constellation
NASA’s Constellation program, featuring the Orion manned capsule set atop the Ares 1 launch vehicle, was meant to send astronauts back to the moon. Credit: NASA
The idea of a lunar landing mission was not reintroduced seriously until the George W. Bush administration and the introduction of the Constellation program. This program came at a complex time for NASA: The space shuttle was recovering from the Columbia disaster, the space station was in the midst of construction and the United States found itself with large budget deficits. However, despite its budgetary and schedule problems, which are common in any serious aerospace development project from space programs to jumbo-jet development, it provided NASA with a vision and a goal that were reasonable and sensible as next steps toward a long-term future of exploration beyond Earth.
Constellation was nevertheless canceled, and we have since returned to a most uncommon sense.
The decision to avoid any sort of lunar activity in current space policy may have been biased by the Obama administration’s desire to move as far away as possible from the policies of the previous administration. Regardless of the cause, discussion of returning to the moon is no longer on the table.
Without the moon, the only feasible mission that NASA could come up with that is within reach given the current technology and budget is the Asteroid Redirect Mission.
Even planetary scientists have spoken out against the mission, finding that it will provide little scientific value. It will also provide limited engineering and technology value, if we assume that our long-term goal is to permanently settle space. The experience gained from this sort of flight has little applicability to planetary resource utilization, long-term life support or other technologies needed for settlement.
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If we are to have a program of manned space exploration, we must decide what the long-term goals of such a program should be, and we should align our actions with those goals. When resources such as funding are limited, space agencies and political leaders should not squander these limited resources on missions that make no sense. Instead, the limited funding should be used to continue toward our long-term goals, accepting a slower pace or slight scale-back in mission scope.
Establishing a permanent human settlement in space is a noble goal, one that will eventually redefine humanity. Like explorers before us, it is also not a goal that will be achieved in a short period of time. We would be wise to keep our eyes on that goal and the road needed to get us there. And the next likely stop on that road is a permanent home just above our heads, on the surface of the brightest light in the night sky.

Paul Brower is an aerospace systems engineer on the operations team for the O3b Networks satellite fleet. He previously worked in mission control at NASA for 10 years.
- See more at: http://spacenews.com/op-ed-why-the-u-s-gave-up-on-the-moon/#sthash.czfTscvg.dpuf

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Mars Capsule Test Heralds New Space Age With Musk Alongside NASA




Excerpt from
bloomberg.com

The U.S. is preparing to launch the first craft developed to fly humans to Mars, presaging a second space age -- this one fueled by billionaires like Elon Musk rather than a Cold War contest with the Soviet Union. 

An unmanned version of the Orion spaceship built by Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) is scheduled for liftoff tomorrow to an altitude of 3,600 miles (5,800 kilometers), the farthest from Earth by a vehicle designed for people since the Apollo program was scrapped in 1972. 

Entrepreneurs such as Musk and longtime contractors like Lockheed are helping shape the technology needed to find other homes for humanity in the solar system with an eye to one day commercializing their work. 

“These are really exciting times for space exploration and for our nation as we begin to return to the ability to fly humans to space,” said Jim Crocker, vice president and general manager of civil space at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “What Orion is about is going further into space than humans have ever gone before.”
Photographer: Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a Delta IV rocket, the Orion capsule will test the riskiest systems needed to carry astronauts far beyond the moon, although its first flight will cover only about 2 percent of the 238,900-mile distance to the lunar surface.

Speed Limit

After orbiting earth twice, Orion will accelerate to 20,000 miles per hour during descent, mimicking the speeds of a craft returning from a mission to deep space. The capsule is supposed to make a parachute-cushioned splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja peninsula. 

To explore the universe, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration must first redevelop capabilities abandoned more than 40 years ago when the U.S. shifted focus from Apollo’s lunar forays to rocketing crews a few hundred miles to low Earth orbit.
NASA has used Russian craft to reach the International Space Station since the space shuttle program ended in 2011. 

In a strategic shift, the Obama administration canceled plans to return to the moon, turning some flights to commercial companies while setting its sights -- and limited funds -- on pioneering deep space. The Orion capsule was originally commissioned in 2006 for the defunct Constellation program.

Musk, Bezos

Those moves paved the way for technology chieftains including Musk and Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) founder Jeff Bezos to pursue their own space ambitions. 

Musk founded Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX in 2002 with the goal of enabling people to live on other planets, a massive endeavor that would require innovations such as reusable rocket stages to lower costs. 

Mars is also in focus for NASA as the space agency maps plans to “pioneer the space frontier,” according to a May 29 white paper.

$22 Billion

NASA proposes an initial $22 billion effort that includes two other Orion missions over the next eight years and building a powerful new rocket. The Delta IV being used tomorrow is manufactured by United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed-Boeing Co. (BA) venture.

A new Space Launch System rocket being developed by the partnership is slated to hoist the next Orion craft beyond the moon in fiscal 2018, Lockheed’s Crocker said in a phone interview. The first manned Orion mission is slated for early in the next decade.
NASA’s plans are “sketchy” beyond that, aside from broad goals to capture asteroid samples in the 2020s and reach Mars a decade later, said Marco Caceres, director of space studies with Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant Teal Group. 

Average Distance

While Mars’s distance from Earth varies because of the two planets’ orbits, the average is about 140 million miles, almost 600 times longer than a trip to the moon. It’s so far that radio communications take as long as 20 minutes to travel each way, according to Bill Hill, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development. 


Entrepreneurs such as Musk will have opportunities to get involved as NASA refines capsule and rocket designs. NASA plans to develop two larger rockets beyond the initial launch vehicle, which will be capable of hauling a 70-metric ton payload. 

“We’re not taking any options off the table,” Hill said. “We want to be sufficiently flexible so that if we find a new path, we can introduce it and not change course.” 

Expense, shifting political priorities and the lack of a clear NASA road map could still derail the latest effort as they did the Apollo program in the early 1970s, said Micah Walter-Range, director of research analysis with the Space Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Colorado Springs, Colorado. 

“All of the challenges that exist are surmountable,” Walter-Range said by phone. “It’s just a question of having the money to do it.”

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U.S. Creates Largest Protected Area in the World ~ 3X Larger than California


Photo of fish swimming in the Palmyra Atoll.
A school of fish swims under the water around Palmyra Atoll, in an area of the Pacific that is already part of a marine sanctuary.
Photograph by Randy Olson, National Geographic



By Brian Clark Howard




NEW YORK—The Obama administration announced Thursday that it will create the largest marine reserve in the world by expanding an existing monument around U.S.-controlled islands and atolls in the central Pacific.


The Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument will now be nearly 490,000 square miles, nearly three times the size of California and six times larger than its previous size. Commercial fishing, dumping, and mining will be prohibited in the reserve, but recreational fishing will be allowed with permits, and boaters may visit the area.


The protected area that Secretary of State John Kerry announced this morning is actually smaller than the 782,000 square miles that the president initially considered. But environmentalists, preservationists, and conservation groups that had pushed for the expansion called President Barack Obama's designation a historic victory in their efforts to limit the impact of fishing, drilling, and other activities that threaten some of the world's most species-rich waters.

Map of the pacific remote islands.
MAGGIE SMITH, NG STAFF. SOURCES: U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE; USGS; MARINE CONSERVATION INSTITUTE


"What has happened is extraordinary. It is history making. There is a lot of reason we should be celebrating right now," said Elliott Norse, founder and chief scientist of the Seattle-based Marine Conservation Institute.


Enric Sala, an ocean scientist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, called the newly expanded monument "a great example of marine protection."


During the past several years, Sala and National Geographic's Pristine Seas project—which aims to explore, survey, and protect several of the last wild places in the world's oceans—have been key players in expeditions to the region that helped to put a spotlight on its biodiversity. Sala also met with White House officials to make the scientific case for expanding the Pacific Remote Islands monument. 


Photo of a sea anemone providing cover for a transparent shrimp in Kingman Reef, Pacific Ocean.
Tentacles of a sea anemone provide cover for a transparent shrimp in Kingman Reef, which is part of the existing marine sanctuary. Photograph by Brian Skerry, National Geographic Creative


In announcing the expansion of protected marine areas, Kerry said, “We’re committed to protecting more of the world's ocean. Today, one to three percent of the ocean is protected, that's it. That's why President Obama will sign a proclamation today that will create one of the largest maritime protected areas in the world. It will be protected in perpetuity.”

Michael Boots, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, made clear that by expanding protected areas, the administration sought to balance the need to preserve a range of marine species with concerns from the fishing industry, which had warned about the economic impact of curtailing deep-sea fishing areas.

"We thought [the monument decision] was a good way to balance what the science was telling us was important to protect and the needs of those who use the area," Boots said.


The administration said in a statement late Wednesday that "expanding the monument will more fully protect the deep coral reefs, seamounts, and marine ecosystems unique to this part of the world, which are also among the most vulnerable areas to the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification."


In June, when he first announced his intent to expand the monument, Obama said, "I'm using my authority as president to protect some of our nation's most pristine marine monuments, just like we do on land."


The June announcement was followed by a public comment period and further analysis by the White House, officials said. Thousands of people submitted comments, with many conservation groups and scientists offering their support. Some fishing and cannery groups, as well as a few members of the U.S. Congress opposed the expansion, citing the potential a loss of commercial fishing grounds. 


Norse said that the newly protected areas will safeguard endangered seabirds and other key species, including five endangered sea turtle species (such as loggerheads and leatherbacks), sooty terns and other terns, silky sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks, beaked whales, manta rays, red-tailed tropic birds, and deep-sea corals.

The expanded monument will help ensure that "there are some places that are as pristine as possible for as long as possible," Norse said. "I think a hundred years from now, people will be praising Barack Obama for having the vision to protect the Pacific remote islands."


"A Big Step"


Obama's Democratic administration is building on a national monument that was first created by his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush, suggesting that "ocean protection may be one of the last bipartisan issues" in the politically divided United States, says David Helvarg, the author of several books on the ocean and the founder of the advocacy group Blue Frontier Campaign.

Democratic and Republican presidents going all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican who served from 1901 to 1909, have used the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate national monuments. The law requires simply that an area be unique and considered worthy of protection for future generations. This is the 12th time Obama has used his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect environmental areas.

The area being protected by the administration will expand the protected areas from 50 miles offshore to 200 miles offshore around three areas—Wake Island, Johnston Atoll, and Jarvis Island—the maximum reach of the United States’ exclusive economic zone. The current 50-mile offshore protections around the Howland and Baker islands, and Kingman Reef and Palmyra Atoll, will not change.


"Although 71 percent of our planet is covered with saltwater, we have protected much more of the land than the ocean," Helvarg said. But the newly expanded monument is a big step in the right direction, he added.

Enforcing fishing bans in the monument will be a big challenge, Kerry acknowledged. "Agreements won't matter if no one is enforcing them," he said. "It's going to take training and resources."
Kerry said one measure that could help deter illegal fishing in the region, as well as around the world, would be to implement the Port State Measures Agreement, an international treaty that requires member nations to prevent illegally caught fish from entering the market. Eleven nations or parties have ratified the agreement, but a total of 25 must sign before the treaty will take effect.

"Our goal is to get this done this year," Kerry said.


Meanwhile, efforts to preserve more biologically diverse waters continue.


This week, National Geographic Society announced that it is dramatically expanding its campaign to help protect marine areas, with a goal of persuading governments to officially safeguard more than 770,000 square miles.


The plan, announced by former President Bill Clinton, includes programs that target the Seychelles—an archipelago in the Indian Ocean—northern Greenland, and South America's Patagonia region. The program builds on National Geographic's Pristine Seas project, which has financed ten scientific expeditions to remote areas of ocean around the world, including in the South Pacific and off Africa, Russia, and South America.

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New Customs Rule Would Treat Same-Sex Couples As Families

Elise Foley, March 28, 2012 WASHINGTON — The Obama administration proposed on Tuesday to recognize same-sex couples as families on customs forms, a small but significant step, supporters said, toward equal recognition by the federal government. “It...

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Enemy Expatriation Act – NDAA on Steroids

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What is the Military Detention Act: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xkkJpdN0M_M&feature=channel_video_title http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCP2XgAfsbg&feature=youtu.be THE ENEMY EXPATRIATION ACT - H.R. 3166: Enemy ...

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Scorpio New Moon: October 26, 2011 by B. Hand Clow

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24 October 2011

Astrologer: Barbara Hand Clow

Global (and individual) balancing began with the Fall Equinox and was reinforced by the Libra New Moon on September 27-and now the time for truth and personal integrity h...

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Chinese National TV reporting impending UFO/ET disclosure by Obama government

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Alfred Lambremont Webre

January 21st, 2011 2:24 pm PT

Chinese National Television Xinhua news is now reporting an impending extraterrestrial disclosure by the Obama administration.

The unprecedented national China TV news ...

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Whistleblower exposes attempted ET manipulation, false flag at ‘Festival’

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In an exclusive January 2, 2011 50 minute video interview with Alfred Lambremont Webre on ExopoliticsTV, former Project Seagate whistleblower and Project Camelot witness Aaron McCollum has exposed an attempted recruitment by the organ...

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Food “Safety” Bill Empowers Monsanto To Control Food Industry

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Stephanie Spinelli TruthSquad.TV 1/13/2011

Monsanto to enforce food regulation.

Under the guise of protecting Americans from food-borne illnesses, Congress has passed the S510 Food Safety Act, granting unlimited power to t...

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Rumor: Obama to make announcement about US involvement with ET’s

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Source: http://www.examiner.com/exopolitics-in-seattle/rumor-obama-to-announce-ufo-visits-and-us-contact-with-ets-2011

Speculation that Barack Obama has a mandate (or an inherited legacy) to be the ET Disclosure President is alrea...

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Thorium as a Secure Nuclear Fuel Alternative

Personally, I prefer water fuel, radiant energy or "cold fusion", but it is interesting to know that this alternative also exist.

EagleEyes

Thursday, 23 April 2009 00:00

A. Canon Bryan

Ameri...

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Inside the world of Obama’s secret-service bodyguards

Somebody sent me this article, or even subscribed me to the http://headlinenewsbureau.com site itself. Np problem, it seems to be interesting to hear just who is out gunning for Barack Obama....

Dre'

Protecting the US president has presented the secret service with the greatest challenge in its history. But who wants to kill him? And how likely are they to succeed?

The Southern Poverty Law Center began life in 1971 as a tiny law firm specialising in civil rights cases. It took on the might of the Ku Klux Klan, and was duly rewarded by having its offices razed and its senior lawyers targeted for assassination. But it kept on going and grew to be one of the most respected monitoring groups of rightwing extremism in America today.

Recently it brought out a report called Terror From the Right , which identifies, in chronological order, the serious home-grown plots, conspiracies and racist rampages that have been cooked up in America since the Oklahoma City bomb in 1995. The list runs to 10 pages of closely printed type and itemises 75 domestic terrorism events, from plans to bomb government buildings to attempts to kill judges and politicians.

Each of the incidents aimed to change the political face of America through violence, courtesy of groups with such titles as Aryan People's Republic, The New Order and The Hated. But in the summer of 2008 the chronology takes on a sharp change of tack. Entries, which had been running at one or two per year, start coming faster. And instead of a variety of different targets, one name crops up time and time again: Barack Obama.

The first such entry is for 8 June 2008. Six people, linked to a militia group in rural Pennsylvania, are arrested with stockpiles of assault rifles and homemade bombs. One of the six allegedly tells the authorities that he intended to shoot black people from a rooftop and predicts civil war should Obama, who five days previously had cleared the Democratic nomination for president, be elected to the White House.

Next entry: 24 August 2008. The day before the opening of the Democratic convention in Denver at which Obama was nominated, three white supremacists are arrested in possession of high-powered rifles and camouflage clothing. They are talking about assassinating Obama.

24 October 2008: Less than two weeks before the election, two white supremacists are arrested in Tennessee over a bizarre plan to kill more than 100 black people, including Obama.

21 January 2009: The day after Obama's inauguration, a white man is arrested in� Massachusetts, having allegedly killed two black immigrants and injured a third. He says he was "fighting for a dying race".

10 June 2009: James von Brunn, aged 88, walks into the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and shoots dead a security guard. Von Brunn, who died last month in jail awaiting trial, left a note that read: "Obama was created by Jews."

In the 13 months that Barack Obama has been the occupant of the Oval Office he has been the subject of an extraordinary outpouring of emotion from the American electorate. At the start it was largely adulatory, though more recently the adoration has been drowned out by a cacophony of criticism from tea party activists, birthers, global-warming deniers and viewers of Fox News. At the same time, largely hidden from view, there has been a layer of antagonism towards Obama that lies well beyond the boundaries of reasonable political debate.

That has been a fact of life for Obama and his family since long before they took the keys to the White House. On 2 May 2007, fully 18 months before election day, he was assigned a secret service detail – much earlier than any other presidential candidate in American history. The precise reasons for the move have never been disclosed, but there was certainly a mood in the air sufficiently palpable to disconcert Michelle Obama. A senior US official in the State Department has told the Guardian that before he decided to run for the presidency, Obama had actively to win Michelle over to the idea by assuaging her fears about the potential of an attack on him, her and/or their two daughters.

Michelle would have been aware of the backstory here: that Colin Powell had declined to run for the 1996 Republican nomination partly because his wife Alma feared his assassination at the hands of white supremacists. Over the course of the long presidential race, Michelle spoke openly about her anxieties and how she had determined to overcome them, telling 60 Minutes that she had decided to fling herself into the race because "I am tired of being afraid".

According to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin's new account of the 2008 election, Game Change, she eventually felt relaxed enough to crack sardonic jokes about the subject. "I've already gone out and increased our life insurance on [Barack]," she quipped. "You just can't be too careful!" But as the Southern Poverty Law Center survey shows, the issue of safety and the 44th president remains anything but a laughing matter. "Virtually every domestic terrorist event we have identified since June 2008 – when it became obvious that Obama was going to win – has been directly related to him," says the author of the report, Mark Potok.

Apart from the Obamas themselves, the burden of such a threat falls primarily on the shoulders of the US secret service, and as Joseph Petro, head of global security for Citigroup, puts it, the challenges facing the service today are unlike any period that has gone before. On top of all the usual risks associated with guarding the world's most powerful politician, there is now the added, explosive ingredient of his race. "As the first black president he creates a whole other set of issues for the secret service to deal with," he says.

Petro can claim to be something of an expert in this area: he spent 23 years as a special agent in the service, four of them, from 1982 to 1986, as the man who stood beside Ronald Reagan. He knows what it's like to be the last line of protection, how it feels to be in a milling crowd in which you are surrounded by thousands of potential assailants, what it is to live with the constant knowledge that any mistake – a split second taking your eye off the ball – could be fatal.

Petro has a formula for measuring the potential dangers for any particular incumbent of the White House. You take the general atmosphere of the times in which they are in office and combine it with the specific personality that the president brings to the job. In both regards, he says, Obama presents a huge task.

"In Obama, we have a president with a very unique personality who likes to be out with the people. Put that together with the political atmosphere of these times that is highly partisan and vitriolic, then include race, and we've got a big challenge. There's no margin for error."

Petro's point about the role the president's personality plays in his own safety is ably illustrated by the single most disastrous failure in the secret service's history – the event that every incoming trainee agent spends hours and hours studying until it is drilled into his or her bone marrow. Judged by modern security standards, the shooting of John F Kennedy in Dallas on 22 November 1963 should for several reasons never have happened. The parade route Kennedy took was publicised in advance – a cardinal sin by the rule book of today. Lee Harvey Oswald had a relatively easy line of fire from the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository, which would these days have been thoroughly swept and sealed off. But it was the orders given by Kennedy himself that did for him – the president asked for the bullet-proof glass bubble to be taken off his limousine and for agents not to ride on the back of the car, thus leaving himself utterly exposed.

In the last analysis, as Kennedy proved at his own cost, a president can only be as safe as he allows himself to be. Agents can advise the commander-in-chief what is best for his security, but they cannot give him orders. "The secret service would want to take the president to Camp David straight after the inauguration and keep him there out of any contact with the public for the next four years. But they know that's not possible," Petro says.

During his presidential campaign, Obama would regularly mingle among crowds of astonishing size. But since his inauguration he has clearly responded to the guidance of his protecting agents, detaching himself considerably from direct public engagement. To some extent, that is only normal – he is no longer running in an election. But for a president who promised to break down barriers between politicians and people, it is noticeable how sparingly he is seen in public these days, and how the events he does appear at are almost invariably staged indoors.

Over the years, the secret service has developed a range of technological devices for improving security. Petro recalls asking Reagan on several occasions to wear a bulletproof vest. (Reagan would grumble and groan but usually comply.) Over the last decade, such innovations have come thick and fast. A whole new array of gadgetry has been added to the service's armoury, from face-recognition technology to a new generation of armoured vehicles. Obama rides in a Cadillac with military grade eight-inch thick doors; on election night in November 2008 he gave his victory speech to a crowd of almost a quarter of a million people from behind bullet-proof glass walls designed to foil sniper attacks.

But gadgetry is only as effective as the people who use it. In the last analysis, the human factor remains supreme, as was illustrated last November when two reality show hopefuls gatecrashed a� White House function, penetrating the inner core of the building and shaking Obama's hand. As it happened, they had no malice towards the president. But in the mindset of the mortified secret service that didn't matter; they could have done.

Which on some level is the nature of the beast: being president of the United States is a high-risk enterprise, as Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley and John Kennedy all found out the hard way. Danger can come at a president from any number of directions. It can come from the lone deranged gunman. It can come too, theoretically, from international terrorism of the Islamist variety. But al-Qaida experts point out that the closest the group has come to a direct attack on the president was 9/11 itself. "From al-Qaida's view, to assassinate the president would be very desirable," says Yehudit Barsky, a terrorism specialist at the American Jewish Committee. "But it would be difficult for them to go after him not because they don't want to but because their capacity is so impaired."

Which is why in the overall assessment of risk to Obama, so much attention is settling on rightwing extremist groups who are already operating inside America, are armed and ideologically motivated, and in some cases potentially capable of desperate acts. This brings us back to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking the activity of potentially violent militia groups since the last great wave in the 1990s when the so-called Patriot movement ballooned in proportion to rising rightwing anger towards Bill Clinton and fears of impending gun control. That wave of opprobrium culminated in the Oklahoma bombing in which 168 died and 680 more were injured.

The centre's latest report , released last week, records an astonishing mushrooming in extremist anti-government Patriot groups who see the Obama administration as a plot to impose "one-world government" on liberty-loving Americans. The numbers leapt from 149 groups in 2008 to 512 groups in 2009, of which 127 were classed as paramilitary groups.

"We know there has been a spike in activity across a broad range of things, particularly with regard to the notion that this� government is illegitimate," says Brian Levin, a criminologist who heads the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. Levin says the phenomenon is evident in rural areas around the Appalachian mountains and Great Lakes and into the west and Pacific north-west, where new armed militia groups are spontaneously emerging; and he has no doubt about why this is happening right now: "We've always had people who hate the president, we've always had conspiracies, but the fact that we have a black president at a time of economic tumult makes these conspiracies much more volatile among a far wider group of people."

Chip Berlet, an analyst of rightwing extremism at the Massachusetts-based group Political Research Associates, estimates that there have been nine murders by individuals who have white supremacist, xenophobic or antisemitic leanings since the inauguration of Obama. Berlet sees similarities in the current foment to the militia agitation of the 1990s. "Anger is spilling over from people who believe Obama is coming to remove their liberties, seize their guns, enslave the white American nation. What's new is that they can now recruit and communicate online, and that makes it very much more dangerous for the president."

Montana is one of the rural states where resurgent extreme rightwing activity can be detected. Travis McAdam has been tracking such activity for the last two decades on behalf of the Montana Human Rights Network, so has a unique vantage point for what is going on today. "The hatred that's there is very real. It's more than a gut-level hatred of having an African-American as president, it's also ideological – these people see black people as sub-human. Groups are popping up that have a new message and are using Obama to recruit new members."

White supremacist forums that provide closed talking shops for members only have been abuzz with anti-Obama rhetoric since the presidential election. In one such talkboard, monitored by a watchdog group, a correspondent writes: "if we want to see the overthrow or the cleansing of society then we should support Obama being where he is! I believe in the coming war. With this Nig as President he will just speed up the process. He's a catylist! Is'nt this what we want?" Another says: "Our backs are really against the wall now. We need progressive activism and we need to be solution orientated. For a Whiter future for our children." A third says: "I never thought I'd ever see the day when a monkey ran my country & I'm 34. I weep for our children."

For McAdam, the crucial question is how to sort this body of vitriol into its constituent parts – to separate out those individuals and groups who may be offensive and repulsive in their choice of words but are essentially harmless, from those that have the potential to be truly violent. He likes to think of it as a funnel, at the top of which are many people drawn to radical right groups for all sorts of reasons – gun rights, taxation, Obama-as-alien, or whatever. Most never go further than that level, but some do. "As they dig into the subject, going down into the funnel, they start to lose connection with the social networks around them that keep them tied to normality. Down, down they go, and eventually out the other end of the funnel emerges the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh, who says, 'Our country is under attack, I must do something about it.'"

It's the thought that some may be emerging from the end of the funnel at this politically charged moment, McAdam says, that bothers him so, and makes him think that "violence against President Obama is a real concern".

McVeigh, executed in June 2001, is a name that crops up frequently among the extremism monitors. It comes up again when Mark Potok gives his last word on the threat to Barack Obama. The white supremacists and anti-government militia who are out to get the president should not be underestimated, he says. "These groups aren't al-Qaida. Most of them look vastly more bumbling than effective." But then he adds: "It only takes one to get through. Timothy McVeigh taught us that."

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