Pam Rotella's Vegetarian FUN page -- News on health, nutrition, the environment, politics, and more!
Fun link of the month:   The Colbert Report's government shutdown wedding. Remember that my first monthly fun link for this site was the San Diego Zoo's Panda cam, which is still running despite the National Zoo's panda cam going dark from the government shutdown.
Also Operation Migration's whooping cranes are on their way to Florida (usually the migration can be seen about 1/2 hour after sunrise Central time, weather permitting), and if the cranes aren't flying, Ustream has several other good animal cams.
News from the Week of 1st to 7th of December 2013
NOTE TO READERS: I didn't intend to take a vacation, but somehow have been too pressed for time to post news links lately. I'll try to get the page caught up by the end of this week. - PR
Detroit eligible for nation's largest municipal bankruptcy filing, federal judge rules (3 December 2013)
A federal bankruptcy judge granted Detroit unprecedented powers Tuesday to shed billions of dollars in debt, including the ability to slash city employee pensions despite a state constitutional provision protecting them.
In approving the nation's -largest-ever municipal filing, Judge Steven Rhodes cleared the way for Detroit's emergency manager to develop a plan to reorganize the city's estimated $18 billion in debt. Beyond cutting worker pensions and retiree health benefits, the city could stiff bondholders and sell city assets such as its water and sewer authority and its priceless art collection.
Municipal bankruptcy experts called particular attention to Rhodes's decision to allow pensions to be put on the chopping block. Some said the move would set a precedent for future municipal bankruptcies. And unions vowed to appeal the decision.
"This is the first opinion of its kind where a bankruptcy court has directly expressed the view that the supremacy of U.S. bankruptcy laws trumps state constitutional protections of public pension holders," said Mark S. Kaufman, senior partner at McKenna, Long & Aldridge, an Atlanta law firm. "The implications of that decision are significant not only to Detroit but also potentially to other cities gauging their level of fiscal distress and how to deal with it."
US vet detained in NKorea oversaw guerrilla group (3 December 2013)
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- An 85-year-old U.S. veteran being held in North Korea spent his war years there in one of the Army's first special forces units, helping a clandestine group of Korean partisans who were fighting and spying well behind enemy lines.
Now South Koreans who served with Merrill Newman, who is beginning his sixth week in detention, say their unit was perhaps the most hated and feared by the North and his association with them may be the reason he's being held.
"Why did he go to North Korea?" asked Park Boo Seo, a former member of unit known in Korea as Kuwol, which is still loathed in Pyongyang and glorified in Seoul for the damage it inflicted on the North during the war. "The North Koreans still gnash their teeth at the Kuwol unit."
Some of those guerrillas, interviewed this week by The Associated Press, remember Newman as a handsome, thin American lieutenant who got them rice, clothes and weapons during the later stages of the 1950-53 war but largely left the fighting to them.
Newman was scheduled to visit South Korea to meet former Kuwol fighters following his North Korea trip. Park said about 30 elderly former guerrillas, some carrying bouquets of flowers, waited in vain for several hours for him at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul, on Oct. 27 before news of his detention was released.
E. Shore arson suspect faces dozens of charges (3 December 2013)
A grand jury indicted Tonya S. Bundick on 62 counts of arson Monday, a month after her co-defendant admitted taking part in the Eastern Shore arson spree.
The charges were handed down Monday afternoon, said Samuel Cooper, Accomack County clerk of court.
Bundick, 40, was already facing one count of arson and one count of conspiring with Charles R. Smith, 38, a former volunteer firefighter.
On Oct. 31, Smith pleaded guilty to starting 67 fires on the Eastern Shore between November 2012 and this April and implicated Bundick, his fiancee. He faces a maximum of more than 500 years in prison. No one was hurt in the fires.
Sandy Hook 911 calls being released, ending legal battle to shield families (+video) (3 December 2013)
For almost a year, Connecticut State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky and the Newtown Police Department refused to release recordings of seven 911 calls made on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012 -- each from within Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
On Monday, however, Mr. Sedensky finally relented, announcing he would no longer seek to block their public airing. He had appealed a September ruling by the state's Freedom of Information Commission, which unanimously held there were no legal justifications to keep these from the public. Last week, a state court upheld the commission's ruling and ordered the release of these recordings -- set for Wednesday at 2 pm.
Though 911 recordings are by law a matter of public record, in certain cases they may be withheld from the public. And for months, Sedensky tried to expand legal definitions to their breaking points, arguing the Sandy Hook 911 calls were exempt from freedom of information laws.
For one, he claimed the recordings contained "information relative to child abuse," which would make them confidential under the law. He also argued that their release would reveal the names of witnesses, thus endangering their safety and making them subject to threats and intimidation -- as well as creating a "chilling effect" on future 911 callers, who would be wary of their names becoming public.
Vatican, Oxford put ancient manuscripts online (3 December 2013)
VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Access to the Gutenberg Bible and other ancient manuscripts has just gotten easier.
The Vatican Library and Oxford University's Bodleian Library put the first of 1.5 million pages of their precious manuscripts online Tuesday, bringing their collections to a global audience for the first time.
The two libraries in 2012 announced a four-year project to digitize some of the most important works in their collections of Hebrew manuscripts, Greek manuscripts and early printed books.
The 2 million pound ($3.3 million) project is being funded by the Polonsky Foundation, which aims to democratize access to information.
"We want everyone who can to see these manuscripts, these great works of humanity," Monsignor Cesare Pasini, the prefect of the Vatican Library, told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday inside the frescoed library. "And we want to conserve them."
Among the first works up on the site Tuesday, at http:/bav.bodleian.ox.ac.uk, are the two-volume Gutenberg Bibles from each of the libraries, an illustrated 11th century Greek bible and a beautiful 15th-century German bible, hand-colored and illustrated by woodcuts.
Egypt arrests prominent secular political activist (3 December 2013)
CAIRO -- A prominent Egyptian political activist reported Tuesday he had been picked up by police, the latest in a string of arrests of secular Egyptians who helped spearhead the country's 2011 uprising against ousted former President Hosni Mubarak.
Ahmed Douma sent a tweet alerting followers of his arrest, saying he was not aware of the accusation against him.
In the five months that the military-backed government has been in power, most of the authorities' wrath has been aimed at the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that propelled Islamist President Mohamed Morsi to power. He was deposed in a coup in July.
The move against the secularists picked up steam a little over a week ago. On Nov. 24, the interim government banned any protests not authorized in advance by police, a measure that was quickly tested. Police last Tuesday broke up an unauthorized demonstration by a group protesting the use of military trials, arresting about two dozen people.
A group of women protesters, several of them closely associated with the 2011 uprising, reported being beaten in custody and dumped hours later in the desert outside Cairo.
Bob Dylan charged with 'inciting hate' (3 December 2013)
His songs were a soundtrack to the anti-war movement, his voice one of the most prominent of the struggle for civil rights, but now Bob Dylan stands accused in France of inciting hate after comments he made to -- ironically -- Rolling Stone magazine.
The 72-year-old music icon, whose most famous songs include "Like a Rolling Stone," is facing preliminary charges of "public insult and inciting hate," a spokeswoman for the Paris prosecutors' office said.
The legal action stems from remarks Dylan made in a 2012 interview with the influential music publication, and followed complaints by a Franco-Croatian community organization.
The legal complaint was made by CRICCF, which alleged Dylan's comments, as carried in the French version of the magazine, violated the country's racial hatred laws.
In France, racism complaints automatically trigger formal investigations, irrespective of the merits of the case. The BBC's Paris correspondent reported the investigation is a sign the authorities are taking the case seriously, but that it may not lead to a prosecution. The Independent newspaper said if Dylan were to be prosecuted and found guilty, he could face a fine.
PAM COMMENTARY: The video and commercial embedded in this article start playing, with sound, without the reader taking any action.
Edward Snowden revelations prompt UN investigation into surveillance (2 December 2013)
The UN's senior counter-terrorism official is to launch an investigation into the surveillance powers of American and British intelligence agencies following Edward Snowden's revelations that they are using secret programmes to store and analyse billions of emails, phone calls and text messages.
The UN special rapporteur Ben Emmerson QC said his inquiry would also seek to establish whether the British parliament had been misled about the capabilities of Britain's eavesdropping headquarters, GCHQ, and whether the current system of oversight and scrutiny was strong enough to meet United Nations standards.
The inquiry will make a series of recommendations to the UN general assembly next year.
In an article for the Guardian, Emmerson said Snowden had disclosed "issues at the very apex of public interest concerns". He said the media had a duty and right to publish stories about the activities of GCHQ and its American counterpart the National Security Agency.
"The astonishing suggestion that this sort of responsible journalism can somehow be equated with aiding and abetting terrorism needs to be scotched decisively," said Emmerson, who has been the UN's leading voice on counter-terrorism and human rights since 2011.
Obama OKs pipeline that will help Canada's tar-sands industry (2 December 2013)
The week before Thanksgiving, the Obama administration quietly approved a pipeline project that will cross the U.S.-Canada border and benefit the tar-sands industry. But not that pipeline.
This 1,900-mile pipeline will carry gas condensate or ultra-light oil from an Illinois terminal northwest to Alberta, where it will be used to thin tar-sands oil so it can travel through pipelines. Without this kind of diluent, tar-sands oil is too thick and sludgy to transport. "Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers," reports DeSmogBlog.
Houston-based Kinder Morgan is the company behind the $260 million Cochin Reversal Project, which will reverse and expand an existing pipeline. The pipeline will be fed by fracking operations in the Eagle Ford Shale area in Texas.
Yes, fracking and tar sands, together at last.
Here's a map of the pipeline project...
NTSB: New York train was going 82 mph in 30 mph zone before crash (2 December 2013)
NEW YORK -- The Metro-North commuter train that derailed in the Bronx -- killing four people and injuring dozens -- was traveling at a "harrowing" 82 mph as it hit a curve where the limit was 30 mph, officials said Monday.
The throttle was engaged until six seconds before the locomotive came to a stop on its side, and the brakes were fully applied only five seconds before, National Transportation Safety Board member Earl Weener said.
That is "very late in the game," Weener said.
He said it was unclear if the engineer, a 20-year veteran, hit the brakes and they failed, or he simply tried to slow down or stop too late.
Power struggle: Green energy versus a grid that's not ready (2 December 2013)
WASHINGTON -- In a sprawling complex of laboratories and futuristic gadgets in Golden, Colo., a supercomputer named Peregrine does a quadrillion calculations per second to help scientists figure out how to keep the lights on.
Peregrine was turned on this year by the U.S. Energy Department. It has the world's largest "petascale" computing capability. It is the size of a Mack truck.
Its job is to figure out how to cope with a risk from something the public generally thinks of as benign -- renewable energy.
Energy officials worry a lot these days about the stability of the massive patchwork of wires, substations and algorithms that keeps electricity flowing. They rattle off several scenarios that could lead to a collapse of the power grid -- a well-executed cyberattack, a freak storm, sabotage.
But as states, led by California, race to bring more wind, solar and geothermal power online, those and other forms of alternative energy have become a new source of anxiety. The problem is that renewable energy adds unprecedented levels of stress to a grid designed for the previous century.
Surprising mess found as Brazoria County Humane Society close (2 December 2013)
When volunteers arrived to help close the Brazoria County Humane Society after its founder became ill, they found a big mess.
Then it got worse.
A facility designed for about 50 dogs was packed with more than 200.
Things were starting to look up as volunteers worked like mad to place the canines elsewhere, then the pooches started dying of distemper.
Now the transfer of dogs from the private shelter is on hold for a month-long quarantine, volunteers said.
Ontario to bring in ethical sourcing policy for clothing (2 December 2013)
The Ontario government is introducing an ethical sourcing policy for companies that bid on clothing contracts, the Star has learned, an effort that will help to ensure that sweatshop labour is not used to make apparel for civil servants.
The provincial government had been criticized in recent weeks because it has spent $66 million over the past five years on apparel but has had no idea where that apparel was made.
Activists and even some of the province's biggest clothing suppliers have said Ontario should demand more transparency of its apparel vendors.
While a government spokeswoman said it's too early to say what kind of policy will be introduced, it's possible that one measure would demand that companies bidding for contracts detail the names and locations of factories where they plan to have clothing made.
It's also possible that Ontario could follow the U.S. state of Maine's lead and insist companies that win bids contribute to a fund that's used to investigate workers' rights complaints against apparel makers who do work for the government.
Amazon plans drone delivery. Will Feds approve? (+video) (2 December 2013)
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos on Sunday said his firm is working on ways to deliver small packages via drones. That's right: Amazon "Prime Air" may eventually have thousands of robot flying machines buzzing through neighborhoods across America, dropping off everything from shoes to consumer electronics.
At least, that's the vision Mr. Bezos outlined on "60 Minutes."
"It will work, and it will happen, and it's gonna be a lot of fun," he told correspondent Charlie Rose.
Well, we would not wager against Amazon, given its relentless march toward US retail dominance. And it's easy to see how the concept would work, in a technical sort of way: Small "octocopter" unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of carrying five pounds or so already exist.
Los Angeles Sheriff's Department hired officers with histories of misconduct (2 December 2013)
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department hired dozens of officers even though background investigators found they had committed serious misconduct on or off duty, sheriff's files show.
The department made the hires in 2010 after taking over patrols of parks and government buildings from a little-known L.A. County police force. Officers from that agency were given first shot at new jobs with the Sheriff's Department. Investigators gave them lie detector tests and delved into their employment records and personal lives.
The Times reviewed the officers' internal hiring files, which also contained recorded interviews of the applicants by sheriff's investigators.
Ultimately, about 280 county officers were given jobs, including applicants who had accidentally fired their weapons, had sex at work and solicited prostitutes, the records show.
Here's the most depressing coffee table book of all time (2 December 2013)
There's nothing like a thick book of gorgeous nature photography to show the Avon lady you're a savvy art connoisseur. But if you'd rather passive-aggressively shoo her and those door-to-door evangelists away as quickly as possible, just show 'em Your Beautiful, Fragile World: The Nature and Environmental Photographs of Peter Essick. (We would've named it A Huge Bummer: Look At the Shit We've Done to the Planet, but apparently that's less marketable.)
Peter Essick's stunning, if mood-killing, photos are from his tenure at National Geographic, which took him from smoggy L.A. to the Antarctic, where increased snow makes it hard for penguins to nest. The book showcases a Suncor oil sands mine, Oregon's Kalmiopsis Wilderness, an Ohio coal plant, Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island, and more. One particularly striking photo depicts slash-and-burn tactics in the Amazon rainforest...
Health-care enrollment on Web plagued by bugs (2 December 2013)
The enrollment records for a significant portion of the Americans who have chosen health plans through the online federal insurance marketplace contain errors -- generated by the computer system -- that mean they might not get the coverage they're expecting next month.
The errors cumulatively have affected roughly one-third of the people who have signed up for health plans since Oct. 1, according to two government and health-care industry officials. The White House disputed the figure but declined to provide its own.
The mistakes include failure to notify insurers about new customers, duplicate enrollments or cancellation notices for the same person, incorrect information about family members, and mistakes involving federal subsidies. The errors have been accumulating since HealthCare.gov opened two months ago, even as the Obama administration has been working to make it easier for consumers to sign up for coverage, the government and industry officials said.
Figuring out how to clean up the backlog of errors and prevent similar ones in the future is emerging as the new imperative if the federal insurance exchange is to work as intended. The problems were the subject of a meeting Monday between administration officials and a new "Payer Exchange Performance Team" made up of insurance industry leaders.
Ukrainian protesters block main government building (2 December 2013)
(Reuters) - About 1,000 protesters blocked off the Ukrainian government's main headquarters on Monday and surrounding streets, preventing employees getting to work, in further protests at Kiev's policy U-turn away from integration with Europe.
In response to an opposition call for a nationwide strike over President Viktor Yanukovich's policy switch back towards Russia, protesters blocked the main approach road to the government building with trash bins, metal containers and even flower pots.
"Employees can not get into the building. Negotiations are going on with protesters to allow employees in," a spokesman for Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said. He added that Azarov had not yet arrived for work.
Protesters focused their attention on the government building after an opposition-led rally of about 350,000 people in the capital on Sunday, marred by violent clashes between police and protesters.
Train derailment in New York City leaves four dead, dozens injured; NTSB investigating (1 December 2013)
Federal investigators are in New York to determine why a Manhattan-bound Metro-North passenger train spun out of control early Sunday in the Bronx, killing four people and propelling dozens of passengers out of their seats as Thanksgiving crowds headed home on one of the busiest travel days of the year, authorities said.
A "full team" of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived from Washington on the scene at 12:30 p.m. to find seven cars and the locomotive derailed, NTSB representative Earl Weener said in an evening news conference near the crash site -- along the Harlem River and just north of the Spuyten Duyvil station -- while helicopters circled above.
At least 63 people were injured, 11 of them listed in critical condition. The crash is thought to be the deadliest train wreck in New York City since 1991, when five people were killed and more than 150 were injured in a subway train derailment in Lower Manhattan, authorities said.
Weener, speaking next to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), said several federal teams -- including experts on tracks, signaling and breaking -- would be investigating for a week to 10 days.
4 dead, 63 injured after NYC-bound Metro-North passenger train derails in Bronx (1 December 2013)
Four people died Sunday morning when several Metro North cars derailed in the Bronx, creating a terrifying tangle of steel that sent passengers flying.
Two of the passengers were killed when they were ejected from the Metro-North train around 7:20 a.m. near the Spuyten Duyvil Station, sources told The News.
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the FBI surveyed the scene, survivor Dianna Jackson, 40, of Poughkeepsie, sported spidery streams of dried blood on her face after the accident. She was in the third car, which overturned.
"We're banged up," she told the Daily News. "We left the Tarrytown stop, the next stop was 125 St. The driver was going around the curve really fast. Next thing you know (we're) in middle of a wreckage."
Nobel Prize economist warns of U.S. stock market bubble (1 December 2013)
(Reuters) - An American who won this year's Nobel Prize for economics believes sharp rises in equity and property prices could lead to a dangerous financial bubble and may end badly, he told a German magazine.
Robert Shiller, who won the esteemed award with two other Americans for research into market prices and asset bubbles, pinpointed the U.S. stock market and Brazilian property market as areas of concern.
"I am not yet sounding the alarm. But in many countries stock exchanges are at a high level and prices have risen sharply in some property markets," Shiller told Sunday's Der Spiegel magazine. "That could end badly," he said.
"I am most worried about the boom in the U.S. stock market. Also because our economy is still weak and vulnerable," he said, describing the financial and technology sectors as overvalued.
He had also looked at "drastically" higher house prices in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil in the last five years.
Thanksgiving weekend shoppers top 141 million, spend $57 billion (+video) (1 December 2013)
Between the feasting and the football this Thanksgiving weekend, millions of Americans packed into stores and checked their electronic devices -- sometimes at the same time -- for good deals.
By the end of the day Sunday, more than 141 million adults will have taken part in this annual celebration -- critics say frenzy -- of consumerism, spending on average $407.02 on clothes, video games, sporting goods, jewelry and other gifts as well as items for themselves.
Total retail spending for the four-day period is estimated to reach $57.4 billion, according to a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey released Sunday.
The per-person spending amount is slightly less than last year's figure ($423.55) and the overall figure could end up a bit lower than 2012 as well.
Why Canada banned pot (science had nothing to do with it) (1 December 2013)
Searching for the scientific origins of Canada's marijuana prohibition is a quick exercise. There was no science used to justify the laws instituted 90 years ago, just a mess of panic, racism and accident that has metastasized over time.
Today we are in an unlikely position. American jurisdictions have begun to craft new pot policies. But Canada lumbers on, even strengthening the legislation it inherited from an era of confusion.
Yet there was one moment midway between then and now when it seemed like everything might change. In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's government struck a royal commission and tasked it with an evidence-based examination of drug use and policy. The Le Dain Commission -- named after its chairman, future Supreme Court justice Gerald Le Dain -- signaled to observers that the country was on the cusp of regulatory revolution.
It certainly did to John Lennon.
Fast and Furious star Paul Walker killed in car crash (1 December 2013)
Paul Walker, the much-loved star who for 12 years headlined the Fast and Furious franchise, has died in a car crash aged 40.
The actor was travelling as a passenger in a new Porsche when his friend who was driving - who has been described as an "experienced driver" - lost control of the vehicle and collided with a street light, and then a tree.
The LA County Sheriff's department has confirmed that two people died in a collision in Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, at 3:30pm on Saturday, but Walker's death was confirmed by his representatives on his official Facebook page, and then by his publicist, Ame Van Iden.
"It is with a truly heavy heart that we must confirm that Paul Walker passed away today in a tragic car accident while attending a charity event for his organisation Reach Out Worldwide," reads the Facebook update.
News from the Week of 24th to 30th of November 2013
Sex assault of sleeping woman on street reveals nothing has changed: DiManno (30 November 2013)
It's the common police refrain when a sexual predator is on the loose, on those occasions when they say anything publicly at all: Lock your doors, ladies.
But what if you don't have a door?
What if you're homeless and sleeping rough, exposed not just to the elements but any sex deviant who happens along?
In September, one woman who took shelter on the stoop outside Street Health was twice violated by different men within the span of an hour.
Earlier that very evening, the annual Take Back the Night march had been held in Regent Park. Then a couple of young men reclaimed it -- the night and the streets and the vulnerable women who live out there.
Black Friday protests demand improved conditions from Walmart (30 November 2013)
Thousands of Walmart workers and their supporters in the trade union movement have begun a nationwide series of Black Friday rallies against America's largest private employer, protesting against wages and conditions they say are so low that many employees are forced to rely on government assistance.
Protests are being staged in cities across the US including Los Angeles, Chicago, the Bay Area, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington. The campaigners, who include many current Walmart workers as well as former employees and members of the alliance Our Walmart, are demanding wages of at least $25,000, more full-time openings and an end to retaliation against workers who speak out about their conditions.
With rallies planned outside 1,500 stores, the wave of protests will mark a dramatic increase in the opposition to Walmart's pay structure from Black Friday 2012, when similar events were staged in about 1,000 stores.
"I think we got our message across, and people listened," said Isaiah Beaman, 21, a Walmart worker in Landover, Maryland, who travelled to Alexandria in Virginia to join about 200 protesters there. "All we want is for Walmart to give us a living wage and show us some respect -- that's not too much to ask from a multi-billion dollar company."
More liberal, populist movement emerging in Democratic Party ahead of 2016 elections (30 November 2013)
For more than two years, President Obama has endorsed reducing Social Security payments as part of an ambitious deal to tame the national debt. But then Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) -- viewed by supporters on the left as a potential 2016 presidential candidate -- embraced a far different proposal: increasing benefits for seniors.
As Obama struggles to achieve his second-term domestic agenda, a more liberal and populist voice is emerging within a Democratic Party already looking ahead to the next presidential election. The push from the left represents both a critique of Obama's tenure and a clear challenge to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the party's presumptive presidential front-runner, who carries a more centrist banner.
The left's influence will be on display in coming weeks when a high-profile congressional committee formed after the government shutdown faces a deadline to forge a budget agreement. Under strong pressure from liberals, the panel has effectively abandoned discussion of a "grand bargain" agreement partly because it probably would involve cuts to Social Security.
"The absolute last thing we should do in 2013 -- at the very moment that Social Security has become the principal lifeline for millions of our seniors -- is allow the program to begin to be dismantled inch by inch," Warren said recently on the Senate floor, announcing her support for a bill that would expand the program.
Daily dose of lycopene has great health benefits (30 November 2013)
The summer's last vine-ripened tomato may be just a sweet memory by now, but you still can get your daily dose of its cancer-fighting, heart-protecting phytonutrient lycopene. This superhero isn't just found in tomatoes. You can find it in other red and orange fruits and vegetables -- except for strawberries or cherries -- and it knocks out a full crew of disease-causing bad guys.
You've probably heard that lycopene can lower prostate cancer risk by 23 per cent with just two servings of cooked tomato products a week. But more recent discoveries show that one serving a day could reduce your level of heart-threatening, lousy LDL cholesterol as much as 10 per cent. And dishing up more servings could lower stroke risk up to 55 per cent, support strong bones and even help you get a good night's sleep.
All these health benefits come from lycopene's unmatched ability to devour excess free radicals -- at healthy levels, those oxygen molecules roam your body, powering cells, helping the immune system and converting calories into cellular energy. But when you eat fried foods, pack on extra weight and live with negative stress, you throw free radical production into overdrive. And excess free radicals cause chronic inflammation, unhealthy gene changes and generally rust you from the inside out.
Enter lycopene. We like it as Mother Nature intended it, from a tomato (cooked is best, raw is still great) that you eat at breakfast, lunch or dinner. True, supplements and tomato extracts are all the rage in Europe, and they're showing up on natural-food store shelves in North America, but over and over, science has shown you can't get all the powerful health-preserving benefits of nutrients found in food if they are taken in one at a time as a supplement. Even superstars like lycopene rely on a cast of supporting players to get their job done. So, if you absolutely will not eat tomatoes, we think a supplement is a good idea (just make sure you get one that contains lycopene -- some tomato extracts don't). But for the rest of you, here's our plan to help you get your daily dose of lycopene from food. It's such a powerful health booster that you only need a little (about 10 mg a day) to get big benefits.
'Day of Rage' Marks Resistance to Israel's Expulsion Plan (30 November 2013)
Thousands of people in Israel, the occupied territories and around the world took part in actions on Saturday to mark opposition to an Israeli plan that would expel up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins living in the Negev desert.
Dubbed a "Day of Rage," the day's protests were held against the proposed Prawer Plan, which would destroy roughly 35 "unrecognized" villages and enact new Israeli settlements.
If the plan gets its final approval, it "would be the largest confiscation of Palestinian-owned land since the 1950s," writes Nadia Ben-Youssef of the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
According to a media release posted by the International Solidarity Movement,
The Prawer-Begin plan will allow Israeli police to use force in its expulsion of Palestinian-Bedouins. It will also permit the police to arrest and imprison any Palestinian-Bedouin up to two years for violating the law. The plan negates Palestinian-Bedouin ownership rights in their ancestral land, it gives Israel's Prime Minister unprecedented powers to implement the plan and it legitimizes the use of violence and coercion in the execution of the plan. Moreover, it is a plan that has at its heart the demographic transformation of the Naqab (Negev) area, by expanding Jewish-Israeli presence on the expense of the indigenous Palestinian-Bedouins. In short, the Prawer-Begin Plan rises to a crime against humanity as delineated in the Rome Statue, Article 7.1 (d) and 7.2 (d).
Bangladesh Garment Factory Ablaze As Worker Anger Boils (30 November 2013)
Workers are suspected of causing a fire that engulfed one of Bangladesh's biggest garment factories which produces clothing for well-known retailers including the Gap and Walmart.
Firefighters were still battling flames on Friday after the 10-story building in the industrial district of Gazipur was set ablaze around midnight on Thursday.
Fifteen trucks carrying garments were also reportedly set ablaze.
"We were the biggest supplier of Gap in Bangladesh," Nur-e-Alam, a senior manager of factory owner Standard Group, told Reuters. "Our cargoes were ready for shipment and all that was burnt up."
Shots fired as Thai anti-government protests turn violent (30 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Gunshots were fired and an anti-government crowd attacked motorcyclists and vehicles near a stadium rally by supporters of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra on Saturday, as tensions boiled over amid attempts to topple her from power.
Several people were wounded when shots were fired as chaos erupted in Bangkok's Ramkamhaeng area, where protesters armed with sticks attacked a bus and taxi and badly beat two people, police and Reuters witnesses said.
The U.S. embassy in Bangkok expressed concern about the rising political tension. It was unclear who had fired the shots and how many people were injured, Adul Saengsingkaew, national police commissioner-general, told Reuters.
With a Sunday deadline set by demonstrators for the ousting of the government, police called for military backup to protect parliament and Yingluck's office, Government House, where protesters tore down stone and razor wire barriers ahead of a planned move to occupy it.
Glasgow pub helicopter crash - live updates (30 November 2013)
Gordon Smart, editor of the Sun's Scottish edition, saw the crash from a multi-storey car park nearby.
He told Sky News: "I thought it was a plane that was going to crash. I looked up at the sky and I could see the helicopter falling, tumbling ... and then there was an eerie silence for the last part of the fall.
"But the thing that was disturbing and shocking was there was no explosion. I couldn't understand why a helicopter would fall from that height and not explode. To see the angle, the speed and the trajectory of the fall ... it was a horrific sight."
Black Friday fights happen at Walmart stores across country (29 November 2013)
Violence erupted at several Walmart stores across the U.S. on Thanksgiving and Black Friday.
NBC affiliate WVVA in Virginia reported that one man was stabbed during a fight over a parking space at a Walmart store. Police said one man threatened the other with a gun before a knife was pulled. The 35-year-old victim's arm was sliced to the bone.
Police said they seized a rifle at the scene. Both men were arrested.
At the Walmart in Rialto, California, at least three people were involved in a fight over cutting in line, the NBC station in Los Angeles said. Two were arrested and an officer suffered minor injuries while breaking up the brawl.
Activists Are Arrested Protesting Walmart's Low Wages (29 November 2013)
Walmart employees and supporters protested in cities all across the country on Black Friday in opposition to Walmart's low wages and poor treatment of workers. In some cases, protesters volunteered to engage in acts of civil disobedience and were arrested by police. Organizers expected 1,500 total protests in California, Alaska, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Washington and Canada. In Secaucus, New Jersey, thirteen activists were arrested after sitting in the middle of the street to block traffic.
Marc Bowers said he worked at a Walmart in Dallas, Texas, for eight years before he was fired for participating in a strike. After Walmart fired him, he decided to get more involved with worker organizing, including traveling to New Jersey for this year's Black Friday protest. Bowers said he hopes to inspire other workers enduring similar hardships. (Photo: Elaine Rozier and Marc Bowers, right, at today's New Jersey protest)
"If you let people know what's going on, they'll get involved too. They're probably fed up with the same things," he said.
Bowers added that this labor struggle will influence future generations.
Of monarchs and milkweeds: How one species' pest is another's repast (29 November 2013)
Experts have known for years that monarchs are declining (and we've written about this before). But now the numbers are so low that the species is in danger of collapse.
There are several suspects in this decline. Logging in the Mexican overwintering zone hurts the butterflies. Broad-spectrum insecticides in both agriculture and gardens kill many every year. Climate change is almost certainly taking a toll, because insect's lifecycles are tuned to the changing of the seasons. As the seasons slip, that timing gets disrupted. Spring came late this year in much of the North American butterfly habitat, and surveys found fewer of almost every kind of butterfly, not just monarchs.
What imperils monarchs the most is the disappearance of their breeding habitat. The caterpillars eat only one plant: Milkweed. And milkweed has been vanishing from the landscape.
Well, that's not quite right: It hasn't just been disappearing, we have been disappearing it. Milkweed is, after all, a weed. It causes problems on farms, retarding the growth of crops. By demanding the cheapest food possible we implicitly demand that farmers keep their fields weed free, kill milkweed, and -- by extension -- kill monarchs.
Plants genetically engineered for resistance to the herbicide glyphosate helped rid fields of milkweed. It's a pretty tough, perennial plant, but it's no match for glyphosate. Several studies have [PDF] linked herbicide tolerant crops to the decline of milkweeds.
Tax breaks relied upon by many could vanish soon (29 November 2013)
A slowed effort to overhaul federal tax laws has put scores of tax breaks in jeopardy, including provisions that benefit teachers, parents of college students, homeowners and small businesses.
The tax breaks will expire at the end of the year unless Congress decides to extend them. But given Washington's gridlock, that might be a long shot.
They include provisions that allow individuals to deduct state and local sales taxes, and one that lets schoolteachers deduct money they spend on classroom supplies. Other expiring breaks including some exemptions for college tuition and mortgage insurance premiums.
Businesses would lose several tax credits or deductions - including breaks for some research expenses and "work opportunity tax credits" that entice employers to hire veterans, individuals on federal assistance programs or teens needing a summer job. Other vulnerable breaks target specific industries, including railroad track maintenance, film and television productions, and a so-called NASCAR credit that allows new racetrack owners to more quickly depreciate their investment.
Tax credits for production of wind energy and other renewable energy are also due to expire, as are breaks for the installation of more energy-efficient appliances or systems in homes and businesses.
I Tried to See Where My T-Shirt Was Made, and the Factory Sent Thugs After Me (29 November 2013)
As a child, Aruna dreamed of going to college. But by the time she was 15, when her government-subsidized schooling ended, she understood that she was too poor. Then, a stranger promised to change her life. He offered her a job at a textile factory that has supplied companies including, until recently, UK-based maternity wear maker Mothercare. Her pay would be about $105 a month--enough for food for her family, her further education, and most importantly, the chance to build a dowry.
As a child, Aruna dreamed of going to college. But by the time she was 15, when her government-subsidized schooling ended, she understood that she was too poor. Then, a stranger promised to change her life. He offered her a job at a textile factory that has supplied companies including, until recently, UK-based maternity wear maker Mothercare. Her pay would be about $105 a month--enough for food for her family, her further education, and most importantly, the chance to build a dowry.
When Aruna arrived at the factory, about 40 miles from her home, she found a vast facility where close to 1,000 girls, many in their teens, lived 10 or 15 to a room. From 8 a.m. till 10 p.m. every day, including weekends, she fed and monitored rusty machines that spun raw cotton into yarn. Her bosses often woke her in the middle of the night because, she recalls, there was "always some sort of work, 24 hours a day." Aruna made just a quarter of the $105 a month she was promised, about $0.84 a day.
Aruna shows me a scar on her hand, more than an inch long, where a machine cut her. She often saw girls faint from standing for too long. One had her hair ripped out when it got caught in a machine. Others were molested by their supervisors. "They said we would get less work if we slept with them," Aruna says. Sometimes girls would disappear, and everyone would speculate whether they'd died or escaped. Still, she needed the money, so she worked there for two years. After she left, a garment workers advocacy organization called Care-T helped her get her current job at the hospital, where she is slowly saving up for a dowry. When I ask if she still has her sights set on college, Aruna shakes her head and tears fill her eyes. But almost instantly, she wipes them away. There's no point thinking about that, since she already has a steady income. "I like my job at the hospital now," she says. Most of her friends are still working at the factory. (The names of Aruna and other former factory workers have been changed to protect them from retaliation.)
Thai protesters swarm grounds of army headquarters (29 November 2013)
ANGKOK -- Protesters in Thailand stormed the grounds of the national army headquarters on Friday, asking the military to support their increasingly tense campaign to topple Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
In a letter addressed to the army chief, the protesters stopped short of calling for a coup but urged military leaders to "take a stand" in Thailand's spiraling political crisis and state which side they are on.
The crowd of 1,200 people stayed on the sprawling lawn of the Royal Thai Army compound for two hours before filing out peacefully. It was a bold act heavy with symbolism in a country that has experienced 18 successful or attempted military coups since the 1930s.
The most recent was in 2006, when the military ousted Yingluck's brother, former leader Thaksin Shinawatra, who is living overseas to avoid a corruption conviction but is central to Thailand's political conflict.
Ebony and Ivy: The Secret History of How Slavery Helped Build America's Elite Colleges (29 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: It's a very Northern story, actually. You know, when you think about the colonial world, until the American Revolution, there's actually only one college in the South: William & Mary. There are a couple of other attempts, but they fail. The other eight colleges are all Northern schools. And they're actually located in key sites, for the most part, of the merchant economy and where the slave traders had sort of come to power and rose as the sort of financial and intellectual backers of the new culture of the colonies.
AMY GOODMAN: So talk about Harvard.
CRAIG STEVEN WILDER: Sure. Harvard, actually, from its very beginnings in 1636, the college, by 1638, actually has an enslaved man living on campus, who's referred to as "the Moor." And--
AMY GOODMAN: The Moor.
Got the winter blues? Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins may help alleviate depression (29 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Adding vitamins to your diet can help reduce the feeling of depression, winter blues or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). B vitamins, especially vitamin B12, have been shown to help those suffering from feelings of anxiety or depression. Simply adding nutritional supplements can help lift the blues, especially during stressful periods of life. Many vitamins can be sourced from foods, but some, like vitamin B12, are difficult to source from food, so vitamin supplements are suggested. Winter depression and seasonal affective disorder are not only mental conditions. B vitamins are major contributors to how the brain and nervous system function, so getting proper nutrients in the diet can improve mood.
Vitamin B12 is needed to make red blood cells and nerves, and natural sources of vitamin B12 are only found in animal products, such as meat, poultry, eggs and dairy, and cannot be made in the body. As there are no vegetarian sources of vitamin B12, vegetarians need to supplement. Stomach acid is needed to absorb vitamin B12 from foods, and many people do not have enough stomach acid to break down foods in order to obtain this vital nutrient, especially as aging decreases the amount of stomach acid secretion. For this reason, the National Institute of Medicine recommends that those over the age of 50 add supplemental B12 to their diet. Early symptoms of a vitamin B12 deficiency include numbness or tingling in the hands, joint pain, loss of taste or smell, and balance problems. A severe deficiency can create symptoms of depression and even delusional thinking.
Biotin is one of the water-soluble B vitamins. Known as B7 or vitamin H, biotin is used to turn sugar into energy in the body. Necessary for the walls of every cell in the body, biotin is also used in maintaining the nerve cells. Studies have shown that biotin can also reduce stress by maintaining the proper functioning of the nerves. Biotin added to the diet can help symptoms of depression, or the lassitude and somnolence associated with the winter blues.
Another B vitamin, niacin, known as vitamin B3, has been shown to help with depression and chronic brain syndrome, or dementia. Niacin is made in the body and can also be found in a variety of foods such as milk, eggs, yeast, beans, meat and fish. Niacin may also help improve memory, according to some sources.
Thiamin, or vitamin B1, is used to make energy by breaking down sugar in the body. It is also utilized in creating red blood cells. Thiamin can be found in foods such as grains and yeast, as well as in dairy products. Thiamin has been found to help treat symptoms of depression and irritability.
PAM COMMENTARY: Vitamin D is also important in climates that don't have much sunlight during winter months, and of course Omega-3 fatty acids are always important in preventing depression.
Obamacare -- a question of morality (29 November 2013)
There was a lot of bloviating about the Affordable Care Act on the talk shows last weekend. The Obamacare critics' chief focus was the open-enrollment fiasco, the un-kept presidential promise and the millions of cancellation notices. Overlaying the palaver was the unrestrained glee of health-reform opponents.
The same weekend, in a section of our nation's capital where pompous politicians and self-important opinion-makers seldom venture, the Affordable Care Act was the subject of thanks and praise at the First Baptist Church at Randolph Street and New Hampshire Avenue NW.
The talk-show criticism and the pulpit defense crystallized the Obamacare debate. Drawn into sharp relief is the struggle taking place in this country between doing what is right and good and an unashamed indulgence in the immorality of indifference.
The issue couldn't be put more simply.
Forty-nine million Americans do not have health insurance. For many of them, the ability to deal with their illnesses and injuries depends on their ability to pay. Lacking the money, some of them just go without the care they need. Better to put food on the table for the kids than to check out that awful pain in the gut. Can't afford to do both.
In North Carolina, a hard-right shift hits a roadblock (29 November 2013)
During an appearance at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C, a key center of power for the conservative movement, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory portrayed himself as a business-minded policy wonk, earnestly extolling the benefits of infrastructure development and government-efficiency measures. He might as well have been describing someone else.
For the last year, McCrory has engineered a hard-right shift in North Carolina that has crippled millions in his state. His 2012 election gave Republicans control of all three branches of the state's government for the first time since Reconstruction and they took advantage of it. In 2013 alone, North Carolina has said no to expanding Medicaid under Obamacare, approved a tax plan that redistributes wealth from poor to rich, cut education by half a billion dollars, instituted perhaps the toughest voting restrictions in the country, weakened campaign-finance laws, and passed its own version of Texas' controversial abortion measure.
In short, the GOP has turned America's 10th-largest state --traditionally known as a rare bastion of southern moderation--into a massive testing ground for pure conservative ideology. The hard-right lurch has already inflicted hardship on countless North Carolinians. And it has offered a real-world glimpse of the playbook that many conservatives--including McCrory's hosts at Heritage--would like to use across the country.
For McCrory--and his audience at Heritage--his extreme red-state experiment was supposed to deliver a success story that conservatives could be proud of. Instead, a growing backlash against the overreach--laws affecting women, minorities and the poor--is starting to cause real pain for the governor and his allies. His approval ratings have declined sharply, as have those for his Republican legislators.
Technology lets peeping Toms take spying to new level (28 November 2013)
Digital cameras are everywhere. In phones. In purses. And, thanks to some peeping Toms, in restrooms.
Police and victims' rights advocates are warning the public to be more aware of their surroundings as voyeurs find themselves increasingly able to buy better, easier-to-conceal cameras for less money.
Spy cameras that cost hundreds of dollars a few years ago can now be purchased online for as little as $15. One pending criminal case in Chesapeake involves a camera that looks like a car's key fob.
"The technology just keeps getting smaller and cheaper," said Ilse Knecht of the National Center for Victims of Crime. "It really enables people who might not have engaged in this in the past to get out there."
Phillips 66 kills hundreds of birds in Texas, gets fined by feds (28 November 2013)
Less than a week after announcing $1 million in penalties for Duke Energy for failing to protect birds from its wind turbines in Wyoming, the feds have announced a similar settlement involving bird deaths caused by a much dirtier energy source.
Last year, hundreds of migratory birds made the mistake of stopping at a 22-acre brine water pond in Hutchinson County, Texas. It was not the nourishing stopover they were expecting. The water in the brine pond, maintained by Phillips 66, was poisonous. About 260 birds were killed, mostly teal, a type of duck. The Amarillo Globe-News reports:
"Company officials reported the incident to wildlife officials in August 2012 and began taking steps to keep migratory birds from the pond, according to information from the company's compliance settlement.
"Phillips ... established an emergency treatment center for injured birds at the Borger facility, installed bird deterrent devices and contracted with another firm to keep birds away from the pond with a boat and air horns, federal authorities said."
A pope's pointed message (28 November 2013)
"Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."
That passage is not from some Occupy Wall Street manifesto. It was written by Pope Francis in a stunning new treatise on the Catholic Church's role in society -- and it is a powerful reminder that, however tiresome the political trench warfare in Washington may be, we have a duty to fight on.
The full implementation of Obamacare matters. Raising the minimum wage matters. Reforming a financial system that, as Francis noted, "rules rather than serves" matters. Hearing the anguished voices of those left hopeless by poverty matters; answering their pleas with education, health care and employment matters even more.
Francis, the first Jesuit and first non-European in the modern era to be named pope, clearly intends to make a real difference in the world -- too much of a difference, it appears, for some conservatives: Sarah Palin, a born-again Christian who attends a nondenominational church, said recently that Francis's open-arms attitude on social issues "has taken me aback." Would that a few more words might take her all the way aback to the obscurity from which she came.
Plan calls for Portsmouth ship to destroy chemical weapons (28 November 2013)
Destroying Syria's deadliest chemical weapons on land would come with vexing diplomatic and security problems as well as environmental issues. To avoid those potential troubles, U.S. officials say, the Obama administration is exploring the use of a government-owned ship to carry out the disposal in international waters.
Under a plan yet to be approved, the chemicals would be transported to the MV Cape Ray in the Mediterranean Sea. The nearly 700-foot ship, based in Portsmouth, Va., and owned by the Transportation Department's Maritime Administration, would be outfitted with a special system to neutralize the chemical material. U.S. warships would provide an escort and security.
The decision to proceed with the chemical disposal plan at sea would be made by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global chemical weapons watchdog agency with 190 member states. In a statement Wednesday in the Netherlands, the watchdog agency said the effort to ship Syria's chemical arsenal out of the country "continues to pose challenges due to the security situation on the ground."
No country has committed to disposing of the chemical weapons on its own soil, which is why the U.S. offer to destroy the deadliest of the chemical components at sea is seen as a likely option. The U.S. officials who disclosed aspects of the U.S. portion of the plan spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about it by name.
Keystone pipeline hurt by cool Canada-U.S. relations, says ex-PM Joe Clark (28 November 2013)
The Harper government's stalled efforts to convince the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline have been a failure of diplomacy, says former prime minister Joe Clark.
Clark, in Calgary this week to promote his new book, How We Lead: Canada in a Century of Change, said the Conservative government has been hampered by its lack of action on environmental issues and the inability to find common ground with U.S. President Barack Obama.
Death of accused serial killer angers friend of victim (28 November 2013)
The death on Thursday of an accused serial killer awaiting trial on charges of murdering six people infuriated the friend of one of his alleged victims, who called him a "piece of slime."
Itzcoatl "Izzy" Ocampo died after being found sick in his jail cell, authorities said. Ocampo, 25, was charged last year in a "serial thrill-kill" rampage in Orange County that left four homeless men and a woman and her son dead.
"All this guy did was take away from people," said Ron Cady, a friend of Paulus "Dutch" Smit, a 57-year-old homeless man who was stabbed more than 60 times in December 2011 outside the Yorba Linda Library.
Cady, 52, wanted Ocampo to go to trial and said he was angry that the victims' families would not get to see him brought to justice.
The shooting of Justin: Victim shot in neck angered by 2-year sentence for his attackers (28 November 2013)
More than two years after he was shot through the neck and left for dead in a North York parking lot, Justin Ling-Leblanc's attackers have finally been sentenced.
After accounting for pretrial custody, the two young men found guilty of armed robbery and aggravated assault will each serve two more years. With good behaviour they could walk free in the spring of 2015.
Prosecutors sought significantly stiffer sentences.
"Two years, that's nothing. If that's the consequence of shooting somebody in the neck, why not go out and do it some more?" said Justin, 23, who miraculously survived after the .22-calibre bullet went in below his left ear, travelled in front of his spinal cord, and behind his jugular veins and carotid arteries before exiting the other side.
It's what police call a "through-and-through."
Navy suspends contracts with firm in port scandal (28 November 2013)
In a widening scandal, the Navy cut ties Wednesday with a second international company over "questionable business integrity" involving lucrative contracts to service U.S. ships in foreign ports.
The Navy announced that it has suspended contracts with British-based Inchcape Shipping Services Ltd. and its affiliated companies. The firm has provided "ship husbanding" services to U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean.
Navy officials said the suspension of Inchcape is not connected to the investigation into another longtime contractor in the Asia-Pacific region, Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia.
The investigation into Glenn Defense Marine Asia has led to criminal charges in San Diego against two Navy commanders, a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent, and two Malaysian business executives.
Once flying high among currencies, loonie faces downgrade to 88-cents, says bank (28 November 2013)
OTTAWA--The humbling of the once high-flying Canadian dollar has only just begun.
It's been 10 months since the loonie last enjoyed parity status with the U.S. dollar, but analysts say Canadians should not expect a rebound any time soon. They forsee the currency falling through the 90-cent US floor.
U.S. investment banker Goldman Sachs is the latest financial house to sell the loonie short, forecasting the currency to coast into the 88-cent range next year. That is an even gloomier outlook than the one issued by the TD Bank a few months ago, which predicted it near 90 cents by the close of 2013.
The loonie closed up 0.08 of a cent at 94.46 cents US on Thursday on the news that Canada's current account deficit had narrowed. It may gain a little more lift Friday if Statistics Canada reports, as expected, a healthy 2.5 per cent advance in the economy for the third quarter.
But these temporary recoveries are fooling no one -- the loonie has lost about seven per cent in value from the beginning of the year and fundamentals point to further deterioration.
EVMS students create, run free clinic in Norfolk (28 November 2013)
For Cara Wright, taking someone's blood pressure at a free clinic on Southampton Avenue in Norfolk is pretty straightforward.
Not so the other tasks the third-year medical student has taken on this year:
Finding money for medical supplies. Persuading fellow Eastern Virginia Medical School students and community doctors to help treat the uninsured. Figuring out what to do when patients don't show up for appointments.
That has given the 30-year-old Northern Virginian student new insight into the needs of the uninsured in the community where she's spent the past three years.
Tough Thanksgiving for Food Stamp Families (27 November 2013)
Forget conservative fantasies of food stamp beneficiaries living high on the public dole and feasting on king crab legs--life on food stamps is anything but luxurious.
The average daily food stamp benefit is $4.44, which as you might imagine is almost unworkable. It's very difficult for beneficiaries not to go over that amount each day, and data collected by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that 90 percent of benefits are redeemed by the twenty-first day of each month. So the last week of the month is particularly rough for people who rely on food stamps...
That's worth reflecting on during this Thanksgiving week--a holiday known almost exclusively for its food, and one that always falls during the last week of the month. Having anything resembling a proper Thanksgiving meal on $4.44 per person is already basically impossible, and most beneficiaries are over-budget by this point anyhow.
Remember, too, that on November 1 food stamp benefits were reduced thanks to indifference by both Democrats and Republicans towards the already paltry benefit amount. So this Thanksgiving is even tougher than years' past, and the upcoming winter months will be as well. Nonprofits that serve the hungry are buckling under increased demand.
Sex assaults on sleeping street woman raise questions all around: DiManno (27 November 2013)
On the steps of a social outreach agency, a woman is sleeping. It is about four o'clock in the morning.
A young man comes along. He sexually assaults her and leaves. Then, within the hour, another young man comes along. He sexually assaults her, too.
Who is she? Police might not yet know.
Did the woman even realize she'd been attacked, twice? Police can't or won't say.
Was she aware or was she insensate, on drugs, drunk, mentally ill? Police aren't speculating.
"Because it's an open investigation, I don't want to tip any part of it," says Det. Marilyn White, of the Sex Crimes Unit.
Why Reporters in the U.S. Now Need Protection (27 November 2013)
As the experience of our incredibly courageous honorees tonight demonstrates, in many places around the world the life of a journalist who is determined to find and report the truth is no better today than it was 32 years ago. Reporters, editors, photographers, and publishers are still threatened, beaten, and murdered, often with impunity. The core mission of CPJ is just as critical as it ever was, in many respects more so.
What has changed is the position of us, American journalists. We are still far better off than our beleaguered cousins in danger zones abroad, of course.
But financially, I don't need to tell this group of the hammering our industry has taken in the last decade. Publications shrinking or even closing, journalists bought out or laid off, beats shrunk or eliminated.
And now, more recently, we are facing new barriers to our ability to do our jobs -- denial of access and silencing of sources.
For the starkest comparison, I urge any of you who haven't already done so to read last month's report, commissioned by CPJ and written by Len Downie, former editor of the Washington Post. It lays out in chilling detail how an administration that took office promising to be the most transparent in history instead has carried out the most intrusive surveillance of reporters ever attempted.
Cell phone radiation breast cancer link - New study raises grave concerns (27 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) A new study raises concerns of a possible association between cell phone radiation exposure and breast cancer in young women.
The research team, led by Dr. Lisa Bailey, a former president of the American Cancer Society's California Division and one of California's top breast surgeons, studied four young women - aged from 21 to 39 years old - with multifocal invasive breast cancer.
The researchers observed that all the patients developed tumors in areas of their breasts next to where they carried their cell phones, often for up to 10 hours per day, for several years. None of the patients had a family history of breast cancer. They all tested negative for BRCA1 and BRCA2 - breast cancer genes linked to about one-half of breast cancer cases - and they had no other known breast cancer risks.
Imaging of the young girls' breasts revealed a clustering of multiple tumor foci in the part of the breast directly under where their cell phones touched their body.
Creigh Deeds: 'I am alive for a reason' (27 November 2013)
(CNN) -- Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds, who was stabbed multiple times by his son, said he will work to change how mental health services are delivered so that "other families don't have to go through what we are living."
Deeds' son, Austin "Gus" Deeds, committed suicide after the fight.
"I hope we can make a positive change as a result of this tragedy," Deeds told The Recorder, a newspaper based in Monterey, Virginia.
"I think there may be a bigger problem here. I am alive for a reason, and I will work for change. I owe that to my precious son," he said.
Al Gore is a vegan now -- and we think we know why (27 November 2013)
Republican caricatures of Al Gore notwithstanding, the former vice president was never a stereotypical woolly environmentalist. A practicing Southern Baptist, Gore attended divinity school and, though he opposed the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the military rather than protesting it. Gore rose in the 1980s as a moderate "New Democrat," who was friendly to business, hawkish on foreign policy and, yes, excited about the possibilities of technological innovation. As vice president, he set about the earnest work of "reinventing government" to make it more efficient.
Gore's attraction to environmentalism, much like that of New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's, is that of a serious wonk, not a dirty hippie who finds water conservation a convenient excuse not to bathe.
And so it is actually quite remarkable that, as Forbes reported in this week's issue and The Washington Post confirmed with a source close to Gore on Monday, he has gone vegan. Forbes merely tossed in a throwaway line referring to Gore as "newly vegan," in a story about investors looking at ways of replacing eggs with plant-based formulas. The Post was unable to get any further details beyond confirmation from an unnamed Gore associate.
Perhaps, as the Post's Juliet Eilperin suggests, Gore was worried about his health. Former President Bill Clinton, who was famously fond of McDonald's, became a vegan in 2011. (He had a quadruple bypass in 2004.) Gore, as conservatives never tire of pointing out, put on a few pounds after leaving office.
The Pope Slams "Tyranny" of Capitalism and "Idolatry of Money," But Opposes Shift on Women, Abortion (27 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Pope Francis has used his first major written work to attack capitalism as "new tyranny," while urging global leaders to fight poverty and inequality in a document published Tuesday. Pope Francis denounced the "idolatry of money" and "trickle-down" economics policies as well as consumerism and a financial system which he says rules rather than serves. The pope urged politicians to guarantee all citizens "dignified work, education, and health care." The pope also criticized the media for how they cover economic issues. He wrote, "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" -- In his 84 page document, called "The Joy of the Gospel" the pope called for a more decentralized, less Vatican-focused church that puts the concerns of the poor and the marginalized at its center. However, the pope rejected change in two other areas; the ordination of women to the priesthood and the church's view on abortion. At a news conference, Bishop Rino Fisichella read part of the document.
BISHOP RINO FISICHELLA: It is essential we recover interpersonal relationships to which we must accord a priority over the technology which seeks to governor relationships as with the remote control deciding where, when, and for how long to meet others on the basis of one's own preferences. As well as the more usual and more diffused challenges, however, we must be alive to those which impinge more directly on our lives. The sense of daily uncertainty with evil consequences, the various forms of social disparity, the fetishism of money and the dictatorship of a faceless economy. The exasperation of consumption and unbridled consumerism. In short, we find ourselves in the presence of a globalization of indifference and the sneering contempt towards ethics, accompanied by a constant attempt to marginalize every critical warning over the supremacy of the market which with its trickle-down, creates the illusion of helping the poor. If the church, today, appears still highly credible in many countries of the world, even where it is a minority, it is because of her works of charity and solidarity.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Bishop Rino Fisichella reading out part of Pope Francis' first papal pronouncement. Well, for more we're joined by two guests, both longtime dissidents within the Catholic Church. In San Francisco, we're joined by Matthew Fox, author of over two dozen books, most recently, "Letters to Pope Francis: Rebuilding a Church with Justice and Compassion," and "Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation." He is a former Catholic priest who was first stopped from teaching liberation theology and creation spirituality by Cardinal Ratzinger, then expelled from the Dominican order to which he had belonged for 34 years. He is currently serves as an Episcopal priest. Via Democracy Now! video stream we're joined by Father Roy Bourgeois. 2012 the Vatican dismissed Bourgeois from the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers which he served for 45 years over his support of women's ordination. Father Bourgeois is the founder of the School of the Americas Watch, which just held its annual protest against what is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Southern Cooperation of Fort Benning, Georgia. It used to be called the School of the Americas. The organization was also in Honduras monitoring the recent elections. Father Roy Bourgeois wrote the book "My Journey from Silence to Solidarity." Matthew Fox, Roy Bourgeois, thank you so much for joining us. I want to start with Matthew Fox. You have written this open letter to the Pope calling for rebuilding a church-based on compassion, a radical message. Do you think he delivered that message?
MATTHEW FOX: I think that he delivered a tremendous message yesterday with this document about justice in the world. I think it goes far beyond church reform. I like that, that his perspective is not just about caring for the church, but going beyond and taking on the powerful forces of the economies that we are currently dealing with that he is willing to really critique the economy with strong language and connecting it to the biblical tradition of justice and the prophetic work on behalf of the poor. As he says, priority for the poor is the gospel itself. So, I commend him for that. Obviously, within the church itself, he is still very weak when it comes to women issues. He said, for example a few months ago, we need women theology. Well, my goodness, for 45 years, there has been women in theology. Women have been first ignored and then condemned. In fact, the first objection by Ratzinger to my work, the number one is that I'm a feminist theologian, number two that I call God mother and so forth. So, there has been women in theology for 34 years that the Vatican has turned its back on. So, there's a lot of work to do in the church itself, but I'm glad that he is thinking beyond the church and he's seeing the church more as the people of God and not as hierarchy. He is quite strong on that. That was one of the key element of the reform of the Vatican Council that in fact, that previous two popes turned their back on, and as I wrote in my book, "The Pope's War," really they created a schism because they did turn their back on the preferential option for the poor that the Vatican Council and the Gospels are pretty explicit about that.
EU dismisses claims that U.S. guilty of financial spying (27 November 2013)
(Reuters) - The European Union backed down on Wednesday from threats to suspend agreements granting the United States access to European data, rejecting calls for a tougher stance over alleged U.S. spying.
The move marks an abrupt about-turn for the European Commission, the EU executive, after warnings it issued in July to U.S. officials following revelations that Washington had spied on European citizens and EU institutions.
Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU's commissioner for home affairs, said she had found no proof of U.S. wrongdoing, either in the sharing of flight passenger records or in the tracking of international payments.
"I have received written assurances from the U.S. authorities," Malmstrom said, referring to the SWIFT payments system in Belgium, which exchanges millions of messages on transactions globally and which the United States has access to in order to intercept terrorism plots.
Canada knew U.S. spying on G20: CBC report (27 November 2013)
The federal government let an American spy agency conduct surveillance in Canada during the G8 and G20 summits in 2010, the CBC reports.
Citing secret documents released by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, CBC reported Wednesday evening that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct a six-day operation, turning the American embassy in Ottawa into a security command post to spy as dozens of delegates flocked to Canada during the global summits in June 2010.
The documents said the U.S. plans for the G20 in Toronto were "closely co-ordinated with the Canadian partner" -- Communications Security Establishment Canada, or CSEC -- but do not reveal the targets of the surveillance, according to CBC's report.
A spokesperson for the prime minister declined to comment on the report.
NSA 'collected details of online sexual activity' of Islamist radicals (27 November 2013)
The NSA has been collecting details about the online sexual activity of prominent Islamist radicals in order to undermine them, according to a new Snowden document published by the Huffington Post.
The American surveillance agency targeted six unnamed "radicalisers", none of whom is alleged to have been involved in terror plots.
One document argues that if the vulnerabilities they are accused of were to be exposed, this could lead to their devotion to the jihadist cause being brought into question, with a corresponding loss of authority.
As an example of vulnerabilities, it lists: "Viewing sexually explicit material online or using sexually persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls."
Blue light found to improve brain function and focus better than coffee (27 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Swedish researchers have made a fascinating discovery with regard to short wavelength blue light that suggests that it could be used as a natural therapy to help improve cognitive function and boost energy levels. In a test comparing the effects of blue light to caffeine and several other modalities, a team of scientists from Mid Sweden University in Ostersund found that simple exposure to blue light actually outperforms caffeine in helping people to think more clearly, focus on the task at hand and have enough energy to get through the day.
While previous research has shown that exposure to blue light, especially right before bed, can obstruct the natural sleep cycle by interfering with hormone production, this latest study found quite the opposite in terms of how it affects brain and motor function. Not only does exposure to blue light help promote better focus, according to the latest data, even in the presence of distractions, but it also enhances overall psychomotor function and alertness.
To arrive at this conclusion, a group of 21 healthy individuals was instructed to perform a computer-based psychomotor vigilance test both before and after undergoing one of four randomly assigned trial conditions. These conditions included exposure to the following: white light and a placebo, white light and 240 milligrams (mg) of caffeine, blue light and a placebo, or blue light and 240 mg of caffeine. Following the exposures and the test, the research team analyzed the results using the Karolinska Sleepiness Scale.
What they found was that both the caffeine only and the blue light only groups experienced enhanced accuracy when taking a visual reaction test that required making a decision. Not only were the participants in these two groups better equipped to make the decision, but they were also able to make it faster than those in the other two groups. Additionally, the blue light and caffeine groups were found to have improved overall psychomotor function compared to the other groups.
Big Retail Is Watching You: Exposing Walmart's Massive Data Collection Schemes (27 November 2013)
Outside of its growing reputation for poverty wages, worker intimidation and an overall culture of employee repression, a new report released Wednesday reveals that retail giant Walmart is also throwing its weight behind a massive consumer tracking effort with particular implications for people of color.
Authored by a coalition of consumer rights and social justice groups, the report, Consumers, Big Data and Online Tracking in the Retail Industry: A Case Study of Walmart (pdf), examines many of the ways in which large retailers--with a particular focus on Walmart--collect consumer data through mobile devices and online activity and use that information to "tease out meaningful patterns," as noted by a November 2011 Walmart blog post.
The report notes that people of color and other marginalized and low-income communities are being disproportionately affected by such data collection since studies have shown they are less likely than wealthier consumers to protect their data or avoid the marketing ploys which target them.
"Walmart is collecting information on millions of Americans who are disproportionately low-income Black folks and other communities of color," said Rashad Robinson, Executive Director of ColorOfChange who, along with Sum of Us and the Center for Media Justice, authored the report.
Why Are Big Retailers Trying to Kill Thanksgiving? (27 November 2013)
In case you haven't noticed, Black Friday isn't just on Friday anymore. The retail industry's high-density mass of starry lights, Santa dioramas, and door-buster shopping deals really ought to be renamed the Black Hole--it just keeps sucking up everything around it. That holiday known as Thanksgiving? Pretty much gone. Especially if you work for one of the nation's largest retailers.
In 2006, Bart Reed, Best Buy Co.'s consumer marketing director, told the Charleston Gazette that the company had decided not to open its stores any earlier than 5 a.m. on Black Friday because it wanted to give its employees a "work-life balance." Then, five years later, Best Buy moved its Black Friday opening back to Thursday at midnight. This year, for the first time, it will open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day.
Best Buy is far from alone in its cold-hearted greed. The chart above shows how America's biggest retailers have competed in recent years to appeal to crazed shoppers at the expense of their employees--not to mention the one holiday where we're supposed to contemplate being grateful for what we've got, rather than just coveting more stuff.
The undisputed leader in the assault on Thanksgiving is cleary Kmart, which has opened its doors on Turkey Day for the past 22 years. Yet this sad legacy hasn't stopped Kmart from finding ways to make its workers even more miserable. For Thanksgiving 2010, Kmart closed at the arguably reasonable hour of 9 p.m. In 2011, it closed at 4 p.m. and then reopened four hours later, before closing at 3 a.m. on Black Friday. That must not have been crazy enough, since this year Kmart will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and stay open for 40 hours straight, not closing until 11 p.m. on Black Friday.
Another Obamacare delay: How big a blow? (27 November 2013)
Small businesses hoping to shop for health-insurance coverage at HealthCare.gov will now have to wait until November 2014.
The delay, announced Wednesday afternoon by the Obama administration, is the second for the rollout of the SHOP Marketplace -- or Small Business Health Options Program -- since late September. As delays go in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it's not the biggest one the administration could have made. But it still matters.
Originally, the SHOP Marketplace -- which is for businesses with 50 or fewer employees in states that use the federal health-insurance marketplace -- was scheduled to open on Oct. 1, along with the rest of HealthCare.gov. But the Obama administration announced Sept. 26 that SHOP launch wouldn't happen until November.
Since then, the shopping feature for individuals on HealthCare.gov has been so problematic that the government's tech team has focused on that rather than getting SHOP up to speed.
Fed-up Chicago residents sue over petcoke ashheaps (27 November 2013)
Residents of Chicago's southeast side aren't going to sit idly by as their city, state and federal governments try to protect them from byproducts of tar-sands oil refining -- the black dust that's been blowing over their homes from nearby petcoke piles. The residents have called in a team of lawyers, and they are going after the companies that produce and store the uncovered piles of carbon powder.
The petcoke is left over after the refining of tar-sands oil, most of which is coming into the Midwest from Canada. Petcoke can't be legally burned as fuel in the U.S., but subsidiaries of Koch Industries have been buying up the waste across the country anyway, presumably for sale into countries with less strict air pollution laws. And two of the defendants named in the lawsuit are subsidiaries of Koch Industries, including KCBX Terminals, which is storing some of the piles of petcoke along the Calamut River.
Koch isn't the only familiar name listed as a bad guy in the new lawsuit. BP is also named as a defendant. That's because much of the problem petcoke is coming from the company's nearby Whiting refinery, where billions of dollars have been spent to help it process Canadian crude. From a Nov. 15 Bloomberg story:
"The 420,000-barrel-a-day Whiting plant brought online a new delayed coker, according to a person familiar with operations at the plant. Combined with a crude unit that started in June, the equipment will allow Whiting to process as much as 85 percent Canadian heavy crude, up from about 20 percent, the company's website shows. The refinery is scheduled to ramp up heavy oil consumption over a three-month period, the company said in an Oct. 29 presentation."
For Canada's remote towns, living with polar bears is growing more risky (27 November 2013)
The ice season in Hudson Bay has fallen by about one day each year over the past three decades, interrupting the polar bears' prime feeding season in the spring and keeping them off the ice longer into the autumn and winter.
Scientists say the starving bears are resorting to risky and atypical behaviours, such as cannibalism, and are wandering far inland, where they come into closer proximity with people in the small communities across the north.
For Windsor, who has a bandolier of shotgun shells slung around the seat of his truck, meeting a bear is all in a day's work. The officer, equipped with scare pistol armed with blanks, an array of firecrackers, an air horn and a paintball gun, spends his nights and days herding polar bears out of town and back on to the tundra.
"The bears that we deal with in our programme, we are teaching them to be scared of people," Windsor says. "Every bear that we chase, maybe we are helping out somebody down the line that encounters a bear, because it recognises that that's a person -- and that is something to be scared of."
Juneau grizzly killed by SUV had crayons in stomach (27 November 2013)
JUNEAU, ALASKA -- A Department of Fish and Game biologist says a young grizzly killed by a sport utility vehicle in a Juneau neighborhood had been feeding on garbage.
Stephanie Sell tells the Juneau Empire (http://bit.ly/Ij4BZc) the contents of the brown bear's stomach included broccoli and crayons.
The bear was struck just before 7 a.m. Tuesday on Glacier Highway in Lemon Creek between downtown Juneau and the Mendenhall Valley.
The woman driver was not injured.
Egypt: Female Protesters Released, Found in Desert (27 November 2013)
The Egyptian authorities have released 26 women who were detained on Tuesday during the dispersal of a protest against military trials for civilians.
The released detainees were later found on a desert road in the outskirts of Cairo, according to a tweet by activist Salma Said.
At least 24 other protesters are still detained for four days pending investigations, according to an interior ministry statement.
Tuesday counts as the first application of the widely-criticized new protest law on Sunday.
Holidays bring family together ... for tech support (27 November 2013)
The trip to Mom and Dad's to celebrate Thanksgiving comes with turkey, pumpkin pie and a chance to watch football on that fancy new flat-screen TV -- after you program the universal remote control, that is.
Across Minnesota, college kids and young adults will likely spend part of the holidays installing updates on laptops and explaining how to download apps onto tablets. Plenty of parents and grandparents have mastered iPads and Androids; however, as digital devices become more plentiful and sophisticated, young adults are increasingly being forced into playing tech support.
"It can be anything," said Marcus Wilson, 24, of Woodbury, who works in IT and fields questions from his parents at home. "They'll just be like, 'My computer isn't running perfectly lately. Can you figure this out?' "
While it may seem natural to keep tech questions all in the family, doing so can create stress along existing generational fault lines. Tech-savvy children often are baffled by parents who need guidance through every click, plus it can be awkward to teach someone who has spent their lives teaching you.
A Thanksgiving tradition: A great feast -- and pipes clogged with used cooking grease (27 November 2013)
The blob lives.
It's big, it oozes, it's disgusting, and this Thanksgiving, it could be lurking in your house. It's created in the kitchen, with too much used cooking grease poured down too many drains. And this time of year, the blob grows bigger and more fearsome than ever.
During the holiday, kitchen pipes are stuffed with more grease, food and fats than any time of the year. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is a yearly bonanza for retailers -- and plumbers.
"When you work for Roto-Rooter, everybody knows you don't get the day off," said Paul Abrams, spokesman for the Roto-Rooter plumbing company. "It's the one day you don't ask off. Black Friday, it's all hands on deck."
In every state, Abrams said, Roto-Rooter's army of 7,000 employees gears up for a 50 percent increase in service calls from people with clogged sinks, overflowing toilets and drains that don't work because warm grease cooled in pipes overnight and turned into a blob.
Three More NYC Contractors Found Guilty in Massive CityTime Scandal to Modernize Payroll System (27 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Before we go on to our first story, the story you exposed, the CityTime scandal in New York, the largest in New York history, more people have just been convicted.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, on Friday afternoon, a jury took -- a federal jury in Manhattan federal court took 10 hours to convict three of the masterminds of the CityTime fraud, a massive fraud. Mark Mazer, Gerard Denault and Dimitri Aronshtein. They are now the sixth, seventh, and eighth people who have been found guilty in this massive conspiracy that went on for almost a decade with contractors for New York City who were creating a payroll system, stealing tens of millions of dollars. In fact, the main contractor, SAIC, the defense contractor, ended up paying the city of New York back $500 million and then federal authorities seized -- they say now they have seized about $40 million more in assets from the criminal conspiracy. So, altogether, the taxpayers have recouped $540 million. I started the articles in late 2009 and early 2010. By the end of 2010, the New York City Department of Investigations and then the federal prosecutor, Preet Bharara, then began arresting people. Altogether, 11 people were arrested in the conspiracy. Eight have now been convicted, 2 of them fled to India with about $35 million that they took with them when they fled to India. One subsequently died before the trial. So, it has been a really amazing saga, of one after another.
AMY GOODMAN: And CityTime was providing?
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Interestingly, it was supposed to be a payroll and timekeeping system to make sure that the 300,000 city workers did not cheat on her hours. And it was the people who are developing the system to assure that the city workers weren't cheating who are robbing the taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Bitcoin price zooms through $1,000 as enthusiasm grows (27 November 2013)
(Reuters) - The price of the digital currency bitcoin soared above $1,000 for the first time on Wednesday, extending a 400 percent surge in less than a month that some see as a growing bubble in an asset that is still a mystery to many.
Bitcoin hit a high of $1,073 on Tokyo-based exchange Mt. Gox, the best-known operator of a bitcoin digital marketplace, compared with just below $900 the previous day.
At the beginning of the month, bitcoin, a prominent digital currency that is not backed by a government or central bank, traded at around $215. The spike in its price has some believing that it has become overvalued in a short period of time, owing to its limited supply and increasing demand.
"A narrow asset class and lots of liquidity is the perfect environment for a rapid burst up in value, and then corrections," said Sebastien Galy, a currency strategist at Societe Generale in New York.
Bitcoin trades 24 hours a day, every day. The supply of the currency, which is "mined" by solving math problems, is limited, and recently stood at 12 million bitcoins, worth about $12.9 billion at recent prices.
Ancient Chinese postpartum care is alive in Toronto (27 November 2013)
Part nurse, Chinese medicine practitioner, nanny and caregiver, Sharon Keung has job skills much in demand by new parents in the Chinese-Canadian community.
Chinese-language classified and online ads are forever seeking yue-sao or postpartum doulas who tend to a new mother and her baby's emotional and physical needs for the first month after birth.
The demand is so high that recruitment services for experienced yue-sao have sprung up and social agencies are starting to offer short-term training programs in Greater Toronto and Vancouver.
A three-day course at Toronto's Chinese Canadian Community Service Centre is so popular that there's a waiting list.
China monitored US B52 bombers' flight through disputed air defence zone (27 November 2013)
The open challenge by the US to China's new air defence zone over the East China Sea was met with a muted response in Beijing, as China faced growing resistance to its attempt to extend its authority in the region.
China's defence ministry said it had monitored two unarmed B-52 bombers that flew though the zone on Tuesday, and reasserted its ability to control the airspace. But its statement did not mention a previous warning that it would take "defensive emergency measures" if aircraft did not respond to instructions.
The zone covers islands at the heart of a long-running territorial dispute with Japan and overlaps with those already established by Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Analysts say China is testing Japan's administrative control of the islands, while Beijing says it is exercising its right to self-defence.
Washington and Tokyo are refusing to acknowledge the zone and US officials said the B-52s had entered it without identifying themselves, with no attempted contact from the Chinese military. The two main Japanese commercial carriers, Japan Airlines and ANA -- which initially offered China flight plans -- stopped doing so on Wednesday under government pressure.
Thailand's Suthep: dissent crusher turns protest leader (27 November 2013)
(Reuters) - In 2010, the last time Thailand was gripped by large-scale anti-government protests, Suthep Thaugsuban, then deputy prime minister, was the man wielding the sword.
The Democrat Party politician authorized a crackdown by security forces that left downtown Bangkok burning and killed scores of red-shirt supporters of his arch-rival, Thaksin Shinawatra, a populist former prime minister who was overthrown in a 2006 coup.
Now, just three-and-a-half-years later, Thai politics has flipped. Thaksin's sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is the prime minister. This time, Suthep is on the outside, leading protests aimed at bringing down Yingluck's government.
And this time, he thinks, Yingluck could not use force to stop him, even if she tried.
"I believe Yingluck doesn't have the authority to order the police or military to do anything," Suthep told Reuters at Bangkok's Finance Ministry, which has been occupied by protesters since Monday. "They've realized she's a prime minister that doesn't obey the rule of law."
Food Stamp Costs Are Decreasing Without The GOP's Cuts (26 November 2013)
As Congress debates renewing the farm bill, Republicans have been pressing for big cuts to the food stamp budget as part of the negotiations. House GOP leaders want to slash as much as $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next decade, a cut that would affect nearly four million low-income people. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-Fla.), a former funeral director and current House pointman in the negotiations, has called the "explosion of food stamps in this country" the "defining moral issue of our time," and he's set out to "reform" the program by imposing work requirements on recipients.
Southerland would specifically push states to end SNAP benefits for poor families in areas of high unemployment. The premise behind his reform proposals is that the food stamp program is "growing into oblivion." But a new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that in fact, enrollment in the food program, which hit a record during the recession, has already started to plateau and is projected to decline about five percent next year even if Congress does absolutely nothing.
Part of that decline is the result of a seven-percent, across-the-board cut that went into effect November 1 with the expiration of about $5 billion in funding increases from the 2009 stimulus bill. But even without that cut, caseloads have been stabilizing since 2011 and remained flat this year. Now, the Congressional Budget Office projects that, barring any major fiscal disasters, the food stamp budget is on track to return to 1995 levels in about five years, falling about two to five percent a year as the economy recovers. All this even if Congress doesn't do anything to "reform" a program that kept nearly five million people (2.2 million of them children) out of poverty last year and is responsible for broad economic and public health gains.
If Southerland gets his way, though, instead of letting a recovering economy pare down food stamp spending, Congress will throw 1.7 million of the nation's poorest people out of the program--people whose annual income is less than $2,500 a year--and incentivize the states to drop even more so they can use the savings on other things, like tax cuts for the wealthy. It's times like these when doing nothing seems like a good idea.
Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds, who was stabbed by son, vows to fix mental-health care (26 November 2013)
Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds is vowing to help to fix the mental health system that failed his son, a week after 24-year-old Gus Deeds stabbed his father and then shot himself dead.
The tragic attack occurred 13 hours after Gus Deeds was released from emergency custody. He had undergone a mental health evaluation and it was recommended that he receive treatment in a psychiatric facility. But the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board (CSB) -- the health authority that oversees the state's mental health system -- couldn't find a center that could accommodate Deeds and provide treatment for him.
"I am alive for a reason, and I will work for change," Creigh Deeds told The Recorder, a Virginia newspaper, on Monday about the need for reform in the state's mental health system.
"I owe that to my precious son ... I have very strong opinions about the CSB, and feel like they are responsible," Deeds added about working to change the system.
"My life's work now is to make sure other families don't have to go through what we are living."
Deeds blames agency in son's suicide, vows change (26 November 2013)
Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds, who is recuperating at home after his son attacked him with a knife before taking his own life last week, blamed a local mental health agency for the tragedy in an interview with a Bath County newspaper Monday.
Deeds told The Recorder newspaper that the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, a local agency that administers mental health and substance-abuse services, is "responsible" for Austin Deeds' death.
The elder Deeds, who was the 2009 Democratic nominee for Virginia governor, said it was too soon to talk in great detail about his son's death, but he vowed to help other families in crisis receive the help they need, The Recorder reported.
"I cry a lot. I can't focus now and talk to anyone," Deeds said in an exchange of emails with the newspaper's publisher and a reporter who has covered him for many years. "I have very strong opinions about the CSB, and feel like they are responsible. My life's work now is to make sure other families don't have to go through what we are living."
Deeds, 55, was stabbed in the face and chest by his son after an argument last Tuesday outside their home in western Virginia, according to police. Austin Deeds, 24, was later found inside dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, authorities said.
Without Reagan's Treason, Iran Would Not Be a Problem (26 November 2013)
Republican attempts to sabotage a Democratic president's deal with Iran are nothing new, however.
Just ask Jimmy Carter.
In 1980 Carter thought he had reached a deal with newly-elected Iranian President Abdolhassan Bani-Sadr over the release of the fifty-two hostages held by radical students at the American Embassy in Tehran.
Bani-Sadr was a moderate and, as he explained in an editorial for The Christian Science Monitor earlier this year, had successfully run for President on the popular position of releasing the hostages:
"I openly opposed the hostage-taking throughout the election campaign.... I won the election with over 76 percent of the vote.... Other candidates also were openly against hostage-taking, and overall, 96 percent of votes in that election were given to candidates who were against it [hostage-taking]."
Carter was confident that with Bani-Sadr's help, he could end the embarrassing hostage crisis that had been a thorn in his political side ever since it began in November of 1979.
But Carter underestimated the lengths his opponent in the 1980 Presidential election, California Governor Ronald Reagan, would go to screw him over.
Leakers, privacy activists find new home in Berlin (26 November 2013)
BERLIN -- During the Cold War, Berlin was one of the most spy-ridden cities in the world. Now it's the place where people go to escape government surveillance.
An international cadre of privacy advocates is settling in Germany's once-divided capital, saying they feel safer here than they do in the United States or Britain, where authorities have vowed to prosecute leakers of official secrets.
Documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, who was one of former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's main conduits of leaked data, lives here now. So does Jacob Appelbaum, a former spokesman for WikiLeaks. They were joined this month by Sarah Harrison, a top WikiLeaks activist who stayed at Snowden's side for months in Moscow and now says she fears being harassed by the government if she returns to her native Britain.
In Berlin, they have settled in a counterculture paradise, home to hackers' clubs, cheap rent and a fiercely supportive local population that in 2011 gave more than 10 percent of the seats in its regional parliament to the Pirate Party, a political organization that seeks to preserve Internet and information freedoms.
Microsoft, suspecting NSA spying, to ramp up efforts to encrypt its Internet traffic (26 November 2013)
Microsoft is moving toward a major new effort to encrypt its Internet traffic amid fears that the National Security Agency may have broken into its global communications links, said people familiar with the emerging plans.
Suspicions at Microsoft, while building for several months, sharpened in October when it was reported that the NSA was intercepting traffic inside the private networks of Google and Yahoo, two industry rivals with similar global infrastructures, said people with direct knowledge of the company's deliberations. They said top Microsoft executives are meeting this week to decide what encryption initiatives to deploy and how quickly.
Documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden suggest -- but do not prove -- that the company is right to be concerned. Two previously unreleased slides that describe operations against Google and Yahoo include references to Microsoft's Hotmail and Windows Live Messenger services. A separate NSA e-mail mentions Microsoft Passport, a Web-based service formerly offered by Microsoft, as a possible target of that same surveillance project, called MUSCULAR, which was first disclosed by The Washington Post last month.
Though Microsoft officials said they had no independent verification of the NSA targeting the company in this way, general counsel Brad Smith said Tuesday that it would be "very disturbing" and a possible constitutional breach if true.
As Wal-Mart Workers Plan Record Black Friday Protests, Study Says Retail Giant Can Afford Higher Pay (26 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Catherine Ruetschlin, talk about what OUR Wal-Mart, the organizing that's going on all over the country, has now put out in its ad. This appeal by Wal-Mart to its employees, to help other employees who maybe don't have enough money for food on Thanksgiving. Talk about the significance.
CATHERINE RUETSCHLIN: Sure. The revelation of that food drive in Canton, Ohio is a really important moment for people outside of the retail sector looking in, to really see what it means for these workers to stand up to one of the most powerful companies in the world and ask to be treated with dignity and respect. It is not just at the holidays that workers are struggling. When you are in a poverty level wage, putting food on the table is always a tough task. We found talking to Wal-Mart workers over and over again that their wages give them just enough to meet their basic needs and at the end of every month, they're making critical trade-off decisions. Determining whether they're going to get medicine or pay their school fees or put food on the table or keep their electricity on. So, what workers like Barbara who are out there really had a chance to show the average American who interacts with retail all the time and maybe has seen that these protests have been increasing in their intensity but hasn't really been able to sort of relate to what that actually means.
NERMEEN SHAIKH You have also pointed out that Wal-Mart is aware they pay about 825,000 workers more or less poverty wages. So, how is this justified? Have you spoken people at Wal-Mart and gotten a sense of how they can justify this?
CATHERINE RUETSCHLIN: It's true. Wal-Mart's CEO -- Wal-Mart CEO Bill Simon, back in September, in a presentation to Goldman Sachs was actually responding to the workers demands and calling out, as they called out Wal-Mart for fair wage, and saying, hey look, we have 425,000 workers who earn the wage that you're asking for. But, Wal-Mart is the largest employer -- the largest private employer in the U.S. That leaves 825,000 low-wage employees. Now, that is a workforce of temporary workers, part-time workers, workers who wish they could get a full-time hours but can't get them out Wal-Mart. And the business model that Wal-Mart chooses to operate is really this low road kind of devaluation of their labor force, where they see their workers as equally replaceable and disposable as opposed to an alternative, high-road model where they can invest in that labor force and see greater productivity, sales and a really committed staff.
UN advances surveillance resolution reaffirming 'human right to privacy' (26 November 2013)
The United Nations moved a step closer to calling for an end to excessive surveillance on Tuesday in a resolution that reaffirms the "human right to privacy" and calls for the UN's human rights commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the impact of mass digital snooping.
A UN committee that deals with human rights issues adopted the German- and Brazilian-drafted resolution that has become an increasingly sensitive issue among UN members.
The resolution, titled "The right to privacy in the digital age", does not name specific countries but states the UN is: "Deeply concerned at the negative impact that surveillance and/or interception of communications ... may have on the exercise and enjoyment of human rights."
The resolution says "unlawful or arbitrary" surveillance may "contradict the tenets of a democratic society". It says states "must ensure full compliance with their obligations under international human rights law".
PAM COMMENTARY: It's pretty sad when the UN has to demand that the U.S. live up to the standards it created.
Shocking animal abuse routine in Hollywood; secret photos, emails surface (26 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) It is often displayed at the end of movies and television shows that feature animals -- that succinct but prominent disclaimer notifying the viewing audience that no animals were harmed during production. But a recent investigation by The Hollywood Reporter (THR) suggests that this well-respected seal of approval is not necessarily trustworthy, as the organization responsible for monitoring animal safety is increasingly accused of maintaining an "improper coziness" with the very industry it is supposed to be overseeing.
This in-depth look at what really takes place behind the scenes during the creation of some of the most critically acclaimed feature films and television series is not for the faint of heart. Detailed accounts of horses suffering fatal injuries, dogs being abused and other sobering specifics about animals sustaining the brunt of the entertainment industry -- not to mention photo evidence of these and other atrocities -- are presented as evidence to show how apparently fictitious situations, at least as they appear on screen, are not always fictitious when animals are involved.
Popular films like Life of Pi, War Horse and The Hobbit, all of which feature large, beautiful animals, are included as offenders in the report, as are seemingly wholesome made-for-television movies like the Hallmark Channel's Everlasting Love and Love's Resounding Courage. All sorts of television shows and feature films are said to have involved animals being injured or dying, yet most of these have received an official seal of approval from the American Humane Association (AHA).
"Alarmingly, it turns out that audiences reassured by the organization's famous disclaimer should not necessarily assume it is true," writes Gary Baum for THR. "In fact, the AHA has awarded its 'No Animals Were Harmed' credit to films and TV shows on which animals were injured during production. It justifies this on the grounds that the animals weren't intentionally harmed or the incidents occurred while cameras weren't rolling."
The IRS Moves to Limit Dark Money -- But Enforcement Still a Question (26 November 2013)
The IRS and Treasury Department announced proposed guidelines clarifying the definition of political activities for social welfare nonprofits Tuesday afternoon, a move that could restrict the spending of the dark money groups that dumped more than $254 million of anonymous money into the 2012 elections. Read the guidelines here.
However, the guidelines, which finally define what constitutes "candidate-related political activity," aren't a done deal. They will take some time for public comment and debate, and more time to finalize. (The IRS asks that all comments and requests for a public hearing be submitted by Feb. 27.) Experts also cautioned that the real test of oversight on the political spending by nonprofits will be how these regulations are enforced, something that the IRS has been so far reticent to do.
The proposed regulations "are only as good as the extent of compliance with them, which history would indicate requires a realistic threat of enforcement and significant sanctions on the groups involved and probably the individuals running those groups," said Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer, a law professor and associate dean at the University of Notre Dame who specializes in nonprofits and campaign finance.
Social welfare nonprofits are allowed to spend money on election ads without reporting their donors, as long as they can prove that social welfare -- and not politics -- is their primary purpose. But the IRS guidelines for political spending have been vague. They state that the agency will apply a "facts and circumstances" test to each ad, meaning that if an ad walks and talks like a political ad, it's a political ad.
Canada approves export of genetically modified salmon eggs (26 November 2013)
Canada will allow genetically modified salmon eggs to be produced and exported -- but no way in hell will the eggs be allowed to hatch on Canadian soil.
The GM salmon was developed by AquaBounty, which blended genetic material from Chinook salmon and from another type of fish called ocean pout into the DNA of Atlantic salmon. That helps accelerate growth rates. The eggs will be produced at a hatchery on Canada's Prince Edward Island and exported to be hatched at a site in Panama. There, the fish will be fattened up before being exported to the U.S. for sale.
Worries abound that the genetically modified fish will escape and spread their altered genes to wild populations of salmon and trout. And those concerns are weighing on the minds of Canadian officials. From The Guardian:
"The decision marked the first time any government had given the go-ahead to commercial scale production involving a GM food animal."
Man: No fear trying to catch woman at stadium (26 November 2013)
OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) -- When he saw a woman jumping from the upper deck at the Oakland Raiders' stadium on Sunday, Donnie Navidad said his military instincts immediately kicked in as he lunged forward trying to catch her.
But though he was injured in the process and authorities say he saved the woman's life, he maintains that he's no hero and that he would do it again.
"I just wished I would've grabbed her and held on to her," Navidad said. "I couldn't live with myself if I didn't do anything."
Both Navidad and the woman hit the concrete hard from the impact about 15 minutes after the Raiders' 23-19 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Navidad said he was among several people pleading with the woman not to jump as he positioned himself to try catching her. When she plunged about 45 feet from the upper deck at the O.co Coliseum, Navidad, with his arms open, ended up breaking her fall.
Reverend Billy Faces Year in Prison for Protesting JPMorgan Chase's Financing of Fossil Fuels (26 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
So down to business. Lesson number one: safety is a top priority of Ingram Micro. "We are constantly having people get hurt because they are working too fast," Brian says. "You don't get paid enough to get hurt." (Someone behind me mutters, "You got that right.") Brian walks us through the proper way to pick up boxes, and holds up a poster that illustrates safe stretching techniques.
But it's a complicated message Brian is preaching. Why, after all, are people working too fast? Why did the employee in Brian's lead anecdote try to slide under the conveyor belt--busting his head open in the process--instead of simply walking around?
Well, there's this: the output for each employee, tracked at every moment via our scanning guns, will be posted daily. "All supervisors see are numbers, numbers, numbers," he tells us. "So are we going to push you to work faster and be more productive?" The man to my left dutifully nods. "Yes, we are. Does the company expect you to pick up and carry fifty-pound boxes? Yes, it does." Pause. "But we don't expect you to carry them half a mile."
Before we're dismissed, the temp agency staffer returns with some final words of advice. Anyone who misses a shift on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Cyber Monday or Christmas Eve is out. Anyone who isn't performing at 100 percent efficiency by the third week will be given one week to improve, and then is out. On the bright side, a few "top performers"--perhaps 150 of the 800 temps they'll hire by Thanksgiving--may get to stick around after the holiday season and avoid the mass layoffs. "Some people even get hired permanently by Ingram Micro," she says. Such a promotion, she tells us, would include raises and benefits. The emphasis is hers. She makes the words sound like exotic treats.
Fracking bonanza eludes wastewater recycling investors (26 November 2013)
After two years searching for a blockbuster investment in oil field water management, fund manager Judson Hill is still holding on to his money.
Hill's NGP Energy Capital Management saw potential in what looked like a hot growth area in energy: treating and recycling the 21 billion barrels of wastewater flowing annually from U.S. oil and natural gas wells -- particularly from shale.
Instead, it found the market "too fragmented and too frothy," said Hill, a managing director at the private equity firm in Texas whose latest fund has invested $3.6 billion. "It's not as though we look back and say, 'Wow, half the ones we passed on were just home runs.' They weren't."
Cleaning up water in the oil patch is a tougher slog than many expected. Geology and water chemistry vary so much by location that no one has devised a cheap, one-size-fits-all technology to convince most producers to recycle. While NGP and its peers have successfully invested in U.S. shale producers, picking a winner in water treatment eludes even Schlumberger Ltd., the world's largest oil field services provider.
Schlumberger jumped into water recycling years ago envisioning a fast-growing, vibrant new specialty.
"We've spent millions and millions of dollars evaluating virtually every available and reasonable-looking technology out there, always hoping we'd find the silver bullet," said Mark Kidder, who runs Schlumberger's oil field water management unit. "At this point, we found nothing."
UCLA to probe African American judge's excessive force claims (26 November 2013)
According to Cunningham's account, he was pulled over in his Mercedes about 10 a.m. Saturday as he was buckling his seat belt after paying a parking attendant near L.A. Fitness. He was dressed in a black gym shirt and shorts.
Officer Kevin Dodd asked to see his driver's license. Cunningham handed them his wallet. Then the officers requested registration and insurance forms. When Cunningham reached for his glove box, an officer "yelled at me not to move," he said in the complaint. "I became irritated and told him that I need to look for the paper."
A prescription pill bottle rolled out of the glove compartment, prompting the officer to ask if he was carrying drugs. The medicine was for high blood pressure, Douglas said.
Cunningham couldn't find the paperwork in the glove compartment and told officers he thought it might be in the trunk.
"When I got out of the car to search my trunk, Officer Dodd shoved me against my car, told me I was under arrest for resisting and locked me in the backseat," Cunningham wrote in the complaint.
Thanksgiving is skid row's version of the Oscars (26 November 2013)
Want to volunteer to serve Thanksgiving dinner on skid row? Take a number -- for next year.
Volunteer sign-ups at several downtown shelters closed in late September or October. During the final days before the holiday, coordinators were turning away up to 50 callers a day -- some of whom insisted they would show up Thanksgiving Day, with or without an invitation.
"It's like getting a concert ticket," Midnight Mission spokeswoman Mai Lee said. "You have to sign up as soon as it's posted."
For some of the 1,000 or more volunteers who will help with the Thanksgiving meals, serving on skid row is a family tradition going back generations. Corporate sponsors take some of the slots for their employees; schools with a longtime volunteer commitment get others.
When shelters hit their holiday volunteer limit, they encourage those they turn away to consider helping at other times of the year.
The rare Joshua tree gets its star turn in this gorgeous time-lapse video (26 November 2013)
Unless you make a special trek, chances are you'll never see a Joshua tree -- they only grow in the Mojave desert, and even the ones there may be under threat from climate change. Luckily, photographer Sungjin Ahn has put together this lovely time-lapse video so you can appreciate the weird prickly trees in all manner of conditions (mostly sunrise, sunset, and various configurations of clouds, but it's all gorgeous).
PAM COMMENTARY: Actually, back in the 90s there were a lot of Joshua trees right off of the freeway in Hesperia, California. And the Mojave desert is such a large area that I think most people who have been to Southern California have seen them. Cute pictures, though!
Utah teenager taken off of life support after spending month in a coma following first flu vaccination (25 November 2013)
(http://www.sltrib.com) 19-year-old Chandler Webb of Utah passed away on November 19, 2013, after being hospitalized for nearly a month while in a coma. His mother, Lori Webb, claims that her son's death was caused by the influenza vaccine.
On October 15, Chandler received his first flu shot ever as part of a routine physical prior to going on a mission trip for his church. The next day, Chandler began suffering from headaches and severe vomiting. The teenager, who had only just recently graduated from Brighton High school, was then hospitalized in Salt Lake City, where he subsequently fell into a coma.
After being in a coma for about a month, Chandler was taken off of life support, and he died on November 19, 2013, after spending 28 days in the hospital. Though doctors have yet to discuss the case, his mother says that the direct cause of death was swelling of the brain. Public health officials continue to emphasize the safety of the vaccine, despite serious side effects having been reported.
Lori has declined an autopsy for her son, considering that a pending brain biopsy will likely be sufficient to determine the cause of death. She said that neurologists at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray performed numerous tests on her son, but they were unable to find any cause or cure for his condition.
I fought the law and, actually, I won: How one lawyer helps protesters (25 November 2013)
Lauren Regan became a lawyer for idealistic reasons: There were trees; she wanted to save them.
Then, in October 2001, the Patriot Act was signed into existence, and the landscape of environmental protest changed. Police, now equipped with military surplus gear and Homeland Security funding, began to treat protesters differently. So did the legal system.
In 2003, Regan founded the Civil Liberties Defense Center specifically to help environmental activists navigate this new legal landscape. Regan spoke with me recently about how location and legal precedent mean a lot when you're interested in saving a landscape.
Q. What made you decide to become an environmental lawyer?
A. I saw a potential way to be even more effective as an activist. Before that, I was involved in forest activism.
New Tax Return Shows Karl Rove's Group Spent Even More On Politics Than It Said (25 November 2013)
On its 2012 tax return, GOP strategist Karl Rove's dark money behemoth Crossroads GPS justified its status as a tax-exempt social welfare group in part by citing its grants of $35 million to other similarly aligned nonprofits. (Here's the tax return itself, which we detailed last week.)
The return, signed under penalty of perjury, specified that the grants would be used for social welfare purposes, "and not for political expenditures, consistent with the organization's tax-exempt mission."
But that's not what happened.
New tax documents, made public last Tuesday, indicate that at least $11.2 million of the grant money given to the group Americans for Tax Reform was spent on political activities expressly advocating for or against candidates. This means Crossroads spent at least $85.7 million on political activities in 2012, not the $74.5 million reported to the Internal Revenue Service. That's about 45 percent of its total expenditures.
The transaction also provides a window into one way social welfare nonprofits work around the tax code's dictate that their primary purpose cannot be influencing elections. Grants sent from one nonprofit to another may be earmarked for social welfare purposes, but sometimes end up being used to slam or praise candidates running for office.
"They have a bad grantee here," said Marcus Owens, the former head of the IRS' Exempt Organizations division, who looked at the documents at ProPublica's request. "My question would be, 'What has Crossroads done to recover that money?' That's what the IRS would expect."
Wind energy company fined $1 million over bird deaths (25 November 2013)
The wildlife-killing honeymoon is over for the fast-growing wind energy industry.
Wind turbines are working wonders for America's renewable energy blitz. But a nasty environmental side effect is the heavy toll they can take on birds and bats, hundreds of thousands of which are killed every year after colliding with turbines' spinning blades. The Obama administration has been criticized for turning a blind eye to such environmental crimes, but the recent settling of a federal case suggests that the eye is blind no more.
Duke Energy has agreed to pay $1 million for killing 163 eagles, hawks, blackbirds, larks, wrens, sparrows, and other protected bird species at two wind farms it operates in Wyoming -- violations of the 95-year old Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Of those birds, 14 were golden eagles.
"This case represents the first criminal conviction under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act for unlawful avian takings at wind projects," said Robert Dreher of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. ("Avian takings" is legalese for "bird killings.")
The settlement agreement doesn't just punish the energy company for misdeeds. It requires Duke to reduce the impact of its turbines on wildlife -- just as others in the wind energy sector are trying to do. From a Justice Department statement:
"Duke Energy Renewables Inc. failed to make all reasonable efforts to build the projects in a way that would avoid the risk of avian deaths by collision with turbine blades, despite prior warnings about this issue from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ..."
Spooky Business: U.S. Corporations Enlist Ex-Intelligence Agents to Spy on Nonprofit Groups (25 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: As we turn to a new report detailing how corporations are increasingly spying on nonprofit groups that they regard as potential threats. The report's called, "Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage Against Nonprofit Organizations." It was released by the corporate watch group Essential Information. The report found a diverse group of nonprofits have been targeted with espionage, including environmental, antiwar, public interest, consumer safety, pesticide reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights, and arms control groups. The corporations carrying out the spying include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Bank of America, Dow Chemical, Kraft, Coca-Cola, Chevron, Burger King, McDonald's, Shell, BP, and others. According to the report, these corporations employ former CIA, NSA and FBI agents to engage in private surveillance work which is often illegal in nature but rarely, if ever, prosecuted. For more we go to California where we're joined by the report's author, Gary Ruskin. He is the director of the Center for Corporate Policy, a project of Essential Information. Gary, Welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what you found.
GARY RUSKIN: Thanks for having me on the show again, Amy. Yeah, we found a tremendous diversity of corporate espionage being conducted against a wide variety of civic groups across the country and the U.K., the case in Ecuador and in France as well. So what we found was a tremendous variety of use of different types of espionage tactics from dumpster diving to hiring investigators to pose as journalists or volunteers, to electronic espionage, information warfare, information operations hacking, electronic surveillance. And so this appears to be a growing phenomenon both here in the United States and maybe in other parts of the world as well. But our report is an effort to document something that's very hard to know very much about. We aggregated 30 different cases of corporate espionage to try to talk about them, but really, each of the cases we have very fragmentary information. And so it's hard to say -- we have a, we have a part of an iceberg whether it's the tip of the iceberg or the tippy tip of the iceberg, we don't really know.
AMY GOODMAN: Gary, let's got to -- I want to go to 2010; Greenpeace files a federal lawsuit against Dow Chemical and Sasol North America for engaging in corporate espionage. The lawsuit alleged corporate spies stole thousands of confidential documents from Greenpeace, including campaign plans, employee records; phone records, donor and media lists. Democracy Now! spoke to Charlie Cray, the senior researcher with Greenpeace USA at the time. He explained what happened.
CHARLIE CRAY: BBI, the defunct private investigation firm hired subcontractors including off-duty police officers who went through Greenpeace's trash to find useful documents on a regular basis. Over two years they did this almost twice a week on average. They also used subcontractors who had colleagues who attempted to infiltrate Greenpeace as volunteers. They cased the Greenpeace office looking for we don't know what, but probably doing advanced scouting for people who would then intrude upon the property. We found a list of door codes, we found a folder that said "wiretap info," which was empty. We know this company has sub-contracted with a company called Net Safe, which is a company that was made of former NSA officials skilled in computer hacking and things like that. So we really don't know the full extent of this, but what we've seen is incredibly shocking. And our goal is to bring this out into the light of day and to stop it if it's still going on."
Obama tells heckler he can't halt deportations unilaterally. Is that true? (+video) (25 November 2013)
President Obama was winding up a speech on immigration reform Monday, when a heckler interrupted him.
"Our families are separated. I need your help!" shouted a young man standing behind the president at the event at a recreation center in San Francisco. "You have a power to stop deportation for all undocumented immigrants in this country."
"Actually, I don't," Mr. Obama replied. "And that's why we're here."
"Stop deportations!" the crowd chanted. "Yes we can! Stop deportations!"
Historic Deal Curbs Iran's Nuclear Program While Easing U.S.-Led Devastating Economic Sanctions (25 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the agreement indicates the world has recognized Iran's nuclear rights. [For more on] the deal, we're joined by Reza Marashi, the Research Director at the National Iranian American Council. He returned Sunday from Geneva after attending the talks on Iran's nuclear program. Welcome to _Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of this agreement, Reza?
REZA MARASHI: What we witnessed over the past few days in Geneva is really nothing short of historic. You only really have to juxtapose what we've seen over the past few days with three or four months ago, what a difference an Iranian president can make and what a difference diplomacy can make when political leaders are willing to take risks for peace and invest in the process. As a result of that willingness, we have seen not only roll backs on Iran's nuclear program, but we've also seen a willingness on the part of Western countries to limit the amount of sanctions that they're putting on Iran, adding no new sanctions. Provide sanctions relief. And I would argue most importantly, finesse the language surrounding this issue of Iran's right to enrich uranium. The language that was used in the agreement allows both sides to walk away with a win/win scenario where the West can say, we are not acknowledging Iran's right to enrich, Iran can say they have acknowledge to our right to enrich, and that is what diplomacy is about at the end of the day, creating win/win outcomes. So this is nothing short of positive.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the six countries, world powers, involved and why they in particular were involved in this agreement with Iran?
REZA MARASHI: That is a great question, let's unpack that. When the P5+1, as it's called, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany, put this process together, it dates back to the Bush administration. The Bush administration refused to engage Iran seriously in diplomacy, so they used our allies in Europe as a political cover of sorts. To create a process that could engage Iran diplomatically without the U.S. leading the process or being seen as driving it. The Obama administration inherited this and has used it in different ways. In an attempt to maintain unity within the international community, vis-à-vis Iran. But, actually, what we saw in Geneva was more negotiations between the P5+1 themselves than their diplomacy directly with Iran because they themselves had to get on the same page in terms of what they're going to offer Iran in terms of compromises. So, the more cooks you have in the kitchen, the harder it becomes to find a spoon. Fortunately, everybody was able to get on the same page and a historic first up deal was reached.
Sandy Hook report answers some questions, but many still a mystery (+video) (25 November 2013)
A Connecticut state attorney's report drew pointed conclusions about the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that shook the nation a year ago, saying Adam Lanza acted alone in killing 26 students and staff, that the attack was premeditated, and that police and school staff "acted heroically" in responding to the tragedy.
The report also pulled together details of Mr. Lanza's reclusive lifestyle and his troubled interactions with others.
But in summing up a months-long investigation, Stephen Sedensky of the state's Danbury district also left big questions unanswered.
The report said Lanza's motive remains unclear. Lanza faced mental-health challenges, and had "a fascination with mass shootings and firearms, [but] displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies," it said.
FDA warns maker of genetic-testing kit (25 November 2013)
The Food and Drug Administration has ordered the maker of a popular genetic-testing kit to halt sales of its heavily marketed product, saying the mail-order tests haven't been proven effective and could dangerously mislead people about their health.
The move came in a sharply worded letter to 23andMe, a California start-up backed by Google. The company says that its Personal Genome Service can detect more than 240 genetic conditions and traits, flagging a person's vulnerability to heart disease, breast cancer and other illnesses. The privately held company, founded in 2006, is headed by biologist and businesswoman Anne Wojcicki, who is separated from Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
The FDA said the company repeatedly has failed to provide the scientific data necessary to prove that its test works as advertised.
Perhaps more significantly, the agency's action underscores its unease about the potential consequences of direct-to-consumer genetic tests, which can provide people with detailed information but not necessarily the context necessary to interpret what it means or how they should proceed.
Should Gynecologists Be Allowed to Treat Men (25 November 2013)
The American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently issued a new directive to U.S. OB-GYNs: Treat men, and risk losing the board's certification. The board now prohibits the treatment of male patients, with a few exceptions: Doctors can care for men if they're engaged in "active government service" or if the treatment is the course of the "evaluation of fertility," the "expedited partner treatment of sexually transmitted diseases," or a "newborn circumcision," for example. The exceptions allow OB-GYNs to provide preventative and emergency care but bar men from returning to the gynecologist for further care when those routine checkups reveal a deeper problem.
As the New York Times reported this weekend, a group of gynecologists are specifically concerned that the board's rule will prevent them from treating HPV-related anal cancers in men. Boston Medical Center gynecologist Dr. Elizabeth Stier, for example, treated 110 men for the disease last year and is participating in a multimillion-dollar clinical trial aimed at improving that treatment. As the Times puts it, some of the "best qualified, most highly skilled doctors" working on HPV-related cancers are gynecologists, who have extensive expertise treating HPV-related diseases in women.
The board reasons that gynecologists are specially trained "in the medical and surgical care of the female reproductive system and associated disorders." But gynecologists are well-positioned to treat both men and women because they're more likely to have experience with the "associated disorder" at work here. When it comes to HPV-related anal cancers, men and women are operating with similar equipment. The anoscopy procedure doctors use to identify anal cancers is identical regardless of gender. And the people most invested in treating it (and courting the funding to do so) are largely gynecologists.
Gynecologists have also proven essential in the treatment of marginalized communities for a range of sexually related diseases, regardless of the patient's gender. While the board makes an exception for men in the "management of transgender conditions," it doesn't make clear if it's OK to treat trans patients for more general medical problems (and it doesn't specify what "male" means in the context of a trans person). Clinics like Planned Parenthood, which often bills on a sliding scale, have made historic gains in making sexual health care more accessible to low-income women and men. As Stier explained to the Times, the procedures she performs "are embarrassing and uncomfortable for patients, and it takes time for a doctor to gain their trust. Many of her patients are poor, from minority groups and infected with H.I.V. Some live in shelters, some have histories of drug use. And anal disorders add more stigma." The board's directive puts up an additional barrier for men like them to follow up on necessary treatments after they're diagnosed through routine "partner" evaluations.
A Crowd-Sourced Escape From Poverty? (25 November 2013)
Last month Linda Tirado, a 31-year-old from Cedar City, Utah, was reading Gawker comment threads when she came across some of her online friends grousing about poor people's self-defeating behavior. "They didn't understand why poor people just kept doing these things that were counterproductive over and over instead of tightening the belt," she says. And so Tirado, a mother of two with two low-paying jobs and a full college course load, tried to explain, writing under her commenter handle, KillerMartinis.
"You have to understand that we know that we will never not feel tired," she wrote in an essay titled "Why I Make Terrible Decisions, or, poverty thoughts." "We will never feel hopeful. We will never get a vacation. Ever. We know that the very act of being poor guarantees that we will never not be poor. It doesn't give us much reason to improve ourselves. We don't apply for jobs because we know we can't afford to look nice enough to hold them.... I have missing teeth and skin that looks like it will when you live on b12 and coffee and nicotine and no sleep. Beauty is a thing you get when you can afford it, and that's how you get the job that you need in order to be beautiful. There isn't much point trying."
Tirado was trying to put flesh on the sort of ideas that Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan and Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir popularized in their much-discussed new book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. Among other things, that book flipped the conventional wisdom about bad decisions leading to poverty, arguing instead that poverty impedes good decision-making. This was something Tirado understood intimately, and she wanted to communicate what it feels like to live that way.
Initially, her piece, like most Internet comments, floated echoless in the ether. But a week and a half ago, it started going viral. After a few thousand people had read it, Tirado e-mailed Jessica Coen, the editor of Gawker's sister site Jezebel, and suggested that she highlight it on that site's front page, which she did. Then the piece appeared on the front page of The Huffington Post. The Atlantic blogged about it. A literary agent got in touch, and after a few readers emailed offers to contribute to a book project, Tirado started a GoFundMe page. Her initial goal was $10,500. As of this writing, she's raised more than $60,000, well over twice what she typically earns in a year.
John McAfee accused of stalking (25 November 2013)
The anti-virus software entrepreneur John McAfee has been evicted from his Oregon apartment and hit with a civil stalking complaint.
McAfee, 68, last year fled the Central American nation of Belize, where authorities sought to question him in the fatal shooting of a US expatriate who lived near McAfee's home. He has denied any involvement.
McAfee moved into a high-end apartment building in south-east Portland. The stalking complaint was filed by Connor Hyde, a property manager with the Riverstone Residential Group.
Hyde no longer worked at the location, said Crystal Pierce, senior property manager at The 20 on Hawthorne, adding that the company did not comment on legal matters.
Hyde's court filing, obtained by the Oregonian, says McAfee sent threatening emails and had access to weapons and armed associates from a motorcycle club.
McAfee said in a phone interview on Monday that he moved to Montreal two months ago and had just learned of his eviction. He said he had issues with building management over "wilful lapses of security" but was not forced to leave.
L.A. County Sheriff's Department dismisses plot allegations (25 November 2013)
For the last 18 months, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has been investigating allegations that two deputies were involved in a murder-for-hire plot on behalf of a Mexican cartel.
A sheriff's spokesman said the probe is wrapping up, and investigators believe the allegations are untrue.
"We investigated it and found out it was completely unfounded," spokesman Steve Whitmore said. "People make allegations all the time that are just completely ridiculous."
A sheriff's lieutenant, however, contends that the allegations are being covered up by the department and has gone to the FBI to get the matter investigated thoroughly, her attorney said.
An FBI spokeswoman declined comment. The attorney, Bradley Gage, said federal agents interviewed Lt. Katherine Voyer and were recently given investigative documents.
Voyer is in the midst of a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department in which she alleges she was retaliated against for being a whistle-blower. In a recent sworn deposition, Voyer said the allegations originated from a reliable inmate informant, according to Gage.
PAM COMMENTARY: California has had law enforcement corruption problems for a long time.
Why African Farmers Do Not Want GMOs (24 November 2013)
Corporate voices and their allies are calling for the promotion of genetically modified seeds - and changes to African laws to enable their spread - as a solution to low food production and hunger in Africa. In October, the World Food Prize was awarded to three scientists, including two from agribusiness giants Monsanto and Syngenta, for their breakthroughs in developing GMOs. The editors of The Washington Post recently appealed to "give genetically modified crops a chance" in Africa and called for an open debate. The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, a network of small holder farmers, pastoralists, hunter-gatherers, indigenous peoples, citizens and environmentalists from Africa, is pleased to include the voices of African farmers in that debate.
The promotion of GMOs as solution is too often disrespectful to African culture and intelligence and based on a shallow understanding of African agriculture. It is based on the image that is held by many Westerners who see Africa as poor, destitute, starving, disease-ridden, hopeless, helpless that needs to be saved by a white angel from the West. That image allowed colonialists to rationalize their scramble for Africa, and that image is being used by neo-colonialists to rationalize their scramble for African land and natural resources.
Those promoting the false solution of GMOs are recommending that African farmers develop a long-term, perhaps irreversible, cycle of dependence on the interests of a small handful of corporate decision-makers to determine what seeds, with what genetic characteristics, and requiring what chemical inputs, will be produced and made available to Africa's people. This is a pathway toward profound vulnerability and centralized decision-making that flies in the face of the best agricultural evidence-based practices and sound policy making. The evidence and our experience with farmers clearly points to a more rational and appropriate path: investing in a transition toward more sustainable and agro-ecological farming systems that trust in the wisdom and capacity of tens of millions of African farmers to control, adapt and make decisions about their genetic resources, as the pathway toward greater well-being and resilience for Africa.
What is the story after 20 years of GMO cultivation in the United States? Farmers who took on herbicide-tolerant GMO crops are now struggling with the cost of combating herbicide-resistant super weeds. Some 49 percent of US farms suffer from Roundup-resistant super weeds, a 50 percent increase from the year before. As a result, since 1996 there has been a disproportionate increase in the use of weed killers - more than 225 million kilograms in the United States. Meanwhile, farmers who took on pest-resistant GMO crops are struggling with the cost of secondary pests unaffected by the built-in toxins. In China and India, initial savings from reduced insecticide use with Bt cotton have been eroded as secondary pests emerged.
Will the NSA be reformed? (24 November 2013)
Remember Edward Snowden? For a while, the National Security Agency's renegade contractor seemed like the most influential man in American intelligence, even though he's been hiding out in Moscow. Snowden's disclosures touched off a wave of enthusiasm in Congress for reforming the NSA's surveillance practices -- and anger overseas when he revealed that American spies were listening to foreign leaders' cellphone calls.
But now, as Congress counts only a few working days remaining in its year, the momentum toward intelligence reform has slowed. "It's often not a good idea to legislate when you're angry," Michael Allen, a former chief aide to the House Intelligence Committee, told me last week. "The [congressional] leadership may want this issue to cool down a bit."
And that suits the intelligence agencies just fine. "The best outcome from our standpoint is that nothing changes," a former top official told me.
The central issue Congress has been wrestling with is whether to place new restrictions on the NSA's ability to collect records of Americans' communications. Under current law, the agency can collect almost unlimited "metadata" on telephone calls inside the United States, meaning the phone numbers and times of calls but not the content of conversations. Overseas, the agency can collect the content of calls and email, but it isn't supposed to look at information about U.S. citizens unless it's pursuing "foreign intelligence information."
HP may have yet another problem: China (24 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Signs of rapidly worsening Chinese demand for IT giants IBM and Cisco Systems Inc are starting to spook Hewlett-Packard investors.
HP's year-long stock rally sputtered last week amid fears a faster-than-anticipated slowdown in emerging markets, above all China, may dash the computing giant's hopes for a return to growth in 2014 or beyond.
Cisco has warned about crumbling Chinese demand. IBM last month reported a sales drop of over 20 percent in the world's No. 2 economy.
Both also reported weakness in other emerging markets as well, but it was China and concerns about sales declines in that market that has grabbed headlines.
HP is already grappling with expectations of slowing U.S. federal spending, a fundamental erosion of PC demand and unrelenting competition from Lenovo and Dell. So it can ill afford a steeper-than-expected dropoff in China, which is estimated to account for a fifth of HP's revenue and is one of its most crucial growth markets.
Hamid Karzai refuses to sign US-Afghan security pact (24 November 2013)
A security pact with the US, which is critical to Afghanistan's ability to pay its soldiers and hold off the Taliban, is in limbo, after President Hamid Karzai shrugged off the recommendations of a national council that has approved the deal and said he would continue talks with Washington.
After a year of negotiations, the Loya Jirga, or grand assembly, of 2,500 delegates approved the agreement to keep US troops in the country after the current combat mission ends in 2014.
But Karzai stunned US diplomats and many of his own security officials when he told the opening session of the jirga that the bilateral security agreement should not be signed until after presidential elections in April.
Washington quickly announced that a deal had to be agreed by the end of the year, but on Sunday Karzai said that the US had to prove its good intentions by keeping its soldiers out of Afghan homes, ensuring the vote was transparent and promoting peace talks with the Taliban.
News from the Week of 17th to 23rd of November 2013
Thanksgiving by the numbers (23 November 2013)
Whether you are sympathizing with the animated turkeys in the new movie "Free Birds," pulling out your recipe for green bean casserole, or waiting for your favorite "Duck Dynasty" stars to appear in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, this American holiday unites like no other. In between courses, or maybe during a break between back-to-back football games, here are a few Thanksgiving facts and numbers to test out on friends and family.
In 2012, 254 million turkeys were raised in the United States, according to the Department of Agriculture. About 46 million will be eaten at Thanksgiving, according to the National Turkey Federation, which estimates that with the average prepared turkey weighing 16 pounds, at least 736 million pounds of turkey will be consumed over the holiday.
About 768 million pounds of cranberries were produced in the US in 2012. (Wisconsin and Massachusetts are the two states that produce the most cranberries.)
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will celebrate its 87th anniversary in 2013. Roughly 3 million people will line the parade route in New York, while 50 million will tune in to NBC to watch at home. This year's parade will feature 32 balloons and 900 clowns.
London 'slaves' had been in political collective with captors, police say (23 November 2013)
Two of the three women allegedly held for 30 years as slaves had lived in a political collective with their captors, police have disclosed.
Metropolitan police commander Steve Rodhouse told reporters that two of the alleged victims met the male suspect in London through a shared political ideology and began living together in a "collective".
The address where the women lived with their alleged captors is understood to be a three-storey block in Peckford Place, Stockwell, south London. Police are conducting house-to-house inquiries in the area.
The suspects, both 67, are of Indian and Tanzanian origin and came to the UK in the 1960s, police said. They have been released on bail to a date in January.
A 30-year-old British woman, a 57-year-old Irish woman and a 69-year-old Malaysian woman were rescued from a house last month, after one of the women called a support charity asking for help. All three women are believed to have suffered emotional and physical abuse.
Recount likely in razor-thin Va. attorney general race (23 November 2013)
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The closest statewide race in modern Virginia political history is unlikely to end Monday when the State Board of Elections certifies the votes for attorney general. Of the 2.2 million ballots cast Nov. 5, the two candidates are a mere 165 votes apart.
Republican Mark Obenshain has signaled he will seek a recount in his razor-thin race with Democrat Mark Herring, though he hasn't directly said so. Obenshain could press the issue to the General Assembly if he wants to take it to the limits of the law.
Obenshain has given every indication he's digging in, even announcing a transition team after Herring had declared victory.
"With such a historically narrow margin, Virginia voters expect and deserve a careful process that ensures that every legitimate vote is counted," spokesman Paul Logan wrote in an email to The Associated Press.
Herring also has announced his transition team, vowing to "build an attorney general's office that works for all Virginians."
US Court Sets 'Dangerous Precedent' in Pipeline Ruling (23 November 2013)
The ever-wise Yogi Berra once quipped "It's like déjà vu all over again," a truism applicable to a recent huge decision handed down by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.
A story covered only by McClatchy News' Michael Doyle, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson shot down Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation's (NWF) request for an immediate injunction in constructing Enbridge's Flanagan South tar sands pipeline in a 60-page ruling.
That 600-mile long, 600,000 barrels per day proposed line runs from Flanagan, Illinois - located in the north central part of the state - down to Cushing, Oklahoma, dubbed the "pipeline crossroads of the world." The proposed 694-mile, 700,000 barrels per day proposed Transcanada Keystone XL northern half also runs to Cushing from Alberta, Canada and requires U.S. State Department approval, along with President Barack Obama's approval.
Because Flanagan South is not a border-crossing line, it doesn't require the State Department or Obama's approval. If Keystone XL's northern half's permit is denied, Flanagan South - along with Enbridge's proposal to expand its Alberta Clipper pipeline, approved by Obama's State Department during Congress' recess in August 2009 - would make up that half of the pipeline's capacity and then some.
Another Reason to Divest: Global Outrage at Dirty Coal Threatens Investors' Profits (23 November 2013)
The divestment movement on US college campuses against Big Carbon (coal, oil and gas) signals more than just the arrival of a new, determined and idealistic generation of students. It is a harbinger of danger for investors.
In addition to the keen competition thermal coal is facing as a source for electricity generation from fracked natural gas and from wind turbines, coal in particular faces a major public relations problem. It is the dirtiest way of producing electricity, causing lung problems and probably contributing to autism via mercury emissions, and it is the major cause of global warming.
The value of coal stocks is to outward seeming backed by trillions of dollars in coal reserves, but what if that substance is actually worthless? Coal is already being shorted by a major brokerage, which points out that even heavily coal-dependent China plans to move away from the fuel because of pollution concerns (like that coal plants are making the air thick as pea soup and giving small children lung cancer).
Canada's major Ontario province (as populous as Illinois) is banning coal plants, with the last one to be closed by the end of this year. Wind, nuclear and natural gas have taken coal's place. Wind and nuclear do not produce C02, and natural gas produces about half as much as coal. The feed-in tariff has also been important in encouraging renewables.
HealthCare.gov contractor had high confidence but low success (23 November 2013)
At 9 a.m. on Aug. 22, a team of federal health officials sat down in a Baltimore conference room with at least a dozen employees of CGI Federal, the company with the main contract to build the online federal health insurance marketplace. For six weeks, the federal officials overseeing the project had become increasingly worried that CGI was missing deadlines, understaffing the work and overstating its progress.
As the meeting began, one of the officials reminded the CGI employees that HealthCare.gov was "the president's number one priority," assured them that the discussion would be a "blame-free zone," and then bored in. "We must be honest and open with each other," the official said, according to documents obtained from participants in the session. "I have to know what I don't know."
The top CGI executive in the room sounded contrite. "We recognize we have to build trust back . . . " said Cheryl Campbell, the company's senior vice president in charge of the project.
For that day and the next, CGI staff huddled with government officials in the semicircular conference room at the headquarters of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the agency overseeing the project. They combed through 15 pages of spreadsheets they had brought, which spelled out the company's level of confidence -- high, medium or low -- that individual components would be ready.
By the time HealthCare.gov launched 51/2 weeks later, many of those predictions proved wrong, according to internal documents obtained by The Washington Post and officials familiar with the project.
Raising Canaan? Wine cellar found in ancient palace (23 November 2013)
NEW YORK, N.Y.--Scientists have uncovered a 3,700-year-old wine cellar in the ruins of a Canaanite palace in Israel, and chemical analysis shows this is where they kept the good stuff.
Samples from the ceramic jars suggest they held a luxurious beverage that was evidently reserved for banquets, researchers said.
"It's not wine that somebody is just going to come home from a hard day and kick back and drink," said Andrew Koh of Brandeis University. He found signs of a blend of ingredients that may have included honey, mint, cedar, tree resins and cinnamon bark.
The discovery confirms how sophisticated wines were at that time, something suggested only by ancient texts, said Eric Cline of George Washington University. He, Koh and Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa in Israel spoke to reporters Thursday before their work was presented Friday at a meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
Rise of Bitcoin: Is the digital currency a solution or a menace? (23 November 2013)
Celine Sotelo "likes to be on the cutting edge," so she was intrigued when a friend this summer touted the virtues of a new kind of money called Bitcoin. She downloaded the software that would allow her family-owned floral shop/cafe to accept BTC, as Bitcoin is known. In August she posted a sign, "Bitcoin accepted here," at her shop on Los Angeles's Westside.
She got her first taker in mid-November. She hopes it's the dawn of more demand. But Ms. Sotelo says she is also a little worried because, frankly, she doesn't fully understand Bitcoin yet.
"I used the phone app and pushed the right buttons, but I'm a little freaked out," Sotelo says after the customer paid $59.95 to Le Petit Jardin by sending her digital bitcoins via his cellphone. "I have no idea if I got the money or not."
A lot of people, it seems, are both interested in Bitcoin and "a little freaked out" by it. Bitcoin, after all, does not really exist, in the physical sense. It is a digital currency, and buyers use their smart phones to swap online credits with sellers of goods and services willing to accept payment in Bitcoin.
Sen. Creigh Deeds Makes First Public Remarks After Brutal Attack (22 November 2013)
State Sen. Creigh Deeds has been released from the University of Virginia Medical Center.
Spokesman Eric Swensen said Deeds was released Friday morning from the Charlottesville hospital. Deeds was airlifted from his home in Bath County Tuesday after police say his son stabbed him multiple times and then killed himself.
Swensen declined any additional comment on Deed's release.
A message posted on Creigh Deeds' Facebook page Thursday reads: "The outpouring of support from throughout the Commonwealth and across the United States has been overwhelmingly kind and comforting. Please keep Senator Deeds and his family in your thoughts and prayers. During this difficult time, we thank you for your continued respect for the family's privacy."
Senator Deeds tweeted the following at 11:25 a.m.
"I am alive so must live. Some wounds won't heal. Your prayers and your friendship are important to me"
Creigh Deeds's son, my daughter and my fears about Virginia's mental health system (22 November 2013)
I was coming home from visiting my 11-year-old daughter at a Virginia psychiatric hospital Tuesday when I heard about the stabbing of state Sen. Creigh Deeds and the suicide of his son, Austin. According to some reports, the younger Deeds had been denied admittance to a psychiatric hospital the day before. I was heartbroken. This family was let down by the same broken mental health system my family depends on.
My daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 8. When I checked her into Dominion Hospital on Nov. 15, I was grateful there was a bed available. She'd been having violent rages -- punching and kicking me and her younger brother and trying to jump out her window. Although no mother ever wants to leave her child in a psychiatric hospital, I knew it was the safest place for her.
During a similar episode in 2010, we brought her to Children's National Medical Center in the District and were told there were no beds. We chose to bring her home rather than transport her by ambulance to another hospital, which we thought would be too traumatic for a young child.
For us, the decision to return home then was the right one. For the Deeds family, it ended in tragedy. And it makes me worry about what's ahead.
Three Charts Explain Why Democrats Went Nuclear on the Filibuster (22 November 2013)
No one has completely clean hands when it comes to filibusters in the Senate. Democrats have used them and Republicans have used them. But hoo boy, Republicans sure have used them more. That's why Democrats went nuclear on Thursday. Three charts tell the story.
The first two charts show the evolution of filibusters by presidential administration. As you can see, their use rose steadily through the '80s and then leveled off starting around 1990. Democrats mainly kept things pretty stable throughout the Bush administration, with the number increasing only when Republicans lost the 2006 midterm elections and became the minority party. At that point, they ratcheted up the use of filibusters to record levels, and there was no honeymoon when Obama won the presidency, not even for a minute. Republicans went into full-bore filibuster mode the day he took office, and they've kept it up ever since. For all practical purposes, anything more controversial than renaming a post office has required 60 votes during the entire Obama presidency.
But it was Republican filibusters of judicial and executive-branch nominees that finally drove Democrats to act on Thursday. Democrats had struck one deal after another with Republicans to try and rein in their abuse of the filibuster, but nothing worked. A few nominees would get through, and then another batch would promptly get filibustered. The chart below tells the tale. Under George Bush, Democrats mounted filibusters on 38 of his nominees. That's about five per year. Under Obama, Republicans have filibustered an average of 16 nominees per year...
Generic or Name-Brand? 10 Docs Talk About Picking Drugs (22 November 2013)
We talked to dozens of experts for our Monday report on how Medicare is wasting hundreds of millions of dollars a year by failing to look into doctors who disproportionately prescribe name-brand drugs. They struggled to explain why some doctors wouldn't routinely pick cheaper generics.
Name-brand drugs are appropriate in certain circumstances, they said: when there are no equivalent generics, when patients have side effects or if they are particularly sensitive to slight changes in a drug's composition. But these factors should apply to only a small fraction of cases, they said.
Here's more of what they told us:
1. Dr. Richard J. Baron, president and chief executive officer of the American Board of Internal Medicine: "We've almost glamorized the doctor who uses the latest, greatest, newest drug because that's the person doing cutting-edge medicine. We've glamorized that. I think a lot of people need to get together, and are getting together, on the professional side of this to say, 'We need a different understanding of what it is to be a good doctor.' "
2. Dr. Ashish Jha, professor of health policy and management at the Harvard School of Public Health: "I have lots of patients who are like, 'I want brand name drugs only,' and I talk to them about clinical equivalence and how I would personally take the generics and how I give it to my own family and how it's just as good. ... I think it's an abrogation of responsibility to say the patients in my community demand this."
PAM COMMENTARY: When people choose to use conventional medicine, they should also have the choice of prescription or generic drugs. My own parents told me of problems they'd had with generic drugs, solved by buying name brand medication. But I do agree with proposed money-saving legislation to allow the government to negotiate drug prices for part D.
Common chemicals destroying humanity, suggests prominent journalist (22 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) They are literally all around us, yet most people are unaware of their invasive presence: chemicals, and especially the hormone-mimicking variety. Everything from plastic bottles and receipts to clothing and furniture is silently teeming with them, and one prominent New York Times (NYT) journalist suggests that they could be humanity's undoing.
Also known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), these hormone-mimicking compounds are increasingly turning up in scientific studies as a leading cause of many common conditions, including infertility, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Both males and females throughout the animal kingdom appear to be suffering genital deformities and other sex-related problems because of them, and males in particular are losing, well, their maleness.
While it was previously believed that these and other adverse effects were limited primarily to animals, emerging science continues to show that humans also stand to suffer from EDC exposure. For instance, Philip Landrigan, a professor of pediatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, told the NYT that he has seen a doubling in cases of hypospadias, a misplacement of the urethra, in newborn boys, which he believes is a result of EDCs.
"Endocrine disruptors are everywhere," writes Nicholas D. Kristof for the NYT. "They're in thermal receipts that come out of gas pumps and ATMs. They're in canned foods, cosmetics, plastics and food packaging. Test your blood or urine, and you'll surely find them there, as well as in human breast milk and in cord blood of newborn babies."
21 Ways the Canadian Health Care System is Better than Obamacare (22 November 2013)
In Canada, health care coverage stays with you for your entire life.
In the United States, under Obamacare, for tens of millions of Americans, health care coverage stays with you for as long as you can afford your share.
In Canada, you can freely choose your doctors and hospitals and keep them. There are no lists of "in-network" vendors and no extra hidden charges for going "out of network."
In the United States, under Obamacare, the in-network list of places where you can get treated is shrinking -- thus restricting freedom of choice -- and if you want to go out of network, you pay for it.
In Canada, the health care system is funded by income, sales and corporate taxes that, combined, are much lower than what Americans pay in premiums.
In the United States, under Obamacare, for thousands of Americans, it's pay or die -- if you can't pay, you die. That's why many thousands will still die every year under Obamacare from lack of health insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time.
Expanding Social Security (22 November 2013)
For many years there has been one overwhelming rule for people who wanted to be considered serious inside the Beltway. It was this: You must declare your willingness to cut Social Security in the name of "entitlement reform." It wasn't really about the numbers, which never supported the notion that Social Security faced an acute crisis. It was instead a sort of declaration of identity, a way to show that you were an establishment guy, willing to impose pain (on other people, as usual) in the name of fiscal responsibility.
But a funny thing has happened in the past year or so. Suddenly, we're hearing open discussion of the idea that Social Security should be expanded, not cut. Talk of Social Security expansion has even reached the Senate, with Tom Harkin introducing legislation that would increase benefits. A few days ago Senator Elizabeth Warren gave a stirring floor speech making the case for expanded benefits.
Where is this coming from? One answer is that the fiscal scolds driving the cut-Social-Security orthodoxy have, deservedly, lost a lot of credibility over the past few years. (Giving the ludicrous Paul Ryan an award for fiscal responsibility? And where's my debt crisis?) Beyond that, America's overall retirement system is in big trouble. There's just one part of that system that's working well: Social Security. And this suggests that we should make that program stronger, not weaker.
Before I get there, however, let me briefly take on two bad arguments for cutting Social Security that you still hear a lot.
One is that we should raise the retirement age -- currently 66, and scheduled to rise to 67 -- because people are living longer. This sounds plausible until you look at exactly who is living longer. The rise in life expectancy, it turns out, is overwhelmingly a story about affluent, well-educated Americans. Those with lower incomes and less education have, at best, seen hardly any rise in life expectancy at age 65; in fact, those with less education have seen their life expectancy decline.
The health benefits of blackstrap molasses (22 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Molasses is a thick syrup produced when the sugar cane plant is processed to make refined sugar for mass consumption. Whereas the toxic and unhealthy refined sugar is destined for our supermarket shelves, the highly nutritious molasses - which contains all the minerals and nutrients absorbed by the plant - is more likely to be sold as livestock feed instead.
Fortunately, the nutritional value of molasses is becoming better-known, and various grades of molasses are now being sold to us as baking ingredients, sugar substitutes and mineral supplements. This is especially true of blackstrap molasses, the highest and most nutritious grade of molasses. Below is a list of blackstrap's health benefits and advice on how to consume it as a health supplement.
What blackstrap molasses does for us
Good for hair - One serving (two tablespoons) of blackstrap contains approximately 14 percent of our RDI of copper, an important trace mineral whose peptides help rebuild the skin structure that supports healthy hair. Consequently, long-term consumption of blackstrap has been linked to improved hair quality, hair regrowth in men and even a restoration of your hair's original color! Click here for more information about blackstrap's hair benefits.
Safe sweetener for diabetics - Unlike refined sugar, blackstrap molasses has a moderate glycemic load of 55. This makes it a good sugar substitute for diabetics and individuals who are seeking to avoid blood sugar spikes. Moreover, one serving of blackstrap contains no fat and only 32 calories, making it suitable for a weight loss diet.
Spicy Cheetos are sending kids to the emergency room (22 November 2013)
America is not doing well by its children. They need enough room to experiment and take risks, but not so much room that, as a group, they systematically destroy their stomach linings. But, instead of guiding and protecting kids, we've given them snacks like Flamin' Hot Crunchy Cheetos. And they're eating them. And ending up in the emergency room.
Doctors report seeing five to six kids a day who have eaten enough of the super-spicy snacks that they've managed to change the pH balance of their stomach and develop gastritis -- Inflamin' Hot Crunchy Stomach Lining.
One doctor told ABC News:
"It's almost like a food addiction. They seek out the burn," said Glatter. "It's a little thrill-seeking. 'It's like how much can I tolerate?' and I've seen a number of children who eat four or five bags and come in screaming in pain."
Twitter Just Made it Harder for the NSA to Read Your Private Tweets (22 November 2013)
On Friday, Twitter announced that it has enabled a new form of Internet security, already used by Google and Facebook, that makes it considerably more difficult for the NSA to read private messages. With this new security, there isn't one pair of master "keys" that unlock an entire website's encryption, instead, new keys are produced and destroyed for each login session.
"If an adversary is currently recording all Twitter users' encrypted traffic, and they later crack or steal Twitter's private keys, they should not be able to use those keys to decrypt the recorded traffic," Twitter wrote on its blog. To put that into simple terms, that would be like giving a new set of keys to each visitor coming to your house, melting them down after the person gets inside, and changing the locks. The method is called "Perfect Forward Secrecy," and while it has been around for at least two decades, it hasn't been picked up by tech giants until recently, following the allegations of vast government surveillance by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
This security system specifically takes aim at the NSA's alleged practice of scooping up the encrypted communications of millions of users--either through hacking or top-secret national security orders--and then storing them until the agency is able to get a company's keys to access all of the data. While Twitter was never implicated in the NSA's vast online surveillance program, PRISM, there is still quite a bit of private information the US government could be interested in on Twitter for its counterterrorism efforts--direct messages, time zones, user passwords, and email addresses, for example.
To get a peek at how this security might play out in real life, look no further than the legal battle the Department of Justice is currently waging against Lavabit, an alternative email provider that was reportedly used by Snowden. When the founder of Lavabit refused to give up its master encryption keys to the US government--because it would have had access to thousands of email accounts--the company was held in contempt of court. If Lavabit had installed Perfect Forward Secrecy, however, the company wouldn't have been able to give up its master keys, since they would have already been destroyed.
Study reveals how badly frackers lie about jobs (22 November 2013)
The fracking industry wouldn't lie, would it? But how else to explain the massive discrepancies between the number of jobs that it claims to create and the number of jobs that it actually creates? Perhaps it's just confused about what's going on at its own operations.
Whatever the reason, the gulf between fracking propaganda and reality has been laid bare in a new report led by the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative, a watchdog group that studies employment trends, economic development, and community impacts associated with fracking and proposed fracking in New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.
"Industry supporters have exaggerated the jobs impact in order to minimize or avoid altogether taxation, regulation, and even careful examination of shale drilling," Frank Mauro, one of the authors of the report, told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.
For example, the report debunks industry-backed claims [PDF] that each fracking well in the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale directly employs 31 people. From the report summary:
"Between 2005 and 2012, less than four new direct shale-related jobs have been created for each new well drilled, much less than estimates as high as 31 direct jobs per well in some industry-financed studies."
Honor JFK by Renewing His Constitutional Commitment to Extend Voting Rights (22 November 2013)
"The right to vote in a free American election is the most powerful and precious right in the world--and it must not be denied on the grounds of race or color. It is a potent key to achieving other rights of citizenship. For American history--both recent and past--clearly reveals that the power of the ballot has enabled those who achieve it to win other achievements as well, to gain a full voice in the affairs of their state and nation, and to see their interests represented in the governmental bodies which affect their future. In a free society, those with the power to govern are necessarily responsive to those with the right to vote."
--John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Special Message to the Congress on Civil Rights, 1963
There has been much honoring of the memory of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy this week, and rightly so. He was dynamic figure who preached a "new generation of leadership" vision that still serves as an antithesis to the listless, austerity-burdened rhetoric of so many of today's political figures--including some in Kennedy's own Democratic party.
Kennedy saw himself as a liberal reformer, declaring in 1960: "If by a 'Liberal' they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people--their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties--someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a 'Liberal,' then I'm proud to say I'm a 'Liberal.' "
JFK - Jim Marrs & Jeff Rense on the Assassination (FLASHBACK) (22 November 2013)
Jim Marrs and Jeff Rense speak about the JFK Assassination! Two combined aniversary shows!
PAM COMMENTARY: Jim Marrs is a journalist and lifelong resident of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. He has a picture of himself as a young man, dancing at Jack Ruby's nightclub. He also claims to have interviewed every surviving witness of the Kennedy assassination, and is one of the most knowledgeable journalists on the JFK assassination. Someone posted this Youtube of Marrs and Jeff Rense (a journalist with a national radio show) discussing facts of the Kennedy Assassination.
Chomsky Weighs in on Kennedy Assassination Anniversary: "It Would Impress Kim Il-Sung" (22 November 2013)
One of Chomsky's famous sayings starts with, "If the Nuremberg Laws were applied ... " Here's what he said about Kennedy in that context:
"Kennedy is easy. The invasion of Cuba was outright aggression. Eisenhower planned it, incidentally, so he was involved in a conspiracy to invade another country, which we can add to his score. After the invasion of Cuba, Kennedy launched a huge terrorist campaign against Cuba, which was very serious. No joke; bombardment of industrial installations with killing of plenty of people, bombing hotels, sinking fishing boats, sabotage. Later, under Nixon, it even went as far as poisoning livestock and so on. Big affair; and then came Vietnam; he invaded Vietnam. He invaded South Vietnam in 1962. He sent the US Air Force to start bombing."
And then in "On Democracy," a 1996 interview by Tom Morello:
"Kennedy is not even worth discussing. The invasion in South Vietnam - Kennedy attacked South Vietnam, outright. In 1961-1962 he sent Air Force to start bombing villages, authorized napalm. Also laid the basis for the huge wave of repression that spread over Latin America with the installation of Neo-Nazi gangsters that were always supported directly by the United States. That went on and in fact picked up under Johnson."
Daniel Falcone: Do you find it odd that the country is focusing on a 50th anniversary remembrance of the Kennedy assassination?
Noam Chomsky: Worship of leaders is a technique of indoctrination that goes back to the crazed George Washington cult of the 18th century and on to the truly lunatic Reagan cult of today, both of which would impress Kim Il-sung. The JFK cult is similar.
How 'The Nation' Covered John F. Kennedy's Assassination, Fifty Years Ago (22 November 2013)
Today marks fifty years since President John F. Kennedy was fatally shot in Dallas, November 22, 1963, as he rode in a motorcade with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Texas Governor John Connally and his wife, Nellie. On that day, and for many thereafter, the mainstream media kicked into full-gear tragedy mode. Television stations broke new ground in live event coverage. Every newspaper filled its front pages with stories about the shot, the shooter and the succession. They displayed the same photos over and over: the president smiling in his Lincoln Continental moments before horror struck; Lyndon B. Johnson standing next to a grieving Jacqueline Kennedy, reciting the oath of office.
The Nation didn't print photos then. Staying true to form, its coverage of the events was light on sentimentality. In the December 14, 1963, issue (The Nation dates issues three weeks into the future), the editors devoted all of their opinion pages to the late president and his successor. The lead editorial offered a restrained yet sympathetic look at his tenure. While lamenting that Kennedy did not accomplish as much as he intended in his short two years in office, they noted that he had inherited "a set of bankrupt policies and dead-end situations not of his making." The editors were most impressed by his moves, if limited, toward shrinking the American war machine:
"We had begun, under his maturing leadership, to cut back arms spending, to reduce some military commitments, to explore the possibilities for a gradual reductions of tensions--in a word, to make the great turn toward peace. John F. Kennedy will be remembered with affection and admiration for many fine qualities and achievements but above all for the fact that, after some false turns and starts, he set in motion the great task of directing American power toward broader objectives than deterrence and containment."
JFK assassination: Why suspicions still linger about 'Umbrella Man' (22 November 2013)
Nov. 22, 1963 was not rainy, and yet there he was in the crowd in Dallas's Dealey Square as President John F. Kennedy's motorcade passed by -- the man with the black umbrella.
Through the 50 years since the JFK assassination robbed Americans of any semblance of political innocence, questions have persisted about that man and why he opened and pumped his umbrella in the moments before the president was shot. Was the hoisting of the umbrella a signal? Was the umbrella itself a weapon? Did the man know Lee Harvey Oswald?
The explanation from the man himself, coming 15 years later in congressional testimony before the House Select Committee on Assassinations, has not put to rest all suspicions (as is the case with so many other facets of the JFK assassination). Today, 6 in 10 Americans do not believe the official version of what happened -- specifically, that Oswald acted alone. Novelist John Updike was once prompted to write that confusion about Umbrella Man hangs over the assassination, dangling around "history's neck like a fetish."
"In all of Dallas, there appears to be exactly one person standing under an open black umbrella. And that person is standing where the shots begin to rain into the limousine," Josiah "Tink" Thompson, author of "Six Seconds in Dallas," says in a 2011 documentary short by filmmaker Errol Morris. "Can anyone come up with a nonsinister explanation for this? Hmm?"
The Real Conspiracy Behind the JFK Assassination (22 November 2013)
For 50 years, the murder of President John F. Kennedy has prompted dark suspicions about what led to those tragic moments in Dallas' Dealey Plaza. Hidden-hand theories about the assassination fueled numerous movies and books in the years that followed and shaped a national culture of conspiracy. The Oswald-didn't-do-it (or didn't-do-it-alone) theory is the granddaddy of conspiracy theories; it paved the way for alternative (and sinister) explanations for a variety of events, including the assassinations or RFK and MLK Jr. and the 9/11 attacks. The JFK theorizing--which, in certain cases, posits that a cabal of government evildoers schemed the most notorious crime of 20th-century America--made The X Files possible.
Like many late-year boomers, I grew up fascinated by the speculation, poring over the latest "revelations" and initially believing the worst--at one point, when I was 13, my best friend and I called Parkland Hospital in Dallas and asked to be connected to the wing where the supposedly still-alive Kennedy was being housed--but I came to conclude that much of the conspiracy-mongering was bunk. In Slate, Fred Kaplan does an excellent job chronicling his own similar trajectory, so I won't detail my conversion. But as I spent more time investigating and reporting national security matters, I came to the realization that government officials, spies, and operatives tend not to be sufficiently competent to pull off the murder of a president (with a well-placed patsy as the fall guy!) and then mount a subsequent and wildly effective cover-up. Still, I've resisted getting drawn too far into the Kennedy conspiracy debates--a true black hole. But if you're asking, I do believe that Kennedy was likely killed as the result of underhanded alliances and government misdeeds. It's just that what transpired was more nuanced than a CIA-Mafia-Castro-Soviet-Lyndon-Johnson plot.
I assume that Oswald shot the president. That loses me many JFK truthers. But the story of what brought this one man to the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository is what's important and probably indeed the tale of an actual conspiracy--one that was in plain sight at the time.
Oswald was obsessed with Cuba and a public advocate for Fidel Castro's regime. In the summer of 1963, he opened a New Orleans outpost of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee, a pro-Castro organization. He tried to infiltrate a local anti-Castro group, and on August 9, 1963, he was arrested on Canal Street, after scuffling with three anti-Castro Cuban exiles. (More than a week later, he debated one of the Cuban exiles on the radio.) He printed up leaflets proclaiming "Hands Off Cuba"--a reference to Kennedy administration's campaign against the Castro regime.
Inequality Is (Literally) Killing America (22 November 2013)
Only a few miles separate the Baltimore neighborhoods of Roland Park and Upton Druid Heights. But residents of the two areas can measure the distance between them in years--twenty years, to be exact. That's the difference in life expectancy between Roland Park, where people live to be 83 on average, and Upton Druid Heights, where they can expect to die at 63.
Underlying these gaps in life expectancy are vast economic disparities. Roland Park is an affluent neighborhood with an unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, and a median household income above $90,000. More than 17 percent of people in Upton Druid Heights are unemployed, and the median household income is just $13,388.
It's no secret that this sort of economic inequality is increasing nationwide; the disparity between America's richest and poorest is the widest it's been since the Roaring Twenties. Less discussed are the gaps in life expectancy that have widened over the past twenty-five years between America's counties, cities and neighborhoods. While the country as a whole has gotten richer and healthier, the poor have gotten poorer, the middle class has shrunk and Americans without high school diplomas have seen their life expectancy slide back to what it was in the 1950s. Economic inequalities manifest not in numbers, but in sick and dying bodies.
On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders convened a hearing before the Primary Health and Aging subcommittee to examine the connections between material and physiological well-being, and the policy implications. With Congress fixed on historic reforms to the healthcare delivery system, the doctors and public health professionals who testified this morning made it clear that policies outside of the healthcare domain are equally vital for keeping people healthy--namely, those that target poverty and inequality.
"The lower people's income, the earlier they die and the sicker they live," testified Dr. Steven Woolf, who directs the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. In America, people in the top 5 percent of the income gradient live about nine years longer than those in the bottom 10 percent. It isn't just access to care that poor Americans lack: first, they are more likely to get sick. Poor Americans are at greater risk for virtually every major cause of death, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. As Woolf put it, "Economic policy is not just economic policy--it's health policy."
Three Guilty In NY CityTime Corruption Scandal (22 November 2013)
Three computer consultants who prosecutors charged "treated the city like their own giant ATM machine" were convicted on Friday of cheating the city out of tens of millions of dollars in the CityTime boondoggle.
Jurors who'd sat through the six-week trial of Mark Mazer, Gerard Denault and Dimitry Aronshtein took just one day to convict the trio on an array of charges in what's been called one of the "largest and most brazen frauds" in city history.
Mazer (pictured) and Denault face up to life in prison when they're sentenced in March, while Aronshtein faces up to 20 years.
"These three defendants and their partners in crime thought they had made off with nearly $100 million in taxpayer money, far more than they could have made by burglarizing banks, with a fraction of the effort," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. "What they now to stand to reap is lengthy prison terms."
PG&E seeks lower bills for big energy users (22 November 2013)
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. wants customers who use a lot of electricity on hot summer days to pay a bit less next year on their monthly bills.
And as a result, customers who use relatively little would pay a bit more.
On Friday, the utility asked California regulators for permission to revise its rates in the coming year. If approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, the changes would bring PG&E's electricity rates closer to the actual costs of providing service.
The revised rates would not increase PG&E's overall revenues or profits, according to the company. Instead, they would shift costs among the utility's customers, aiding residents of California's hot inland valleys. PG&E customers there have often complained about a rate system they say favors residents of the state's temperate coast.
A look inside Ford's Houston plant for hybrid motors (video) (22 November 2013)
HOUSTON -- Ford's hybrid and electric cars start in Houston and we took a look inside the plant that builds the motors and generators for the vehicles.
Buffalo lures two Fremont clean-tech companies (22 November 2013)
We're used to Texas trying to poach California companies. But New York State?
Two clean-tech businesses based in Fremont-- Silevo and Soraa -- announced Thursday that they will open manufacturing facilities in Buffalo on the site of a former steel mill. State and local officials want to turn the RiverBend project into a manufacturing hub for biotech, high-tech and clean-energy companies.
Both Silevo, which makes solar cells, and Soraa, which makes LED lights, will keep their headquarters in Fremont.
Both companies are part of Fremont's thriving clean-tech scene, which survived the high-profile implosion of Solyndra two years ago. Although headquartered in Palo Alto, Tesla Motors builds its electric Model S sedans in Fremont.
St. Mary's College of Maryland joins troubling U.S. trend: Too many empty freshman seats (22 November 2013)
A growing number of colleges nationwide are scrambling to fill classes, a trend analysts say is driven by a decline in the number of students graduating from high school and widespread concern among families about the price of higher education.
The admissions upheaval at schools ranging from lower-tier colleges to esteemed regional ones, including St. Mary's College of Maryland, contrasts with the extraordinary demand for the most elite colleges and universities.
Demographics pose a major hurdle for many colleges that market primarily to high school students. The number of new high school graduates peaked in 2011, after 17 years of growth, and is not projected to reach a new high until 2024, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Analysts and educators expect that a rising share of incoming students will need major financial aid.
The economic recovery is also hurting enrollment because fewer people go to college when jobs are available. According to state data released this week, Maryland colleges have 2.8 percent fewer students this fall, the second straight year of decline and the sharpest annual drop in 30 years.
As Arctic ice melts, U.S. military adapting strategy, forces (22 November 2013)
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA--U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the Pentagon's first Arctic strategy to guide changes in military planning as rapidly thawing ice reshapes global commerce and energy exploration, possibly raising tensions along the way.
Ice on the Arctic Ocean shrank last year to its lowest levels since satellite observations began in the 1970s, and many experts expect that by mid-century it will vanish in summers due to climate change.
As the sea ice thaws, ships are increasingly using a shortcut between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and competition is intensifying for Arctic oil and gas.
Hagel, addressing a security forum in Canada on Friday said the military would "evolve" its infrastructure and capabilities and would keep defending U.S. sovereignty in and around Alaska while working to help ensure freedom of the seas.
Climate Activists: Carbon Trading a "False Solution" Pushed by Bankers and Bureaucrats (22 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
PATRICK BOND: The carbon trading idea that the COP 19 is probably going to try to revive at the global scale really has been absolutely a failure here in Europe, and partly because the Polish government and the corporations have abused it so much. But, in general, the idea that we should turn over the planet to bankers to allow them to arrange an efficient trading of the right to pollute--carbon trading--from the Kyoto Protocol--Al Gore was very much in support of them--that's really not worked. And now Jim Yong Kim, the World Bank president, has put that back onto the agenda a few weeks ago. So I'm quite worried that unless we show more of the opposition and the demand for absolute cuts, paying climate debt and not messing around with banker-type solutions like trading in rights to pollute, we might see this problem get much, much worse more quickly. It's what we call a false solution, and therefore has to be contested, along with all the other areas of debate here, especially the fact that, again and again, the United States will come to these meetings, sabotage. And what I'm also worried about, they did an alliance the last time in Europe, in Copenhagen, with Brazil, with China, with India and South Africa, the BASIC countries. And that was why the Copenhagen Accord was such a disaster, you know, basically big polluters slapping each other on the back: "I pollute more; you pollute more--it's a deal." And that was the nature of the last major effort to get protesters out on the streets. So we have to really redouble our efforts to make sure that configuration doesn't occur again.
AMY GOODMAN: South African activist and professor Patrick Bond, speaking to Democracy Now!'s Mike Burke at Saturday's March for Climate and Social Justice here in Warsaw.
Before we go to break, I just wanted to give you an idea of some of the facts and figures that are all over the hallways here at the National Stadium here in Warsaw where the climate summit is taking place. Written in Polish and in English, it says, "Worldwide, 1 in 4 mammal species are now threatened by extinction, likewise 1 in 8 bird species, 1 in 3 species of fish, 2 in 5 amphibians and more than half the flowering plants and insects. Species of fauna and flora are today disappearing between 1,000 and 10,000 times more rapidly than their natural rate of extinction. We are talking about a sixth episode of mass extinction, for which this time, Man alone is responsible."
Americans Want Improved Social Security and Medicare and Less Military Spending (21 November 2013)
A tectonic shift is occurring in the US body politic. Ignore the media-driven sideshow about the 2014 contest for control of the House or about the screwed-up Obamacare insurance-market website. The real political battle is over Social Security and Medicare, and there the story is a historic turn from fighting against Washington efforts to cut those programs to demanding that both be expanded.
A coalition of progressive groups and other organizations, including of groups like the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, NOW, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Generations United, NARFE and SocialSecurity Works, last week protested outside the White House against a proposal, still included in the proposed Obama 2014 budget, to cut back on the inflation adjustment to Social Security, effectively assuring a gradual, but significant reduction in benefits in future years for elderly retirees and the disabled.
Meanwhile, a group of US senators and representatives, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist from Vermont, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Mark Begich )D-AK) and Sen. Bryan Shatz (D-HI), is calling for eliminating the cap on income subject to Social Security taxation, so that all Americans, including millionaires and billionaires, pay the full FICA tax on their income, a move which would effectively end any talk of the Social Security program "running out of money."
It's about time.
As Sen. Warren put it in a recent statement on the Senate floor, "We should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits -- not cutting them.... Social Security is incredibly effective, it is incredibly popular, and the calls for strengthening it are growing louder every day."
Elizabeth Warren on Social Security: "It's Values, Not Math" (21 November 2013)
[Mr./Madame] President, I rise today to talk about the retirement crisis in this country -- a crisis that has received far too little attention, and far too little response, from Washington.
I spent most of my career studying the economic pressures on middle class families -- families who worked hard, who played by the rules, but who still found themselves hanging on by their fingernails. Starting in the 1970s, even as workers became more productive, their wages flattened out, while core expenses, things like housing and health care and sending a kid to college, just kept going up.
Working families didn't ask for a bailout. They rolled up their sleeves and sent both parents into the workforce. But that meant higher childcare costs, a second car, and higher taxes. So they tightened their belts more, cutting spending wherever they could. Adjusted for inflation, families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases. When that still wasn't enough to cover rising costs, they took on debt -- credit card debt, college debt, debt just to pay for the necessities. As families became increasingly desperate, unscrupulous financial institutions were all too happy to chain them to financial products that got them into even more trouble -- products where fine print and legalese covered up the true costs of credit.
These trends are not new, and there have been warning signs for years about what is happening to our middle class. One major consequence of these increasing pressures on working people -- a consequence that receives far too little attention -- is that the dream of a secure retirement is slowly slipping away.
Corporate Espionage and the Secret War Against Citizen Activism (21 November 2013)
A chilling report released Wednesday unveils the well-funded and shadowy world of corporate espionage of social justice organizations, through infiltration, intrusion, spying, wiretaps and more.
According to the study by the Center for Corporate Policy--a project of the Ralph Nader-affiliated Essential Action, today's 'Pinkerton Thugs' are staffed by former law enforcement, CIA, NSA, FBI and military employees, funded by some of the biggest-name corporations in the world, and backed by highly-secretive investigative firms that operate as spy agencies for the private sector.
Titled Spooky Business, the 53-page study pieces together nearly 20 years of information exposing this hidden wing of the private sector, which its author Gary Ruskin says "is just the tip of the iceberg." While targets run the gamut, from anti-war to workers' rights groups to environmental organizations, they appear to have one thing in common: they are perceived as a threat to the corporate bottom-line.
"The key finding of the report is that corporations are conducting espionage against nonprofit organizations," said Ruskin in an interview with Common Dreams. "This is entirely veiled in secrecy and is a threat to an active citizenry, democracy, and the right to privacy."
Bail revoked for professor accused of helping kill alleged rapist (21 November 2013)
A professor of psychology was taken into custody Thursday after her bail was revoked in an 18-year-old case in which she is accused of helping set up the slaying of a man she said raped her when she was a college sophomore.
Norma Patricia Esparza, 39, was taken from an Orange County courtroom in handcuffs after being allowed to briefly hug her husband.
Prosecutors say Esparza, a Pomona College student at the time, and a group that included her ex-boyfriend went to a Santa Ana bar in April 1995 so she could point out her alleged rapist. Hours later, Gonzalo Ramirez, was found beaten and hacked to death with a meat cleaver.
Esparza was arrested last year while traveling from her home in Europe to an academic meeting in St. Louis.
Her case has drawn support from advocates for rape victims, including the group End Rape on Campus. A petition at change.org asking the district attorney to drop the charges has gathered more than 850 signatures.
Friends Saw Creigh Deeds' Son Struggle With Bipolar Disorder Before Killing (21 November 2013)
Before stabbing his politician father and taking his own life outside of his home, Gus Deeds, 24, struggled with a bipolar disorder that had utterly changed his life a few years ago, his friends told ABC News.
Those who know him say he idolized his father, a state senator and Democratic nominee for governor Creigh Deeds. He was a brilliant musician who could pick up just about any instrument and play. And he was a kind soul who wore his heart on his sleeve.
But sometime after his father's loss in that governor race and his parents' subsequent divorce in 2010, the younger Deeds fell into a downward spiral of mental illness, two friends told ABC News.
"Eventually it got to the point where everyone... you couldn't ignore it. It was obvious he was going through a difficult time," Tony Walters, who has been friends with Gus since they were children in Bath County, Va., told ABC News on Wednesday. "I don't know where they ended up taking him but he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and did get treatment for a while and I know he was on medication."
UVa Students Put Politics Aside at Vigil for Sen. Deeds (21 November 2013)
Dozens of students typically on either side of the aisle, stood side by side at the UVa Amphitheater as they offered prayers and well wishes to the senator.
"Our political groups are more than just that," said University Democrats member Haley Swartz. "We can come together for non-partisan things to show support for a legislator who's made a great difference in our lives."
The vigil gave students and others in the community a chance to show their appreciation for Deeds. Many signed a poster with well wishes to be delivered to him on Monday.
"We're thankful for his service and what will be his continued service as he makes a recovery," said Gaziano.
Senate Dems Just Went Nuclear and Changed the Filibuster. Here's Why. (21 November 2013)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats changed the Senate's rules Thursday, freeing President Barack Obama to staff his administration with the people he wants and fill the federal bench with judges of his choosing.
There are 100 senators, and winning a simple majority (51 senators, or 50 if the vice president votes to break a tie) was once sufficient to confirm presidential nominees and pass legislation. But over the past several decades, both parties have increasingly used the filibuster--a procedural move that requires 60 senators to end debate and force a vote--to block the other side's agenda. Since 2009, when Obama took office, Senate Republicans have used constant filibuster threats to force Democrats to win 60 votes to do almost anything. On Thursday, Democrats finally decided they'd had enough, and changed the rules. In the future, executive-branch and judicial nominees will be subject to simple up-or-down majority votes. But the filibuster lives on partially: Legislation and Supreme Court nominees will still be subject to filibusters.
The filibuster has bedeviled Democrats ever since Obama took office. A world without the filibuster would include major pieces of progressive legislation: The Affordable Care Act would have a single-payer option, the stimulus act would have been much larger, and gun control would have passed the Senate. The Senate might have even managed to pass a version of a cap-and-trade climate change mitigation bill in 2010 if it hadn't been for the filibuster. Despite this constant obstruction, Democrats were timid, afraid to upend Senate tradition.
Then, over the past several months, a fight over nominees to a little-known but influential court pushed Reid to finally change the rules.
Senate's filibuster rule change should help Obama achieve key second-term priorities (21 November 2013)
The Senate vote Thursday to lower the barriers for presidential nominations should make it easier for President Obama to accomplish key second-term priorities, including tougher measures on climate change and financial regulation, that have faced intense opposition from Republicans in Congress.
The move to allow a simple majority vote on most executive and judicial nominees also sets the stage for Obama to appoint new top officials to the Federal Reserve and other key agencies -- probably leading to more aggressive action to stimulate the economy and housing market. And it frees Obama to make changes to his Cabinet without the threat of long delays in the Senate before the confirmation of nominees.
The most immediate effect will be felt at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Widely regarded as second only to the Supreme Court in influence, it plays a central role in upholding or knocking down federal regulations. The panel is evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats but has three vacancies that Obama has been attempting to fill.
The court is likely to help decide whether Obama can enact new Environmental Protection Agency regulations limiting greenhouse-gas emissions by power plants -- a key element of his second-term plan to combat climate change -- as well as a variety of other rules affecting the environment and the financial industry.
Decades-long cohort study links nut consumption with lower mortality rates (21 November 2013)
Nuts are already known to be a healthy, nutrient-dense food, and even the Food and Drug Administration suggests that daily nut consumption as part of a low-fat diet "may reduce the risk of heart disease." However, few studies have investigated nut consumption in relation to total mortality, and many that have are quite limited. That is why researchers from Boston and Indianapolis teamed up to evaluate the health benefits of eating nuts.
The researchers followed 76,464 women and 42,498 men who were respectively in the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Throughout the study and follow-up, researchers evaluated the individuals' nut consumption through 2-year interval surveys and kept track of participant mortality and causes of death.
At the end of the study, the researchers found that "those who consumed nuts more frequently were leaner, less likely to smoke, more likely to exercise, and more likely to use multivitamin supplements; they also consumed more fruits and vegetables and drank more alcohol." They also discovered that nut consumption was inversely associated with deaths due to cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease, in addition to being associated with reduced weight gain.
Based on a serving size of 28 g, or 1 oz, the researchers found relationships between nut consumption and mortality as follows:
Seven servings or more per week: 20% lower death rate.
Five or six per week: 15% lower death rate.
London slaves: three women freed after 30 years' captivity (21 November 2013)
Three women have walked to freedom from a south London house where they were held for 30 years in what police described as the worst case of modern-day slavery ever uncovered in Britain.
Police said on Thursday the youngest woman, a 30-year-old British citizen, had had "no contact with the outside world" and was probably born in captivity, possibly within the house in Lambeth.
All three women -- a 69-year-old from Malaysia, a 57-year-old from Ireland and the British woman -- were described as "deeply traumatised", and were being looked after by specialists.
The extraordinary story of how the women were rescued from three decades of fear and enslavement within an "ordinary house in an ordinary street" in south London emerged on Thursday after the Metropolitan police's human trafficking unit arrested an unnamed man and woman, both 67, at the same property in Lambeth, at 7.30am.
The pair, who are not British citizens, were bailed early on Friday morning until a date in January. They were arrested on suspicion of being involved in forced labour and domestic servitude, contrary to Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.
Wage Gap for Women of Color Persists, Fuels Poverty, New Study Finds (21 November 2013)
The United States may be closer than ever to a woman in charge of the White House, with Bill Clinton subtly proclaiming on Monday, "I hope we have a woman president in my lifetime." But for women on the ground, giant disparities persist - and they have a color line.
A new study by the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) - a Washington, DC-based advocacy organization - shows that in the same full-time jobs as their male counterparts, women earn only 77 cents to the dollar earned by a man.
And it's not a gendered phenomenon only - women of color earn less than men of the same race and white women, with African-American women earning 64 cents to a white man's dollar, and Hispanic woman earning even less - only 54 cents.
Census numbers back up the study and demonstrate that women of color consistently earn less than men of color: Both African-American and Hispanic women make 88 cents for every dollar paid to an African-American or Hispanic man, respectively.
Rep. Trey Radel Won't Be Joining the More Than Half a Million Americans Jailed for Drug Offenses (21 November 2013)
"I'm struggling with this disease, but I know that I can overcome it," explains the conservative Republican.
Fair enough. The congressman wants to finally deal with an addiction problem he says he's struggled with "on and off for years." And there is every reason to wish him well as he does so.
But it would be good for Radel and his colleagues to note that he has identified his challenge as a disease, not a bad habit.
That's a very different line than was taken by the House Republicans Caucus (of which Radel has been an enthusiastic member) when the chamber this year gave voice-vote approval to an amendment that allows states to require drug-testing of food stamp recipients. Why would they seek to penalize victims of what the congressman says is a disease? Why would they go after the neediest Americans in what Congressman Jim McGovern--the House's most ardent advocate for nutrition programs--with a "degrading and mean-spirited" approach?
Why, in general, is there a rush to penalize Americans who are in need far more aggressively than Radel, a former television reporter who was elected to Congress last year with the backing of Tea Party groups that have made it a priority to promote crackdowns on recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.
Radel's penalty for an admitted purchase of cocaine from an undercover agent will be a year of supervised probation.
On the Front Lines of Hawaii's GMO War (21 November 2013)
Malia Chun lives just blocks away from the beach on the western shores of the Hawaiian island of Kauai. On a sunny November morning, local activist Josh Mori drives Chun and I down the beach in his truck. Children are surfing and swimming in the waves as fisherman wait for a tug on their lines. Hawaiian beaches are known for their sparking blue waters, but Chun worries that the water lapping on the beach in her small town of Kekaha is polluted.
The nearby residential neighborhood is a "homestead" area that is reserved for people of native Hawaiian heritage and boasts one of the highest numbers of native speakers of any neighborhood in the state. Chun calls the homestead "a gem." She runs a cultural enrichment program for native Hawaiian students at a local community college, and she moved with her two daughters, ages 7 and 11, to the homestead community six years ago. As we ride past the men and their fishing poles, Chun explains that some locals are subsistence fishermen and their families rely on what they catch. Chun says there are rumors among fisherman that the offshore reef, a crucial habitat for fish, is dying.
Mori stops the truck near two chain link fences separating the beach from sandy lots full of equipment and storage containers. Facilities operated by the international agrichemical firms Syngenta and DuPont-Pioneer run right up to the beach, where the stretch of sand occupied by the swimmers and fisherman is split by an irrigation ditch that stretches back toward the agricultural fields near Chun's neighborhood. The biotech giants BASF and Dow also operate in the area, and Monsanto has facilities elsewhere in the state. On Kauai, the four companies take advantage of The Garden Island's three growing seasons to develop and produce varieties of seeds that are bred or genetically engineered to resist pests and pesticides and increase yields.
Stands of genetically engineered corn are not what you would expect to see on a tropical island that once hosted sugar cane plantations and has kept its population happy for generations with coconuts, breadfruit, taro and papaya. But high demand on the mainland has made biotech corn and other seeds one of Hawaii's top agricultural commodities. Hawaii is the world's leading producer of corn seed, which accounts for 96 percent of the state's $247 million biotech agriculture industry, according to the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which represents biotech companies. Virtually every genetically engineered seed variety has spent some time in development on a Hawaiian island.
In California, $1 Million in Unpaid Fines for Assisted Living Centers (21 November 2013)
ProPublica, as part of its ongoing examination of the multibillion-dollar assisted living industry, had asked California officials to produce records detailing their oversight of the state's 7,700 assisted living facilities, which have tens of thousands of seniors in their care. The officials ultimately conceded they could not produce basic data about fundamental aspects of the department's regulatory operations. For example, they could not say how many inspections the department conducts each year, or how many "unusual incidents" -- injuries, abuse allegations, medication errors -- the facilities report to the state.
The revelations come as state lawmakers, advocates for the elderly, and news organizations have heightened their scrutiny of the department's performance. Last month, in a case that garnered national publicity, the department failed to take prompt action after the owners of a Bay Area facility abandoned its residents, effectively leaving 19 frail or impaired seniors to fend for themselves. Working without pay or training, a janitor and a cook tried to care for the clients.
While the federal government regulates the nursing home industry, it has left oversight of the assisted living business to the states, which, over the past two decades, have crafted a hodge-podge of widely divergent laws. Today some 750,000 elderly Americans reside in assisted living facilities, many operated by national chains.
Home to more assisted living facilities than any other state, California is widely seen as one of the loosest regulatory environments in the country. ProPublica's examination of the state's regulatory records lends evidence to that view.
Our review shows that troubled facilities often pay pennies on the dollar after they have been fined. A Southern California facility hit with $19,200 in fines in 2009 paid only $1,600. Another facility was fined $5,400 but wound up writing a check for $600.
Kendrick Johnson footage released; expert finds it 'highly suspicious' (21 November 2013)
(CNN) -- Kendrick Johnson's family waited months for hundreds of hours of surveillance video, hoping it would answer their questions. It only raised others.
Rather than showing how their 17-year-old son's body ended up in a school gym mat in January, the four cameras inside the Valdosta, Georgia, gymnasium showed only a few collective seconds of Johnson, jogging. The camera fixed on the gym mats was blurry.
Compounding the family's suspicions was the nature of the gym videos. They're jumpy, with students intermittently appearing and vanishing, and they bear no obvious timestamps.
The Johnsons' attorneys were not shy in stating their suspicion that someone could have tampered with the videos.
"They know their child did not climb into a wrestling mat, get stuck and die. Where is that video?" Benjamin Crump asked.
Kennedy Week: JFK's Uncertain Path in Vietnam (21 November 2013)
"Rick," a Facebook friend writes, "curious to see what you make of the old debate (which may have some new evidence, see Galbraith II) re JFK and Vietnam. Would we have gone or stayed if JFK lived? Or was he the fervent Cold Warrior some paint him as? (My dad marched in his inauguration, and was almost killed six or seven years later.)"
The argument that John F. Kennedy was a closet peacenik, ready to give up on what the Vietnamese call the American War upon re-election, received its most farcical treatment in Oliver Stone's JFK. It was made with only slightly more sophistication by Kenneth O'Donnell in the 1972 book Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye, in which the old Kennedy hand depicted the president telling him, "In 1965, I'll become one of the most unpopular presidents in history. I'll be damned everywhere as a Communist appeaser. But I don't care. If I tried to pull out completely now from Vietnam, we would have another McCarthy red scare on our hands, but I can do it after I'm elected." O'Donnell also claimed that in an October 2, 1963, National Security Council meeting, after debriefing Robert McNamara and General Maxwell Taylor on their recent trip to Saigon, "President Kennedy asked McNamara to announce to the press after the meeting the immediate withdrawal of one thousand soldiers and to say that we would probably withdraw all American forces from Vietnam by the end of 1965. When McNamara was leaving the meeting to talk to the White House reporters, the President called to him, 'And tell them that means all the helicopter pilots, too.' " Promptly, wrote O'Donnell, McNamara double-crossed the president, giving the reporters merely a prediction of the end of America's war, not Kennedy's prescription of the end of America's war: McNamara merely said they thought "the major part of the the U.S. task" would be completed by the end of 1965, nothing about the president's intention to complete the task by the end of 1965.
O'Donnell was seeing the world through Camelot-colored glasses. As the historian Edwin Moise demonstrates in A Companion to the Vietnam War (2002), NSC minutes are a matter of record, and the notes show the president himself approving a statement that was only a prediction that things would be over by the end of 1965, framed merely as the observation of Taylor and McNamara. ("They reported that by the end of this year, the U.S. program for training Vietnamese should have progressed to the point where 1,000 military personnel assigned to South Vietnam can be withdrawn.")
Now, on the broader claim that Kennedy truly intended to end the war by the end of 1965, things get more interesting, and that's where the case recently made by James K. Galbraith, son of the famous Kennedy hand and economist John Kenneth Galbraith, comes in. As he put it categorically in a letter to The New York Times, "President Kennedy issued a formal decision to withdraw American forces from Vietnam." Is that true? Only literally, which in the end adds up to mostly nothing.
Greenpeace: In Opposing Oil Drilling, Detained "Arctic 30" Are Standing Up for Planet's 7 Billion (21 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Can you tell us what they did, why they were arrested?
KUMI NAIDOO: Well, essentially, they took--they did exactly the same protest Greenpeace organized and successfully executed last year. I, myself, was involved in it. The idea was to draw attention to the fact that this drilling was about to start happening. Bear in mind, most of the Russian people don't know, and most of the people in the world don't know, because it's such a remote part of the world. So, the first objective was to raise awareness and to bear witness to what was happening. And the second was to make a strong statement saying that we were opposed to the drilling. What they were trying to do was to get onto the outside of the rig, like we did last year.
AMY GOODMAN: And where was this rig?
KUMI NAIDOO: This is in the Barents Sea, which is in sort of the Russian Arctic Ocean, if you want. It's pretty further to the north of our planet. And just to give you a sense, to get to it from Norway, from Kirkenes, the northern town, seaside town of Norway, it takes you about close to five days of sailing north to get to it. So, you know, we're talking fairly remote.
Feds order five companies to halt offshore work (21 November 2013)
WASHINGTON -- The federal government has ordered five companies to halt offshore oil and gas operations, after they failed to give regulators an audit of safety plans newly required since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The companies forced to shut down their offshore work -- all relatively small operators -- are Houston-based Breton Energy, EP Energy and XTO Energy, as well as Louisiana-based firms Virgin Offshore USA and Matagorda Island Gas Operations. EP Energy said its shutdown order was in error, and sent to the company for facilities that have since been sold to other operators.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which ordered the stand down, said the effect on U.S. oil and gas supplies would be "minuscule," given most of the firms are primarily involved in decommissioning old offshore facilities and only Matagorda has logged any energy production this year. According to Interior Department records, the company has produced just 383 million cubic feet of natural gas so far this year.
At issue is a requirement that companies working offshore implement broad "safety and environmental management systems" for holistically assessing and managing risks at every stage of their work. Companies were required to have those so-called SEMS programs in place by November 2011 and submit audits of the programs to the safety bureau by Nov. 15. Separate third-party audits are due in June 2015.
Navy suspends another officer in bribery investigation (21 November 2013)
The Navy announced Thursday that it has suspended another official -- the seventh in two months -- for his alleged ties to a major Singapore-based defense contractor accused of fraud and bribery in a scandal that continues to escalate.
Capt. David W. Haas, a Naval Academy graduate and the deputy commander of a coastal patrol unit based in San Diego, was suspended and reassigned Nov. 15. Navy officials said he is under investigation for his connections to the contractor, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, but declined to provide details. He has not been charged with a crime.
Also Thursday, the chief executive of Glenn Defense Marine, Leonard Glenn Francis, appeared in shackles in a federal courtroom in San Diego, where he pleaded not guilty in one of three separate fraud and conspiracy cases brought against him. The magistrate judge ruled he can be released on a $1 million bond, but stayed the decision pending a review by a U.S. district judge, the Associated Press reported.
Known as "Fat Leonard" in Navy circles for his imposing girth, and equally renowned for his lavish lifestyle, Francis is accused of bribing officers with prostitutes, cash and luxury travel in exchange for inside information about Navy contracts and ship movements.
Francis's lawyers have declined to comment on the charges against him. His firm held $200 million worth of contracts to service and supply Navy vessels in Asia until September, when the Pentagon abruptly severed the arrangements after doing business with him for a quarter century.
See-through fish reminds us that nature is way, way weirder than we can cope with (21 November 2013)
The Pacific barreleye fish has a has a see-through head. And that's not just so it can weird you out by looking like a living terrarium -- it's for an even creepier reason. The fish's noggin is transparent so it can SEE THROUGH ITS OWN HEAD.
Those dark circles on the front of its face ... those aren't eyes. They're the fish equivalent of nostrils. The fish's eyes are inside its transparent head. They look up, through its skin, to look for food above. And then sometimes they look forward, out of the front of its face.
lt's kind of hard to believe this thing is real, because who has a transparent head? And the pictures look really too shiny. But apparently we've known these things existed since 1939 -- only because "mangled specimens dragged to the surface by nets," National Geographic says. Then, back in 2009, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute found one swimming around out in the ocean. You can watch it...
Scientists witness massive gamma-ray burst, don't understand it (21 November 2013)
An exploded star some 3.8 billion light-years away is forcing scientists to overhaul much of what they thought they knew about gamma-ray bursts -- intense blasts of radiation triggered, in this case, by a star tens of times more massive than the sun that exhausted its nuclear fuel, exploded, then collapsed to form a black hole.
Last April, gamma rays from the blast struck detectors in gamma-ray observatories orbiting Earth, triggering a frenzy of space- and ground-based observations. Many of them fly in the face of explanations researchers have developed during the past 30 years for the processes driving the evolution of a burst from flash to fade out, according to four research papers appearing Friday in the journal Science.
"Some of our theories are just going down the drain," said Charles Dermer, an astrophysicist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a member of one of the teams reporting on their observations of the burst, known as GRB 130427A.
The event, dubbed a long-duration gamma-ray burst (GRB), is typically seen in the distant, early universe, Dr. Dermer said during a briefing Thursday. This one was much closer. And while typical long-duration bursts last from a few seconds to a few minutes, GRB 130427A put on its display for 20 hours.
USA Today attacks Dr. Burzynski but won't expose 'false hope' of conventional oncology (21 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) A decades-long character assassination and smear campaign against cancer specialist Dr. Stanislaw Burzynski continues, this time with a foul hit piece published in USA Today that tugs at almost every human emotion in a failed attempt to discredit this unconventional hero of progressive cancer therapy.
Mashing together just the right combination of heartbreaking anecdotes, manipulated data points and generally false accusations, USA Today's Liz Szabo completely marginalizes the work of Dr. Burzynski in her shameless ridicule, while at the same time conveniently ignoring the utter failures of conventional oncology to come anywhere close to his successes.
It is a common tactic employed by the mainstream media when trying to reinforce the status quo -- present the reader with a sad story while carefully sprinkling in a few personal attacks and useless tidbits of information designed to make the topic of ridicule, in this case, Dr. Burzynski, appear crazy, or worse, criminal.
Szabo's ruthless attack is no exception, of course, as she pulls out all these usual punches and more. But each time such nonsense is published by a "credible" news source with known ties to vested industry interests, it is important to bring things back to reality by shining the light on the truth, or in this case, exposing the lies.
Tesla Model S tops consumer survey (21 November 2013)
For Tesla Motors, the timing couldn't have been better.
Consumer Reports on Thursday issued its annual car owner satisfaction survey, and Tesla's Model S took top honors.
The electric luxury sedan beat all other cars, winning a near-perfect customer satisfaction ranking. As Consumer Reports put it:
"Lots of people love their cars. But as we've consistently seen in our yearly owner-satisfaction ratings, the vehicles that inspire the strongest loyalty are ones that are fun to drive, deliver great fuel economy, are fashionably green, or envelop you in a high-tech, luxurious driving environment. So perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that the Tesla Model S all-electric luxury sports sedan, which provides all of those attributes in one car, topped our latest ratings with the highest satisfaction score we've seen in years: 99 out of 100."
Tesla and its investors have endured seven difficult weeks. Since the start of October, three Model S sedans have caught fire following accidents. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation last Friday. (Although the investigation formally began on Friday, the agency only revealed it on Tuesday of this week.) Three workers were injured in an accident at the company's factory in Fremont on Nov. 13. And Tesla stock, which neared $200 in late September, has tumbled back to $122 per share.
Police: Son stabbed Sen. Creigh Deeds, shot himself (20 November 2013)
A violent domestic incident Tuesday left veteran state Sen. Creigh Deeds hospitalized with stab wounds and his 24-year-old son dead.
Deeds, the Democratic nominee for governor who lost to Bob McDonnell four years ago, was stabbed multiple times in the head and upper torso by his son, and Austin "Gus" Deeds then took his own life in the family's Bath County home, Virginia State Police confirmed.
Preliminary evidence caused investigators to evaluate the altercation "as an attempted murder and suicide," State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller said.
She noted that some details remained unclear and forensic tests were pending. An autopsy will be performed this morning on the body of Gus Deeds at the medical examiner's office in Roanoke.
Geller was unwilling to talk about something else that may have contributed to Tuesday's violence: Gus Deeds' mental state.
Obamacare will fail even if it works: No health care system is affordable unless it's based on nutrition and prevention (20 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Forget the name "Obamacare" for the next few minutes. Because it doesn't matter if you call our national health care system "BushCare" or "ReaganCare" or even "CarterCare" -- it has forever been based on allowing food, beverage and pharma companies to sicken the population while invoking costly "interventionist medicine" to "manage disease" rather than preventing disease with nutrition.
I'm here to tell you that no system of health care which isn't based on the nutritional prevention of disease will ever survive in the long run. That's because the very idea of managing disease will always, inevitably, irreversible bankrupt your nation.
Obamacare will fail even if Healthcare.gov works
Even if the Healthcare.gov website magically works on November 30th -- a far-fetched idea if there ever was one -- the entire concept of Obamacare is based on nothing more than cost shifting the burden of paying for disease management.
Obamacare is modeled on the idea that a sufficient number of young, healthy people who aren't yet sick will sign up and pay rip-off rates in order to subsidize the sicker people who are going to cost a fortune to manage. Why will they cost a fortune? Because America treats disease with monopoly-priced medications, surgery and chemotherapy instead of cheap-but-effective nutritional therapies, botanicals and simple lifestyle changes that have almost miraculous healing effects.
Watch: Vitamin Lawyer discusses the FDA, Obamacare and health freedom with former Governor Gary Johnson (20 November 2013)
Ralph Fucetola, JD, a.k.a. the Vitamin Lawyer, attended a meeting on November 13, 2013, with former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party along with healthcare providers and concerned citizens to discuss the issues of health freedom and Obamacare.
The meeting, which was recorded on video, begins with Fucetola asking Johnson about his views on health freedom and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Johnson's response:
"Well, I really believe in free markets. I think that the FDA really restricts our choices. And what are attorneys for? Wouldn't attorneys do a much better job of assigning and bringing about justice to drug companies that were actually egregious in what they sold to the public as safe? I think the FDA really has acted as a good housekeeping seal of approval that has limited liability as opposed to actually assigning liability due. So, we could do without an FDA. There's actually a way to not have an FDA, and we would be a healthier country as a result; we'd have more choices."
Fucetola then states, "You know, the Natural Solutions Foundation has an interim measure that supports the idea of divesting the FDA of its food authority, because we feel that having food and drugs in the same federal bureaucracy is a recipe for disaster."
Johnson: "Nobody wants to say that we don't want to have safe food, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the government is accomplishing that. And that's what I want to say, is that, as well intentioned as the government is, are they really making food any healthier? [W]ith the FDA, do we not still have incidents where people die, because the food is contaminated? This is something that will go on for perpetuity, and companies that sell this food are liable and are held liable regardless of government interference."
Some cyber security experts recommend shutting Obamacare site (20 November 2013)
(Reuters) - President Barack Obama's HealthCare.gov site is riddled with security flaws that put user data of millions of people at risk and it should be shut down until fixed, several technology experts warned lawmakers on Tuesday.
The testimony at a congressional hearing could increase concerns among many Americans about Obama's healthcare overhaul, popularly known as Obamacare. Opinion polls show the botched rollout of the online marketplace for health insurance policies has hurt the popularity of the effort.
The website collects personal data such as names, birth dates, social security numbers, email addresses and other information that criminals could use for a variety of scams.
In a rapid "yes" or "no" question-and-answer session during a Republican-sponsored hearing by the House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee, Republican Representative Chris Collins of New York asked four experts about the security of the site:
"Do any of you think today that the site is secure?"
The answer from the experts, which included two academics and two private sector technical researchers, was a unanimous "no."
Blaming the Victims: Media Bias Against Struggling Millennials (20 November 2013)
It has become a common refrain in the mainstream media: The economic problems that young people face are the product of generational laziness and a sense of entitlement. People between the ages of 16 and 24 have an unemployment rate of 16.3 percent, more than twice the national average, and an alarming 36 percent of adults age 18-31 are living with their parents.
"Word that six million young people are not working or studying comes as no surprise to anyone with a millennial in the basement," writes Jennifer Graham in an op-ed titled "A Generation of Idle Trophy Kids," for the Boston Globe. Millennials' describes, loosely, the generation born between 1980 and 2000. "It's young people who don't leave the house at all, not because they're scared like agoraphobics, but because their needs are met and they're content."
To say that Graham's article is a woeful oversimplification would be to give it way too much credit. The article is an embarrassing debacle, filled with worthless platitudes to support an argument that is insulting not only to young and poor people but to anyone who values critical-thinking skills. Graham fails to provide any serious examination of the economic conditions facing young people, and the article lacks any significant data to back up her claim that millennials are a "minimally employable crop" of slackers who lack "the motivation to provide for themselves."
She also seems to make the racist and classist assumption that all young people are white, privileged members of the middle class who have the luxury of returning to suburban homes (as opposed to, say, park benches or homeless shelters) when they lack steady employment. Conveniently, she ignores things like the fact that 57 percent of young black adults are either "near" or in "deep poverty."
Atomic mafia: Yakuza 'cleans up' Fukushima, neglects basic workers' rights (20 November 2013)
Homeless men employed cleaning up the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, including those brought in by Japan's yakuza gangsters, were not aware of the health risks they were taking and say their bosses treated them like "disposable people."
RT's Aleksey Yaroshevsky, reporting from the site of the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, met with a former Fukushima worker who was engaged in the clean-up operation.
"We were given no insurance for health risks, no radiation meters even. We were treated like nothing, like disposable people -- they promised things and then kicked us out when we received a large radiation doze," the young man, who didn't identify himself, told RT.
The former Fukushima worker explained that when a job offer at Fukushima came up he was unemployed, and didn't hesitate to take it. He is now planning to sue the firm that hired him.
As 17 of Arctic 30 Granted Bail, Greenpeace Chief Calls Fossil Fuel CEOs "The Real Hooligans" (20 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Greenpeace--latest news I want to give you right now--has just tweeted that 17 of the Greenpeace Arctic 30, imprisoned in Russia for a protest against an offshore oil rig, have been granted bail in Russia. Kumi Naidoo, the executive director of Greenpeace, just flew in from Amsterdam to inform delegates and activists about the latest news.
KUMI NAIDOO: History teaches us that when we have been confronted with a massive challenge, injustice and so on, those struggles only moved forward when decent men and women stepped forward and said, "Enough is enough, and we're prepared to put our lives on the line. We're prepared to go to prison, if necessary." And therefore, as we gather here, I would say, with 30 of my colleagues facing as much as seven years in prison in Russia for a peaceful action to protest Arctic oil drilling, and are being accused of hooligans, let's be very clear: The hooligans, the real hooligans, are those CEOs and other leaders of the fossil fuel industry who are not prepared to accept that, in fact, they have to change. So, we will see increased resistance, but general protests like we normally do, but I suspect you--we have to also recognize that it's going to take increased civil disobedience, as well.
Hundreds of Chinese workers protest after Microsoft Nokia deal (20 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Hundreds of workers massed outside a Nokia factory in southern China on Wednesday to protest against what they called unfair treatment following the sale of the company's mobile phones business to Microsoft Corp.
Lack of trust in employers has often led Chinese workers to balk at takeovers they fear will worsen employment conditions, and the confrontation in the industrial city of Dongguan marked the latest incident in a wave of industrial unrest at Chinese affiliates of foreign manufacturing firms.
Workers outside the factory gates said they were battling to change new contracts offering them worse employment terms that they said they had been forced to sign after the September deal between the U.S. software giant and the Finnish handset maker.
"We will definitely continue to fight until we get what's fair," said Zhang, a young male worker who gave only his surname.
Two more men arrested in Rob Ford drug investigation (20 November 2013)
The months-long, ongoing police investigation of Mayor Rob Ford, dubbed Project Brazen 2, has netted two more arrests of suspected drug dealers.
Barbudan Dima, 37, also known as "Dan," was arrested Oct. 7 and charged with trafficking marijuana and possessing $2,200 obtained from the commission of a crime. Andrei Dascaluta, 34, was arrested roughly two weeks later and charged with the same offences.
The men were charged more than one month after they allegedly sold a pound of marijuana to an undercover police officer trying to infiltrate a possible drug-dealing operation based out of Richview Square in Etobicoke, a plaza said to be frequently visited by the mayor.
Details of activities at the strip mall contained in this article are derived from police documents and have not been proven in court.
The plaza -- home to a dry-cleaning business and jewellery store and a nexus of activity under police surveillance -- had been visited by Ford and his friend and occasional driver Alexander "Sandro" Lisi.
On one occasion, police watched as Lisi walked into the dry cleaners empty-handed and exited minutes later carrying a pizza box. The dry cleaner's owner, Jamshid Bahrami, told an undercover officer that Ford is a "nice guy" who visits the plaza all the time.
Missouri executes serial killer Joseph Paul Franklin (20 November 2013)
BONNE TERRE, Mo. -- Joseph Paul Franklin, a white supremacist who targeted blacks and Jews in a cross-country killing spree from 1977 to 1980, was put to death Wednesday in Missouri, the state's first execution in nearly three years.
Franklin, 63, was executed at the state prison in Bonne Terre for killing Gerald Gordon in a sniper shooting at a suburban St. Louis synagogue in 1977. Franklin was convicted of seven other murders across the country and claimed responsibility for up to 20 overall, but the Missouri case was the only one that brought a death sentence.
Mike O'Connell, of the Missouri Department of Corrections, said Franklin was pronounced dead at 6:17 a.m.
The execution was the first in Missouri using a single drug, pentobarbital.
Franklin's fate was sealed early Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal appeals court ruling that overturned two stays granted Tuesday evening by district court judges in Missouri.
Franklin also admitted to shooting and wounding civil rights leader Vernon Jordan and Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt, who has been paralyzed from the waist down since the attack in 1978.
Arraignment set for Navy commander charged in bribery scheme (20 November 2013)
SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A Navy commander charged with accepting the services of prostitutes, luxury travel and $100,000 in cash from a foreign defense contractor in exchange for classified information made his first appearance in a San Diego courtroom Wednesday and was given a Dec. 5 arraignment date.
Navy Cmdr. Jose Luis Sanchez, 41, was arrested in Tampa on Nov. 6.
At Wednesday's bond hearing, Magistrate Judge David Bartick maintained the same conditions that were set in the Middle District of Florida last month. Those bond conditions include $100,000 secured by real property -- Sanchez's residence in Albuquerque, N.M. -- as well as GPS tracking and travel restrictions.
Bartick decided that it was appropriate to continue the GPS monitoring despite arguments from Sanchez's attorneys that he reconsider.
Also charged in the same complaint as Sanchez is Leonard Glenn Francis, 49, of Malaysia -- the CEO of Glenn Defense Marine Asia. Francis was arrested in San Diego on Sept. 16 after Navy officials summoned him from Singapore to California to discuss business face-to-face. He is set to make his initial appearance before Bartick on Thursday.
Two other senior Navy officials -- Cmdr. Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz and Naval Criminal Investigative Service Supervisory Special Agent John Bertrand Beliveau II -- are charged separately in connection with bribery allegations.
Son 'brutally stabs Virginia state senator father before shooting himself dead' - one day after he was committed to a psychiatric ward but released because there were no beds available (19 November 2013)
Former Virginia governor candidate Creigh Deeds is fighting for his life after he was brutally stabbed by his own 24-year-old son, who then killed himself - just one day after the younger man was committed to a psychiatric ward but released because there were no beds available.
Deeds, a state senator, has been upgraded to fair condition at University of Virginia hospital after he was found stumbling away from his home in rural Bath County, Virginia, by a cousin who happened to be driving by.
Deeds was stabbed multiple times in the head and torso and lost large amounts of blood. He was initially flown to the hospital in critical condition.
The veteran Democratic state legislator's son Gus was found shot dead inside the family home.
Gus had been evaluated by psychiatrists at a mental hospital on Monday, but could not be committed because there was no room at any mental health wards in all of western Virginia, according to reports.
PAM COMMENTARY: This article doesn't have as much information as local American papers on the incident, but they did bother to put together some nice photos and a video.
Police: Son likely stabbed Va. state Sen. Creigh Deeds, shot himself (19 November 2013)
The day before he apparently stabbed his father at the family's home in rural Bath County, the son of Virginia state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds underwent a psychiatric evaluation but was not admitted to a hospital, because no bed was available.
Deeds was listed in fair condition late Tuesday after his son, Austin, stabbed him in the face and chest, then shot himself in what investigators suspect was an attempted murder and suicide.
The incident thrust the senator back into the spotlight after several years of quiet. Deeds (D) vaulted to the statewide political stage in 2009 as the Democratic nominee for governor, only to lose to Republican Robert F. McDonnell (R). After the defeat, Deeds went through a divorce and largely receded from public view, even though he stayed on in the Senate.
The violence also culminated what appears to have been a downward spiral for Deeds's son, Austin, 24, a banjo-playing former campaign volunteer for his father who dropped out of college last month and whose apparent psychiatric problems had prompted an examination Monday.
The attack on the senator brought new scrutiny to Virginia's mental-health system. Six years after the Virginia Tech massacre, which prompted an outpouring of attention and dollars for state mental-health care, advocates still say the system is starved for money and reform. Lawmakers, state officials and mental-health advocates expressed agreement Tuesday that a shortage of beds for patients in crisis is one significant problem.
Just Deserts: Being poor in the United States has rarely meant anything so simple as having too little money. (19 November 2013)
Toward the end of last summer, Fox News aired a nine-minute segment featuring a 29-year-old surfer in La Jolla, California, named Jason Greenslate. Not only did Greenslate possess certain qualities that seemed designed to enrage the cable channel's over-65 demographic--long hair, mirrored sunglasses, a languid grin--but this particular surfer dude also happened to receive $200 a month in food assistance, some of which he spent on sushi and fresh lobster. Footage showed Greenslate driving a black Cadillac truck, jamming with his skate-punk band and generally enjoying himself. Close-ups of the offending shellfish were dutifully provided. ("It's free food," Greenslate said obligingly. "It's awesome.") Meanwhile, an on-screen graphic reminded viewers of The Great Food Stamp Binge.
Greenslate quickly became a talking point for Republican lawmakers, who cited his gourmet diet and cheerful indifference to a steady paycheck as evidence of a social welfare state run amok. In September, a month after the Fox News segment aired, House Republicans voted to slash food assistance by $40 billion. A GOP memo even mentioned "young surfers who aren't working but cash their food stamps in for lobster"--as if one surfer in La Jolla had somehow self-replicated. Never mind that Greenslate was hardly representative of anyone other than himself: nine out of ten food stamp recipients live in a household with a child, a senior citizen or someone with a disability. The caricature he provided--vulgar, cocky, altogether annoying--was too perfect, and too useful. (Greenslate later told reporters that he had agreed to Fox News's request in hopes of getting publicity for his band.) And so Lobster Boy joined the Welfare Queen in the ranks of America's undeserving poor.
Being poor in the United States has rarely been taken to mean anything so simple as having too little money. Americans have long distinguished between those who deserve public or private charity and those who don't. In the latest edition of The Undeserving Poor, first published in 1989, the historian Michael B. Katz writes about "the enduring attempt to classify poor people by merit." This impulse is driven partly by policy calculations: given that resources are finite, how can the people who most need help get it? But the distinctions are often laced with moralism, too: Who are the real victims--the worthy ones? Who are the moochers trying to game the system? The deserving poor have typically included widows and children, along with "a few others whose lack of responsibility for their condition cannot be denied." Katz says the working poor of today have also elicited some sympathy and support, though if our current political impasse is any indication--twenty-five Republican-controlled states have rejected Medicaid expansion, effectively shutting out half of all low-wage earners in the country from any kind of insurance coverage--that sympathy and support seem to come from just one side of the aisle.
There was a time when being poor didn't carry the same stigma that it does now. Before the abundance of the twentieth century, poverty was ubiquitous as well as inevitable. American poor laws in the nineteenth century made the poor a community responsibility, with the result that local authorities (in what seems like a grim prelude to the pre-Obamacare insurance rolls) would dispatch their elderly or infirm to another town in an attempt to avoid paying for their care. Still, poverty wasn't considered a deviant condition. "Resources were finite; life was harsh," Katz writes. "Most people, as the bible predicted, would be born, live, and die in poverty."
Mom packs kids homemade lunch; school fines her and feeds kids Ritz Crackers (19 November 2013)
Dietary news flash: Roast beef, milk, potatoes, carrots, and oranges are INSUFFICIENT for your kids to eat at school. This lunch is lacking the essential preservatives and saturated fat found in Ritz crackers, and thus your children will starve. Thankfully, the Manitoba Government's Early Learning and Child Care program has your back.
At least it did for Kristen Bartkiw, who packed her two kids this lunch. The program fed her kids Ritz Crackers and slapped her with a $10 fine. Someone call child protective services!
This takes the ongoing school-lunch debate to new levels of wack. Notes the Weighty Matters blog:
"As Kristen writes, had she sent along lunches consisting of, 'microwave Kraft Dinner and a hot dog, a package of fruit twists, a Cheestring, and a juice box' those lunches would have sailed right through this idiocy. But her whole food, homemade lunches? They lacked Ritz Crackers."
Hip fractures in men may be linked to milk consumption (19 November 2013)
Drinking a lot of milk as a teenager doesn't decrease hip fractures later in life - and actually increases the fracture risk in men.
A large new study found every additional glass of milk per day consumed during the teen years was linked with a 9-percent greater risk of hip fracture among men.
However, a woman's risk of hip fracture was not related to her teenage milk consumption.
Experts say the increased fracture risk may be partially influenced by a man's taller height.
Fisa court documents reveal extent of NSA disregard for privacy restrictions (19 November 2013)
Newly declassified court documents indicate that the National Security Agency shared its trove of American bulk email and internet data with other government agencies in violation of specific court-ordered procedures to protect Americans' privacy.
The dissemination of the sensitive data transgressed both the NSA's affirmations to the secret surveillance court about the extent of the access it provided, and prompted incensed Fisa court judges to question both the NSA's truthfulness and the value of the now-cancelled program to counter-terrorism.
While the NSA over the past several months has portrayed its previous violations of Fisa court orders as "technical" violations or inadvertent errors, the oversharing of internet data is described in the documents as apparent widespread and unexplained procedural violations.
"NSA's record of compliance with these rules has been poor," wrote judge John Bates in an opinion released on Monday night in which the date is redacted.
"Chernobyl Was Transparent Compared to Fukushima": Harvey Wasserman on Ongoing Crisis (19 November 2013)
The operators of Japan's devastated Fukushima nuclear plant have announced plans to remove 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel from the site, in an unprecedented operation that began Monday November 18. Nuclear researcher Harvey Wasserman believes that the highly risky procedure, in fact, the entire plant needs to be taken out of the hands of the operators- Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO).
In this interview with GRITtv, Wasserman explains how the fuel rods at Reactor Number Four have been stored since the earthquake and tsunami that hit the Fukushima Daiichi Plant in March of 2011. They can't heat up, be exposed to air or break without releasing deadly gas, but the cooling pool they've been resting in is leaky and potentially corroded by seawater and could never withstand another tremor or quake. The cooling pool is also 100 feet up.
"These rods have to be brought to the ground. It's never been done under these kinds of circumstances," says Wasserman. But as a 40-year activist in the field, Wasserman is especially concerned about the operators, TEPCO.
"I believe we got better information from the Soviet Union about Chernobyl than we're getting from TEPCO and the Japanese about Fukushima," he told GRITtv.
Feds probe Tesla fires (19 November 2013)
Federal traffic safety investigators said Tuesday that they will examine recent fires in Tesla Motors' electric Model S sedans, incidents that have taken a serious toll on the automaker's stock.
The move by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration came after three Tesla sedans caught fire in six weeks. In each case, the flames erupted after a traffic accident punctured the car's large, rechargeable battery pack. The luxury electric sedan, built in Fremont, has won glowing reviews for both its performance and safety.
"The agency has opened a formal investigation to determine if a safety defect exists in certain Tesla Model S vehicles," the administration reported, in an e-mailed statement. "The agency's investigation was prompted by recent incidents in Washington State and Tennessee that resulted in battery fires due to undercarriage strikes with roadway debris."
In an impassioned note posted Tuesday on Tesla's official blog, CEO Elon Musk wrote that the company requested the investigation to put to rest any doubts about the safety of the Model S or other electric vehicles. Cars powered by gasoline, he wrote, are far more likely to burst into flame following traffic accidents, often with deadly results.
What you should know about Princeton's unapproved meningitis vaccine push (19 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Mass hysteria is reverberating throughout the mainstream media following a relatively minor outbreak of meningitis at Princeton University in New Jersey. As you may already know, officials at the school have responded to seven identified cases of the illness by considering a call for all students to be offered an unapproved meningitis vaccine from Europe. But here to bring reason to the situation is Dr. Sherri Tenpenny, DO, AOBNMM, ABIHM, who rightly points out in a recent blog posting that, like most others, this latest mass vaccination campaign lacks both rational thought and scientific merit.
While only seven students at Princeton have been diagnosed as having meningitis since March, which was nine months ago, news reports today are awash with outrageous headlines claiming that an epidemic might be in the works and that this generally rare disease is somehow "sweeping" the Ivy League campus. Truth be told, seven isolated cases of a disease that does not spread through the air or through casual contact can hardly be considered an epidemic. But using such outrageously inaccurate language sure helps convey the type of irrational urgency needed to push an unapproved "emergency" vaccine.
"The infection occurs randomly and will not spread rapidly across the campus to other students," writes Dr. Tenpenny, decrying calls by officials from Princeton, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to rush in the Novartis vaccine Bexsero, which has never been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The type of meningitis that has inflicted this small handful of Princeton students, known as serotype B, just so happens to be the most common form of bacterial meningitis. But there is currently no approved vaccine for serotype B meningitis, because the cell wall of this particular bacterial strain very closely resembles that of the brain and nerves. In other words, getting vaccinating against serotype B using the traditional approach would mean risking that vaccine-induced antibodies might also attack the brain and nerves.
Insight: As U.S. default threatened, banks took extraordinary steps (19 November 2013)
(Reuters) - As the United States threatened to default on its debt last month, major U.S. banks set up war rooms, spent many millions of dollars on contingency planning and, in some cases, even prepared to underwrite federal government benefits.
In a series of interviews with top bank executives, new details emerged about the extent of the contingency planning that was undertaken before and during the 16-day government shutdown and as a potential default loomed.
The planning for worst-case scenarios didn't come cheap. JPMorgan alone has spent more than $100 million on contingency planning for U.S. budget crises in recent years including this one, sources close to the bank say. It has reviewed and analyzed thousands of trading contracts, updated computer systems to handle fiscal emergencies, hired consultants, and built new models to figure out what might happen to securities prices.
It may not go to waste. The temporary budget agreement that President Barack Obama signed shortly after midnight on October 17 to end the shutdown and lift the default threat, authorizes government spending through January 15 and eases enforcement of the debt limit until February 7, creating the potential for another budget crisis early next year, even as some Republicans vow they will avoid it.
Mayor Rob Ford remains defiant after 37-5 vote to disempower him (19 November 2013)
Stripped of his powers and with his budget whittled away, Mayor Rob Ford is making clear that he will not fade quietly into the background.
On the same day that a series of historic votes in council essentially reduced him to a figurehead and the mayor declared war on councillors, Ford appeared in extended interviews on CBC, CNN and Sun News Network. It is a bold step into the limelight after months of unanswered questions, and an indication the mayor remains defiant in the face of unprecedented efforts to undercut his influence.
Ford, who did not respond for a request for an interview from the Star on Monday, told CBC's Peter Mansbridge that he will never drink again, and during the premiere of Sun's Ford Nation, "I haven't touched a drop of alcohol in three weeks."
At a highly charged meeting marked by raised voices, ridicule and even a minor injury on the council floor, an overwhelming majority of councillors approved the latest series of council moves to contain Ford's authority.
The political brilliance of Rob Ford (19 November 2013)
Has there ever been a politician as brilliant as Rob Ford? True, when a politician is described regularly by gleeful news reporters as "crack-smoking and alleged sexual harasser Toronto mayor Rob Ford", Canadian sculptors will probably not be troubled by commissions to erect likenesses of the man for future generations to admire.
Nor do I mean "brilliant" in the literal sense. Is Rob Ford a smart man? It would take a braver woman than me to adjudicate on this issue with confidence. One can argue that a politician who announces that the bad news is he smoked crack cocaine "probably in one of my drunken stupors", but the good news is that he will seek re-election next year must be, if not full-on stupid, then quite possibly high on crack.
But anyone insisting that this cross between Cartman from South Park and Chris Farley is not a brilliant politician in any sense of the word is overlooking the most bizarre element of this whole story. That really is saying something, seeing as we're talking about a story involving a mayor who allegedly saw in St Patrick's Day last year with cocaine, weed, OxyContin and a suspected prostitute. The fact is, a lot of Toronto still likes him.
Before Ford admitted that he'd bought and smoked crack -- all the while, campaigning against drugs -- he was a pretty popular mayor. After his confession, his ratings went up by 5%. As of writing, while most citizens sadly admit the mayor should probably step down, 40% of the city of Toronto "currently approve of his performance as mayor". Was it the way that he bought rocks of crack?
Court order that allowed NSA surveillance is revealed for first time (18 November 2013)
A secret court order that authorised a massive trawl by the National Security Agency of Americans' email and internet data was published for the first time on Monday night, among a trove of documents that also revealed a judge's concern that the NSA "continuously" and "systematically" violated the limits placed on the program.
The order by the Fisa court, almost certainly its first ruling on the controversial program and published only in heavily redacted form, shows that it granted permisson for the trawl in part beacause of the type of devices used for the surveillance. Even the judge approving the spying called it a "novel use" of government authorities.
Another later court order found that what it called "systemic overcollection" had taken place.
Transparency lawsuits brought by civil liberties groups compelled the US spy agencies on Monday night to shed new light on the highly controversial program, whose discontinuation in 2011 for unclear reasons was first reported by the Guardian based on leaks by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
'Devastation is just unbelievable' from historic tornadoes (18 November 2013)
Hundreds of residents who lost their homes or couldn't return to them amid gas leaks and downed power lines huddled Monday in a Washington church, thankful for shelter, running water and hot cups of coffee.
Others ventured out into a wasteland of plywood, drywall and chunks of twisted metal, carrying water, food and saws in hopes of salvaging remnants of their belongings.
A day after a storm of historic proportions slammed many Illinois communities, the task turned to assessing the damage -- from lives lost to homes destroyed -- and comprehending the power of the tornadoes.
Calling the November storm "unprecedented," Gov. Pat Quinn declared seven counties disaster areas, with National Weather Service meteorologists estimating about a dozen tornado touchdowns in Illinois. Six people were killed in three tornadoes, and two more deaths in Michigan were attributed to the storm.
6 killed as tornadoes hit Illinois (18 November 2013)
Rare and violent autumn storms ripped across Illinois on Sunday, spinning off tornadoes before slamming into Chicago with punishing rain and wind.
As heavy gusts toppled trees and power lines and downpours swamped city streets, tens of thousands of Bears fans were evacuated from their Soldier Field seats and forced to take cover inside or huddle behind the historic stone colonnades.
Earlier, in southern Illinois, severe weather decimated farms, killing at least five people, including an elderly brother and sister, when a tornado barreled through their house. Farther north, near Peoria, a tornado flattened large swaths of Washington, killing at least one person and sending about 50 others to local hospitals.
As night fell and temperatures dropped, emergency workers were still searching debris fields that had once been neighborhoods and the homeless were seeking temporary shelter.
Cracks in Tepco's 3/11 narrative (18 November 2013)
"While I was with Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), a question was raised internally as to whether or not the measuring pipe installed at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the diameter of which is about the same as that of a human thumb, can withstand an earthquake. But Tepco has yet to make clear whether or not the March 2011 earthquake damaged that pipe," says Toshio Kimura, a former Tepco plant engineer.
Kimura, 49, who served the company for 17 years from 1983 to 2000 and worked at Fukushima No. 1 for 12 years, is strongly of the view that pipes in the plant were damaged seriously by the quake before a subsequent tsunami struck the plant.
He thus casts doubt on Tepco's position that the tsunami caused loss of all the power sources, thus leading to the disaster. He says, "An effective means of determining the true cause of the accident would have been to analyze recorded data related to transient phenomena -- data that show what happened near the reactor cores. Even though more than two years have passed since the disaster, however, Tepco has only released partial data.
"So I demanded that Tepco release the relevant data. It made public the data on Aug. 19 for the first time." But it was found later that the data did not represent the whole data.
2 Months After Russia's Jailing of Arctic 30, Greenpeace Urges Their Release at Warsaw Summit (18 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: We turn right now to an issue that has been gaining global attention, the Arctic 30. Well, they were back in court today in Russia, where they've been held for nearly two months. State prosecutors asked Russian courts to extend the detention of the 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists by three more months, saying they could flee the country if they were released on bail. This is the story of these 30 people who were detained during a direct action against Russia's first Arctic offshore oil rig in September.
At Saturday's climate justice march here in Warsaw, Greenpeace activists held posters with large photographs of the Arctic 30. In a moment, you'll hear from two members of Greenpeace who spoke at the rally Saturday, but first let's turn to Democracy Now!'s Mike Burke interviewing Martin Kaiser, the head of the Greenpeace delegation here in Warsaw.
MARTIN KAISER: My name is Martin Kaiser with Greenpeace. The Arctic 30 are climate defenders who have shown courage and peaceful protest against new oil drilling in the Arctic in the Russian waters. They are now in the pretrial detainment for about over 50 days. And they need to be freed. And we are here to demonstrate that peaceful protest is needed to move the oil sector and the coal sector towards investment into renewable energies. The governments leave people alone, while global warming is accelerating.
MIKE BURKE: And can you talk a little bit about the connection between drilling in the Arctic and climate change?
MARTIN KAISER: The most recent outlook from the World Energy Organization made it very clear. Eighty percent of the fossil fuels need to stay in the earth, in the soil, rather than to be polluted into the atmosphere. That's why new oil drilling in the Arctic should not happen. And we call on oil companies not to do new oil drilling in the Arctic.
Long-term oral contraceptive use doubles women's risk of glaucoma (18 November 2013)
(http://www.dailymail.co.uk) A new study has found that women who take oral contraceptives for longer than three years increase their risk of glaucoma by more than two times.
Glaucoma is an eye condition in which drainage tubes become blocked, leading to increased fluid pressure which can damage optic nerves and nerve fibers from the retina; it can eventually lead to blindness.
Scientists are urging gynecologists and ophthalmologists to warn their patients of the risk and to screen for the condition.
According to the Daily Mail,
The researchers used data from 2005 to 2008 in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Multiple military deployments in families may raise teen suicide risk (18 November 2013)
Teenagers with family members in the military were more likely to contemplate suicide if their relatives were deployed overseas multiple times, according to researchers from USC.
After analyzing survey data from 14,299 secondary school students in California -- including more than 1,900 with parents or siblings in the military -- the researchers found a link between a family member's deployment history and a variety of mental health problems, including "suicidal ideation," or thoughts about suicide.
Their study, published online Monday by the Journal of Adolescent Health, joins a growing body of evidence that the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken a hefty toll on children in military families.
"The cost of military deployment goes well beyond money and our soldiers' lives," said Stephan Arndt, a University of Iowa psychologist who was not involved in the study. His work has found elevated rates of drug and alcohol use among children whose parents were currently or recently deployed.
Malfunctioning drone hits Navy ship while training (18 November 2013)
A Navy guided missile cruiser hit by a malfunctioning drone during a training exercise returned to San Diego, where investigators will assess the damage and determine what went wrong, a Navy official said Sunday.
Two sailors were treated for minor burns after the Chancellorsville was struck by the unmanned aircraft during radar testing Saturday afternoon, off Point Mugu in Southern California.
Lt. Lenaya Rotklein of the U.S. Third Fleet said the drone -- which was 13 feet long, 1 foot in diameter and had a wingspan of nearly 6 feet -- hit the ship's left, or port, side.
She said investigators at Naval Base San Diego are assessing the damage and determining why the drone malfunctioned.
About 300 crew members were aboard the ship. The Navy could not say how the two sailors were injured.
Princeton May Offer Meningitis B Vaccine After Seventh Case
(18 November 2013)
Princeton University students are taking precautions after a seventh meningitis case on campus this year is prompting efforts to offer them a vaccine currently unavailable in the U.S.
Since the outbreak in March, the Princeton, New Jersey-based Ivy League school has reached out to students and parents through posters and e-mails on ways to protect themselves, including not sharing cups. In September, Princeton distributed almost 5,000 plastic 16-ounce tumblers with the message "Mine. Not Yours."
All seven cases developed infections with meningococcus B. That strain of the bacteria isn't covered by vaccines available in the U.S., prompting federal health officials to approve import of an immunization. Princeton trustees were considering over the weekend whether to use the vaccine, made by Novartis AG., which said the shots could be available in the next month or two.
"If the vaccine is available, I would definitely take it," said junior Joshua Taliaferro, a chemical and biological engineering student from Cheltenham, Pennsylvania. "Maybe I should be afraid, but I'm not. I'm a peer health adviser and we learned a lot about how meningitis stays in a campus and what the symptoms are."
The outbreak is the first of the meningitis B strain in a specific group in which health officials have had the option to vaccinate, according to Barbara Reynolds, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
Eight more U.S. coal generators bite the dust (18 November 2013)
The Tennessee Valley Authority plans to shut down eight of its coal-burning generating stations in Alabama and Kentucky. Board members of the federally owned utility agreed to the plan last week, reacting to changing market conditions and federal environmental rules. The move will reduce coal generation by 3,300 megawatts in the two states.
The decision is being seen as a blow to the local coal industry, but a boon for the region's air quality. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) met with TVA's CEO in a bid to dissuade the utility from shuttering coal plants, but to no avail. Enviros, meanwhile, cheered the development.
Absent from the seemingly positive news, however, is any mention of renewables. Wind and solar farms are being built across the country, but TVA said it's hoping to turn to natural gas and nuclear power to help it plug the gaps created by its abandonment of coal.
The Wall Street Journal reports:
"Forty years ago, the TVA got more than 80% of its power from coal. Today coal accounts for 38%, a number that is dropping fast as a drilling boom in the U.S. pushes down the price of natural gas, the fuel that competes with coal for power generation."
Should pygmy three-toed sloths leave Panama for Dallas? (18 November 2013)
A rare pygmy three-toed sloth stirred an international controversy after officials of the Dallas World Aquarium caught and crated six of the creatures on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, an island off Panama. The aquarium officials intended to take the animals back to Dallas -- and made it clear they had extensive paperwork and permits to do so -- but were confronted at the Isla Colón International Airport in the Bocas del Toro province of Panama by protesters and police who barred them from leaving the airport with the sloths. The animals were returned to the island.
The confrontation occurred in September, but the Animal Welfare Institute has just filed an emergency petition to list the pygmy three-toed sloth as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Once an animal is protected under the U.S. act or under the international treaty CITES -- the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora -- rigid restrictions on import and export go into place. A listing won't prevent all import and export, but it will set conditions for it.
And it's probably time to get the world's smallest sloth listed as endangered. First identified as a distinct sloth species in 2001, it lives only in the mangroves of Isla Escudo de Veraguas. I've seen reports that put its total wild population at anywhere from 79 to 200. And, of course, they -- or rather their fans -- have their own Facebook page.
This doesn't appear to be an issue of the Dallas World Aquarium having done anything technically wrong. The aquarium is involved in extensive conservation efforts across Latin America, including on the island pygmy sloths call home. The aquarium's aim, its officials say, was to further that conservation effort by bringing back the sloths to breed and ensure the survival of the species. The Animal Welfare Institute, however, counters that the species does not do well in captivity.
Partnering With Polluters? U.N. Climate Summit Criticized for Sponsorships by Fossil Fuel Companies (18 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
Welcome, Pascoe. Talk about who is here. What is unprecedented about this COP 19, the Conference of Parties, the U.N. climate change summit?
PASCOE SABIDO: Yeah, I mean, I think just to say that this--this is perhaps the most corporate climate talks we have ever experienced is not to say that previous ones haven't had a large corporate influence. But what's different this time is the level of institutionalization, the degree to which the Polish government and the U.N., the UNCCC, the Framework Convention on Climate Change, have welcomed this with open arms and have actively encouraged it.
So, I mean, the three key ways they've done this is there was the pre-negotiations that happened in October here in Warsaw, and the Polish presidency, so the presidents of the climate talks, invited only business. Civil society, so NGOs, journalists, academics, were not allowed to attend. So you had exclusive access to negotiators by business, so a real chance to set the agenda. And then here at the talks, I mean, there's 13 corporate sponsors, the first time we've seen this degree. But just to shed a bit of light, the Polish presidency asked 150 different corporations to sponsor this event, and these were the best, the best of the bunch. But, I mean, as you said, General Motors, who are known for funding climate skeptic think tanks like the Heartland Institute in the U.S.; you have BMW, who are doing equal things in Europe, who are trying to weaken emission standards.
AMY GOODMAN: How is BMW trying to weaken emission standards?
PASCOE SABIDO: It's been leading on the--on the German government, on Angela Merkel, to delay a vote in the European Parliament that's supposed to say car emission standards will be improved. And instead it's had the deal delayed again and again and again, to the degree where actually now it's being--it's supposed to be voted on by the Lithuanian presidency, so this is perhaps a bit EU talk, but just to--just to say, the Lithuanian presidency, who's supposed to be allowing this vote to happen in Europe, is also sponsored by BMW, has given them 180 cars for the presidency. And then it turns out that Angela Merkel's party, the Christian Democratic Union, also received three-quarters of a million euros from BMW's owning family. So I think BMW have a quite fishy role to play here.
Cheney sisters, separated over gay marriage (18 November 2013)
Looks like the holidays are going to be, shall we say, a bit awkward for the Cheney family.
Actually, more than a bit. A feud between the former vice president's daughters emerged into public view over the weekend when Liz Cheney, who is trying to win a Senate seat from Wyoming by pandering to the far-right Republican base, went on "Fox News Sunday" and declared her opposition to gay marriage.
She said the question should be left up to the states but added, "I do believe in the traditional definition of marriage."
Her sister, Mary Cheney, reportedly was watching at the Northern Virginia home she shares with her wife, Heather Poe, and their two children. To understate, the Cheney-Poe household was not amused.
PAM COMMENTARY: Why should anyone care what the Cheney family thinks? It's like taking political advice from the family of a serial killer.
Organic Italian jam found to contain radiation from decades-old Chernobyl accident - what is Fukushima doing to our food supply? (17 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) More than 5,000 jars of organic wild blueberry jam made in Italy have been intercepted and recalled by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government in Japan after multiple batches of the fruit spread tested positive for unacceptable levels of radioactive cesium-137. According to the Japanese news source Shukan Asahi, the blueberries used in the Fiordifrutta brand jam, which originated in Bulgaria, were affected by radiation not from a recent nuclear event like Fukushima but rather from the infamous Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.
This shocking revelation came as officials began tracing the source of the contaminated fruit, which tested as high as 164 becquerels (Bq) per kilogram (kg) of cesium-137, according to the paper. Located some 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) away, the fields where the tainted blueberries were grown somehow came into contact with residual radiation from an accident that took place nearly 30 years ago, illustrating the harrowing long-term effects of nuclear disasters.
A popular commodity in Tokyo, Fiordifrutta jam is an otherwise high-quality food product that contains no processed sugars, is certified organic and bears the Non-GMO Project label of purity. It is also routinely rated as one of the best tasting jams on the market and looks like the type of thing one might find on the shelf of a reputable health food store. All of this makes it that much more disturbing that the jam's contents somehow ended up tainted with an invisible poison that is likely to become even more common as a result of Fukushima.
"The reality is that pollution caused by the Chernobyl nuclear accident 27 years ago is still upon us," reads a rough English translation of the Shukan Asahi report.
Highly Dangerous Fukushima 4 Fuel Removal Begins Monday (17 November 2013)
The highly dangerous and unprecedented removal of the highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods in Fukushima Unit 4 will begin on Monday, November 18.
The Japanese Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) had previously said the process would begin in mid-November but kept the exact date secret 'for security reasons.' TEPCO has now confirmed that the operation will begin Monday.
The NRA said that it will provide 'enhanced oversight' to TEPCO as the company begins the hugely delicate process of removing 1,331 spent fuel assemblies and 202 unused assemblies. The fuel rods are brittle, potentially damaged, and still located high above the ground in a badly damaged building that has buckled and tilted and could collapse if another quake strikes.
The fuel assemblies are in a 32 x 40 feet concrete pool, the base of which is on the fourth story of the damaged reactor building. The assemblies - which contain plutonium, one of the most toxic substances known - are under 23 feet of water.
If the fuel rods - there are 50-70 in each of the assemblies, which weigh around 661 pounds and are 15 feet long - are exposed to air or if they break, catastrophic amounts of radioactive gases could be released into the atmosphere.
Ed Markey's first Senate bill aims to ramp up renewables (17 November 2013)
Thirty states have renewable electricity standards requiring utilities to generate a percentage of their power from clean sources. But the U.S. as a whole does not.
Instead, the federal government has tried to boost domestic renewable energy production through inducements such as tax credits and business loan guarantees. But as any advocate of cap-and-trade can tell you, the most efficient way to shift the behavior of an industry is to simply require your desired outcome and let the magic of the market sort out the rest.
And so Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who knows a thing or two about cap-and-trade, has proposed to do just that. Markey, a longtime friend of the environment who was elected to the U.S. Senate this summer after 37 years in the House of Representatives, has introduced the American Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act. It would require electric utilities to get at least 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, starting at 6 percent in 2015 and rising gradually. It also includes an energy-efficiency savings requirement beginning at 1 percent of sales for electric utilities in 2015 and increasing to 15 percent in 2025, and for natural gas utilities going from 0.5 percent up to 10 percent over the same period.
Calling for renewable energy generation and conservation from utilities rather than directly from customers, is sort of like mom and apple pie for liberals. It's easy to support and it sounds nice. But is it really the strong medicine we need?
Canada let priest Eric Dejaeger flee to Belgium amid sex abuse charges: Official (17 November 2013)
IQALUIT, NUNAVUT--A former priest who this week is to face 76 sex charges involving Inuit children may have been tried years ago but for a quiet nod from Canada that allowed him to leave the country, says a church leader.
Georges Vervust is the top official with the Belgian Oblates, an order of Catholic priests that sent Eric Dejaeger to several communities in what is now Nunavut.
Vervust sheds light on questions that have troubled Dejaeger's alleged victims for nearly a decade: How was a man facing child abuse charges allowed to leave the country days before his trial? And why did it take so long for him to be returned?
"What I have heard is that he got advice from people from the Justice Department, off the record, that he should leave," Vervust said in a Belgian documentary. He confirmed his comments to The Canadian Press.
'I Sold My Sister for 300 Dollars' (17 November 2013)
There was only one way to get money quickly, a route that many families took before Amani did -- and that was to as good as sell one of the girls. Amani sent off her younger sister Amara, 14, to some sort of marriage.
"It isn't rare in Syria to marry at the age of 16. Most Arab men are aware of this, and often come to Syria to find a young bride. These days, they come to find them at the camps, where almost everybody is desperate to leave.
"I have seen Jordanians, Egyptians and Saudis passing by the tents in search of a virgin to take along. They pay 300 dollars, and they get the girl of their dreams."
Amani says she had no choice. "I knew she wasn't in love, but I also knew that he would take care of her. I would have sold myself, but Amara was the only virgin in our family. We had to sell her, in order to allow the rest of us survive. What else could I do?"
Afghan villagers find bodies of 6 beheaded workers (17 November 2013)
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghan villagers discovered the beheaded bodies of six government contractors Sunday in the country's restive south, the apparent victims of insurgents who regularly target state projects, officials said.
Meanwhile, the death toll from a suicide car bombing at the site of a key national council in the capital, Kabul, rose to 12, officials said, as NATO said an international service member was killed by a roadside bomb.
Kandahar police spokesman Ahmed Durrani said villagers found the bodies. He said the men were involved in building police compounds and checkpoints in Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. The Taliban have previously targeted contractors, warning Afghans against working for the government.
Bernie Sanders May Run for President in 2016 (17 November 2013)
US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) told his hometown paper Friday that he is considering making a run for President in 2016.
The Burlington (VT) Free Press reports that Sanders may run if no one else with progressive views takes the plunge.
"It is essential, he said, to have someone in the 2016 presidential campaign who is willing to take on Wall Street, address the "collapse" of the middle class, tackle the spread of poverty and fiercely oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
"Also, addressing global warming needs to be a top priority, not an afterthought, Sanders said."
As He Runs for President, Scott Walker Runs From His Record (17 November 2013)
Sorry, US Senator Marco Rubio and US Senator Rand Paul and US Senator Ted Cruz.
Sorry, US Representative Paul Ryan, the former favorite son of Wisconsin Republicans.
But Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says the next Republican nominee for president "should either be a former or current governor." After all that shutdown trouble, the party's candidate is going to have to be "somebody who's viewed as being exceptionally remote from Washington."
And sorry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Scott Walker may have a kind word for you, but he says the GOP's 2016 candidate must be someone who has "taken on big reforms."
Indeed, sorry, any Republican who is not named "Scott Walker," but Scott Walker thinks the Republicans are going to need to turn to someone like, um, Scott Walker.
Substitute-meat makers pursue an indistinguishable imitation (17 November 2013)
Ethan Brown held up one of his ready-to-eat vegetarian chicken strips and peeled off stringy strands that mimicked the moist meat of the real thing.
"That's the beauty. That's absolutely everything," said Brown, founder of Beyond Meat, admiring the filaments of faux chicken at a cafe near the company's Southern California headquarters.
The company gets close to creating that authentic but elusive texture by blasting soy and pea proteins through an alternating cascade of high heat and high pressure in a stainless steel machine.
The result is mock meat that replicates the genuine product enough to make people forget the tastes of springy tofu turkey, MSG-laden veggie burgers and plasticky facon -- fake bacon, for the uninitiated.
So convincing is Brown's imitation poultry that it has attracted investment from Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates, Twitter Inc. co-founders Biz Stone and Evan Williams, and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Whole Foods Market helped refine the product before rolling it out at its stores last year.
Rob Ford lampooned by Saturday Night Live (17 November 2013)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is again the butt of late-night television jokes, this time at the hands of Saturday Night Live.
The opening sketch of last night's show features Bobby Moynihan playing the beleaguered mayor, holding a series of press conferences where he apologizes for his behaviour in each of the previous press conferences.
During one of these appearances, Moynihan's Ford character tells the gathered press: "I brought some Chapstick for everybody and I would love for you to put it on before you kiss my fat f****** white a**!"
Back in the interview setting the Ford character appears contrite.
Toxic waste seems to naturally vanish from Palos Verdes Shelf (17 November 2013)
Decades after industrial waste dumping turned part of Southern California's seafloor into a toxic hot spot, scientists have dredged up a mystery.
Chemicals fouling the ocean off the Palos Verdes Peninsula seem to be going away without being cleaned up.
Samples taken from the sediment suggest more than 100 metric tons of the banned pesticide DDT and industrial compounds known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, have vanished from one of the country's most hazardous sites, almost a 90% drop in just five years.
Scientists are at a loss to explain the decline across the 17-square-mile site, which sits about 200 feet below the ocean surface and two miles off the Los Angeles County coast. The compounds break down very slowly. They have accumulated in the food web over decades, made some sport fish unsafe to eat and, until recently, rendered bald eagles on Santa Catalina Island unable to reproduce.
In response to the discovery, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has suspended its planned cleanup efforts and ordered a new round of tests to be completed over the next year. Researchers began collecting samples from the seafloor last month.
Ethanol takes policy blow from the Environmental Protection Agency (17 November 2013)
ONCE TOUTED as a climate-friendly renewable alternative to foreign oil, the corn-based liquid ethanol has been exposed as an environmental and economic mistake. Lured by federal subsidies, Midwestern farmers have devoted millions of acres to corn that might otherwise have been devoted to soil conservation or feed-grain production.
Meanwhile, a "dead zone" fed by fertilizer runoff spreads at the mouth of the Mississippi and production costs throughout the grain-dependent U.S. food industry rise. At the end of 2011, the ethanol industry lost a $6 billion per year tax-credit subsidy. And on Friday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered yet another policy defeat for ethanol -- which is to say, a victory for common sense.
We refer to the EPA's proposed cut in the amount of ethanol that the nation's refiners must add to the fuel supply in 2014, from 18.15 billion gallons of ethanol called for in current law to a new target of 15 billion to 15.52 billion gallons. The downward revision of roughly 3 billion gallons is the first such reduction since Congress enacted the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) in 2007. At the time, gasoline consumption was high and rising, and it seemed reasonable to put the country on course to blend 36 billion gallons of ethanol into motor fuel by 2022, as the RFS statute did.
Changes in motorists' habits, along with advances in fuel economy, have rendered that objective utterly unrealistic. Driving and motor fuel consumption have plateaued. Mixing more and more ethanol into a fixed or shrinking pool of fuel would bump up against the capacity of existing engines to burn it, as well as the capacity of the existing distribution network to pump it. Rather than hit this so-called "blend wall," the EPA wisely decided to scale back the ethanol mandate.
Expect to hear from the ethanol lobby about how this is a victory for their rivals in the Big Oil and Big Grocery lobbies, which it is. The former has no interest in federal subsidization of a rival fuel; the latter would like less competition for access to grain. But that doesn't mean their arguments are without merit. We'd say that in this case, the public benefits do not offset the market distortions. In the case of ethanol subsidies, the benefits do not outweigh the costs.
News from the Week of 10th to 16th of November 2013
Chicago hacker sentenced to 10 years (16 November 2013)
When "hacktivist" Jeremy Hammond stood in a Chicago federal courtroom seven years ago and explained that his cybercrimes were altruistic acts of civil disobedience, he was cut a break by a judge who chalked it up to youthful folly.
Not this time.
A New York federal judge on Friday sentenced Hammond, 28, to the maximum 10 years in prison for a 2011 hacking spree that exposed confidential and sometimes personal information about law enforcement officers, private intelligence firms and U.S. government contractors and cost millions of dollars in damages. He had pleaded guilty in May.
In a lengthy statement to the court, Hammond, part of a loose band of politically motivated hackers known as Anonymous, said he knew what he was doing was illegal but had become frustrated with the ineffectiveness of peaceful demonstrations.
"I have tried everything from voting petitions to peaceful protest and have found that those in power do not want the truth to be exposed," Hammond said. "When we speak truth to power, we are ignored at best and brutally suppressed at worst."
FBI warns that Anonymous has hacked US government sites for a year (16 November 2013)
Activist hackers linked to the collective known as Anonymous have secretly accessed US government computers and stolen sensitive information in a campaign that began almost a year ago, the FBI warned this week.
The hackers exploited a flaw in Adobe Systems Inc's software to launch a rash of electronic break-ins that began last December, the FBI said in a memo seen by Reuters, then left "back doors" to return to many of the machines as recently as last month.
The news comes a day after an Anonymous activist received a 10-year sentence for his role in releasing thousands of emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor. On Friday Jeremy Hammond told a Manhattan court he had been directed by an FBI informant to break into the official websites of several governments around the world.
Hammond, who called his sentence a"vengeful, spiteful act", said of his prosecutors: "They have made it clear they are trying to send a message to others who come after me. A lot of it is because they got slapped around, they were embarrassed by Anonymous and they feel that they need to save face."
Mike Tyson, Former Boxer and Convicted Rapist, Makes Charming Film With Spike Lee (16 November 2013)
Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth affords Mike Tyson yet another big opportunity to open up. Spike Lee's new film (premiering Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on HBO) documents the controversial boxing legend's one-man Broadway show. Tyson--sharply dressed, sweaty, charismatic--commands the stage for an hour and a half, dishing on his public and private ups and downs. (The show was written by his wife, Kiki Tyson.)
"I came from the gutter," he says to the packed theater. He discusses (in full-on emotional vulnerability mode) his rough childhood and deaths in the family; his star-making fights and his history of substance abuse; his adrenaline rushes and his rude awakenings. He cracks a lot of cheap jokes, including one about Mitt Romney's whiteness and one about George Zimmerman.
This documentary and one-man show are the latest steps in his years-long effort to reinvent himself. Instead of a drug-addled, off-putting, ear-chomping fighter, he's now a sensitive, vegan funnyman who writes for New York magazine, appears in the Hangover franchise, dances with Neil Patrick Harris and Bring It On cheerleaders, and makes fun of Oscar-bait and George W. Bush with Jimmy Kimmel...
Tyson's life story--the grit, the career renaissance--is no doubt compelling. But there is a hugely significant part of his "truth" that is very much disputed. On stage, Tyson ever so briefly addresses his 1992 rape conviction. Tyson served three years in prison for the rape of 18-year-old Desiree Washington, a contestant in the Miss Black America pageant. Medical examination following the incident found Washington's physical state to be consistent with rape. High-profile lawyer Alan Dershowitz tried and failed to get him off on an appeal, and Tyson maintained that the encounter was consensual and that Washington had a history of crying rape. "I did not rape [her]," Tyson says to the applauding New York audience in Undisputed Truth. (What makes this more awkward is that, in the same performance, Tyson jokes about not knowing whether to beat or sexually attack young pretty-boy Brad Pitt, who he once caught supposedly having an affair with ex-wife Robin Givens.)
Michigan bill forces disclosure of health care law's effect on premiums (16 November 2013)
State legislators are sharply divided over an emerging plan to require Michigan insurance companies to tell policyholders the impact of the federal health care law on their premiums.
Legislation pending in the Republican-led House would require that insurers give customers annual estimates of the overhaul's effect on premiums -- likely in renewal notices -- including, but not limited to, taxes, assessments and other requirements of the law. The companies also would have to include a statement saying that the estimate is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and not the passage of any laws or regulations by the governor, state lawmakers or state regulators.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Shirkey of Clark Lake, says the estimate would not be unlike many other government-mandated disclaimers that businesses have to give customers. Constituents are calling his office in frustration to ask how to navigate the law, distrustful that insurers are using it as an excuse to hike premiums, he said.
"Let's create a situation where there is no doubt that if your premium changed, up or down, was it associated with the Affordable Care Act?" said Shirkey, who argues that people deserve to know all its ramifications. "It casts such as big shadow and I don't mean that in a pejorative way."
Military Stifling Support for Sexual Assault Reforms, High-Ranking Officer Says (15 November 2013)
As Congress debates an overhaul of the military justice system to stem an epidemic of sexual assault, the armed forces are struggling to conceal their own internal divisions over the scope of reform. According to a senior officer who spoke with The Nation, the military is actively encouraging service members to lobby against legislation that would curb commanders' authority over the prosecution of sexual assault cases, while suppressing pro-reform voices within the ranks.
Asked what would happen if he advocated publicly for limiting the power of commanders, the officer, a high-level Air Force lawyer (known as a Judge Advocate General, or JAG) with decades of experience with sexual assault and other criminal cases said, "It would kill my chances of ever having a good job again... I would be ostracized." He concluded, "It would be the end of my career."
At issue is a proposed change to the military justice system to give military lawyers, rather than commanding officers, the power to determine whether accusations of a serious crime warrant a trial. The Senate is divided over the proposal (introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and known as the Military Justice Improvement Act, or MJIA), one of several reforms being considered. Survivors' advocates say MJIA is critical to shield victims from retaliation, but it has elicited total opposition from the top brass, who argue that commanders' authority to convene a court-martial is essential to their ability to maintain good order and discipline.
The JAG's account raises the question of whether Congress has heard a representative range of military opinions as it considers historic reforms. According to the JAG, perspectives on taking prosecutions out of the chain of command are decidedly more mixed within the ranks than the brass' testimony would suggest. As a result, he believes, the debate in Congress has been skewed.
Momentum Forms Around Extending Long-Term Unemployment Insurance (15 November 2013)
In the past twenty-four hours, both the White House and House Democrats have said they want an extension of unemployment benefits included in the upcoming budget deal--and now senior Senate Democratic aides close to the budget discussions have told The Nation that they are pushing for an extension as well.
The Democratic Senate negotiating team for the budget talks "would absolutely be interested in whether getting a fix would be possible in this deal," said the aide, who also noted that naturally "the big question is whether Republicans would be open to that." Representative Paul Ryan, who is leading the Republican negotiating team in the House, did not return a request for comment.
Without a Congressional fix, 1.3 million Americans who are long-term unemployed--meaning they've been out of work for six months or more--will lose access to the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. Another 850,000 would lose access in the first quarter of 2014 (chart courtesy National Employment Law Project)...
The program was created in 2008 to help support Americans who remained jobless after their state unemployment funds ran out. There were 4.1 million long-term unemployed Americans in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, higher than at any point in the Great Recession.
CIA Creating Vast Database of American's Personal Financial Records: Report (15 November 2013)
Claiming the same authority as the NSA does for its bulk collection of domestic internet and phone data, the clandestine Central Intelligence Agency is compiling a "vast database" that includes the personal financial records of Americans, according to the Wall Street Journal.
In a news story published Friday, the Journal reporting shows the CIA program "collects information from U.S. money-transfer companies including Western Union" and that some of the data goes "beyond basic financial records, such as U.S. Social Security numbers, which can be used to tie the financial activity to a specific person."
According to the Journal, the program is carried out under the same provision of the Patriot Act that enables the National Security Agency to collect nearly all American phone records, the officials said. Like the NSA program, the mass collection of financial transactions is authorized by a secret national-security court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The CIA, as a foreign-intelligence agency, is barred from targeting Americans in its intelligence collection. But it can conduct domestic operations for foreign intelligence purposes.
As has been shown in other cases, it is the CIA's collusion with the FBI, which operates under different rules when it comes to domestically obtaining or handling the personal data of American citizens, that makes these kind of databases most troubling to privacy and civil liberty advocates.
Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter Have a New Lobbying Target--the NSA (15 November 2013)
Not a month goes by without former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden dropping another explosive bombshell about the US government's vast surveillance programs. In response, lawmakers have proposed a flurry of bills that aim to clamp down on NSA spying. But tech companies aren't just sitting on the sidelines--the latest lobbying disclosure forms filed by Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Twitter reveal that their lobbyists are keeping an eye on a number of these anti-NSA bills. And although most of the companies won't say which specific bills they support or oppose, some new bills have popped up on their lobbying forms just as the companies are publicly demanding surveillance reform.
The lobbying disclosure forms cover the period from July 1 to September 30, the months immediately following the first Snowden disclosure about the PRISM program in June. Bills introduced after those dates, such as the tech industry-backed USA Freedom Act proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), aren't included. There are also some bills that were introduced pre-Snowden.
In total, during this period, Facebook spent $1.44 million on lobbying, Yahoo spent $630,000, Google spent $3.37 million, and Twitter spent $40,000. The forms don't break down whether a company poured thousands of dollars into lobbying for one bill, or had one brief conversation about it with a lawmaker or an aide. Nor do the forms reveal whether companies have lobbied for or against a given bill. And for now, most US tech companies are keeping their positions about specific bills secret, so they can present a unified front against NSA spying and keep their options open.
Representatives of the most important tech companies have, however, made public statements indicating that they're likely to support bills that allow them to shed more light on government surveillance. "I was shocked that the NSA would do this--perhaps a violation of law but certainly a violation of mission," Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told CNN last week, in response to an October 30 Washington Post report that the NSA was tapping into Google's servers without the company's consent. "From a Google perspective, any internal use of Google services is unauthorized and almost certainly illegal." Niki Fenwick, a spokesperson for Google, said that the company doesn't comment on whether it supports specific bills, but Bloomberg News reported last week that the company, which has bulked up its lobbying presence on Capitol Hill, "seeks to end National Security Agency intrusions into its data."
Burning the Evidence: Gunmen Torch Records Documenting War Crimes, Missing Children in El Salvador (15 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Monserrat, describe what happened in your offices in San Salvador and why this is so critical at this moment, as your organization comes--that started with Archbishop Romero; he was gunned down by U.S.-backed military, paramilitary forces in 1980--why these files were so important that have been destroyed.
MONSERRAT MARTÍNEZ: Good morning. Well, the files that were taken from our office contained legal information and testimonies of cases of forced disappearance of children during the armed conflict, and, for us, have the proof to put these cases into the national system of justice in El Salvador. So, we are still evaluating the damages and the kind of information they took, but we are afraid that this information can be helpful for us, for our legal department, to put these cases into the legal system.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what has happened in recent months in terms of being able to come to terms with what happened back then that might have prompted people to do this attack?
MONSERRAT MARTÍNEZ: Well, in the last months, there has been some events in El Salvador that are a coincidence in the time. And we now--we need to know the relation between these events. But, for example, we had the problem with the Tutela Legal. It's an organization created by the archbishop, Monsignor Romero, where they contain a lot of files also on testimonies of human rights violation during the armed conflict. And the actual archbishop of San Salvador decided to shut down that organization and is not allow to anybody to obtain that information or those files. That's one of the events. The other one is what will happen with the amnesty law. There is an initiative to put down this law, and now we are respecting the decision of the court. Yesterday we have this violent attack against Pro-Búsqueda, so while we can think that there is a relation between these events, although in our case we need to evaluate first our damages and the kind of information that these three men took with them.
Obama administration announces lower quotas for ethanol in gasoline (15 November 2013)
But the move was widely seen as recognition that America's gasoline supply has hit a "blend wall", and cannot absorb ever-increasing amounts of ethanol.
America's gasoline consumption has fallen as more fuel-efficient and hybrid cars come on to the market. But the absolute numbers of the ethanol quotas kept rising. Motorists were also leery of higher blends of ethanol, such as the 15% and 85% blends on offer. There is also now less concern about developing alternatives to oil, given the boom in America's domestic oil production.
The hoped-for development of next generation biofuels, which do not use food stocks, has failed to materialise, and the oil industry has been fighting for some time to reduce the biofuels quota. Corn ethanol has also lost support from environmentalists, in light of a growing body of evidence that it offers little or no benefit in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and that producing fuel from food was driving up global food prices.
On Friday, both sides of the debate offered support for the administration's decision.
Exclusive: FBI warns of U.S. government breaches by Anonymous hackers (15 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Activist hackers linked to the collective known as Anonymous have secretly accessed U.S. government computers in multiple agencies and stolen sensitive information in a campaign that began almost a year ago, the FBI warned this week.
The hackers exploited a flaw in Adobe Systems Inc's software to launch a rash of electronic break-ins that began last December, then left "back doors" to return to many of the machines as recently as last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a memo seen by Reuters.
The memo, distributed on Thursday, described the attacks as "a widespread problem that should be addressed." It said the breach affected the U.S. Army, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, and perhaps many more agencies.
the authorities believe is continuing. The FBI document tells system administrators what to look for to determine if their systems are compromised.
Jeremy Hammond: FBI directed my attacks on foreign government sites (15 November 2013)
The Anonymous hacktivist sentenced on Friday to 10 years in federal prison for his role in releasing thousands of emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor has told a Manhattan court that he was directed by an FBI informant to break into the official websites of several governments around the world.
Jeremy Hammond, 28, told a federal court for the southern district of New York that a fellow hacker who went under the internet pseudonym "Sabu" had supplied him with lists of websites that were vulnerable to attack, including those of many foreign countries. The defendant mentioned specifically Brazil, Iran and Turkey before being stopped by judge Loretta Preska, who had ruled previously that the names of all the countries involved should be redacted to retain their secrecy.
Within a couple of hours of the hearing, the three countries had been identified publicly by Forbes, the Huffington Post and Twitter feeds serving more than a million followers. "I broke into numerous sites and handed over passwords and backdoors that enabled Sabu -- and by extension his FBI handlers -- to control these targets," Hammond told the court.
The 28-year-old hacker has floated the theory in the past that he was used as part of an effective private army by the FBI to target vulnerable foreign government websites, using the informant Sabu -- real name Hector Xavier Monsegur -- as a go-between. Sabu, who was a leading figure in the Anonymous-affiliated hacking group LulzSec, was turned by the FBI into one of its primary informants on the hacker world after he was arrested in 2011, about six months before the Stratfor website was breached.
Jailed for Life for Stealing a $159 Jacket? 3,200 Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Crimes (15 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JENNIFER TURNER: Absolutely. These sentences are grotesquely out of proportion of the crimes that they're seeking to punish. And we found that 3,278 people are serving life without the possibility of parole for nonviolent crimes, but these numbers actually underrepresent the true state of extreme sentencing in this country. Those numbers don't account for those who will die in prison because of sentences such as 350 years for a drug sale. It also doesn't account for the many millions of lives ruined by excessive sentencing in this country, as well.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And especially the impact of federal mandatory minimum sentencings, could you talk about that and the efforts to try to roll back some of those--some of those laws?
JENNIFER TURNER: Yeah, what we found was that over 80 percent of these sentences were mandatory, both in the federal system and in the states. They're the direct consequence of laws passed over the 40-year war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies that included mandatory minimum sentencing laws, habitual offender laws in the states.
And they tie judges' hands. And in case after case after case that I reviewed, the judge said from the bench--outraged, would say, "I oppose this sentence as a citizen, as a taxpayer, as a judge. I disagree with the sentence in this case, but my hands are tied." And one judge said, when sentencing one man to life without parole for selling tiny quantities of crack over a period of just a couple of weeks, he said, "This is a travesty. It's just silly. But I have no choice."
Bill would promote bogus wind-turbine syndrome lawsuits in Wisconsin (15 November 2013)
Wind-turbine syndrome doesn't exist. Sure, wind turbines can be annoying. But there isn't a shred of peer-reviewed medical evidence that they can actually make anybody sick.
Yet a new Wisconsin bill scheduled for a hearing next week would make it easier for people living within 1.5 miles of a wind turbine to sue the energy developer for "physical and emotional harm suffered by the plaintiff, including for medical expenses, pain, and suffering." And to sue for relocation expenses if they want to move away from turbines. And to sue over drops in property values. Never mind that researchers have also ruled out any impacts of wind farms on the value of nearby properties.
SB 167 wouldn't just affect new turbines. It could be applied retroactively to sue existing wind farms out of existence.
Needless to say, the bill is just another effort to stamp out the growth of renewable energy in coal-friendly Wisconsin, which is already lagging behind much of the rest of the country in wind power.
The legislation is sponsored by State Sen. Frank Lasee (R), a notorious opponent of wind energy. A hearing into the bill on Wednesday will be overseen by a fellow wind foe, State Sen. Glenn Grothman (R), whose district includes a large wind farm.
N.Y. Fed Asks Court to Dismiss Fired Goldman Examiner's Lawsuit (15 November 2013)
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York has asked a judge to throw out a lawsuit by a former bank examiner who says she was dismissed after finding fault with Goldman Sachs' conflict-of-interest policies.
ProPublica reported the allegations last month by Carmen Segarra, who the New York Fed had assigned to examine aspects of Goldman Sachs in November 2011. She was fired seven months later.
In its motion to dismiss Segarra's lawsuit, the Fed disputed that she is a whistleblower and characterized what transpired as "a non-actionable disagreement between a supervised employee and more senior colleagues over how to interpret a Federal Reserve policy."
Segarra had been hired as part of an effort by the New York Federal Reserve to comply with new authority it received from Congress to monitor so-called Too-Big-to-Fail financial institutions. The Fed recruited experts to act as "risk specialists" to examine different aspects of these complex firms.
Segarra, who previously had worked in some of the nation's largest banks, was tasked with examining legal and compliance functions at Goldman. Her supervisors told her specifically to look at whether Goldman was compliant with Fed guidance that the bank had a firm-wide conflict of interest policy, according to her Oct. 10 complaint.
Health-care Web site's lead contractor employs executives from troubled IT company (15 November 2013)
The lead contractor on the dysfunctional Web site for the Affordable Care Act is filled with executives from a company that mishandled at least 20 other government IT projects, including a flawed effort to automate retirement benefits for millions of federal workers, documents and interviews show.
CGI Federal, the main Web site developer, entered the U.S. government market a decade ago when its parent company purchased American Management Systems, a Fairfax County contractor that was coming off a series of troubled projects. CGI moved into AMS's custom-made building off Interstate 66, changed the sign outside and kept the core of employees, who now populate the upper ranks of CGI Federal.
They include CGI Federal's current and past presidents, the company's chief technology officer, its vice president for federal health care and its health IT leader, according to company and other records. More than 100 former AMS employees are now senior executives or consultants working for CGI in the Washington area.
A top CGI official said this week that the company is "extremely proud" of its acquisition of AMS. Lorne Gorber, CGI's senior vice president for global communications, said CGI had been aware of the AMS "trip-ups" but has transformed the AMS culture over the past decade. "Anyone at CGI who came from AMS would not be able to find any similarities in how they work today to how they worked a decade ago,'' Gorber said.
Obama facing Democratic dissent on healthcare law (15 November 2013)
WASHINGTON -- President Obama's botched rollout of his healthcare law has driven a wedge between the White House and its allies on Capitol Hill as more than three dozen House Democrats voted Friday to pass a Republican-backed change to the law that the administration warned would only make matters worse.
Unhappy with Obama's inability to resolve the website enrollment problems and increasingly worried about the 2014 election, a small but steady number of Democratic lawmakers are distancing themselves from a president they once enthusiastically supported on the healthcare issue.
Friday's House vote was the latest display of Democratic anxiety. Thirty-nine Democrats joined Republicans in a 261-157 vote to approve legislation, offered by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), that would allow insurers to continue selling individual policies that don't meet new federal standards under the Affordable Care Act.
A similar Democratic revolt is underway in the Senate, pushing already rocky relations between Obama and congressional Democrats to a new low. Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, among the most endangered Democrats up for reelection in the Senate next year, vowed to press forward with her bill to remedy the policy cancellation problem, which picked up support throughout the week.
The Democratic defections, which the White House and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) worked to limit, reflected dissatisfaction among the lawmakers with the administration's proposed fix. That plan would give insurance companies federal permission to renew canceled policies for one year, but many lawmakers prefer a legislative fix.
The world is still losing its forests, and these beautiful satellite maps tally the toll (15 November 2013)
About a third of the deforestation occurred in the tropics, and half of that was in South America. Logging and clearing of land for farming were responsible for much of the loss. Hearteningly, the researchers found that deforestation has been slowing down in Brazil, where worldwide concerns about the loss of the Amazon have helped spur domestic efforts to save the rainforest. But that slowdown was offset by increasing losses in other countries.
"Although Brazilian gross forest loss is the second highest globally, other countries, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Cote d'Ivoire, Tanzania, Argentina, and Paraguay, experienced a greater percentage of loss of forest cover," the scientists wrote in the paper, published Thursday in Science. "Given consensus on the value of natural forests to the Earth system, Brazil's policy intervention is an example of how awareness of forest valuation can reverse decades of previous wide-spread deforestation."
The tropics lost more forest cover during the study period than any other region. The second-worst hit were the boreal forests of spruce, fir, and larch in and around the Arctic, with fire the leading cause. Previous research has shown that these forests are burning at a rate not seen in at least 10,000 years, with climate change increasing temperatures and drying out the landscape.
That wasn't the only worrisome climate-related finding in the new paper. The mountains of the American West are losing forests due not only to logging, but also because of fire and disease -- with mountain pine bark beetles marching up mountains as temperatures warm, feasting on banquets of ill-prepared pines.
Haiyan: A Disaster Made Worse By Greed (15 November 2013)
I asked Hilo if she saw any links between Western-fueled climate change and the victims of the storms. She told me, "Haiyan is a devastating example of how people in the Philippines and Southeast Asia are paying with their lives due to the exploitation of people and the plunder of resources. The reality is that we are all paying."
What is happening in the Philippines is a portent for poor nations of the world. Tacloban is witnessing a deadly intersection of abject poverty, a local environment stripped of its natural resources, and a storm intensified to catastrophic proportions by global warming. Montances told me, "There is so much poverty and so many American and Canadian corporations are logging and mining in many areas of the Philippines, including Leyte, Mindanao and other places that were hit recently. When there aren't any trees and the vegetation is taken away and there's huge open-pit mining, the water has nowhere to go when [there] are typhoons and so it floods into the coastal towns like Tacloban. It just exacerbates the damage, and destruction, and the casualties."
He concluded, "There needs to be continued pressure, and really, a mass movement of people around the world that are saying 'you know what, we cannot allow this to happen. We really need our governments to work for the people, not the interests of private corporations.' People in the Philippines understand that the urgency is now."
Hilo echoed that urgency saying, "Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina should have been wake-up calls to people in the United States. Much remains to be done to change the global system that is driving global warming. It will take dramatic changes in the West if we are going to take on the fight against global warming."
Child porn bust: The men who were charged (14 November 2013)
The bedroom resembled that of a teenager: Hockey posters on the wall. A computer.
The man it belonged to was in his late 40s.
Police had a serious reason for being in the Chatham, Ont., home where Ronald Inghelbrecht lived with his mother: officers in Toronto suspected he was a customer of a website that sold child pornography, and the Ontario Provincial Police were there to look for evidence.
"I would describe his room as being adolescent -- like he decorated it when he was 12, or 14, and he never changed it," said OPP Detective David Beckon.
Senate Faces Historic Vote on Handling Military Sexually Assault Epidemic Outside Chain of Command (14 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Explain the origins of the Gillibrand bill. What exactly would it do?
AMY ZIERING: It would take the adjudication of these sex crimes, of sexual assault crimes, outside the chain of command and put them in a military--independent body of military adjudicators, that are not related, that wouldn't know any of the people involved, neither the perpetrator nor the assailant. And that's what we feel is sort of the Achilles' heel of this issue and the real leverage point, because what we have found in interviewing hundreds and hundreds of survivors and generals, etc., is that people don't feel comfortable reporting. They feel that they will not be--have any access to an impartial system of justice. So, that's--this bill will change that single-handedly, and we feel that once people feel safe reporting, you'll hear reports go up. Then you can have prosecutions go up, and then we can actually see these crimes reduced.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And when you see the military responding to the reports of the sharp increase in sexual assaults by saying it's just a question of more people feeling the ability to come forward and report it, what's your response to that?
AMY ZIERING: Well, those numbers are interesting. I mean, the numbers are rising, but still the percentage of people reporting is 85 to 90 percent do not report. So what we're actually seeing is an increase in numbers without an increase in overall reporting. So it's interesting. There's sort of--so, it's actually--it's unclear what this actually means. And that's why we're very fearful that this epidemic is continuing to grow, unless we do something that will actually reduce it.
Alabama Man Won't Serve Prison Time for Raping 14-Year-Old (14 November 2013)
An Alabama man convicted of raping a teenage girl will serve no prison time. On Wednesday, a judge in Athens, Alabama, ruled that the rapist will be punished by serving two years in a program aimed at nonviolent criminals and three years of probation.
In September, a jury in Limestone County, in north central Alabama, found Austin Smith Clem, 25, guilty of raping Courtney Andrews, a teenage acquaintance and his then-neighbor, three times--twice when she was 14, and again when was she was 18.
Clem's defense attorney did not call any witnesses at trial, according to AL.com. After less than two hours of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts against Clem on one count of first-degree rape and two counts of second-degree rape.
According to Clem's sentencing order, which Brian Jones, the Limestone County district attorney, provided to Mother Jones, Clem will serve the first half of his sentence under the supervision of the Limestone County community corrections program. The program is aimed at "redirecting the lives" of nonviolent, low-level offenders who are "likely to maintain a productive and law-abiding life as a result of accountability, guidance and direction to services they need," according to the program's website.
Andrews recalled Clem's crimes to AL.com on Thursday. When he abused her at age 14, she said, "He kept saying, 'This is OK,' and 'Don't say anything or you're going to get me in trouble," she said. Clem threatened her parents lives' if she told anyone, Andrews said. After he raped her in 2011, she had a family friend inform her parents. She couldn't bear to, she said, because "I knew it would break their hearts." That night, her parents reported Clem to the police.
Argentinians protest Monsanto as pesticide usage increases rates of birth defects, cancer (14 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Ever since the biotechnology industry first made inroads into South America back in the 1990s, rates of birth defects, cancer and other illnesses have steadily increased, a direct result of pesticides and herbicides being sprayed near residential areas. And one group of mothers from Argentina, known as "Mothers of Ituzaingo," is demanding that the industry's largest player, Monsanto, be removed from the country for the safety of all Argentinians and their children.
The story begins in a small farming community just outside the city of Cordoba, where large plantations of genetically modified soybeans border multiple residential communities. For the past 20-or-so years, children living in these areas have been coming down with serious health conditions, including major birth defects and cancer. These conditions have been steadily rising since the advent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in the area, yet they were largely nonexistent prior to this time.
"Children were being born with deformities," says Sofia Gatica, a local mother of three whose oldest son became a victim of pesticide poisoning back in the mid-90s, about the consequences of GMOs. "Little babies were being born with six fingers, without a jawbone, missing a skull bone, with kidney deformities, without an anus -- and a lot of mothers and fathers were developing cancer."
Sofia's son did not end up with anything this severe, but he was temporarily paralyzed and had to receive care at a local hospital. Doctors were initially unsure as to what the boy actually had, but Sofia was convinced that the GMOs near here home were to blame. After all, Monsanto operated a soy plantation just 50 meters away from her family's property, where airplanes would routinely spray toxic glyphosate, also known as Roundup, over the fields.
The new statin drug scam: Half the doctors on the recommendation panel have Big Pharma ties (14 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Half of the doctors on the panel that recommended a whopping increase in statin drug use have ties to Big Pharma. This past Tuesday, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology issued the first new guidelines in a decade for preventing heart attacks and strokes - guidelines which called for one-third of all adults to consider taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs.
Doctors claim the new guidelines will limit how many people with low heart risks are put on statins simply because of a cholesterol number. However, under the new advice, one-third of U.S. adults would meet the threshold to consider taking a statin, more than twice the 15 percent of adults who are recommended statins under current guidelines.
The justification for the panel having half its members with ties to Big Pharma: Ties between heart doctors and Big Pharma are so extensive that it is almost impossible to find a large group of doctors who have no industry ties. How reassuring!
The new guidelines for recommending statin drugs
In addition to continuing to target people with higher LDL cholesterol, the panel also recommended consideration of statins for:
- People who already have heart disease.
- People ages 40 to 75 with a higher estimated 10-year risk of heart disease.
- People ages 40 to 75 with Type 2 diabetes.
TPP Exposed: WikiLeaks Publishes Secret Trade Text to Rewrite Copyright Laws, Limit Internet Freedom (14 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Bill Watson, if we can, if we could bring in Lori Wallach to respond to some of your comments, especially in terms of the--we've had lots of publicity over pharmaceuticals and the huge disparities in prices of pharmaceuticals around the globe and how this might affect the--under the TPP agreement. Lori?
LORI WALLACH: Well, free trade is a pretty theory, but as yesterday's WikiLeaks showed, the TPP has very little to do with free trade. So, only five of the 29 chapters of the agreement even have to do with trade at all. What's in that intellectual property chapter? What the Cato Institute would call rent seeking--governments being lobbied by special interests to set up special rules that give them monopolies to charge higher prices. What does that mean for you and me? In that agreement, we now can see the United States is pushing for longer monopoly patents for medicines that would increase the prices here. They're looking for patenting things like surgical procedures, making even higher medical costs. They're looking to patent life forms and seeds. And with respect to copyright, the U.S. positions are actually even undermining U.S. law. So, for Internet freedom, if you didn't like SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, the domestic law that Congress and amazing citizen activism killed last year when it was attempted to be pushed here domestically, huge chunks of SOPA are pushed through the backdoor of this intellectual property chapter.
Now, what the heck is that doing in a free trade agreement? I would imagine the Cato Institute is also wondering: Are Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the free trade philosophers, rolling in their graves? Because that is protectionism. This is patent monopolies. This is copyright extensions. This is actually exactly what Bill just talked about, which is powerful special interests--Big Pharma, Disney and the other big-content guys--undermining us as consumers--our access to the Internet, our access to affordable medicine--and they're using their power to put that into an agreement that they've got misbranded as "free trade." That's what's the real TPP. So maybe, actually, we agree, between the consumer group Public Citizen and Cato, that what's in TPP, whatever you think about free trade, ain't so good for most of us.
Google invests another $80m in solar (14 November 2013)
Google will sink another $80 million into big solar power projects in California and Arizona, the Internet search giant reported Thursday.
Google will invest in six projects currently under development by Recurrent Energy of San Francisco, facilities that will generate a combined total of 106 megawatts when they come online next year. Global investment firm KKR will also invest in the projects.
Google, based in Mountain View, has turned into a prolific financier of renewable power, spending more than $1 billion on solar and wind projects in the United States and abroad.
"You'd think the thrill might wear off this whole renewable energy investing thing after a while," wrote Kojo Ako-Asare, Google's head of corporate finance, on the company's blog. "Nope -- we're still as into it as ever, which is why we're so pleased to announce our 14th investment."
Cap and trade survives California court challenge (14 November 2013)
A Superior Court judge has rejected a business group's attempt to scuttle a key element of California's cap and trade system for reining in greenhouse gasses.
Judge Timothy Frawley of the Superior Court of California for the County of Sacramento has denied a petition to invalidate the state's sale of "allowances" -- essentially, permits that allow companies to emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses. The decision, dated Tuesday, was made public Thursday.
Under cap and trade, state regulators set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, factories and other businesses. That "cap" declines a little bit each year. Companies then buy allowances, giving them the right to emit specific amounts of greenhouse gasses. They can also sell the allowances to each other.
The California Chamber of Commerce filed the lawsuit last year, just one day before the state's first scheduled allowance sale, or "auction." The court consolidated that case with a similar suit, filed this spring by the Pacific Legal Foundation.
Microsoft shows off digital-crime-fighting center (14 November 2013)
Microsoft opened the doors Thursday to its multimillion-dollar Cybercrime Center, a 16,800-square-foot facility that is one part crime-fighting headquarters and one part sleek showcase for Microsoft technologies.
Part of the reason Microsoft developed the center was to make sure it had the latest state-of-the-art tools it needed to fight increasingly savvy criminals.
"As the cybercriminals are getting more sophisticated, our abilities are getting more sophisticated," said David Finn, associate general counsel of Microsoft's digital-crimes unit, during a tour of the facility Thursday.
The center brings together company units that focus on piracy and intellectual property theft, and on digital crimes, including botnets and malware and technology-facilitated child sexual exploitation.
George W. Bush Still Plans to Appear at Jews-for-Jesus-like Event Tonight (14 November 2013)
Despite an uproar in the Jewish community, former president George W. Bush is still slated to deliver the keynote address to a fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute in Irving, Texas, tonight. The MJBI trains people to persuade Jews to recognize Jesus as their messiah. Followers of the group believe that if enough Jews are converted, Christ will return to Earth.
After Mother Jones broke the news about Bush's appearance last week, "a small shitstorm...kicked up over the President's decision," writes Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
"I have yet to meet a Jewish person who hasn't heard about this," Tevi Troy, Bush's White House liaison to the Jewish community from 2003 to 2004, told CNN Wednesday. Troy had high praise for Bush's support of Israel and the Jewish community, but, he added, "I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed." A spokesman for the Republican Jewish Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, the Jewish Community Relations Council, and the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas issued a statement Tuesday expressing their disappointment regarding Bush's scheduled appearance: "Support of this group is a direct affront to the mutual respect that all mainstream religious groups afford each other to practice the principles of their respective beliefs."
Turmeric improves skin health, protects from UVB radiation damage and aging, concludes Japanese study (14 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) The Holy Powder of India, turmeric, is spreading its healing influence around the world, blessing the open mind with its plethora of health benefits. (It is a great brain-boosting, mood-enhancing antidepressant). Used extensively in Ayurvedic, Unani and Chinese medicine, turmeric cures hepatic disorders and conditions caused by inflammation in the body. In topical applications, turmeric is supreme, proven to heal skin infections and treat boils efficiently.
Bright orange-yellow, turmeric is voluptuous to the eyes; its key component, curcumin glows strong as a natural blood-cleansing, antioxidant, cancer-killing super spice.
In all honesty, this bright orange-yellow color should be replacing the pink colors associated with the whole breast cancer awareness advertising malarkey. A study from Zehijian, China, shows that curcumin has the capability to kill triple negative breast cancer cells by inducing programmed cell death (apoptosis). In the US, curcumin-based treatments could replace, and should replace, expensive radiation treatments immediately.
In any case, turmeric could be used to protect skin cells from the damaging effects of radiation treatments, which are practically forced onto people who have cancer.
A Nun Takes on the Drug War: Consuelo Morales on Crusading Against Mexican Cartels, Corrupt Police (14 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Nik Steinberg, after Human Rights Watch issued its report documenting 249 disappearances during President Calderón's administration, the government acknowledged for the first time it kept a database of more than 27,000 people reported missing or disappeared. Talk about this.
NIK STEINBERG: Well, you know, during the previous administration, under President Calderón, with disappearances and with other human rights abuses, the line was that there were no human rights abuses, that the military and the police didn't commit abuses, that they were committed by cartels, and that the victims were members of cartels. The admission by the new government, by the Peña Nieto government, which took over at the end of last year, that more than 27,000 people were missing or disappeared is a very important one, because it acknowledges the scale of the problem. What it doesn't do, and what this administration hasn't done, is said what they're actually going to do to investigate these cases. And that's a very important question.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, in October, Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam said most of those reported as disappeared have been found, that the number of those who remained unaccounted for is, quote, "much less than the figures that are being cited."
NIK STEINBERG: Yeah, you know, I think it's--this has been a line from the Peña Nieto administration since it released this list, has been now to downplay the problem and say, "Look, we're going to find most of these people. Most of these people are people who left with a significant other or tried to migrate to the U.S." But they've never provided any empirical evidence of this claim. And, in fact, what we know from working with the families of the disappeared is that all of the cases that we've documented, the authorities have done nothing to take the basic steps to bring to justice security forces or members of organized crime who have committed these abuses. So, we don't see the evidence. We hear a lot of talk about this, but we haven't seen anything to actually prove this.
Look who's eating your plastic now: A whole unprecedented ecosystem (14 November 2013)
We already knew that barnacles, lanternfish, and whales have been gobbling up plastic. It turns out that the problem is even bigger than we thought -- because it is much, much smaller. Welcome to the "plastisphere," the tiny plastic-based ecosystem developing within the world's oceans.
The alien-sounding title is fitting, as scientists have found more than 1,000 species of microbes living there, some of which still have not been identified. The group of organisms supported by the plastic was significantly different from, and much more diverse than, other microbial communities in the ocean, suggesting that the plastic particles are providing a haven for microbes that otherwise might not survive, or even arise in the first place.
The study, done by a team in Woods Hole, Mass., took a high-resolution look at plastic particles between 1 and 5 millimeters in size (I believe the unscientific term is "itty bitty specks"). The critters camped out on them are even tinier, but taken together act as a full-blown ecosystem, not unlike a coral reef. Plant-like microbes cluster at the giving end of the food chain while other, animal-like microbes feed on them, and on each other. There are even decomposers and a few synergistic microbes getting along like Disney woodland creatures.
Defying Medical Board, FDA Approves Painkiller That Could Be the Next Oxycontin (13 November 2013)
Late last month, the US Food and Drug Administration made it significantly harder for doctors to prescribe Vicodin, Lortab, and other highly addictive painkillers that have killed tens of thousands of Americans over the past decade. Lawmakers praised the agency's move, but the next day, over the objections of its medical advisory board, the FDA approved Zohydro, a new drug that has 5 to 10 times more of the heroin-like opioid hydrocodone than Vicodin.
"If you approve this pill, you surely will be signing a death sentence for thousands of people, especially young kids," Avi Israel, a father whose 20-year-old son committed suicide after becoming addicted to doctor-prescribed hydrocodone, told FDA officials at the December hearing.
The FDA's advisory board, an appointed group of medical experts who evaluate drugs used in anesthesiology and surgery, voted against Zohydro 11-2 last December. As several board members noted, most opioid painkillers on the market also include acetaminophen, the main ingredient found in Tylenol, a combination that is less likely to lead to addiction. But like OxyContin, the "Hillbilly Heroin" the Drug Enforcement Agency has blamed for hundreds of deaths in a single year, Zohydro includes a high dose of its main opioid ingredient undiluted by acetaminophen. That could lead to higher rates of abuse, the FDA's medical advisers warned.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released data showing that painkillers are essentially the worst drug epidemic in US history, killing 16,000 people in 2010 alone. Painkillers that include hydrocodone and its cousin, oxycodone, are widely abused by users who crush, snort, or inject the drugs, seeking a high. Zohydro is made from high-dose hydrocodone undiluted with acetaminophen; OxyContin uses undiluted, high-dose oxycodone. "Oxycodone and hydrocodone are very similar drugs and Zohydro (extended release hydrocodone) is similar to OxyContin (extended release oxycodone)," Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at the Phoenix House Foundation, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, tells Mother Jones. "This drug will almost certainly cause dependence in the people that are intended to take it," Judith Kramer, a professor at Duke University Medical Center who voted against the drug, testified in December.
Among the advisory board's other objections: Zohydro's manufacturer, Zogenix, disregarded FDA recommendations that opioid painkillers include a gel-like plastic preventing them from being crushed and snorted; the drug is meant to be used by cancer patients, but was never widely tested on those patients; and during the study's trial run, 2 of 575 test subjects are believed to have committed suicide, one by hoarding the drug and overdosing after the study was over.
Doctors urge wider use of cholesterol drugs (13 November 2013)
For decades, if you asked your doctor what your odds were of suffering a heart attack, the answer would turn on a number: your cholesterol level.
Now the nation's first new heart disease prevention guidelines in a decade take a very different approach, focusing more broadly on risk and moving away from specific targets for cholesterol.
The guidance offers doctors a new formula for estimating risk that includes age, gender, race and factors such as whether someone smokes.
And for the first time, the guidelines take aim at preventing strokes, not just heart attacks. Partly because of that, they set a lower threshold for using medicines to reduce risk. They recommend using statin drugs such as Lipitor and Zocor, and identify four groups of people they help the most.
The end result: Twice as many Americans -- one-third of all adults -- would be told to consider taking statins, which lower cholesterol but also reduce heart risks in other ways.
Two Secret Service agents cut from Obama's detail after alleged misconduct (13 November 2013)
A call from the Hay-Adams hotel this past spring reporting that a Secret Service agent was trying to force his way into a woman's room set in motion an internal investigation that has sent tremors through an agency still trying to restore its elite reputation.
The incident came a year after the agency was roiled by a prostitution scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, prompting vows from senior officials to curb a male-dominated culture of hard partying and other excesses.
The service named its first female director, Julia Pierson, seven months ago, and an extensive inspector general report on the agency's culture launched in the wake of the Car-tagena scandal is expected to be released in coming weeks.
The disruption at the Hay-Adams in May involved Ignacio Zamora Jr., a senior supervisor who oversaw about two dozen agents in the Secret Service's most elite assignment -- the president's security detail. Zamora was allegedly discovered attempting to reenter a woman's room after accidentally leaving behind a bullet from his service weapon. The incident has not been previously reported.
In a follow-up investigation, agency officials also found that Zamora and another supervisor, Timothy Barraclough, had sent sexually suggestive e-mails to a female subordinate, according to those with knowledge of the case. Officials have removed Zamora from his position and moved Barraclough off the detail to a separate part of the division, people familiar with the case said.
Meet the Punk Rocker Who Can Liberate Your FBI File (13 November 2013)
Ryan Shapiro has just wrapped up a talk at Boston's Suffolk University Law School, and as usual he's surrounded by a gaggle of admirers. The crowd-, consisting of law students, academics, and activist types, is here for a panel discussion on the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, a 2006 law targeting activists whose protest actions lead to a "loss of profits" for industry. Shapiro, a 37-year-old Ph.D. student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, contributed a slideshow of newspaper headlines, posters, and government documents from as far back as the 1800s depicting animal advocates as a threat to national security. Now audience members want to know more about his dissertation and the archives he's using. But many have a personal request: Would Shapiro help them discover what's in their FBI files?
He is happy to oblige. According to the Justice Department, this tattooed activist-turned-academic is the FBI's "most prolific" Freedom of Information Act requester--filing, during one period in 2011, upward of two documents requests a day. In the course of his doctoral work, which examines how the FBI monitors and investigates protesters, Shapiro has developed a novel, legal, and highly effective approach to mining the agency's records. Which is why the government is petitioning the United States District Court in Washington, DC, to prevent the release of 350,000 pages of documents he's after.
Invoking a legal strategy that had its heyday during the Bush administration, the FBI claims that Shapiro's multitudinous requests, taken together, constitute a "mosaic" of information whose release could "significantly and irreparably damage national security" and would have "significant deleterious effects" on the bureau's "ongoing efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism."
So-called mosaic theory has been used in the past to stop the release of specific documents, but it has never been applied so broadly. "It's designed to be retrospective," explains Kel McClanahan, a DC-based lawyer who specializes in national security and FOIA law. "You can't say, 'What information, if combined with future information, could paint a mosaic?' because that would include all information!"
Fearing that a ruling in the FBI's favor could make it harder for journalists and academics to keep tabs on government agencies, open-government groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Security Archive, and the National Lawyers Guild (as well as the nonprofit news outlet Truthout and the crusading DC attorney Mark Zaid) have filed friend-of-the-court briefs on Shapiro's behalf. "Under the FBI's theory, the greater the public demand for documents, the greater need for secrecy and delay," says Baher Azmy, CCR's legal director.
Testify in court: Environmental crusader Rev. Billy might face prison (13 November 2013)
A little over a month ago, the Reverend Billy was arrested on a New York subway platform. This was a little unusual, but not very. The Reverend, a performance artist and activist named Bill Talen, had just been singing, dancing, and preaching into a megaphone inside of a Chase branch in midtown Manhattan, about how the bank's investment practices were contributing to climate change. He was accompanied by a group of performers dressed like the golden frog of Central America [PDF], one of the first known species to become extinct as the direct result of climate change.
Reverend Billy has been arrested, he estimates, at least 75 times since 1999, when the Reverend first appeared in front of the recently opened Disney Store in Times Square in a white leisure suit and clerical collar. Since then, he's used the persona of the televangelist to stage theatrical protests about the influence of corporations on American life. In recent years, Talen and the 50-odd performers that now make up the core of the Church of Stop Shopping have focused on the role that corporations play in climate change and species extinction.
"I'm not getting better at jail as I get older," Talen wrote the day of his release from the Tombs, "It's awful." But, he continued, he was glad to be back in Brooklyn. Then, Talen got news that he wasn't expecting. The City of New York was charging Talen and choir director Nehemiah Luckett with riot in the second degree, menacing in the third degree, unlawful assembly, and two counts of disorderly conduct for the Chase protest. The pair faces up to a year in prison. Their trial begins on Dec. 9. I spoke to the free-for-now Talen over the phone (the judge denied the DA's $30,000 bond request and released them on their own recognizance):
Q. Were you surprised to be arrested after that performance at Chase?
A. This idea of going into that lobby, going into that point of purchase, going into that elevator -- we've been exploring that for a decade. So this is not new to us.
Typhoon Haiyan: eight die in food stampede amid desperate wait for aid (13 November 2013)
Eight people have been killed in the typhoon-ravaged central Philippines after thousands of Haiyan survivors stormed a government-owned rice warehouse seeking food supplies.
The Philippines National Food Authority said police and soldiers stood by helpless as people streamed into the warehouse in Alangalang, Leyte province -- an area where hunger and desperation are running high after Haiyan made landfall early on Friday morning, ravaging vast swaths of Leyte and Samar islands. The security forces could only watch as more than 100,000 sacks of rice were carried away.
The eight were crushed to death when a wall in the warehouse collapsed, spokesman Rex Estoperez told the Associated Press. Other rice warehouses were dotted around the region, he said, refusing to give their locations for security reasons.
The Philippines government has come under fire for failing to deliver aid adequately or quickly enough, with growing frustration in the hardest hit areas, such as Tacloban, the capital of Leyte province where dead bodies have piled up on the streets and residents have resorted to looting to find food.
Mexican call center tries to connect families to missing migrants (13 November 2013)
TUCSON -- The mother calling from the Mexican state of Chihuahua hadn't heard from her son for days and she feared the worst.
Her voice cracked. She spoke quickly. She told the young man on the other end of the phone that she needed help.
In Tucson, a meticulously coiffed young operator wearing a dark tie responded calmly in Spanish.
"When was the last time you spoke with him?" he asked.
They last talked, she said, right before her 23-year-old son embarked on an illicit journey into the United States, trudging through the Arizona desert. The operator, busily typing notes into his computer, listened sympathetically.
The six U.S. nuclear power plants most likely to shut down (13 November 2013)
The nuclear power industry is melting down in America, and in the rest of the Western Hemisphere too.
Nuclear plants still generate nearly 20 percent of electricity in the U.S. But a report by investment research firm Morningstar in its latest Utilities Observer publication warns about the sector's risks. The report says "the 'nuclear renaissance' is on hold indefinitely" in the West thanks to low electricity prices, largely driven by the natural-gas fracking boom but also by new renewable energy projects, and controversy in the wake of the Fukushima meltdown:
"Aside from the two new nuclear projects in the U.S., one in France (Flamanville), and a possible one in the U.K. (Hinkley Point C), we think new-build nuclear in the West is dead. ...
"We don't expect an end to the new nuclear construction in China and South Korea or the development interest in India and elsewhere in Asia. ... Nuclear power is not going to disappear as a long-term option and it will continue to evolve. However, an investment in a new Western nuke plant even with the best available technology today will remain a rare experiment."
Japan passes law to launch reform of electricity sector (13 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Japan's upper house passed legislation on Wednesday to start the most ambitious reform of its electricity sector since 1951, a process prompted by the Fukushima nuclear crisis that may end with the break-up of powerful regional monopolies.
The reforms, including the establishment of a national grid and the liberalization of the power market for homes, are central to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's drive to overhaul the economy, as high energy costs threaten to derail efforts to reverse decades of stagnation.
Regional monopolies, including Tokyo Electric Power Co and Kansai Electric Power Co, supply almost 98 percent of Japan's electricity and terms for access to their transmission lines make it onerous for new entrants.
Wrenching control of transmission from the monopolies to create a national grid became a big issue after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that sparked the Fukushima disaster and highlighted an inability to transfer power to areas suffering shortages.
Air Force Officer Acquitted Of Groping Woman At Bar (13 November 2013)
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who once oversaw the Air Force's sexual assault response team, was found not guilty of groping a 23-year-old woman at a bar in Virginia earlier this year.
The jury of five men and two women in Arlington, Va., deliberated for an hour and 15 minutes before deciding to acquit Krusinski, 42 on a charge of misdemeanor assault. His accuser had said he grabbed her backside on May 5 outside a Crystal City bar.
But as The Associated Press reports:
"Defense lawyers argued that there were inconsistencies in her story. In particular, the defense [homed] in on the woman's testimony admitting she punched Krusinski a few times in the face in retaliation. Numerous other witnesses, though, described seeing her hit him countless times.
"Prosecutors had urged the jury not to be distracted by what happened after the alleged grope."
Police have said that Krusinski was drunk on the night of the alleged assault.
Toad moustache mystery solved by Guelph researchers (13 November 2013)
The strange moustache sported by a rare Chinese toad was a long-standing evolutionary enigma. Why, scientists wanted to know, did the male Emei moustache toad grow a band of hard spikes on its upper lip in February, only to shed it three weeks later?
On a cold night in 2011, Cameron Hudson stood over a mountain stream in Sichuan trying to answer that question. The University of Guelph graduate student spied two toads locked in combat.
Hudson captured video and sent it to his adviser in Ontario, Jinzhong Fu, a professor of evolutionary biology.
The mystery was solved.
The True Patriots in Congress Trying to End NSA Tyranny (12 November 2013)
Good old George can stop spinning in his grave. Yes, that George, our most heroic general and inspiring president, who warned us in his farewell address "to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism. ..." It's an alert that's been ignored in the nation's hysterical reaction to the attacks of 9/11 that culminated in the NSA's assault on our Constitution's guarantee of "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. ..."
That right was reaffirmed boldly and righteously Monday, for the entire world to hear, by F. James Sensenbrenner, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, which unanimously had produced the USA Patriot Act. Speaking on Monday at the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament, Sensenbrenner blasted the misuse of the Patriot Act by the NSA and other government agencies entrusted with ensuring the nation's safety.
"But the NSA abused that trust. It ignored restrictions painstakingly crafted by lawmakers and assumed a plenary authority we never imagined," the Wisconsin congressman said. "Worse, the NSA has cloaked its operations behind such a thick cloud of secrecy that even if the NSA promised reforms, we would lack the ability to verify them.
"The constant stream of disclosures about U.S. surveillance since June has surprised and appalled me as much as it has the American public and our international allies," Sensenbrenner continued. "I have therefore introduced legislation along with Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that will curtail surveillance abuses and restore trust in the U.S. intelligence community."
Their bill is titled the "USA FREEDOM Act," the acronym a shortcut for United and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring. As Sensenbrenner points out, "The title intentionally echoes the Patriot Act because it does what the Patriot Act was meant to do--strike a proper balance between civil liberties and national security."
How Private is Your Online Search History? (12 November 2013)
The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Justice to find out whether federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors think they need a warrant to obtain people's search queries from online search engine operators, or whether they think they can obtain it on a lower standard like a subpoena.
The queries we enter into online search engines can reveal a great deal of deeply private information about us. A search for "psychologists in Pittsburgh" is pretty revealing; a search for "birth control morning after pill" or "gonorrhea treatment" even more so. Knowing that a person searched for "atheist organizations in Alabama" or "how do I come out of the closet" could expose them to stigma. And entering "divorce lawyer," "domestic violence shelter," or "marriage counseling" can expose sensitive facts, as can searching for "whistleblower protections" or "civil disobedience tactics." Because this information is so revealing, most of us would want it to be protected against snooping and disclosure.
Unfortunately, the public knows little about the policies and practices of the government when it seeks people's search queries from search engine operators as part of a criminal investigation. This information is important, because the major online search engines--Google, Microsoft's Bing, Yahoo!, and Ask.com--log and retain information about users' search queries. The retained information includes not only the search terms entered into the search engines, but also unique identifying information about the users entering those terms, such as the Internet Protocol (IP) address assigned to the user by the user's internet service provider, and the unique cookie ID assigned to the user's computer by the search engine operator itself. Although some search engines automatically encrypt the connection between users' computers and their servers to protect the privacy of search terms as they travel over the internet, search query information is still saved by the companies on their end, and therefore available to law enforcement. (At least one search engine, Duck Duck Go, states that it doesn't log or retain search queries at all).
There are two kinds of information law enforcement might seek from a search engine: records of search queries entered by a particular person or persons; and a list of the names, IP addresses, or other identifying information for some or all people who have entered a particular query into the search engine's webpage. Representatives of the two largest search engines, Google and Bing, have suggested that they think the government needs a warrant to get this information. But we don't know what the government's policies are, nor how the search engines have reacted when presented with a government request for users' search query data. Other than a 2006 instance in which Google resisted an extremely broad Justice Department subpoena for search records, we don't know of any cases where search engines have challenged government requests, in court or out.
Pollution is making Chinese sperm damaged and "ugly" (12 November 2013)
Sperm: Usually so beautiful, right? (Not really, but just go with it.) But in China, pollution is making sperm so long and gross that it's a wonder anyone is having sex at all.
Li Zheng, the director of Shanghai's biggest sperm bank, discovered the fugly sperm as part of a decade-long study on male infertility. Thanks to poor air quality, Chinese men's sperm is weird-looking and sometimes doesn't even swim at all. Writes Quartz:
"The just-completed research found that two-thirds of the semen specimens at Shanghai's biggest sperm bank failed to meet World Health Organization sperm-count standards."
Philippines faces "nightmare" recovery in Haiyan's wake (12 November 2013)
A difficult recovery effort, hampered by security threats, bottlenecks, and an almost complete lack of communications, is still in its infancy in the Philippines four days after a powerful typhoon plowed through the country.
Super Typhoon Haiyan -- also known locally as Yolanda -- made landfall several times on Friday, leaving in its wake up to 10,000 casualties (a figure that comes from local officials on the island of Leyte and reported by the Associated Press; the official Philippine government count is much lower). The Joint Typhoon Warning Center data reported sustained winds approached 195 miles per hour three hours before landfall, with gusts of up to 235 miles per hour. Stunningly scary footage captured by a CCTV/Weather Channel team during Haiyan's height shows damaging storm surges ripping buildings apart, "like a tsunami." The storm made landfall again in Vietnam on Monday morning local time.
The Philippines, a group of more than 7,100 islands, is no a stranger to tropical cyclones (this is the 24th just this year). And just as more than 9.5 million people who were in the storm's path survey the damage and locate loved ones, the country is facing another tropical depression, Zoraida.
"We are always between two typhoons. The farther we are from the previous one, the nearer we are to the next one," said Amalie Obusan, a Greenpeace climate campaigner in the Philippines, by phone. "Now it seems like a very cruel joke ... Every year, every super typhoon is much stronger than the previous year."
Troubled HealthCare.gov unlikely to work fully by end of November (12 November 2013)
Software problems with the federal online health insurance marketplace, especially in handling high volumes, are proving so stubborn that the system is unlikely to work fully by the end of the month as the White House has promised, according to an official with knowledge of the project.
The insurance exchange is balking when more than 20,000 to 30,000 people attempt to use it at the same time -- about half its intended capacity, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose internal information. And CGI Federal, the main contractor that built the site, has succeeded in repairing only about six of every 10 of the defects it has addressed so far.
Government workers and tech-nical contractors racing to repair the Web site have concluded, the official said, that the only way for large numbers of Americans to enroll in the health-care plans soon is by using other means so that the online system isn't overburdened.
This inside view of the halting nature of HealthCare.gov repairs is emerging as the insurance industry is working behind the scenes on contingency plans, in case the site continues to have problems. And it calls into question the repeated assurances by the White House and other top officials that the insurance exchange will work smoothly for the vast majority of Americans by Nov. 30. Speaking in Dallas a week ago, President Obama said that the "Web site is already better than it was at the beginning of October, and by the end of this month, we anticipate that it is going to be working the way it is supposed to, all right?"
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Many Americans Haven't Heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and More (12 November 2013)
Jim Javinsky in for Thom Hartmann here -- on the news...
You need to know this. Many Americans oppose NAFTA and other trade deals, but they haven't even heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison describes the TPP as the "largest corporate power grab you've never heard of." Despite 19 rounds of negotiations that started all the way back in 2005, many of the details of the TPP still remain secret, even to members of Congress. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a massive trade agreement among 12 nations, including the US. And it's being negotiated by government trade officials and corporate lobbyists. Representative Alan Grayson said that the TPP is "a punch in the face to the middle class of America," and added, "but I'm not even allowed to tell you why." The deal would give multinational corporations the right to challenge our laws and regulations if firms believe those laws limit their "expected future profits." Not only would this trade agreement threaten American jobs, but it could seriously harm our national sovereignty. Regulations that protect workers, set environmental standards, or limit risk for consumers could be challenged if corporate greed isn't allowed to reign supreme. Despite all of these dangerous possibilities, Americans are being kept in the dark about the TPP, and trade negotiators don't even want Congress weighing in. They're demanding so-called "fast track" authority, which would block any changes to the law, and only allow our elected leaders an "up or down" vote. Unions, consumer protection groups, environmental activists, and even members of Congress are calling for changes to the law, or a flat-out rejection of the entire deal. For the sake of our nation, these groups are working to inform more Americans, and fighting to stop the TPP while we still have a chance.
Floating offshore wind turbines spinning near Fukushima (12 November 2013)
Even as the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant sits idle, dribbling radiation and awaiting deconstruction, refreshing winds of change are gusting off the nearby shoreline.
A floating wind turbine began operating about 12 miles off the Fukushima coast on Monday, the first of many planned in a region best known for the 2011 meltdown. From Bloomberg:
"The project, funded by the government and led by Marubeni Corp., is a symbol of Japan's ambition to commercialize the unproven technology of floating offshore wind power and its plan to turn quake-ravaged Fukushima into a clean energy hub.
"'Fukushima is making a stride toward the future step by step,' Yuhei Sato, governor of Fukushima, said today at a ceremony in Fukushima marking the project's initiation. 'Floating offshore wind is a symbol of such a future.'"
The secret, dirty cost of Obama's green power push (12 November 2013)
Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.
Sprayers pumped out billions of pounds of fertilizer, some of which seeped into drinking water, contaminated rivers and worsened the huge dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where marine life can't survive.
The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.
Farmers planted 15 million more acres of corn last year than before the ethanol boom, and the effects are visible in places like south central Iowa.
McAuliffe says he'd veto bill to allow uranium mining (12 November 2013)
Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe said Monday he would veto any legislation to facilitate uranium mining in Virginia.
The issue has resonance in Hampton Roads, which draws drinking water from Lake Gaston, downstream from a rich uranium deposit in Pittsylvania County. Mining interests have been trying for years to get a 31-year-old moratorium lifted so the ore can be mined.
Speaking with reporters after a Veterans Day event at Nauticus, McAuliffe said he would veto any bill to lift the moratorium or to establish a regulatory framework for mining.
"I don't support uranium mining," he said. "First and foremost as governor, my job is to make sure that our communities and our citizenry are safe. I'm not
comfortable with the science to the point that I can say that with uranium mining, we would be safe. I'm afraid it would get into the drinking water."
Gasoline prices to keep falling through 2013, AAA says (12 November 2013)
HOUSTON -- The price of gasoline has dropped again -- after reaching its lowest point in nearly 33 months on Monday -- and will keep falling through the end of the year, according to automotive organization AAA.
U.S. drivers paid a national average of $3.19 for a gallon of regular gasoline on Monday, the cheapest average since February 2011, according to AAA. On Tuesday, the average price dropped a penny to $3.18.
AAA expects the national average could fall close to $3 per gallon by the end of the year, as U.S. demand for gasoline sinks and the global crude oil price drops. An ample national gasoline supply -- about 8 percent higher than a year ago -- is putting more downward pressure on prices, AAA said.
The national average gas price has dropped for 10 consecutive weeks, falling a total of 41 cents per gallon since Labor Day, according to AAA.
Typhoon Haiyan: The Global Poor Bear the Deadly Brunt of Climate Change (12 November 2013)
In 1494, Spain and Portugal were in serious competition over other peoples' lands. This bothered the church, and Pope Alexander VI made it his duty to write up the Treaty of Tordesillas, which dictated that Spain was free to attempt to conquer lands west of an imaginary line on the Atlantic, and Portugal could attempt the same for all lands east of that line, essentially creating Eastern and Western hemispheres.
A little more than two decades later, Spain's influence in what it thought was a new world grew nearly as much as its avarice. It wanted more lands, and all the resources that came with those lands. Ferdinand Magellan, who was Portuguese, offered his services to King Charles of Spain. His plan was to sail west, as the treaty obliged--but to sail so far west that he would essentially reach the Eastern Hemisphere, and attempt to conquer those lands for Spain. He eventually landed in what we now call the Philippines.
What we remember today is that Magellan led the first circumnavigation, going not only around the world itself but also cleverly around an international treaty. What we forget--or never learned to begin with--is that the nearly two-year voyage ended poorly for the explorer. Magellan was cunning enough to deceive a powerful religion and a budding empire, and was even crafty enough to get some indigenous leaders to sign on board for their own colonization on an island called Mactan, off the island Cebu in the Philippines.
But that wasn't the case when it came to a local indigenous chief named Lapu Lapu. Magellan was sure that he could convince Lapu Lapu that he, too, should accept colonization, and he scheduled a meeting to do just that. And in case words didn't do trick, Magellan brought along ships, mortars and more than 6,000 warriors that would. What Magellan wasn't prepared for was the ferocity of Lapu Lapu's resistance, backed by thousands of his indigenous warriors, who emerged victorious in the 1521 Battle of Mactan. Spain could claim that its agent sailed around the world--but it couldn't claim that he could conquer anything. The Spanish would wait almost forty-five years before attempting to colonize the islands again.
Ontario affordable housing waiting lists still climbing (12 November 2013)
Waiting lists for affordable housing in Ontario continued their "slow and steady climb" in 2012 despite the province's modest economic gains, says a new report being released Tuesday.
Almost 158,500 households -- including about 72,700 in Toronto --were waiting for affordable homes as of December last year, according to the Ontario Non-Profit Housing Association's annual waiting list survey.
The number represents more than 3 per cent of Ontario households, the highest rate since the association began collecting statistics in 2003, the report notes.
The association's members operate more than 163,000 non-profit units in 220 communities across the province. To meet the need they would have to almost double the supply of rent-geared-to income housing, the report says.
Calgary Zoo seeks expert help after fungal infection kills third penguin this year (12 November 2013)
Calgary Zoo is calling on penguin experts worldwide for help with a respiratory disease that claimed another of its birds over the weekend.
Houdini, a 14-year-old male Gentoo penguin, was euthanized Sunday after he did not respond to intensive treatment for aspergillosis -- a fungal infection that affects a bird's respiratory system.
He is the third penguin at the zoo to succumb to the disease this year.
Zoo head of veterinary services Sandie Black said Calgary was talking to zoos overseas about what they had done to combat aspergillosis, which is a common cause of death among captive penguins.
FWP: Lake trout increase may cause decline in Swan drainage bull trout redds (12 November 2013)
Swan Lake allowed sport fishing for bull trout for several years, but changed the rules to catch-and-release in 2012. Fraley said the change was needed to offset the bull trout lost in the netting efforts.
The netting project started in 2009. Bull trout redds had been increasing steadily in the 1980s and 90s, Fraley said. In the peak years of 1997 and 1998, biologists found more than 800 redds in the Swan River basin. But those totals declined about 15 percent between 1999 and 2001, followed by another 15 percent drop between 2002 and 2005.
Lake trout were first detected in Swan Lake in 1998, and believed to be working their way up the Swan River from Flathead Lake. Studies in 2006 confirmed the population had been growing since the 1990s, and that the species was reproducing in Swan Lake.
Bull trout were declared a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1998. Unlike lake trout, bull trout spawn in small mountain streams in early fall and then return to lakes and rivers to spend the rest of their adult lives. A single redd may contain egg clusters from several bull trout.
Two moose found dead on wildlife refuge near Cochrane (12 November 2013)
It's hunting season in Alberta, but concerns are being raised about where people are shooting after two moose were found dead in a wildlife refuge.
The moose, called Polly and Beau, were being cared for at the Cochrane Ecological Institute, a charity that rescues and rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife.
In the past week, both of the animals have been found dead in their 65-hectare fenced enclosure and the operator believes they were both shot by hunters.
"We've been hearing gunshots ever since the season opened," said Clio Smeeton, president of the institute.
Tina Turner formally 'relinquishes' U.S. citizenship (12 November 2013)
This item just in via an "activity" report from the U.S. Embassy in Bern, Switzerland, headlined "Soul Legend Relinquishes U.S. Citizenship."
"Long-time Swiss resident Tina Turner" was in the embassy Oct. 24 to sign her "Statement of Voluntary Relinquishment of U.S. Citizenship under Section 349 (a)(1) of the INA" -- the Immigration and Naturalization Act.
Turner, who turns 74 in a couple weeks, retired from the concert stage in 2009. She had an abusive, 14-year marriage to Ike Turner (they divorced in 1976), with whom she recorded Jessie Hill's classic "Ooh Poo Pah Doo," and John Fogerty's "Proud Mary."
Turner has lived in Switzerland for nearly two decades. In July, she married her boyfriend of 27 years, German music producer Erwin Bach (unclear if related to Johann Sebastian). Turner had taken the oath of Swiss nationality April 10. She's fluent in German, the report said, and she declared that she no longer has any strong ties to the United States "except for family, and has no plans to reside in the United States in the future."
The key word in the embassy report apparently is the term "relinquishment." That means, a knowledgeable source told us, that she did not "formally renounce her U.S. citizenship under 349(a)(5) Immigration and Nationality Act, but took Swiss citizenship with the intent to lose her U.S. citizenship." As opposed to formal renunciation -- a much more complex process, we were told -- there are no "tax or other penalties for loss of citizenship in this fashion."
76,000 soldiers 'chaptered out' of veterans' benefits since 2006 (11 November 2013)
Dave Philipps is a reporter at the Colorado Springs Gazette, located in Fort Carson's hometown. He began to hear stories about soldiers like Jensen, and has spent months writing a series documenting numerous battle-damaged soldiers forced out of the military without benefits.
"If they kick out these soldiers in a way that they get anything other than honorable discharge, then they don't automatically qualify for the VA [federal benefits for veterans]," Philipps said. "They get their education benefits taken away. They can't even apply for unemployment. And so, they're really left with nothing."
It's called being "chaptered out." Soldiers may be discharged for reasons ranging anywhere from tardiness to substance abuse, and more serious crimes like assault. Many have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and some also have traumatic brain injuries (TBI), both of which can influence behavior and judgment.
Philipps said the number of soldiers getting kicked out for misconduct has gone up every year since the war in Iraq began. Since 2006, 76,000 soldiers have been chaptered out, Philipps calculates.
Train loaded with oil derails, explodes, pollutes Alabama wetlands (11 November 2013)
Yet another oil-hauling train has derailed and exploded, this one sending flaming cars loaded with North Dakota crude into Alabama wetlands.
The 90-car train derailed early Friday, causing flames to shoot 300 feet into the air. No injuries were reported. One family living in the marshy area was evacuated from their home following the accident. The L.A. Times has the details:
"A train that derailed and exploded in rural Alabama was hauling 2.7 million gallons of crude oil, according to officials.
"The 90-car train was crossing a timber trestle above a wetland near Aliceville late Thursday night when approximately 25 rail cars and two locomotives derailed, spilling crude oil into the surrounding wetlands and igniting a fire that was still burning Saturday."
Fast-growing Internet virus ransoms computers (11 November 2013)
Terry Dent knew it was a scam as soon as she read the warning message on her computer.
The 57-year-old widow admits she might not be the most computer-literate woman in the world, but she knew she hadn't downloaded any child pornography. And even if she had, she knew the FBI wouldn't be asking her to use a prepaid credit card to pay a $300 fine to unfreeze her computer.
"I'm not stupid," she said. "I wasn't going to send anyone anything."
But other people do. And keep doing it.
According to computer security and identity theft experts, Dent's computer was infected with a version of the Reveton virus. The virus is a popular form of "ransomware" that takes over a computer and prevents users from operating it, supposedly until they pay a fee.
Typhoon Haiyan: 942 confirmed dead in Philippines - live updates (11 November 2013)
A witness report of the moment the typhoon hit Cebu city, from commenter Kookaro:
"It blew out the power, tore the metal sheeting off a nearby apartment block, flattened palm, banana and coconut trees and sent rivers of rain water down the road.
"I was fortunate to be living in a relatively robust and modern concrete building. The destruction in Tacloban and Samar is near-total. A terrible tragedy for these are already some of the poorest communities in the Visayas region. That there is widespread 'looting' - or more accurately, a desperate search for food, water, shelter - is not a surprise given the situation.
"Natural disasters, such as the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol last month and now this typhoon, can never be prevented, but they do need to be planned for - as the world continues to heat up, as the weather patterns become increasingly dynamic, so we need to be better prepared. We also need to be that much more responsible to the planet, and to each other."
Typhoon Haiyan: President Aquino puts death toll at 2,000-2,500 (11 November 2013)
The New York Times has produced a powerful graphic that uses satellite imagery to map, in great detail, areas of destruction in Tacloban City. Individual buildings are color-coded according to extent of damage.
The graphic also takes a broader view of the Philippines to show areas of the coastline where storm surge was the greatest threat. The crescent-shaped coastline forming San Pedro and San Pablo Bay, south of Tacloban City, was hardest hit. But the storm surge topped 1 meter on both north- and south-facing shorelines in the interior.
See the graphic here.
Typhoon survivors beg for help; Philippine rescuers struggle (11 November 2013)
Dazed survivors of a super typhoon that swept through the central Philippines killing an estimated 10,000 people begged for help and scavenged for food, water and medicine, threatening to overwhelm military and rescue resources.
As President Benigno Aquino deployed hundreds of soldiers in the coastal city of Tacloban to quell looting, reports from one town showed apocalyptic scenes of destruction in another region that has not been reached by rescue workers or the armed forces.
The government has not confirmed officials' estimates over the weekend of 10,000 deaths, but the toll from Haiyan, one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded, is clearly far higher than the current official count of 255. The Armed Forces in the central Philippines reported a death toll of 942.
"The situation is bad, the devastation has been significant. In some cases the devastation has been total," Secretary to the Cabinet Rene Almendras told a news conference.
Vaccine fraud exposed: Measles and mumps making a huge comeback because vaccines are designed to fail, say Merck virologists (11 November 2013)
Merck knowingly falsified its mumps vaccine test results to fabricate a "95% efficacy rate" say former Merck virologists Stephen Krahling and Joan Wlochowski in their shocking False Claims Act document.
As I wrote last year, " In order to do this, Merck spiked the blood test with animal antibodies in order to artificially inflate the appearance of immune system antibodies."
From the False Claims Act complaint:
"Merck also added animal antibodies to blood samples to achieve more favorable test results, though it knew that the human immune system would never produce such antibodies, and that the antibodies created a laboratory testing scenario that 'did not in any way correspond to, correlate with, or represent real life ... virus neutralization in vaccinated people,' according to the complaint."
White House considers appointing civilian NSA chief amid calls for reform (11 November 2013)
In the first likely structural reform of the National Security Agency since the Guardian began publishing Edward Snowden's revelations, the Obama administration is giving strong consideration to appointing a civilian to run the surveillance apparatus and splitting it from the military command that has been its institutional twin since 2010.
But skeptics say those plans appear more cosmetic than substantive, leaving alone the central questions of bulk surveillance and potentially leaving the military with diminished capacity to safeguard its data from foreign attacks.
General Keith Alexander is scheduled to retire from the agency in the spring of 2014. The White House is reportedly compiling a list of civilians to replace the embattled director, giving a new and potentially reassuring face to a surveillance agency now infamous for bulk spying.
A similar plan being considered would disaggregate the NSA from the new military command created around it for defending the US military's data and computer networks, an institutional divorce that also has a political upside for the administration -- though perhaps less of a military nor intelligence one.
Tesla fire postscript: driver praises his torched car (11 November 2013)
As federal officials mull whether to investigate last week's Tesla Model S fire, the driver has offered his own take on the accident.
And he has nothing but love for the car.
Juris Shibayama, an orthopedic surgeon from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, wrote an account of the incident for the Tesla Motors company blog, which posted it on Saturday. He describes cruising at 70 mph on a freeway, following a truck. He suddenly saw a rusted trailer hitch lying in the middle of his lane, with the ball sticking up in the air. The truck in front of him cleared it, but Shibayama's Model S wasn't so lucky.
"I felt a firm 'thud' as the hitch struck the bottom of the car, and it felt as though it even lifted the car up in the air," he wrote. "My assistant later found a gouge in the tarmac where the item scraped into the road."
About 40,000 Americans are said to have signed up for plans on HealthCare.gov (11 November 2013)
Roughly 40,000 Americans have signed up for private insurance through the flawed federal online insurance marketplace since it opened six weeks ago, according to two people with access to the figures.
That amount is a tiny fraction of the total projected enrollment for the 36 states where the federal government is running the online health-care exchange, indicating the slow start to the president's initiative. The first concrete evidence of the popularity -- and accessibility -- of the new federal insurance exchange emerged as the White House has been preparing to release this week the first official tally of how many people have chosen coverage using the Web site, HealthCare.gov.
One administration official said Monday that the official figure will include people who have paid for a health plan and those who simply picked a plan and put it in their online shopping cart.
The administration's only known previous projections come from internal memos, released on Capitol Hill, that predicted that about a half-million Americans would have selected insurance by the end of October. It was unclear whether that figure, cited in a letter last month by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), included only people who enrolled in private health plans or also low-income people who joined Medicaid.
Africa: Helping Mothers to Deliver Healthy Children Safely (11 November 2013)
Holding the hand of Kumi as she went into labor at 3 am is a moment I'll never forget. Kumi lives in small hut in rural Ethiopia, hours away from the nearest health facility - and just hours away from my hometown of Addis Ababa.
As a mother myself, it is disturbing to know that there are still millions of mothers like Kumi who do not have access to the basic essentials for delivering a child, including light, clean equipment, and trained medical staff.
Fortunately, despite her challenging circumstances, Kumi had a safe delivery and a healthy newborn child. She named her daughter Adame - which means lucky day.
The reality is, however, that complications during pregnancy and childbirth are still among the leading causes of death among young women in the developing world.
Jim Hightower: Five Million Missing American Workers (10 November 2013)
Well, yes, the official jobless rate has edged down to 7.2 percent, but don't get giddy, for that's not the total score. In December 2007, when Wall Street's reckless greed crashed our economy, the unemployment rate stood at only 5 percent, the average length of being unemployed was half of today's, and far fewer people were forced into part-time work or had to find multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Plus, family income was higher back then for all but the richest 1 percent of Americans.
But there's an even more telling statistic that we rarely hear about: the employment/population ratio. This indicator tells us the number of working-age adults actually in the workforce, meaning they're employed at least part-time or are looking for jobs.
This important number has plummeted by five million people since the crash. They're not working, and they're not counted as unemployed.
Cancer cluster identified in Highland, NY, as wave of children diagnosed with leukemia (10 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) There must be something in the water in Highland, New York, a small town just across the Hudson River from Poughkeepsie where at least six young children were recently diagnosed with the same form of leukemia, one after another. CBS New York reports that the New York State Department of Health (NYSDH) has launched an investigation into what many local parents now say is an unusual and seemingly contagious wave of cancers with no obvious explanation.
Each of the six diagnoses occurred within the past 20 months, according to reports, and all of those diagnosed have been children younger than age 10. Also disturbing is the fact that all of the children live in the same neighborhood and on the same street, suggesting what the media has now dubbed a possible "cancer cluster," or an unusually high rate of the same form of cancer in a localized area.
"The oncology doctor as soon as she looked at his labs knew that he had leukemia," said Stephanie Lucas, mother of four-year-old Cameron, to reporters. Young Cameron was diagnosed this past March with leukemia after suffering frequent fevers, which eventually developed into chronic pain in his arm. "It was just shocking. You never expect it to happen to your child."
Nine-year-old Alexandra Malheiro, who lives right down the street, was also recently diagnosed with leukemia, as were four other young children in the neighborhood. Alexandra's mother, Stacey, told reporters that, once the first child was diagnosed, more quickly followed suit until the entire neighborhood was plagued with cases. She finds the whole situation strange and, like many others, is actively seeking answers.
Amazon to deliver on Sundays using Postal Service fleet (10 November 2013)
The Internet has been blamed for the death of the mail, but now it's offering hope to the beleaguered U.S. Postal Service.
Amazon announced Monday that it will begin Sunday deliveries using the government agency's fleet of foot soldiers, office workers and truck drivers to bring packages to homes seven days a week.
To accommodate the online retailing giant, the Postal Service said it will for the first time deliver packages at regular rates on Sundays. Previously, a shipper had to use its pricey Express Mail service and pay an extra fee for Sunday delivery.
The initiative will begin immediately in Los Angeles and New York and spread to the Washington area and much of the rest of the nation next year, Postal Service officials said. The partnership should help the turnaround effort underway at the financially strapped Postal Service, they said.
Proposed desalination plant could harm ocean environment, report says (10 November 2013)
A proposed seawater desalination plant in Huntington Beach could significantly harm parts of the Southern California ocean environment unless substantial changes are made in its design and operation, according to the staff of the state Coastal Commission.
A staff report prepared for this week's commission vote on the project highlights the potential downside of large-scale efforts to turn the salty water of the Pacific Ocean into drinking supplies for coastal California.
"There are ways to do desal in a fairly environmentally benign way," said Tom Luster, an environmental scientist with the commission. "This one will have some fairly significant adverse effects."
Poseidon Resources, a small, privately held company based in Stamford, Conn., first proposed the Huntington Beach desalter, and a similar one now under construction in Carlsbad in San Diego County, in 1998. Both would be the largest seawater-to-drinking-water operations in the country, each producing enough purified water every year to supply roughly 100,000 households.
Poseidon intended to avoid the expense and environmental problems of building and operating ocean intake and discharge systems by locating its facilities next to power stations and tapping into the huge volumes of seawater used to cool the generating equipment.
Global warming finally reaches the last Arctic region (10 November 2013)
Lakes of the Hudson Bay Lowlands, in northeast Canada, are showing evidence of abrupt change in one of the last Arctic regions of the world to have experienced global warming, according to Canadian research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal.
The research team consisting of Kathleen Rühland, John Smol, and Neal Michelutti from Queen's University Ontario, Andrew Paterson of Ontario's Ministry of the Environment, and Bill Keller from the Laurentian University Ontario, retrieved sediment cores from lakes around the western shoreline of Hudson Bay and looked for changes in the microscopic algae that settle at the lake bottom after death.
These algae, known as diatoms, are at the base of the food chain and are an important component of lake ecosystems. When they die and fall to the lake bed, they leave behind an environmental archive in the sediment layers that continually accumulate year after year. By examining the changes through time, researchers can trace the environmental history of the region.
The Hudson Bay Lowlands were one of the last holdouts against the trend of global warming in the Arctic, but has in a very short period succumbed. In contrast to most of the Arctic, the lowlands maintained relatively stable temperatures until at least the mid-1990s. The region has been an Arctic refugium from warming due to the persistence of sea ice on Hudson Bay, the largest northern inland sea, that provides natural cooling.
Why US veterans are returning to Vietnam (10 November 2013)
A photo of Greg Kleven, dated April 1967, shows him posing in front of a tin-roofed hooch, wearing an undershirt so stained it matches the sand beneath his feet. In his right hand, he is holding an M-16 rifle. His shaved head is cocked to the left and he's sticking out his tongue in a half smile.
The 18-year-old enlistee is three months into his tour of Vietnam in a Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance company, a special operations unit similar to the Navy SEALs. He looks brash and ready to take on any Viet Cong who cross his path.
"We had all of the difficult missions," Mr. Kleven recalls. "We blew up bridges and parachuted out of planes. Each patrol was like an individual war."
As we talk in his apartment overlooking the Nhieu Loc Canal in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, it's hard to find any trace of that brazen marine in Kleven today. Two decades after leaving Vietnam on a stretcher with a bullet wound to his back, Kleven returned to the country for good in 1991, making him, he says, the first American to live in Ho Chi Minh City after the war.
New Yorkers donate time to help rebalance supply in bike-share program (10 November 2013)
NEW YORK - Each morning, commuters using the nation's largest cycle-sharing system face a question that decides whether the workday begins in disappointment or with a smooth glide: Will any Citi Bikes be available?
A cadre of data vigilantes - including up to 80 software engineers, analysts and urban planners - work in their free time to make the answer yes.
Without help from New York's Transportation Department, they analyze ridership patterns at meetings held by the nonprofit Code for America at tables with laptops - and sometimes beer.
"You're checking out a bike, you're checking it in," said Peter Drier, 37, director of technology for prime brokerage services at Wells Fargo who attends the meetings. "Those transactions, from a technological standpoint, are very simple, very Wall Street-like: Buy, sell. Check in, check out."
The biggest complaint of 64 percent of users is being unable to access or return one of the 6,000 bikes, according to a survey by the cycling advocate Transportation Alternatives. The nation's most populous city plays constant catch-up with the 93,000 riders to replenish barren docks and make room for returns.
AshleyMadison sued by ex-worker who claims she wrote too many fake female profiles (10 November 2013)
A dating website for married people who want to cheat on their spouses is being sued by a former employee who says she damaged her wrists typing up hundreds of fake profiles of sexy women.
Doriana Silva is seeking $20 million from Ashley Madison for what she calls the company's "unjust enrichment" at her expense, plus another $1 million in punitive and general damages.
In her statement of claim, Silva -- a Brazilian immigrant living in Toronto -- says she was hired to help launch a Portuguese-language version of the site and promised a starting salary of $34,000 plus benefits.
She was soon asked to create 1,000 "fake female profiles" meant to lure men to the new Brazilian Ashley Madison site -- and given only three weeks to complete the work, the document alleges.
"The purpose of these profiles is to entice paying heterosexual male members to join and spend money on the website," it reads.
GCHQ used 'Quantum Insert' technique to set up fake LinkedIn pages and spy on mobile phone giants (10 November 2013)
GCHQ uses doctored websites including those from the business network LinkedIn to secretly install surveillance software on the computers of unwitting target companies and individuals it wants to spy on, the German news magazine Der Spiegel has reported.
The disclosures, which were said to be based on the contents of intelligence data leaked by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden, came less than a week after The Independent revealed the existence of a suspected secret GCHQ listening post on the roof of the British embassy in Berlin.
Der Spiegel said that GCHQ, the Government's surveillance centre based in Cheltenham, used "manipulated copies" of web pages put online by the business network LinkedIn to gain access to the computers of suspects it was targeting. LinkedIn has some 260 million users in more than 200 countries.
GCHQ and the National Security Agency, its US equivalent, were said to have developed a practice codenamed "Quantum Insert" to install spy software on the computers of targets without their knowledge. A LinkedIn spokesman was quoted as saying: "We were never told about this alleged activity and we would never approve of it, irrespective of what purpose it was used for."
Taiwan's 'White Shirt Army,' spurred by Facebook, takes on political parties (10 November 2013)
TAIPEI, Taiwan -- For decades this island has been bitterly divided into blue and green, the colors of its rival political parties. But that two-toned dichotomy has been upset in recent months by a sea of youths dressed in white.
Now known as the "White Shirt Army," the young people have become the biggest, most surprising social movement in Taiwan's recent history. Some experts believe their emergence represents a shift in the political thinking and direction of the country.
"We don't support any side or leader," said Liulin Wei, a lanky, soft-spoken 30-year-old who sparked the movement with a short online post four months ago. "We are for civil rights, common values, democracy. And we made it very simple to join. You just put on a white shirt."
The group's emphasis on civil-society issues comes after decades in which Taiwanese politics have been dominated by the existential question of independence from mainland China. While China considers Taiwan a rebellious province to be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary, Taiwan insists on its rights as a self-governed entity.
Look What's Behind the Recent Slowdown in Global Warming (10 November 2013)
Climate deniers like to point to the so-called global warming "hiatus" as evidence that humans aren't changing the climate. But according a new study, exactly the opposite is true: The recent slowdown in global temperature increases is partially the result of one of the few successful international crackdowns on greenhouse gases.
Back in 1988, more than 40 countries, including the US, signed the Montreal Protocol, an agreement to phase out the use of ozone-depleting gases like chlorofluorocarbons (today the Protocol has nearly 200 signatories).
According to the EPA, CFC emissions are down 90 percent since the Protocol, a drop that the agency calls "one of the largest reductions to date in global greenhouse gas emissions." That's a blessing for the ozone layer, but also for the climate. CFCs are a potent heat-trapping gas, and a new analysis published today in Nature Geoscience finds that slashing them has been a major driver of the much-discussed slowdown in global warming.
Without the Protocol, environmental economist Francisco Estrada of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México reports, global temperatures today would be about a tenth of a degree Celsius higher than they are. That's roughly an eighth of the total warming documented since 1880.
Estrada and his co-authors compared global temperature and greenhouse gas emissions records over the last century and found that breaks in the steady upward march of both coincided closely. At times when emissions leveled off or dropped, like during the Great Depression, the trend was mirrored in temperatures; likewise for when emissions climbed.
News from the Week of 3rd to 9th of November 2013
PHARMA'S WINDFALL: The mining of rare diseases (9 November 2013)
The Orphan Drug Act became law in January 1983. In the decades prior, the FDA had approved only 10 drugs for rare diseases. Since the act took effect, 363 drugs have been approved as of October, a Times analysis shows. All told, these drugs have been licensed for 449 variations of rare disease.
Waxman has characterized the Orphan Drug Act as "government at its finest." Likewise, the act is widely praised by many physicians, researchers and patient advocates for helping millions of patients receive treatments that otherwise might not exist.
But despite its "enormous" success, the act has had "some downsides as well," Waxman told The Times.
"The industry has taken advantage of the incentives to charge excessive profits and to reap windfalls far in excess of their investments in the drug," he said.
Waxman has introduced amendments to rein in profiteering -- to cut into the seven years of market exclusivity, for example -- only to face defeat, thanks to lobbying from the pharmaceutical industry.
Risky acne drug Diane-35 underscores Health Canada's limitations (9 November 2013)
Health Canada has approved more than 10,000 prescription drugs for use across the country, but the federal health department does not have the power to recall a single one if it is found to be unsafe.
That little-known but long-standing regulatory flaw -- first raised after the thalidomide tragedy of the 1960s, when more than 100 Canadian babies were born with malformed limbs -- was recently highlighted again in a government-commissioned report on faulty birth control pills.
Canadian laws empower regulators to recall bad toys, tools, cleaning supplies, clothing and food, but not bad drugs. That job is left almost entirely up to manufacturers and distributors.
"People overestimate what the drug regulatory agency is doing," said Trudo Lemmens, Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Toronto.
Health Canada cannot order but only "negotiate" with manufacturers for a drug recall -- a process that can last months or years.
The Murder of Yasser Arafat (9 November 2013)
In 2004, shortly after the mysterious death of PLO leader Yasser Arafat, I wrote a column stating my strong belief that he had been murdered by poison. I recalled Stalin's favorite line, "no man, no problem."
Poison had been a favorite tool of the Soviet secret police since the 1920's. Steps from KGB headquarters at the Lubyanka was the top secret laboratory known as the "kamera" where scientists concocted new, complex poisons designed to be very lethal but untraceable, or extremely hard to identify.
Numbers of Ukrainian nationalists were murdered by use of pens emitting a vapor of quick-acting cyanide gas that left the victims appearing to have died of heart attacks. Later, the kamera produced an even more lethal pellet filled with the deadly castor-bean extract, ricin. A Bulgarian defector, Georgi Markov, died after a ricin pellet was jabbed into his leg in London, the famous "umbrella murder."
In 2009, Israeli agents of Mossad sprayed a poison liquid into the left ear of Palestinian Hamas leader, Khaled Mashall. He only escaped death when Israel was forced to provide an antidote. The US CIA had its own poison lab that was revealed by the 1975 Church Committee investigation.
Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger to be questioned by MPs over NSA leaks (9 November 2013)
The editor of the Guardian is to be questioned by MPs about his newspaper's publication of intelligence files leaked by the American whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Alan Rusbridger is to appear before the House of Commons home affairs select committee next month following warnings from British security chiefs that the revelations were damaging national security.
"Alan has been invited to give evidence to the home affairs select committee and looks forward to appearing next month," a Guardian spokeswoman said.
The heads MI6, MI5 and GCHQ claim terrorist groups are changing their operations as a result of the leaks.
Dozens arrested in Walmart protest as anger against retail chain escalates (9 November 2013)
Dozens of people demanding better pay and conditions for Walmart workers were arrested at a protest in Los Angeles which organisers called the single biggest act of disobedience against the retail chain.
Police detained 54 people on Thursday night, including Walmart workers, union representatives and clergy members who sat in the street outside a Walmart store in Chinatown and refused to move, prompting officers to declare an unlawful assembly and move in.
"Walmart has proven its willingness to break the law by illegally firing workers and trying to silence them," said Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, one of the organisers. "We are sitting down today to demonstrate that we won't allow these dirty tactics in Los Angeles."
The demonstration was the latest in a year-long series of mostly small, vocal protests at Walmart stores around the US.
The Dynastic Hillary Bandwagon: Bad for America by Ralph Nader (9 November 2013)
The Hillary Clinton for President in 2016 bandwagon has started very early and with a purpose. The idea is to get large numbers of endorsers, so that no Democratic Primary competitors dare make a move. These supporters include Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), financier George Soros and Ready for Hillary, a super PAC mobilizing with great specificity (already in Iowa).
Given this early bird launch, it is important to raise the pressing question:
Does the future of our country benefit from Hillary, another Clinton, another politician almost indistinguishable from Barack Obama's militaristic, corporatist policies garnished by big money donors from Wall Street and other plutocratic canyons?
There is no doubt the Clintons are syrupy political charmers, beguiling many naïve Democrats who have long been vulnerable to a practiced set of comforting words or phrases camouflaging contrary deeds.
Everybody knows that Hillary is for women, children and education. She says so every day. But Democrats and others can't get the Clintons even to support a $10.50 federal minimum wage that would almost equal the 1968 minimum wage, inflation-adjusted, and would raise the wages of 30 million workers mired in the gap between the present minimum wage of $7.25 and $10.50 an hour. It just so happens that almost two-thirds of these Americans are women, many of them single moms struggling to support their impoverished children. Nearly a million of these workers labor for Walmart, on whose Board of Directors Hillary Clinton once sat. Words hide the deeds.
On the News With Thom Hartmann: Policy Holders Sue Anthem Blue Cross for Intentionally Misleading Clients, and More (9 November 2013)
You need to know this. Millions of insurance policies are being canceled across the nation, and while companies are blaming Obamacare -- it appears that plain old greed is the real reason. Consumers in California say that their insurance company caused their cancellations, to jack up their premiums under the ACA. Paul Simon and Catherine Corker are suing Anthem Blue Cross in their state, claiming that the company tricked them into giving up their "grandfathered plans" - which they could have kept even after the healthcare law. Their lawsuit states, "Blue Cross concealed information about the consequences of switching plans and intentionally misled its policyholders to encourage the replacement of grandfathered policies." Just like President Obama said, if these customers liked their healthcare plans, they could have kept them under the healthcare law. But, Blue Cross enticed customers to change policies in 2011, which meant their plans were no longer "grandfathered-in" to the healthcare law. When they were invited to switch plans, customers were not told that they would lose their right to keep their plans, and were not given accurate information about future price increases. And now, Mr. Simon and Ms. Corker want the courts to stop Blue Cross from canceling more plans without allowing customers to switch back to their original policies. If this happened in California, we can only wonder how many more cancellations are the result of the same deceptive tactics.
In screwed news... Our nation has more prisons than we have schools. In fact, we have so many prisons, that if being locked up was considered a job, it would be one of the most popular jobs in America. According to data from the Justice Department, in 2012 there were more than one and a half million inmates in state and federal prisons, and many more if you count inmates in city and county jails. However, there were only about 815,000 constructions workers, 750,000 auto mechanics, and less than a million public schools throughout our nation. We're spending trillions to lock people up, while education budgets are being slashed throughout our nation. And, when people are incarcerated, they can't work, and can't contribute their tax dollars or their production to our economy. It's time to rethink our national priorities. It makes no sense to incarcerate more people than we educate.
In the best of the rest of the news...
For the second time in two decades, conservation groups have stopped uranium mining in the Grand Canyon. Mining efforts were previously halted back in 1992, but earlier this year, mine owner Energy Fuel Resources, restarted their operations in the canyon. Environmental groups, along with the native-American Havasu Tribe, sued to stop operations -- and Energy Fuel Resources agreed to halt their mining activities. Roger Clark of the Grand Canyon Trust, said, "The Canyon Mine threatens irreversible damage to the Havasupai people and [the] Grand Canyon's water, wildlife, and tourism economy, to this closure is very good news." However, like previous closures, this could be a temporary victory. Under current policy, so-called "zombie mines" - can reopen without even conducting a new environmental analysis. Conservation groups are thrilled that the Grand Canyon is safe for now, but they say it's time to block this mine permanently, and protect one our nation's most prized landmarks for future generations.
Sardines have nearly disappeared off West Coast (9 November 2013)
When Canadian fishermen headed out for their annual sardine hunt in the Pacific Ocean earlier this fall, they got a rude surprise. Their nets came up empty.
Sardine numbers have been in severe decline along the entire West Coast this season, prompting U.S. fisheries authorities to slash catch limits. Fears abound that the fishery's decline will reverberate through the coming years, if not decades. It's happened before: Monterey, Calif.'s famed Cannery Row turned into a ghost town following a sardine collapse in 1950s.
Fishermen lucky enough to come across schools of sardines off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington during the first six months of next year will be allowed to haul in no more than 5,446 metric tons of the baitfish, down nearly 70 percent from the quota this year. The Associated Press reports:
"Marci Yaremko of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife says the [Pacific Fishery Management Council] decided to take an even more precautionary approach than management guidelines call for because the current assessment was lacking some information, such as surveys showing too few sardines are being born to replace the ones that are caught or eaten by other fish."
U.S. seeks $864 million from Bank of America after fraud verdict (9 November 2013)
(Reuters) - The U.S. government urged that Bank of America Corp pay $863.6 million in damages after a federal jury found it liable for fraud over defective mortgages sold by its Countrywide unit.
In a filing late Friday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the government also asked for penalties against Rebecca Mairone, a former midlevel executive at the bank's Countrywide unit who the jury also found liable, "commensurate with her ability to pay."
The government said the penalties were necessary to punish the bank and Mairone "and to send a clear and unambiguous message that mortgage fraud for profit will not be tolerated."
Bank of America and Mairone were each found liable for defrauding government-controlled mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac through the sale of shoddy loans purchased from Countrywide in 2007 and 2008.
The case centered on a mortgage lending process at Countrywide, which Bank of America bought in July 2008, known as the "High Speed Swim Lane," or alternatively "HSSL" or "Hustle."
Foreigners' cash seen fueling higher Mexican oil production (9 November 2013)
"To me, it's very clear that the future of Mexican manufacturing depends on the access of sufficient cost-effective energy," Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal said. "Today, Mexico has to import 40 percent of the (natural) gas we have to use in the industrial sector. We were not able to invest enough to produce our own gas. And we have plenty of gas in the underground."
Proximity alone has Texas' energy industry leaders eying opportunities to invest in what remain largely untapped mineral resources.
The booming Eagle Ford Shale may be even more abundant in northern Mexico, though there's already debate over the enormous investment costs and potential effects on the environment.
Guajardo, appointed secretary of the economy by President Enrique Peña Nieto last Dec. 1, was in town to meet privately with business leaders and Mayor Julián Castro, and to address the Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs. His visit coincided with a Border Energy Forum attended by U.S. and Mexican energy sector leaders.
Texas companies are watching closely, but interest in Peña Nieto's efforts to open Mexico's energy industry to foreign investment is global.
As high-speed rail project falters, Obama's vision of government remains unfulfilled (9 November 2013)
Milwaukee -- The gleaming red-and-white trains sit motionless in a cavernous warehouse in Century City, an industrial neighborhood that cranked out 100 million car and truck frames in its heyday. The seats are draped in plastic; an electronic screen on one reads, "Quiet Car. 11:10 a.m. 000 MPH."
President Obama once hoped that these high-speed trains would be transporting passengers from Milwaukee to Madison, Wis., part of a broader system crisscrossing the Midwest and the nation.
But Wisconsin's Republican governor, Scott Walker , rejected $823 million in funding that the federal government was offering, and the Transportation Department transferred the funds to California. The two trains now sit idle, with five employees of a Spanish manufacturer left behind to tend them.
High-speed rail was once a central part of Obama's vision for government -- one in which the nation's infrastructure, schools and health-care systems would be modernized to meet the challenges of globalization and expand the middle class.
But the abandoned Wisconsin rail project, and several others around the country, illustrate just how difficult -- and incomplete -- the effort has been. Even as he managed to get the federal government up and running again this past month, Obama's larger project of redefining what government should do has been stymied by steady Republican opposition and public disenchantment with political leaders. And chronic problems with the rollout of provisions of the new health-care law have made Obama's sales pitch even harder.
UW-Madison eye research center lays off entire staff amid $4.6 million deficit (9 November 2013)
The UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health has laid off all 60 employees from a nationally known eye research center after learning the center had run up a deficit of $4.6 million.
The Fundus Photograph Reading Center faces an uncertain future after its staff was told of the layoffs at an Oct. 14 meeting. Four of the 60 employees either retired or were reassigned, said Lisa Brunette, media relations director for UW Health.
Started in 1972, the center is responsible for assisting in research trials of treatments for macular degeneration and other retina diseases.
"There are plans to establish a smaller unit to provide services in a way that can be sustained financially," Brunette said in an email about the future of Fundus. She didn't elaborate.
Details were scarce about what led to the downfall of the once-thriving research center, an arm of the UW-Madison ophthalmology department that relied on a steady stream of research dollars from big pharmaceutical companies and government agencies doing clinical trials to test new treatments for retina diseases.
Toll plaintiffs seek another hearing by Va. high court (9 November 2013)
The Hampton Roads plaintiffs who sued to stop tolls on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels want the Supreme Court of Virginia to take another look at their argument.
Patrick McSweeney, the attorney for the residents and businesses, filed notice Friday of his intent to seek a rehearing in the case. The justices unanimously ruled against his clients on Oct. 31, reversing a lower court's ruling that the tolls were unconstitutional taxes.
The basis for a rehearing rests on the assertion that the justices did not consider one or more of the plaintiffs' arguments before rendering their decision, McSweeney said.
He declined to say what specific points the plaintiffs contend the justices did not weigh in their deliberations. That will be specified in their petition for a rehearing, which must be filed within 20 days, McSweeney said. Friday's action simply gave the court notice that they intend to file such a petition.
McAuliffe hits the ground running, tries to lower tolls (9 November 2013)
Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe will try to renegotiate the terms of the Midtown and Downtown tunnel project to lower the tolls that are set to begin Feb. 1, spokesmen for his campaign and transition team said.
His chances for success - and what it would cost - remain to be seen. McAuliffe thinks something can be done with the extra revenue flowing to the state from the taxes and fees that lawmakers passed last winter under landmark road legislation.
In an email days before the election, McAuliffe campaign spokesman Josh Schwerin said, "With the new funds from the transportation bill we are now in a much better position to negotiate and get a better deal for Hampton Roads residents."
For McAuliffe, delivering on his tolls promise would mark an emphatic start to his administration's relationship with Hampton Roads residents on transportation matters. He also has expressed support for extending light rail in Hampton Roads, and there has been talk that his cabinet pick for secretary of transportation is Virginia Beach resident Aubrey Layne.
"The NFL's Bully Problem": Sports Columnist Dave Zirin Connects Violence in Sports to Rape Culture (8 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
DAVE ZIRIN: It needs to be discussed. You know, the U.S. Marine Corps has had a uniform code against hazing since 1997, so even the U.S. Marine Corps realizing that they need to have some sort of structure to try to stop the abuse of people that only happens because someone is seen to be as weak, you know, by the perceptions of the Marines. The NFL has no kind of guidelines against hazing whatsoever, no kinds of guidelines against bullying. And let's call this for what it is: I mean, it's racist harassment.
And anybody out there listening who might think, "Well, this is just a sports issue, what have you," think about other stories that have been in the media recently, with names like Steubenville or Maryville or Torrington, Connecticut, instances where you see this connective tissue between jock culture and rape culture. All of these things are very connected, like this idea where you get young men in a very violent kind of group mentality that says that, frankly, that things like violence are theirs for the taking, women are theirs for the taking, by any means necessary. And it creates, I think, a very, very destructive climate that puts terrible social cues out to the general public.
AMY GOODMAN: This is what Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall had to say about the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal.
DAVE ZIRIN: I love this quote.
BRANDON MARSHALL: A little boy falls down, the first thing we say as parents is, "Get up, shake it off. You'll be OK. You know, don't cry." When a little girl falls down, what we say? "It's going to be OK." We validate their feelings. So right there, from that moment, we're teaching our men, you know, to mask their feelings, don't show their emotions. And it's that times a hundred with football players. Can't show that you're hurt. You can't show any pain. So, for a guy that comes in the locker room and he shows a little vulnerability, you know, that's a problem. So that's what I mean by the culture of the NFL. And that's what we have to change.
Crude oil tank cars ablaze after train derails in Alabama (8 November 2013)
ALICEVILLE, Alabama (Reuters) - Several oil tank cars that burst into flames after a train derailed in rural Alabama were expected to keep burning into Saturday, potentially reigniting the push for tougher regulation of the boom in moving oil by rail.
Twenty-five of the train's 90 cars derailed near a 60-foot-long wooden trestle in the early hours of Friday morning, and a number were still on fire 18 hours later, operator Genesee & Wyoming Inc said. They were sending flames hundreds of feet high that could be seen from over 10 miles away.
No injuries were reported, but an unknown amount of crude oil spilled into an adjacent marshland, Genesee said. State officials said the oil had been contained, partly thanks to a nearby beaver dam that had already slowed the flow of water. The cause of the incident is under investigation.
A local official said the crude oil had originated in North Dakota, home of the booming Bakken shale patch. If so, it may have been carrying the same type of light crude oil that was on a Canadian train that derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic this summer, killing 47 people.
EPA officers sickened by fumes at South L.A. oil field (8 November 2013)
Federal environmental officers were sickened by toxic vapors as they toured a south Los Angeles urban oil field whose emissions are blamed by neighbors for a variety of ailments, an EPA official said Friday.
Jared Blumenfeld, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest, was among those stricken by the fumes during the recent tour of the Allenco Energy Co. site in University Park, about a half-mile north of USC.
"I've been to oil and gas production facilities throughout the region, but I've never had an experience like that before," Bumenfeld said. "We suffered sore throats, coughing and severe headaches that lingered for hours."
U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on Friday urged Allenco to suspend operations immediately pending completion of an EPA investigation, which was prompted by hundreds of complaints from neighbors who blame the noxious odors for persistent respiratory ailments, headaches, nausea and nosebleeds.
Boxer said EPA investigators who toured the site Oct. 24 "told me that they saw a shoddy operation. They saw oil on the ground. They saw pipes held up by 2-by-4s. This cannot go on."
Solar panels get more efficient when they listen to pop music (8 November 2013)
Like all of us who listen to Spotify while we work, zinc oxide solar panels appear to get 50 percent more efficient when they're played rock or pop music, according to one study from the U.K. Quit trying to make new solar solutions, boffins, and just crank up the HAIM!
The study found that all noise boosted performance on the zinc oxide panels, which isn't hard -- they usually rate a pathetic 1.2 percent efficiency and have nowhere to go but up. Rock and pop worked best, though, probably because they contain a wide range of frequencies.
Of course, that means the solar panels were only up to a whopping 1.8 percent efficiency -- not very impressive. And unless you were going to hire a live band, you'd need some form of electricity to play the music at the panels in the first place. In other words, zinc oxide plus Lady Gaga is definitely not a coal-killer. Still, knowing about the effects of sound on solar efficiency might be useful for future designs. And it was probably a fun experiment to conduct -- though not as fun as the time they did basically the same experiment with sea lions...
We all start out as scientists, but then some of us forget (8 November 2013)
Up until fairly recently, scientists, writers and philosophers alike have viewed human babies as little more than primitive adults. Through love and attention, babies were to be shaped into autonomous thinkers -- like us. It was almost as if their brains were like new computers, whose software we needed to install over time.
But in the past few decades, explains University of California-Berkeley psychologist Alison Gopnik, science has turned this view on its head. Not only are babies' brains structurally quite different from those of adults, but they also function in a way that makes them better than adults at learning new things. In other words, babies seem to be specially designed for exploration and finding out how things work. They're little scientists ... at least, that is, until those exploratory habits get replaced over time by less flexible thinking styles.
"Babies have many, many more neural connections being formed, many more synapses being formed, than we adults do," says Gopnik. "So it's as if early on, we have this brain that is really designed for learning, a brain that's very flexible and plastic and responds a lot to experiences. And then later on, as we get older, we have a brain that's more sort of a lean, mean machine, really designed to do things well, but not nearly as flexible, not nearly as good at learning something new."
Gardasil caused early menopause and ovarian failure, two Wisconsin sisters allege (8 November 2013)
(http://abcnews.go.com) Merck's Gardasil vaccine has claimed two new victims. Two young Wisconsin sisters, Madelyne and Olivia Meylor, who are respectively 20 and 19 years old, have recently experienced ovarian failure, where their ovaries have stopped producing eggs. The two sisters claim that the HPV vaccine Gardasil is to blame. The Meylors have also developed premature menopause, causing them to suffer from insomnia, night sweats, head aches and infertility, most likely, for the rest of their lives.
According to ABC News, Mark Krueger, the attorney representing the sisters, said that this "is the first allegation of its kind to reach a hearing through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a special court established to evaluate claims of harm from vaccines."
Merck and Co., the maker of the Gardasil, is denying any relationship between the girls' condition and the controversial vaccine. Gardasil has been linked to ovarian failure in at least one 16-year-old Australian girl, and it also leads other vaccines with the highest rates of miscarriages.
Tests for possible genetic causes of the condition have come back negative for both women. They now have to rely on using birth control pills or patches for hormone replacement. The hearing of their case is set for Thursday and Friday in Washington, D.C.
FDA action would effectively ban trans fats (8 November 2013)
The long war on trans fats may be drawing to a close.
The government proposed new rules Thursday that would all but ban the artery-clogging fats, a move that will force makers of margarine, frozen pizza and other processed foods to reformulate their products.
Under the new rules, the Food and Drug Administration has declared that partially hydrogenated oils, the source of trans fats, are a food additive no longer "generally recognized as safe."
That would require companies wishing to use the ingredient to first seek approval from the FDA, which is unlikely to grant permission given the volume of research linking trans fats to heart disease.
Big Food Wants to Crush the GMO Labeling Movement (8 November 2013)
In my post yesterday on the defeat of Washington state's GMO labeling initiative, I speculated that the junk-food industry, which had poured millions into defeating the measure, might support a national label.
My logic was this: Coke, Pepsi, Nestlé, etc, profitably operate in Europe, where GMO ingredients are scarce and labeling is mandatory. Presumably, they could do so in the United States, too. Eventually, I figured, they'd tire of fighting the agrichemical/GMO seed industry's fight. I pointed to a statement made yesterday by the Big Food trade group the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), to the effect that it would advocate for "national standards for the safety and labeling of products made with GMO ingredients."
Boy, was I naive. According to GMA documents uncovered by the public-health lawyer and writer Michele Simon, Big Food has no intention of laying down its lobbying or campaign finance swords on the labeling fight. Quite the opposite, in fact. Simon got hold of the documents after the Washington state Attorney General's Office sued the GMA for having "illegally collected and spent more than $7 million" to fight the labeling initiative "while shielding the identity of its contributors." To settle the matter, GMA revealed the names of the companies, which turned out to include Pepsi, Coca-Cola, General Mills, and Nestlé USA. Simon told me that she caught wind that the AG's office had obtained the GMA documents during its investigation, and she in turn obtained from the AG's office under a Washington open-records statute. But not before the GMA was given the opportunity to redact portions of the documents.
Even so, the docs contain some juicy stuff. Scroll down to the February 18, 2013, "Privileged and Confidential Memorandum" document, which spells out GMA's labeling agenda. It reports that at a January 19 meeting, GMA's board of directors "coalesced in support of a multi-pronged approach" to "address the challenges presented by proposals for mandatory labeling of any product containing GMOs." Here's what came next...
Another Obamacare surprise: Major hospitals all across the country not included under new insurance plans (8 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) As if the millions of Americans set to lose their existing health insurance coverage as a result of Obamacare was not bad enough, a recent survey by Watchdog.org has found that many top hospitals across the nation will no longer be accessible to the average person with a new "eligible" plan. In fact, many major hospitals are being excluded from Obamacare coverage altogether, which means that millions of previously covered individuals will have to settle for subpar care at other "in-network" facilities.
Based on the results of the survey, most of the nation's top hospitals, including renowned facilities like Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, will only be accepting insurance from one or two companies included as part of Obamacare. This means that all the other insurance plans offered on the Obamacare exchanges will be ineligible, and many patients will be required to go to other facilities, even if their previous insurance plans were accepted by these same hospitals.
"Americans who sign up for Obamacare will be getting a big surprise if they expect to access premium health care that may have been previously covered under their personal policies," explains U.S. News & World Report about the report's findings. "Most of the top hospitals will accept insurance from just one or two companies operating under Obamacare."
Included in the survey were 18 revered medical centers across the country, as ranked by U.S. News for 2013-2014. Investigators contacted each of these hospitals to inquire about their contracts with insurance companies, how plans would be handled under Obamacare and who would be covered. They found that almost every hospital would not be accepting the vast majority of insurance plans offered under Obamacare, because the carriers are considered "out of network."
New rules require equal insurance coverage for mental ills (8 November 2013)
President Barack Obama's health care reform law requires that all individual and employer-based health insurance policies, including those sold on the state-based insurance exchanges, cover mental health and substance abuse as one of 10 "essential health benefits." The only exceptions are those few plans that have been unchanged since the law was signed in March 2010.
As a result, the final rules on mental-health parity have already been largely incorporated into plans sold since Oct. 1 on the online exchanges set up under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. They are also part of most employer-based plans, according to the administration, which estimates that mental-health treatments make up 5 percent of the benefits that plans pay for.
Loopholes remain, however.
The parity rules do not apply to standard Medicaid plans, the joint federal-state program for poor Americans. If states require Medicaid beneficiaries to enroll in managed-care plans, however, those plans must cover mental-health treatment.
A bigger loophole is that the rules do not apply to Medicare, the government-run health care program for the elderly.
The 2008 parity law included that exemption "because it was a cost issue," said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "They would have had to make up the additional costs elsewhere" by cutting other benefits, "and Congress didn't want to do that."
"We Are Living in the World Occupy Made": New York City Voters Elect Mayor Who Vows to Tax the Rich (8 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
DAN CANTOR: That's correct. New York has this unusual voting system, legal in a half a dozen states or so, in which a candidate can appear twice on the ballot under two separate lines. It's a way for the minor party to add a little oomph to its vote. Vote for de Blasio, we say, or our City Council candidates, but send them a message about taxes or healthcare or housing, whatever the issues are. And then the votes are added together for the final tally. It's just a way to put a little extra message into the vote.
But the real work is almost always inside the Democratic Party primary, and that's where Working Families has focused its efforts both in New York and in other states trying to get progressives elected. You know, that's how you do it. And it's hard and messy, but it--when it works, as it did this last week in New York, it's a very exciting moment.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Dan, one of the things I raised in my column in the Daily News earlier this week, that this is perhaps the most--not only is it the first Democtratic mayor in 20 years, but it's really perhaps the most progressive overall government the City of New York has seen in maybe 50 years. You have to go back to the time of John Lindsay, the liberal Republican, to see a comparable situation, because it's not just the mayor, but it's the public advocate, Letitia James, that you also supported. It's the--all of these members in the City Council--
DAN CANTOR: Right.
The Loophole That Allows Facebook to Avoid Paying Taxes on Billions of Earnings (8 November 2013)
Most Americans assume that Silicon Valley, a shining beacon of US economic growth, will give a lot of dough back to Uncle Sam over the next few years. But thanks to a controversial loophole in US tax code, 12 tech companies--including Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin--are poised to avoid paying income taxes on their next $11.4 billion in earnings, netting the companies a collective savings of $4 billion, according to a report put out this week by the Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ).
The way the law stands now, US companies get big tax deductions when they pay their employees in stock options. For example, if an executive is given the option to buy a million shares of a company at five cents a share and later cashes those options in when they're selling for $20 a share, the company can deduct the price difference in tax breaks, even though they never actually paid that higher salary. This is especially profitable to emerging industries, like tech, where companies give stock options to young executives when they're still coding out of their parents' basements. These tech employees have an incentive to stay with the company over the long-term, and then cash in once the company is profitable. That means that companies get to store these tax breaks until--ta-da!--they're not paying income taxes for years. Here's how much these 12 companies have saved... [click original article link for chart]
Twitter is the latest company that stands to profit from this, since it just went public. But in this latest report, CTJ determined that Facebook still has the highest amount of stock deductions to cash in--about $6.2 billion worth, allowing it to avoid income taxes for almost five years. And it's not just tech companies. In April, CTJ found that 280 Fortune 500 companies have benefited from this break in the last three years alone.
Tony Nitti from Forbes argues that even with this loophole, Uncle Sam isn't losing money, since as Facebook deducts $5 billion in taxes from Mark Zuckerberg's stock, Zuckerberg is taxed on $5 billion in income, and the individual rate is higher than the corporate rate. Facebook did not immediately respond to comment on the report, but a spokesperson told the Huffington Post earlier this year that "it's a mistake to look at only the corporate tax revenue while ignoring the billions of taxes paid from initial shareholders."
Big Virginia metro areas propel shift toward Democrats (8 November 2013)
The seeds of Terry McAuliffe's gubernatorial victory blossomed in Virginia's population centers, where changing demographics are remaking the state's once-crimson political DNA.
Voters from Hampton Roads, Northern Virginia and the Richmond area formed an electoral backbone that made the Democrat the first governor elected from the party of the sitting president in 36 years. Election deficits in those regions spelled doom for Ken Cuccinelli, and they suggest cause for concern by his party as the political muscle of those communities swells.
Yet in the aftermath of two statewide election defeats - the ultra-close attorney general race appears headed for a recount - some party elders seem uninterested in wholesale change.
They blame Cuccinelli's loss on other issues: the 145,773 votes Libertarian Robert Sarvis siphoned, and a $15 million cash edge for McAuliffe, who won by about 55,700 votes among 2.2 million cast. Exit polls give a different view: that Sarvis wasn't a drag on Cuccinelli.
Tesla Model S fires lead to investor lawsuit (8 November 2013)
In a fitting finale to a week Tesla Motors executives would rather forget, a law firm announced Friday that it had filed a class-action suit against the electric car maker for allegedly misleading investors over the fire risk posed by the company's Model S sedan.
The firm of Pomerantz Grossman Hufford Dahlstrom & Gross accused Tesla of making misleading statements about the car's safety, in spite of "undisclosed puncture and fire risks" that the law firm attributes to "material defects" in the Model S battery pack.
On Wednesday, a Model S caught fire on a Tennessee freeway after striking a metal towing hitch lying in the road. The hitch punctured the electric car's battery pack, which lies beneath the floorboards and is protected from the road by a steel shield. It was the third Model S fire in six weeks, and it helped drive down the company's stock.
Reviewers have given the Model S high marks for safety, and the car scored higher on tests from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration than any other U.S. vehicle. But the new suit alleges that the car "suffered from material defects which caused the battery pack to ignite and erupt in flames under certain driving conditions."
Why Doctors Stay Mum About Mistakes Their Colleagues Make (8 November 2013)
By some estimates, medical errors are one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Physicians often see the mistakes made by their peers, which puts them in a sticky ethical situation: Should they tell the patient about a mistake made by a different doctor? Too often they do not.
A new report in The New England Journal of Medicine, "Talking With Patients About Other Clinicians' Errors," suggests it's a common problem.
The report's lead author, Dr. Thomas Gallagher, an internist and professor at the University of Washington School of Medicine, said he conducted a survey of doctors in which more than half said that, in the prior year, they identified at least one error by a colleague. (The survey, unrelated to the NEMJ report, did not ask what the doctors did about it, Gallagher said.)
There's wide agreement in the medical community that doctors have an ethical duty to disclose their own errors to patients, Gallagher said. But there's been less discussion about what physicians should do when they discover that someone else's mistake.
Is Pentagon response to sexual assault broken? Clash over new bill. (7 November 2013)
The Pentagon disclosed Thursday that there has been a surge in reports of sexual assault this year -- an increase of nearly 50 percent compared with the same time period last year.
This could be either good news or very bad news for the Pentagon, depending on how US lawmakers interpret the upswing.
Military officials who have long been grappling with the problem of sexual assault within the ranks -- and promising Congress they will do better -- no doubt hope that lawmakers see it as a sign of victims' increased confidence in a system that is encouraging them to come forward.
A number of Pentagon officials have cautioned that such a spike in reports is just what they expect to see as they take steps to protect US troops who say they've been raped from what such troops often describe as a brutal military justice process.
Torture on Tape: Disturbing Video Shows U.S. Special Forces Observing Brutal Afghan Interrogation (7 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to another story from Afghanistan. Rolling Stone has just posted this video online, which shows a prisoner being whipped by Afghan security forces, as what appears to be two identified American military officers look on--unidentified American military officers look on. Let's go to a clip. This is--video is extremely violent and disturbing.
AMY GOODMAN: For those who were just listening, we see what looks like Western soldiers at the back of this. Can you describe, Matt? This has just gone on Rolling Stone.
MATTHIEU AIKINS: This appears to be--now, I just want to say, we don't know exactly who is in this video. It's not related to the particular team that was in Wardak province. But it appears to be a group of translators, and possibly Afghan army soldiers, holding down a man and whipping him as they interrogate him. They ask him if he has any weapons, and he pleads with them, saying he'll tell them anything, as two American soldiers look on. By their appearance and their facial hair, they appear to be probably U.S. Army Special Forces, Green Berets. So they could be military intelligence. They could be a few different things. The camouflage pattern on their pants didn't really show up in Afghanistan until 2010, '11, so the video is probably relatively recent.
AMY GOODMAN: So where does this all go right now? I mean, so you have the A-Team, and you think they are sort of quarantined at Fort Bragg. The U.S. military says they're investigating this. The U.S. government says they're pulling out of Afghanistan. It's these Special Forces, at this point, that would stay, forces like this?
MATTHIEU AIKINS: Yeah, I think what really is worrying is that as the conventional American forces leave, this dirty war is just going to be handed off to Special Forces and the CIA, and they're going to have carte blanche to, you know, stick around for scenes like that, to work with allies who are known abusers of human rights, to transfer detainees into prisons where we know people are being tortured, and just escape any form of oversight or congressional, you know, oversight, for example, because they fall under the rubric of covert or classified operations.
War Crimes in Afghanistan? 10 Bodies of Abducted Villagers Found Outside U.S. Special Forces Base (7 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Why don't you start off by just laying out your findings?
MATTHIEU AIKINS: Well, essentially, what we did was we interviewed dozens of witnesses, family members of the victims, officials who had investigated--there was investigations done, confidential ones, by both the U.N. and the Red Cross, as well as the Afghan government--and laid out what had happened in this isolated valley, because, you know, even though these allegations emerged last winter and continued into the spring and were quite controversial, led to local demonstrations, no one really knew who this mysterious unit was, if they were CIA, if they were some sort of Special Forces team. The military had, right up until they opened this criminal investigation, categorically denied any responsibility.
So, what we did is we laid out a timeline of what happened, and we discovered who this unit was. We established conclusively that these men who disappeared were picked up by American forces, often in these mass roundups in villages in broad daylight. So it's not a question of whether they were picked up by them; it's a question of what happened to them afterwards. And then, in the end, we were able to actually identify the unit and even get in to see this translator, Zikria Kandahari.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Now, long before the American military launched its investigation, this had become a major issue in Afghanistan, with President Karzai actually demanding that the U.S. troops on that base be removed. Could you talk about that? And when did that happen?
MATTHIEU AIKINS: The--as you mentioned, these incidents started in November, but they really reached a sort of fever point in February, when a body of a student named Nasratullah was found, you know, with his throat slit under a bridge.
Government shutdown didn't save money. It cost $2 billion, report says. (+video) (7 November 2013)
The federal government's partial shutdown last month was a costly exercise in agreeing to disagree. Now we know exactly how costly.
Or at least, we have a preliminary price tag estimated by the Obama administration.
The roughly two-week hiatus in many federal operations represents "cost of lost productivity" exceeding $2 billion, says Sylvia Mathews Burwell, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
That's not an estimate of the total economic costs of the shutdown. It's just the cost that accrues to taxpayers from taking thousands of federal employees off the job, not getting any work out of them for a couple of weeks, and then restoring their lost pay after the shutdown ended.
The Scott Walker Effect: Helping Democrats Win and Republicans Lose (7 November 2013)
Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli counted on Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to provide the conservative candidate with some of the "star power" he needed to get him elected November 5.
It didn't work.
The Cuccinelli campaign scheduled a high-profile rally in Spotsylvania on the Saturday before the election--hoping for a rip-roaring event that would put a picture of the candidate, his surrogate and a huge crowd on the front pages of Virginia's Sunday morning papers.
The campaign used social media and phone calls to invite backers to come greet the anti-union firebrand from Wisconsin. They produced a poster featuring pictures of the Virginian and the Wisconsinite and the message: "Join Ken Cuccinelli for an Exciting Rally with Scott Walker!" Pat Mullins, the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party declared, "Scott is the type of governor that Ken will be here in Virginia, someone that's not afraid to stand up to Big Labor."
On Saturday, when the candidate and his star surrogate showed up for the rally they were greeted not by thousands of supporters but by... "about 150 people."
President Obama apologizes to Americans who are losing their health insurance (7 November 2013)
President Obama apologized Thursday to Americans who are losing their health insurance despite his repeated promises that they wouldn't, an unusual act of contrition for a president who has come under heavy criticism for misleading the public.
"I am sorry that they, you know, are finding themselves in this situation, based on assurances they got from me," Obama said in an interview with NBC News. "We've got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and that we're going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this."
The president said he had asked his staff to see whether there was an administrative fix to preserve insurance for some Americans who may have lost their coverage and do not qualify for subsidies that would make new policies affordable.
"I've assigned my team to see what we can do to close some of the holes and gaps in the law," he said, "because, you know, my intention is to lift up and make sure the insurance that people buy is effective -- that it's actually going to deliver what they think they're purchasing."
Toronto mayor in fresh controversy as video surfaces of drunken rant (7 November 2013)
Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto who this week admitted to having smoked crack cocaine, has become embroiled in a fresh controversy after the publication of a video which shows him shouting abuse and making threats.
Ford apologised to the people of Toronto on Tuesday after making his extraordinary crack cocaine admission, but has refused to bow to mounting pressure from federal and council officials to step down and get help for his problems.
A new video, published by the Toronto Star on Thursday, shows Ford staggering around a room, talking to someone out of sight.
"I'm gonna kill that fucking guy. I'm telling you, it's first-degree murder," Ford rants, in a tirade directed at an unknown person. "No hold barred, bro. He dies or I die, brother. ... I'll rip his fucking throat out. I'll poke his eyes out ... I'll make sure that motherfucker's dead," Ford says, gesticulating with his hands as if engaged in a violent fight.
Rob Ford caught on video in violent rant (7 November 2013)
Rob Ford , the mayor of Canada's largest city, has been caught on video in an impaired rant saying he is going to kill someone and "rip his f---ing throat out."
Ford slurs his words as he staggers around an unknown dining room, apparently high, ranting gibberish and gesticulating wildly.
"I'm gonna kill that f---ing guy. I'm telling you, it's first-degree murder," Ford rages as someone in the room secretly uses a cellphone to film the chief magistrate's addled tirade.
Moments after the Star published the video online, Ford emerged from his office and apologized.
"The Toronto Star just released a video that I was very, very inebriated."
Exclusive: Snowden persuaded other NSA workers to give up passwords - sources (7 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden used login credentials and passwords provided unwittingly by colleagues at a spy base in Hawaii to access some of the classified material he leaked to the media, sources said.
A handful of agency employees who gave their login details to Snowden were identified, questioned and removed from their assignments, said a source close to several U.S. government investigations into the damage caused by the leaks.
Snowden may have persuaded between 20 and 25 fellow workers at the NSA regional operations center in Hawaii to give him their logins and passwords by telling them they were needed for him to do his job as a computer systems administrator, a second source said.
The revelation is the latest to indicate that inadequate security measures at the NSA played a significant role in the worst breach of classified data in the super-secret eavesdropping agency's 61-year history.
PAM COMMENTARY: This story sounds a little "out there" because as a Network Administrator, he didn't need their passwords unless their accounts were managed by a different administrator whose rights didn't overlap with Snowden's.
Despite 'untested' drug cocktail, judge says Ohio inmate will be executed (7 November 2013)
Despite concerns over a cocktail of lethal injection drugs that has never-before been used in the United States, a federal judge rejected a convicted child killer's request Thursday to stay an execution slated for next week.
In September, Ohio Department of Corrections ran out of pentobarbital to carry out Ronald Phillips' Nov. 14 planned execution after the Danish manufacturer of the drug, Lundbeck LLC, banned its sale to prisons or corrections departments for death penalty use. The state said it will turn to a new method using an intravenous combination of the sedative midazolam and hydromorphone, a painkiller, to put Phillips to death.
Human and legal rights campaigners have aired concern over the drugs, claiming that their usage is untested and risks an ordeal tantamount to torture.
Phillips, 40, was sentenced to die for raping and killing Sheila Marie Evans, the 3-year-old daughter of his girlfriend, in 1993, after a long period of abusing the girl.
3rd Model S fire drives down Tesla stock (7 November 2013)
For the third time in six weeks, a Tesla Motors Model S sedan has caught on fire following a traffic accident.
And the electric car company's once untouchable stock took a beating as a result.
The latest blaze happened Wednesday afternoon in central Tennessee, when a Model S ran over a metal towing hitch lying in the middle of a freeway lane. The hitch struck the underside of the car, starting what the Tennessee Highway Patrol characterized as an electrical fire. The driver, a local orthopedic surgeon, pulled over and exited the car, uninjured.
"We have been in contact with the driver, who was not injured and believes the car saved his life," said Tesla spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean. "Our team is on its way to Tennessee to learn more about what happened in the accident."
Exxon fined for Arkansas spill, sued over Yellowstone spill, and still just keeps making piles of money (7 November 2013)
The federal government wants to fine Exxon $2.7 million for the March oil spill from its 70-year-old pipeline in Mayflower, Ark. The ruptured pipe spewed 5,000 gallons of tar-sands oil and triggered the evacuation of 22 houses, some of which had to be bulldozed.
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sent a letter [PDF] to the Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. on Wednesday proposing the civil penalty because the company failed to heed test results and take other steps that could have prevented the spill. The fine isn't final yet; Exxon has 30 days to file an appeal. And an appeal seems likely considering that Exxon is claiming PHMSA's analysis contains "fundamental errors."
Meanwhile, Montana and the U.S. Department of Interior informed Exxon last week that they plan to sue the company over a 63,000-gallon oil spill from a pipeline two years ago in the Yellowstone River. That's on top of $3.4 million in state and federal fines that have already been assessed. From the Associated Press:
"The move puts Exxon on notice that Montana and the Department of Interior expect the company to make up for harm done to wildlife and their habitat. The company also is being asked to pay for long-term environmental studies and for lost opportunities for fishing and recreation during and since the cleanup."
With Wins for de Blasio, Minimum Wage and Tea Party Losses, Voters Signal Rejection of Austerity (6 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, John. So, let's go through the big races--New York, New Jersey, Virginia.
JOHN NICHOLS: If you watch kind of national media in the--at the top line, what you're going to hear is "Christie, Christie, Christie." But the reality is, Chris Christie was the outlier yesterday. If you look across the country, it was a quite remarkable off-year election. Usually in the second term of a president, the other party does very, very well in these elections. It's a way for people to kind of let off steam. And instead, the fact of the matter is Democrats won--it looks like they may have won every major office in Virginia. The attorney general's race there is still very close. They definitely won governor. They definitely won lieutenant governor. It's almost a tie on attorney general. But the last time that happened in the second term of a Democratic president, the Democratic president was Franklin Roosevelt.
AMY GOODMAN: But even with Chris Christie, just a quick comment. Let's remember that the race for the Senate, Cory Booker--
JOHN NICHOLS: They put it off schedule.
Election | McAuliffe wins close Virginia governor race (6 November 2013)
Democrats won two of Virginia's three statewide offices Tuesday, including a redeeming victory for governor-elect Terry McAuliffe, but missed out on a historic sweep for the party. McAuliffe, 56, won in a nail-biter despite a massive fundraising edge that he used to relentlessly wallop Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and claim his first publicly elected post.
For months, polling showed McAuliffe significantly leading Cuccinelli, who appeared to close that gap by turning his late-race focus to the disastrous rollout of the federal health care act.
Although narrower than expected, McAuliffe's win in the unofficial count was greater than the 1 percent threshold for a recount under state law, seemingly taking that option off the table for Cuccinelli.
Neither Republican Mark Obenshain nor Democrat Mark Herring, the two candidates for attorney general, appeared on stage Tuesday night with their ticket mates, a sign of the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of their race. An attorney general recount isn't uncharted territory for Virginia -- the state had one to settle the 2005 race for that office.
Close result in Va. governor's race hardens GOP divisions (6 November 2013)
Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe's unexpectedly slim victory in Virginia set off an explosion of recriminations among Republicans on Wednesday, and rather than settling the battle between the GOP's tea party and business factions, the election appears to have deepened the internal divide.
If lessons emerged from Tuesday's vote, they were almost instantly lost in the volley of finger-pointing that began even before the polls closed. Republican Ken Cuccinelli II's narrow loss, despite what opinion surveys had consistently called a comfortable lead for McAuliffe, left the candidate's camp accusing national party organizations of abandoning their man in the closest major race in the nation this year.
Party officials said it was Cuccinelli who had failed to raise money from mainstream Republican sources skeptical of his hard-line rhetoric and uncompromising conservatism.
"The lesson is that a party divided is going to lose," said Pete Snyder, a Northern Virginia technology entrepreneur who served as Cuccinelli's finance chairman. "The Democrats weren't happy with their candidate, but they were united. Ken Cuccinelli had to deal with Melrose Place."
The GOP's Poverty Denialism (6 November 2013)
Here is how little the Republicans care about the increasingly harrowing situation of the poor: they can't even be roused to blame President Obama for it--because to do so they'd have to acknowledge that it matters.
The news recently has been full of stories of mounting desperation in America. In The New Yorker, Ian Frazier reported that there are now more homeless people in New York City than at any time since the concept of "modern homelessness" arose in the 1970s. Nationwide, new Education Department data reveal that the number of homeless schoolchildren has hit a record high of 1.2 million. Meanwhile, on November 1, the benefits of every food stamp recipient in the country were cut by an average of 7 percent and already overburdened food banks prepared to ration distributions or turn people away. "It is too bad we have come to this in our country," the head of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
In a minimally functioning political system, there would be a debate about potential solutions to these unfolding disasters. After all, conservatives once claimed they had superior answers to the problems of poverty. Richard Nixon lambasted welfare for encouraging family breakups and penalizing work, but he sought to replace it with a guaranteed minimum income. Poverty obsessed 1996 vice presidential candidate Jack Kemp, who used to call himself a "bleeding-heart conservative." George W. Bush dubbed himself a "compassionate conservative" and made the channeling of public funds to religious charities a signature issue. There was much to criticize in conservative approaches to poverty, but they at least emerged from a modest political consensus that the suffering of the poor was real and that something should be done about it.
Now, instead, we see on the right a combination of poverty denialism and outright contempt. Fox News constantly regales its viewers with tales of the lavish lifestyles of aid recipients. Between food stamps and tax credits, Fox's Charles Payne argued in March, "it gets a little comfortable to be in poverty." A recurring Fox segment called "Entitlement Nation" begins with an animated grasping hand smashing through a map of the United States. Recently, it featured a libertarian think-tanker criticizing free school lunches on the grounds that poor kids suffer from "obesity, and not the fact that they're not getting enough calories."
PAM COMMENTARY: Poor kids suffer from obesity because their diets often consist of the cheapest foods, rich in processed flour, sugar, and fat. They won't receive many fresh leafy greens, fruits, and vegetables, which are more expensive and normally are prepared in a kitchen, something the poor sometimes don't have.
"Our most paranoid friends were completely right" (6 November 2013)
We now know just how much of what happens on or near the internet is being catalogued by our government (basically, everything). Environmental activists have a history of drawing the attention of the surveillance-minded, especially if they are working in landscapes -- forests, tar sands -- that are financially valuable to someone.
I've been asking people to connect these dots. Some of the most interesting answers came from Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT and co-founder of the international news blog Global Voices. As someone who works with activists around the world, Zuckerman has a unique take on the social and technological aspects of living under surveillance. He talked with me recently about how changes in the technological landscape have forced changes in privacy strategies.
Q. Were you at all surprised by the documents leaked by Edward Snowden?
A. Yes. And then recently we had the NSA revelations where we basically found out that our most paranoid friends were completely right, and that the worst scenarios that any of us could have imagined turned out to be true.
So there has been a really panicky moment in the security space. Even the most hyper-hyper technical and hyper-paranoid folks are having a great deal of trouble securing themselves.
NYPD Officer Risks His Job to Speak Out Against "Stop-and-Frisk" Targeting of People of Color (6 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we've brought you response to the ruling from one of the lawyers who helped argue the case. Now we're going to reaction from a police officer who has spoken out about problems with the stop-and-frisk program he and thousands of other officers are asked to carry out. Adhyl Polanco joined the New York City Police Department in 2005. In 2009, he became critical of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy when his superiors told officers to meet a quota of stops or face punishment. He made audio recordings of the quotas being described during meetings in his precinct, and brought his concerns to authorities, but he said he was ignored. He then took his audio tapes to the media, including The Village Voice, where reporter Graham Rayman wrote a series called "The NYPD Tapes," featuring several police officers like him. Officer Polanco also testified in the recent trial challenging the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk. For several years, he was suspended with pay. He has returned to work on the police force, where he has been put on modified assignment. Officer Polanco was recently featured in a video produced by the group Communities United for Police Reform.
ADHYL POLANCO: Believe it or not, I've been stopped by police after I became a cop. I used to walk to Washington Heights with two other cops friend of mine, and we would get thrown against the wall, just for walking down. I'm not saying don't stop the criminal; I say don't stop the innocent people.
My name is Adhyl Polanco. I've been a police officer since 2005. I came to New York when I was 10. I came from a Third World country, the Dominican Republic. I grew up in Washington Heights. There was shootings almost every night; it was a daily thing. The 34th Precinct used to have a cop come into my sixth-grade class. She used to come every Wednesday, and I used to look up to her like, "Oh, my god! This is what I want to do." I mean, this is what I told my father: "I think I want to be a cop." For me it was a dream.
In 2009, the commanding officers required us to have a one-20-and-five quota system. One-20-and-five means one arrest per month, 20 summonses per month, and five stop-question-and-frisk. So, basically, they wanted to stop at least one person a day. But what happen the day you don't see the crime? What happened the day you don't see the violations? People start getting creative.
Hospital room lighting may worsen patients' mood, pain (6 November 2013)
New York (REUTERS) - Patients in an average hospital room are exposed to so little light during the day that their bodies cannot adopt a normal sleep-wake cycle, a small study suggests.
Researchers found the lowest levels of daytime light exposure were tied to worse mood and more fatigue and pain among patients, compared to those whose rooms were better-lit during the day.
"Until now, no one has looked at the associations among light and outcomes such as sleep, mood and pain experienced in the hospital," said Esther Bernhofer, lead author of the study and a nurse researcher at the Cleveland Clinic's Nursing Institute.
"This study forms a basis for testing future lighting interventions to improve sleep-wake patterns, mood and pain in hospitalized adults," Bernhofer told Reuters Health.
OceanGate uses manned submersible to observe Rigs to Reefs (VIDEO) (6 November 2013)
HOUSTON -- OceanGate, a Seattle-based provider of deep-water submersible vessels, has released a new crop of underwater images from the federal Rigs to Reefs program, showing sea creatures swimming among the steel legs of an old Black Elk Energy platform.
The manned submersibles typically are contracted for deep-water research and filming of shipwrecks and underwater life. But OceanGate made its first dive to observe an oil facility in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.
The team, including coral expert Paul W. Sammarco of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, wanted to observe the environmental impact of the Rigs to Reefs program, which allows operators to sink their decommissioned platforms into Gulf of Mexico to become artificial homes for fish and other ocean life.
OceanGate's submersibles have been used to observe a World War II hellcat fighter plane off Miami and shipwrecks in the Pacific Northwest. But OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said the company wanted to take the Rigs to Reefs dive to pitch its vessels as tools for inspecting offshore oil and gas facilities, a job typically done by scuba diving teams or remotely operated vehicles.
Bill de Blasio Is Elected Mayor of New York City (5 November 2013)
The twenty-year Republican reign over one of nation's most liberal cities has officially come to an end: Bill de Blasio, a true progressive, will be the next mayor of New York City.
De Blasio, who ran on both the Democratic and the Working Families Party lines, is expected to beat former Giuliani deputy mayor Joe Lhota in a historic landslide. With 69 percent of the vote in, de Blasio is up by forty-eight points, and exit polls have him winning across the city and with voters "regardless of race, gender, age, education, religion or income."
Whatever the final numbers are, de Blasio will clearly have the mandate needed to start the long, hard work of shifting power and resources from the 1 percent the last mayor favored to the middle-class and poor.
De Blasio and his team will be up against not only entrenched Wall Street interests but also Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo has already signaled he's opposed to one of de Blasio's signature goals, funding pre-K and after-school programs for all New York kids by increasing taxes on those making $500,000 and up.
I Can't Believe Terry McAuliffe Is Going to Be Governor of Virginia (5 November 2013)
Terry McAuliffe and I go way back. I first started writing about him in 1997, when Mother Jones assigned me to look into a lawsuit in DC Superior Court in which McAuliffe, the Democrats' super-fundraiser, was being sued by some of his business associates. That story turned into something much bigger. I went down the rabbit hole of McAuliffe's business dealings, probing his relationship with a pension fund run by a union he raised lots of money from--a money trail that ended up making McAuliffe part of my life for over a year. During that time, he never returned one of my phone calls and I never had the opportunity to meet in person the glad-handing, boyish "Macker," who first drew headlines by wrestling an alligator for a political donation. Nonetheless, the time I spent covering McAuliffe--who became head of the Democratic Party during George W. Bush's first term--has left me dumbfounded that he (according to the polls) is poised to become the next governor of Virginia.
Allow me to explain. McAuliffe represents an unseemly slice of Washington. His primary role in politics for the past two decades or more has been raising money--most notably, for the Clintons. He cooked up the idea of essentially renting out the Lincoln bedroom during the Clinton administration as a fundraising vehicle, and he smashed all previous presidential fundraising records in the process. When McAuliffe was the Dems' top fundraiser, a campaign finance scandal besieged the Clinton White House. Coincidence? No. McAuliffe was all about pushing the envelope when it came to the political money chase.
That alone might not be enough to render him a distasteful political candidate. What's different about McAuliffe is his brazen mixing of his campaign fundraising activity and attempts to enrich himself personally. Many of McAuliffe's business deals have come about due to his place in the political cosmos, not because he possesses a wealth of business skill. That tangled history has linked him to a long list of unsavory characters.
Let's take a look at some of his business associates over the years.
Richard Swann: Swann is McAuliffe's father-in-law, and his story starts back in 1980, when Swann helped found American Pioneer Savings and Loan in Florida. Ten years later, federal regulators seized the thrift, which was drowning in bad loans and foreclosed real estate. The bailout cost taxpayers more than $500 million. Swann settled charges with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which found that Swann and a partner had broken the law in selling $10 million worth of junk bonds from the thrift to shore up its reserves. Investors--mainly mom and pop depositors at the thrift--lost their shirts, and Swann eventually filed bankruptcy. But he saw an opportunity in the wreckage of his former savings and loan. In 1991, he helped McAuliffe set up a partnership to buy up the failed thrift's former real estate assets, which were being sold at rock-bottom prices as part of the federal liquidation.
Swann and McAuliffe persuaded the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers pension fund to finance the purchase of Orlando strip malls and apartment buildings on the cheap in a highly risky investment scheme. The pension fund put up $38 million; McAuliffe put up nothing, but he got a 50 percent stake, meaning that if the deal went south, the pension fund would lose millions while all he would lose were his free shares in the partnership. The deals didn't perform well, and the union never got its promised 9 percent preferred return--about what Treasury bills were paying back then. McAuliffe, though, walked away with $2.4 million after the pension fund bought him out. The US Department of Labor sued the union for making imprudent investments and two IBEW officials were forced to pay six-figure fines; the union had to reimburse the pension fund for the losses. Swann and McAuliffe escaped unscathed by the investigation.
Election exit poll: Economy top issue for Va. voters (5 November 2013)
Highlights from exit polling in Virginia on Tuesday for The Associated Press and television networks:
McAULIFFE'S STRENGTHS: Democrat Terry McAuliffe fared well among women, blacks, low-income voters, abortion-rights supporters, city dwellers and people affected by the recent government shutdown.
CUCCINELLI'S STRENGTHS: Republican Ken Cuccinelli did best among whites, tea party supporters, opponents of the federal health-care reform law, gun owners and rural residents, and he held a slight edge among independents.
ETHICS: Nearly three in 10 said neither major party candidate for governor has high ethical standards. Nearly half of those voters backed McAuliffe, three in 10 supported Cuccinelli, and one-fifth favored Libertarian Robert Sarvis. Thirteen percent said both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli are ethical.
TOP ISSUES: The economy was the top issue for 45 percent of voters, followed by health care at 27 percent and abortion at 20 percent.
Christie wins reelection in New Jersey; de Blasio wins mayor's race in New York (5 November 2013)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie won a decisive reelection victory on Tuesday, as the Republican known for blunt talk, moderate politics and presidential ambitions won support from a wide swath of voters in his Democratic-leaning state.
Christie, running for his second term, was leading state Sen. Barbara Buono (D) by more than 20 percentage points late Tuesday with more than 98 percent of precincts reporting. His victory was a hopeful sign for the GOP's establishment wing, on a day when two champions of the party's rival tea party faction lost their races: gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli II in Virginia and House hopeful Dean Young in Alabama.
"A dispirited America, angry with their dysfunctional government in Washington, looks to New Jersey to say . . . 'Are people really coming together?' " Christie said in his victory speech in the town of Asbury Park. He said that New Jersey could be a model for Americans working together.
"Maybe the folks in Washington, D.C., should tune in their TVs right now, see how it's done," he added.
It's Election Day, and the Koch brothers have more votes than you do (5 November 2013)
When you fantasize about what you would do if you inherited a vast fortune, what do you think of? Vacation homes? Private jets? How about influencing electoral outcomes in towns of 20,000 that you will never set foot in? Well, if you find that last one odd, clearly you aren't a Koch brother.
David and Charles Koch have turned their attention to obscure local races, The New York Times reports. Americans for Prosperity (AFP), the intensely conservative advocacy group backed by the polluting pair of billionaires, is throwing money around in minor elections such as Coralville, Iowa's mayoral and city council contests today.
Thus far, AFP's local advocacy is focused on limiting government spending and taxes generally. The group warns that Coralville, which took on debt to redevelop its riverfront, "is fast becoming Iowa's version of Detroit." (If it sounds like a stretch to compare an Iowa town of 19,692 to arguably the most crime-ridden big city in the U.S., it should.) This year, AFP has also successfully defeated tax increases on the ballot in Fremont, Neb., and Gahanna, Ohio.
If AFP and other Koch-backed organizations continue to intervene in small, local campaigns, it could hold back environmental protection. The Kochs and AFP are ardent opponents of environmental regulations. Koch Industries makes much of its money from the refinement and distribution of petroleum, chemicals, fertilizers, and pulp and paper. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker's union-busting campaign and subsequent reelection were supported by the Kochs. Walker has gutted protections for wetlands and drinking water, and he is obsessively opposed to high-speed rail. AFP in North Carolina has worked closely with Art Pope, who bankrolled the right-wing takeover of the state government there. Pope's favored candidates have far lower average ratings from the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters than the rest of the legislature, and they have set about trying to repeal all manner of environmental regulations, from renewable energy standards to local zoning codes.
Toronto mayor apologizes for crack use, defies calls to resign (5 November 2013)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford apologized to the residents of Canada's largest city Tuesday after admitting that he lied for six months about smoking crack cocaine, declaring "I love my job" and saying he would stay in it "for the sake of the taxpayers."
In what appears to be the opening salvo of a battle to remain in power, Ford cast his continued public service as necessary to save Toronto residents' money and make what he called "the important decisions that must be made."
But having denied wrongdoing since allegations of his illegal drug use surfaced in May, Ford is likely to face renewed political pressure to step down and put an end to the scandal that has plagued the city.
Reports by the Toronto Star and the gossip website Gawker in May claimed a cellphone video had been made showing Ford smoking a glass pipe said to contain crack. Three other men at the scene were later identified as members of a drug gang.
How do you cover a deceiver without reporting mistruth?: Cruickshank (5 November 2013)
Must we quote a political figure who we know to be trying to deceive our readers?
Mayor Rob Ford has repeatedly put Toronto journalists in this quandary over the years.
Journalistic fairness says subjects have a right to comment in stories about them. The Supreme Court of Canada insists this is indispensible to responsible journalism.
The Toronto Star has repeatedly quoted Ford denying the existence of a damaging drug video. We have quoted him denying that he has smoked crack cocaine.
But our reporters had seen the notorious cocaine video and knew that he was seeking to deceive Torontonians.
Rob Ford: "I embarrassed everyone in the city' but won't resign (5 November 2013)
Mayor Rob Ford ended a six-month string of lies, denials, and evasions on Tuesday with a stunning admission that he smoked crack cocaine "about a year ago." In a display of the audacity and defiance that have defined both his unforeseen rise to power and sordid fall from grace, he then pledged to continue to do his job despite a council uprising he did not acknowledge.
"To the residents of Toronto, I know I have let you down and I can't do anything else but apologize. I apologize and I'm so sorry. I know I have to regain your trust and your confidence. I love my job. I love my job, I love this city, I love saving taxpayers money and I love being your mayor," he said, sounding shaken, in a globally televised speech in the mayor's office four hours after his impromptu bombshell in the hallway outside.
"There is important work that we must advance," Ford said, "and important decisions that must be made. For the sake of the taxpayers of this great city, for the sake of the taxpayers, we must get back to work immediately. We must keep Toronto moving forward. I was elected to do a job and that's exactly what I'm going to continue doing."
Ford said he has "nothing left to hide." But he fled the room immediately after his speech, and he did not address any of the dozens of questions the media have posed to him about issues other than the video: his associations with known and accused criminals, his clandestine exchanges and secret meetings with an accused drug dealer, and his knowledge of attempts to retrieve the crack video he said in May "doesn't exist."
First Nations to Resume Blockade in Canadian Fracking Fight (5 November 2013)
Elsipogtog First Nations members are heading back to the streets in New Brunswick this week to defend their land from a gas drilling company seeking to re-start exploratory fracking operations in the region.
The new wave of local anti-drilling resistance will resume an ongoing battle between the community members who faced a paramilitary-style onslaught by police last month that sparked international outcry and a wave of solidarity protests.
The renewed protest follows a recent announcement by New Brunswick's premiere that SWN Resources Canada, a subsidiary of the Houston-based Southwestern Energy Company, will resume shale gas exploration in First Nations territory after it was halted by blockades and protests.
Elsipogtog members announced Monday they will join with local residents and other First Nations communities--including the Mi'kmaq people--to "light a sacred fire" and stage a protest to stop SWN from fracking.
Schools install pricey filters to protect kids from frac sand (5 November 2013)
Kids should play in sand, not breathe it in.
Wisconsin's New Auburn school district is upgrading air filters to prevent sand fragments from floating in from nearby frac-sand mines and getting into children's lungs.
Much of the sand in the state is perfectly suited to be mixed with water and chemicals and used in fracking operations, where it holds open fractures in shale and allows gas and oil to escape. That's fueling a $1-billion-a-year sand-mining boom, which is bringing notable environmental and health risks to the state.
The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reports:
"Four sand mines operate within a few miles of the school, with the closest less than a half-mile away.
"As the number of sand mines near New Auburn and in Chippewa County has increased in the past couple of years, school district officials decided to see whether sand was getting into the building's air system."
Fukushima Trial Run Begins Dangerous Reactor 4 Clean-Up (5 November 2013)
Preparations to begin the potentially catastrophic decommissioning of the crippled Reactor 4 at the Fukushima nuclear power plant will begin this week with a test run.
The test, which could push back the beginning stages of fuel rod removal by two weeks, includes moving a "protective fuel cask" into and out of the No. 4 storage pool with a crane--before attempts are made to move the spent fuel rods, the Japan Times reports.
Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority gave the final go-ahead last week for TEPCO to begin the decommissioning process, the entirety of which watchdogs say could take decades.
The most dangerous step in the process will include the removal of the 1300 "bent, damaged and embrittled" spent fuel rods from the unstable Unit 4 pool. The fuel rod removal, which has never been done before on this scale, could take up to one year, and has been described by anti-nuclear expert and activist Harvey Wasserman as "humankind's most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis."
While the fuel removal at reactor 4 presents possible dangers, there is also urgency to complete the task. Natural disasters such as earthquakes remain a major threat to the stability the damaged building, and should it be damaged further before it is decommissioned, there could be a global catastrophe, many experts have warned.
Apple discloses government data requests -- what little it can (5 November 2013)
Apple released a report Tuesday that provided some general information about requests for information it receives from governments.
Although the report sheds some light on the topic, it also demonstrates the futility of such disclosure efforts, particularly when it comes to information related to requests from the U.S. government.
As Apple notes in the report:
"The U.S. government has given us permission to share only a limited amount of information about these orders, with the requirement that we combine national security orders with account-based law enforcement requests and report only a consolidated range in increments of 1000."
An Election About GOP Extremism, Unions, Wages and Dollarocracy (5 November 2013)
Two states will elect governors Tuesday, and one of those governors could emerge as a 2016 presidential contender. The nation's largest city will elect a mayor, as will hundreds of other communities. A minimum-wage hike is on the ballot. So is marijuana legalization. So is the labeling of genetically-modified foods. And Seattle might elect a city council member who promises to open the fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Forget the silly dodge that says local and state elections don't tell us anything. They provide measures of how national developments--like the federal government shutdown--are playing politically. They give us a sense of whether the "War on Women" is widening the gender gap. They tell us what issues are in play, and the extent to which the political debate is evolving.
Here are some signals to watch for as the results come in tonight:
1. Have Republican Extremists Finally Gone Too Far?
Since the Republican Party became competitive in Virginia, no Democrat has ever been elected governor when a Democrat was in the White House. Indeed, the last Democratic president to see a Democrat take charge in the Old Dominion state was Lyndon Johnson.
Food Stamps Are Affordable; Corporate Welfare Is Not (5 November 2013)
This past Friday, $5 billion was automatically slashed from the federal food stamps program, affecting the lives of 47 million Americans.
The USDA estimates that because of these cuts, a family of four who receives food stamps benefits will lose about 20 meals per month.
But these enormous cuts to food stamps aren't enough for Republicans.
They still want to slash an additional $40 billion from the program in the name of reducing spending and federal debt.
Republicans love to argue that programs like SNAP - the federal food stamps program -- and other social safety net programs put an unfair burden on American taxpayers, but if they just took a minute to crunch the numbers, they'd realize that's flat out wrong.
In 2012, the average American taxpayer making $50,000 per year paid just $36 towards the food stamps program.
Ray McGovern on Snowden and Calling Journalists Terrorists (VIDEO) (5 November 2013)
"Seems to me then, every lobbyist on Capitol Hill could be called a terrorist..."
'Sweetie' sting nabs 1,000 alleged online child abusers - but is its approach legal? (5 November 2013)
A Netherlands-based children's rights group snagged 1,000 online sexual predators using a digital decoy, a computer-generated and eerily realistic-looking 10-year-old Filipino girl named Sweetie. The group is now calling on world governments to adopt its digital approach to combat the new phenomenon of online sex tourism, which is spreading quickly because it is difficult to police.
But the approach has raised some concerns over intrusive surveillance methods as well as questions over its ultimate legal bite.
Terre Des Hommes, the group that developed the computer-generated Sweetie, ran the undercover operation from a secret back room of a warehouse on the outskirts of Amsterdam. The group described its 10-week effort in a video, which documents the instant cascade of messages that flood the computer screen as soon as Sweetie enters the chat room.
Many users offer to pay Sweetie for posing naked for the camera. And quite a few are willing to share bits of personal information that Terre Des Hommes researchers later used to track them down on Google and Facebook.
"In 10 weeks, we traced 1,000 men from all over the world who were willing to pay Sweetie to perform sexual acts in front of the webcam," said Albert Jaap van Santbrink, director of Terre des Hommes Netherlands at a press conference on Monday, according to Reuters. That is just a fraction of the 20,000 people who approached her over the internet, most of them from wealthier countries. Terre des Hommes has handed over their profiles to Interpol.
These 1,000 adults come from 71 countries, according to the group's statement, and the United States is leading the pack with 254 people. Other top-ranking countries are Britain, with 110 individuals, and India, with 103.
Why Health Insurance Cancellations Shouldn't Be a Surprise (5 November 2013)
"The fact that ACA would effectively nuke most of the existing commercial individual health insurance market was never in question," Piper told us.
In the interview below, which was edited for length and clarity, Piper discusses cancellations, the apparent surge in Medicaid enrollments under Obamacare and whether more transparency would have helped the rollout.
Q. What's your take on the coverage cancellations arriving in mailboxes around the country?
A. It was always known that the ACA would outlaw millions of existing individual or non-group health insurance policies. From a policy wonk perspective, that was a no-brainer. It was self-evident in the law in March 2010 and confirmed in subsequent rules and analyses. Also obvious all along was that consumers would face a very different marketplace under the ACA, with some seeing lower premiums (including me), some seeing larger premiums, and most everyone seeing higher deductibles, higher co-pays, and a narrower choice of providers.
Noam Chomsky | De-Americanizing the World (5 November 2013)
During the latest episode of the Washington farce that has astonished a bemused world, a Chinese commentator wrote that if the United States cannot be a responsible member of the world system, perhaps the world should become "de-Americanized" -- and separate itself from the rogue state that is the reigning military power but is losing credibility in other domains.
The Washington debacle's immediate source was the sharp shift to the right among the political class. In the past, the U.S. has sometimes been described sardonically -- but not inaccurately -- as a one-party state: the business party, with two factions called Democrats and Republicans.
That is no longer true. The U.S. is still a one-party state, the business party. But it only has one faction: moderate Republicans, now called New Democrats (as the U.S. Congressional coalition styles itself).
There is still a Republican organization, but it long ago abandoned any pretense of being a normal parliamentary party. Conservative commentator Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute describes today's Republicans as "a radical insurgency -- ideologically extreme, scornful of facts and compromise, dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition": a serious danger to the society.
Oliver Stone on 50th Anniversary of JFK Assassination & the Untold History of the United States (5 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
OLIVER STONE: Thank you, Amy, for having me back. It's nice to see you again. Hello, Peter.
PETER KUZNICK: Hi, Oliver.
OLIVER STONE: My thoughts. I saw the film inside these last few days, and I've been able to assess it again, and I've followed the cases more or less from the outside. I haven't been inside. It's amazing to me that people still deny it. As you know, I was in the infantry in Vietnam. I had a fair amount of combat experience. I saw people blown away in action. When you look once again at the basics of the film--the bullets, the autopsy, the forensics, the shooting path--and stay away from all the other stuff--Oswald's background and Garrison, etc.--just follow the meat, the evidence, what you see with your own eyes in those six seconds, it's an amazing--it's all there. It doesn't need to be elaborated upon. You can see it with your own eyes.
You see Kennedy make his--get a hit in the throat. Then you see Kennedy get a hit in the back. Then you see him essentially get a hit from the front. When he gets the hit from the front, which is the fourth or the fifth or the sixth shot, he goes back and to the left. That's the basic evidence. You see a man fly back because he gets hit right here. Many witnesses at Parkland and at the autopsy in Bethesda saw a massive exit wound to the rear of his skull, to the right side. The people at Parkland, including the young doctor, McClelland, saw his cerebellum, his brain, go out the--almost falling out of the back of his skull. Later, when he gets taken--illegally--to the--to Bethesda, Maryland, the military--
Cargill to label 'finely textured beef' product critics assailed as 'pink slime' (5 November 2013)
NEW YORK, N.Y. - Cargill Inc. says it will start labeling beef products that contain "finely textured beef," following last year's public outcry over the use of "pink slime."
The Minneapolis-based meat company says the new packages will appear before next year's grilling season and is in response to consumer demand. It says packages will note when a product "Contains Finely Textured Beef."
Finely textured beef is made by separating the bits of meat that are stuck on fatty trimmings. Beef Products Inc., based in South Dakota, makes a similar product using a slightly different process it calls lean finely textured beef. In both cases, the meat is treated to kill bacteria and the resulting product is mixed with ground beef.
The filler had been used for decades in the U.S. but started to gain negative attention after a New York Times article in 2009 detailed Beef Products' process. A federal microbiologist referred to the ingredient as "pink slime" in the story.
Offices, transition set for gov.-elect, statewide winners (5 November 2013)
RICHMOND -- Campaign staffers aren't the only ones who have prepared a long time for Nov. 5.
The state's Department of General Services started work months ago to create fully functioning transition office space for the three new statewide candidates.
Staff hunted for space and then coordinated the set-up of offices that include essentially everything but the officeholders.
Desks, computers, phones, mail, security, are all in place in Old City Hall for tomorrow morning. Chairs even hold welcome packets that address frequently asked questions.
Executions in N.C. would use one drug, not three (5 November 2013)
The state of North Carolina has said it plans to use one lethal chemical instead of three drugs to execute death row inmates, changing its protocol in a move that could slightly loosen the legal knot that's delayed carrying out capital punishment for years.
The updated rules signed two weeks ago by Department of Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry describe how workers at Central Prison and the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women would carry out an execution.
The new rules say prison officials will inject into the condemned prisoner a short-acting barbiturate such as pentobarbital, which is frequently used to put animals to death. Previous rules directed a three-drug method - using sodium pentothal, pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride in succession - but some states with capital punishment have moved away from that approach.
The change is important because lawyers for some North Carolina prisoners argue the three-drug method constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. They cite attorneys who witnessed the bodies of executed prisoners convulsing and jerking shortly before the death. They also said any execution protocols must go through the regular rule-making process within state government. The state disagreed.
Company applies to build pipeline from North Dakota (5 November 2013)
BISMARCK, N.D. -- A Canadian company has applied to build the largest oil pipeline yet from western North Dakota's booming oil patch and will soon begin courting oil producers to reserve space, a key step in a $2.6 billion project that would move millions of gallons of oil to Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge Energy is proposing the 612-mile Sandpiper pipeline to each day carry 225,000 barrels of oil to a hub in northern Minnesota and 375,000 barrels to one in northwestern Wisconsin. If approved by regulators, it would be the largest pipeline moving oil out of North Dakota, the nation's second-leading producer of oil behind Texas.
North Dakota has more than doubled its oil production in the past two years, closing in on a million barrels of oil a day. But due to the lack of pipeline capacity in the state, about 61 percent of the state's daily oil production is being shipped by rail. A barrel is equivalent to 42 gallons.
Enbridge's application to regulators argues that the project is "needed and in the public interest."
The company submitted the application last week to the North Dakota Public Service Commission and will take similar steps with regulators in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the next month, company spokeswoman Katie Haarsager said.
Enbridge applies to build $2.6B pipeline, largest yet from North Dakota's booming oil patch (5 November 2013)
BISMARCK, N.D. - A Canadian company has applied to build the largest oil pipeline yet from western North Dakota's booming oil patch and will soon begin courting oil producers to reserve space, a key step in a $2.6 billion project that would move millions of gallons of oil to Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The Calgary-based pipeline company is proposing the 612-mile Sandpiper pipeline to each day carry 225,000 barrels of oil to a hub in northern Minnesota and 375,000 barrels to one in northwestern Wisconsin. If approved by regulators, it would be the largest pipeline moving oil out of North Dakota, the nation's second-leading producer of oil behind Texas.
North Dakota has more than doubled its oil production in the past two years, closing in on a million barrels of oil a day. But due to the lack of pipeline capacity in the state, about 61 per cent of the state's daily oil production is being shipped by rail.
Enbridge's application to regulators argues that the project is "needed and in the public interest."
The company submitted the application last week to the North Dakota Public Service Commission and will take similar steps with regulators in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the next month, company spokeswoman Katie Haarsager said.
Apple creates 2,000 jobs shifting production back to US (5 November 2013)
Nearly a decade after the closure of its last US factory, Apple is to create 2,000 manufacturing, engineering and construction jobs at a new plant in Arizona.
The California technology titan is beginning to shift production back to its home market, with the creation of its second US plant in under a year. It is understood the renewable energy powered facility in Mesa, Arizona, will produce laboratory grown sapphire crystals of the kind used in the iPhone 5S fingerprint scanner.
The initiative is a joint venture with crystal growth equipment specialist GT Advanced Technologies, which said Monday it had signed a multi-year agreement with Apple to provide furnaces to make sapphire. The material, which has been used in watch faces, is more scratch-resistant than glass and may eventually be used to make Apple's screens.
"Apple will have an incredibly positive economic impact for Arizona," said governor Janice Brewer. "Their investment in renewable energy will also be greening our power grid, and creating significant new solar and geothermal power sources for the state."
Run with solar and geothermal energy, which uses heat from deep underground, the plant has been designed in collaboration with local utility Salt River Project.
The building will be owned by Apple, while the furnaces will be supplied by GT Advanced, with a $578 down payment from Apple which will be reimbursed over five years starting in 2015 and is understood to come with certain exclusivity rights.
FAA orders additional pilot training (5 November 2013)
Almost five years after a commuter plane crash in Upstate New York killed 50 people, the Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday imposed stricter training requirements for commercial airline pilots.
Inexperience, ineptitude and fatigue were to blame for pilot errors that caused the crash of Colgan Air 3407 near Buffalo in February 2009, according to investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB concluded that the pilot and co-pilot did the exact opposite of what was needed to save the plane after it lost speed and stalled.
"This will give our pilots the most advanced training available to handle emergency events that they may experience," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said. "This is one of the most significant updates of air carrier pilot training in the last 20 years."
Huerta said the complexity of implementing change explained why it took "a long time" to achieve.
U.S. Navy pledges cost cuts as it christens new aircraft carrier (5 November 2013)
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy on Tuesday pledged to cut costs for building new aircraft carriers, as it prepared to christen the USS Gerald R. Ford, first in its class of warships and a vessel whose $12.9 billion cost will exceed forecasts by almost 25 percent.
Rear Admiral Thomas Moore, Navy officer in charge of aircraft carriers, pledged that the next carrier, the USS John F. Kennedy, would cost $1.2 billion less than the USS Ford, which will be christened on Saturday.
He said he was working on cost controls with Huntington Ingalls Industries, whose Newport News unit builds the carriers, as well as with other suppliers and the U.S. Congress.
By the time the Ford wraps up 27 months of testing and completion work in the second quarter of fiscal 2016, it is projected to cost $12.9 billion, nearly a quarter more than the original estimate of $10.5 billion, Moore told reporters.
Construction of the city-sized nuclear-powered warship began in 2009.
Tesla's Elon Musk wants to build giant battery factory (5 November 2013)
Investors clearly expected great things from Tesla Motors' third quarter earnings report, released Tuesday.
The upstart automaker beat Wall Street's expectations, posting a pro-forma profit of $15.9 million -- or 12 cents per share -- on rising sales of its electric Model S sedan. Tesla also reported increased production at its factory in Fremont, churning out 550 cars per week.
The company has such lofty expansion plans that it might build its own immense factory to make battery cells, CEO Elon Musk revealed Tuesday. The factory would likely be built in the United States, supplying lithium-ion cells for the Model S and Tesla's next car, the Model X.
"This is going to be a really giant facility," Musk told analysts during a conference call. "We're talking about something that's comparable to all lithium-ion production in the world, in one factory. It's big."
High-tech LEDs jolt sleepy lighting sector (VIDEO) (5 November 2013)
A rapid ramp-up in LED technology is transforming the lighting business, long accustomed to slow change and lethargic competition. But does that make it a good investment? Jon Gordon reports.
PAM COMMENTARY: This video is preceded by a commercial and starts playing with sound simply by loading the page, without the reader taking any action.
Nazi art cache revealed two years after discovery. Why the delay? (5 November 2013)
It's one of the biggest discoveries of Nazi-seized artwork in decades: a trove of 1,400 works of art -- including a previously unknown Marc Chagall painting. The collection's total value is estimated at 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion) by the magazine that broke the story.
So why was the unusually large find kept from the public for so long -- nearly two years -- before the German authorities finally went public about the unexpected find?
That's what many were wondering today as Bavarian authorities offered new details about a cache of 1,285 unframed and 121 framed paintings, sketches, and prints squeezed into the dim and cluttered Munich apartment of Cornelius Gurlitt -- the son of Nazi-supported art dealer Hildebrand Gurlitt.
"When you're dealing with Nazi-looted artwork that may belong to heirs in their 80s or 90s struggling to reconnect with their heritage, a detailed list of seized items should be posted online immediately," says Chris Marinello, the director and founder of London-based Art Recovery International.
Inside the "Electronic Omnivore": New Leaks Show NSA Spying on U.N., Climate Summit, Text Messaging (4 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
SCOTT SHANE: Well, what happened was, Edward Snowden did not give The New York Times any of his documents, in part because he was upset that the Times had held a story about NSA's warrantless wiretapping for a year back in 2004, eventually published it the next year in 2005. But he did give, as people know, a lot of documents to Laura Poitras, to Glenn Greenwald and to others, and The Guardian was given a large collection of about 50,000 documents that were labeled as GCHQ--that's Government Communications Headquarters--which is the British equivalent of NSA. And GCHQ worked so closely with NSA that probably about a third of those documents are NSA documents. The Guardian shared those 50,000 documents with us at The New York Times, and some of us at the Times have spent the last couple of months going through them.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what most shocked you by the documents you've gotten that are from the National Security Agency. We've gone through just some of the points. You begin your piece with Ban Ki-moon last April. Why don't you start there?
SCOTT SHANE: Well, I wrote--I used to be with The Baltimore Sun, and I wrote a series on NSA back in 1995, so I can't say that I was not shocked by any of this, but I think perhaps one of the most interesting questions these documents raise is the--you know, I referred to the agency as an omnivore. They're under pressure from policymakers, from White House, from CIA, from DOD, from the State Department, to sort of be prepared to supply information on almost anything. A crisis breaks out tomorrow in a, you know, unexpected place, and NSA is under heavy pressure to produce intelligence from that place. And that, combined with a big budget and secrecy, has, I think, created a kind of--you know, what actually Secretary of State John Kerry called last week "automatic pilot," just a sort of automatic effort to snatch up any kind of electronic communication there is around the world.
And I thought the Ban Ki-moon example was an interesting one. Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the U.N., very friendly to the United States, obviously a very public man, doesn't--you know, doesn't hide what he thinks. He was coming in April to the White House to--for a routine meeting with President Obama, and NSA collected his talking points before the meeting. Now, the White House won't say whether President Obama was given and read those talking points in advance of the meeting, but, you know, it's--if you think about it, it's kind of hard to imagine that those talking points would contain anything terribly shocking. And, of course, there is the political cost of being caught essentially eavesdropping on the secretary-general of the U.N. That cost has now been paid. So, I think, you know, as long as they could remain secret about all this stuff, NSA's instinct was: collect everything. You know, if the White House or whoever else in the government wants to read it, fine; if not, fine. But now I think the administration has a very difficult decision to make about balancing the political cost of spying, particularly on allies, on friendly countries, friendly people, against what--you know, what they might glean from that.
Kenyan Police Cast Doubt in Gang Rape Case, Chief Justice Orders 'Action' (4 November 2013)
Kenya's police cast doubt Saturday (November 2nd) on a schoolgirl's testimony that she was gang-raped, even as the chief justice ordered "immediate action" in the case, AFP reported.
A brutal gang rape that left a schoolgirl in a wheelchair has brought Kenyan women onto the streets, demanding an end to a culture of impunity over violence against women. [AFP] Play Video
The reported attack on a 16-year-old girl known by the pseudonym "Liz" and the lack of action against the perpetrators has led to an outcry in Kenya, while over 1.3 million people worldwide have signed a petition demanding justice.
But Kenyan police chief David Kimaiyo said investigations suggested that the girl's report was false.
McAuliffe wins Virginia governor's race (4 November 2013)
Terry McAuliffe narrowly won the Virginia governor's race Tuesday, defeating Republican Ken Cuccinelli II by piling up votes in parts of the state hit hard by last month's federal government shutdown.
After acidly negative campaigns by both candidates, Mc-Auliffe -- a former Democratic National Committee chairman and legendary political fundraiser who has never held elective office -- took large majorities in Virginia's population centers, especially the Washington suburbs and Hampton Roads.
But despite winning back the state's top two positions, Democrats and Virginia's 72nd governor will preside over a divided government and a restless, almost evenly split electorate. The fissures in Richmond involve deep uncertainty about how to interpret public opinion on President Obama's health-care law and internal battles among Republicans over whether they threw away this election by nominating a ticket of hard-line conservatives.
"This race came down to the wire because of Obamacare," Cuccinelli said in an emotional concession speech, telling supporters that despite his loss, "you sent a message to the president of the United States . . . that Obamacare is a failure. . . . We were lied to by our own government in its effort to restrict our liberty."
Forest Service's firefighting fund can't keep up with wildfires (4 November 2013)
The Forest Service can't keep up with the rising costs of fighting wildfires in a warming world.
As climate change dries out fire-prone forests, the frequency and intensity of forest fires are increasing. Between 1985 and 1999, the federal government never spent more than $1 billion on fire suppression in a single year, according to this National Interagency Fire Center table [PDF] of firefighting costs since the mid-'80s.
But in 2000, the federal bill came in at $1.4 billion, and then it continued to increase, exceeding $1.5 billion five times from 2006 to 2012. And the number of acres of forest burned each year has also been rising.
This year has been a nightmare fire season in the American West: The U.S. Forest Service, which incurs most of the nation's forest-fire suppression costs, ran out of firefighting money. Again. From E&E Publishing:
"Lightning bolts rained across the West in August, sparking hundreds of wildfires in California, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, and pushing the cash-strapped Forest Service to the brink."
Feds: Safety culture 'poor, at best' before fatal Black Elk platform blast (4 November 2013)
WASHINGTON -- Poor decisions by Houston-based Black Elk Energy and its contractors led to a fatal explosion at one of its production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, a federal investigation concluded Monday.
Almost a year since the Nov. 16, 2012 blast that killed three workers and injured several others, the probe faulted Black Elk for failing "to establish an effective safety culture" and communicate risks and precautions to its contractors at the site. Contractors on board the platform did not follow "proper safety precautions" before welding, including using detectors to verify that pipes were cleared of flammable gas before conducting the "hot work."
In their report on the accident, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the Coast Guard also said that workers who were "worried about losing their jobs if they raised safety concerns" did not call a halt to work "despite apparent anomalies."
"These failures reflect a disregard for the safety of workers on the platform," said safety bureau director Brian Salerno in a statement. The problems "are the antithesis of the type of safety culture that should guide decision-making in all offshore oil and gas operations."
NIST to Review Standards After Cryptographers Cry Foul Over NSA Meddling (4 November 2013)
The federal institute that sets national standards for how government, private citizens and business guard the privacy of their files and communications is reviewing all of its previous recommendations.
The move comes after ProPublica, The Guardian and The New York Times disclosed that the National Security Agency had worked to secretly weaken standards to make it easier for the government to eavesdrop.
The review, announced late Friday afternoon by the National Institute for Standards and Technology, will also include an assessment of how the institute creates encryption standards.
The institute sets national standards for everything from laboratory safety to high-precision timekeeping. NIST's cryptographic standards are used by software developers around the world to protect confidential data. They are crucial ingredients for privacy on the Internet, and are designed to keep Internet users safe from being eavesdropped on when they make purchases online, pay bills or visit secure websites.
"Wounds of Waziristan": Exclusive Broadcast of New Film on Pakistanis Haunted by U.S. Drone War (4 November 2013) [DemocracyNow.org]
KARIM KHAN: [translated] In 2009, my home was attacked by a drone. My brother and son were martyred. My son's name was Hafiz Zaenullah. My brother's name was Asif Iqbal. There was a third person who was a stone mason. He was a Pakistani. His name was Khaliq Dad.
Their coffins were lying next to each other in the house. Their bodies were covered with wounds. Later, I found some of their fingers in the rubble.
As you know, my son had memorized the Qur'an. He was a security guard at the girls' school, and he was studying for grade 10. My brother had a master's degree in English. He was a government employee. He loved to debate, but he was so short, he didn't reach the dais, so they wouldn't give him many chances to make speeches.
MADIHA TAHIR: I met Saddam a couple of years later. He's a school-going teenager with a shy smile and a quiet, apologetic demeanor.
CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds (3 November 2013)
Doctors and psychologists working for the US military violated the ethical codes of their profession under instruction from the defence department and the CIA to become involved in the torture and degrading treatment of suspected terrorists, an investigation has concluded.
The report of the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services "designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees".
Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra "first do no harm" did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.
The report lays blame primarily on the defence department (DoD) and the CIA, which required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.
For consumers whose health premiums will go up under new law, sticker shock leads to anger (3 November 2013)
Americans who face higher -insurance costs under President Obama's health-care law are angrily complaining about "sticker shock," threatening to become a new political force opposing the law even as the White House struggles to convince other consumers that they will benefit from it.
The growing backlash involves people whose plans are being discontinued because the policies don't meet the law's more-stringent standards. They're finding that many alternative policies come with higher premiums and deductibles.
After receiving a letter from her insurer that her plan was being discontinued, Deborah Persico, a 58-year-old lawyer in the District, found a comparable plan on the city's new health insurance exchange. But her monthly premium, now $297, would be $165 higher, and her maximum out-of-pocket costs would double.
That means she could end up paying at least $5,000 more a year than she does now. "That's just not fair," said Persico, who represents indigent criminal defendants. "This is ridiculous."
Neonicotinoids kill honey bees by deactivating their immune systems (3 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) New research out of Italy has identified yet another mechanism by which neonicotinoid pesticides kill honey bees. Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, this latest study reveals that neonicotinoid pesticides like clothianidin, a systemic pesticide commonly sprayed on crop seeds, deactivate bees' immune systems, rendering them unable to naturally fight off various bacterial and viral illnesses.
The end result, suggest the findings by Francesco Pennacchio and his colleagues, is bees dying off en masse, a phenomenon commonly referred to as colony collapse disorder (CCD). While there are believed to be a number of contributing factors to escalating rates of CCD around the world, many of which we have covered here in previous articles, the pesticide factor, and particularly the immunosuppression properties of neonicotinoid pesticides, have once again been confirmed.
For their study, Pennacchio et al. took a closer look at how neonicotinoids impair proper immune function in bees. While this class of pesticides has previously been reported to enhance the impact of certain pathogens, making them more deadly, little is know about how this process works on the molecular scale. So to gain a better understanding, the team conducted a series of tests with a pathogen known as "deformed wing virus" to identify how these chemicals actually impact bees' immune systems.
What they found was that clothianidin negatively alters the expression of a key molecule involved in the natural immune response of bees, which in turn makes pathogenic diseases more virulent. Known as NF-?B, this molecule was discovered to be susceptible to suppression by a class of proteins known as leucine-rich repeat (LRR) proteins, which naturally occur in insects. But clothianidin was found to greatly increase production of LRR, which in turn suppresses NF-?B even more than normal.
Snowden says calls for reform prove intel leaks were justified (3 November 2013)
(Reuters) - Fugitive U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden said calls for more oversight of government intelligence agencies showed he was justified in revealing the methods and targets of the U.S. secret service.
Snowden's leaks about the National Security Agency (NSA), from its alleged mass scanning of emails to the tapping of world leaders' phones, have infuriated U.S. allies and placed Washington on the defensive.
In "A Manifesto for the Truth" published in German news magazine Der Spiegel on Sunday, Snowden said current debates about mass surveillance in many countries showed his revelations were helping to bring about change.
"Instead of causing damage, the usefulness of the new public knowledge for society is now clear because reforms to politics, supervision and laws are being suggested," the 30-year-old ex-CIA employee and NSA contractor wrote.
"Citizens have to fight against the suppression of information about affairs of essential importance for the public. Those who speak the truth are not committing a crime."
White House rejects clemency for Edward Snowden over NSA leaks (3 November 2013)
The White House and leading lawmakers have rejected Edward Snowden's plea for clemency and said he should return to the United States to face trial.
Dan Pfeiffer, an Obama administration adviser, said on Sunday the NSA whistleblower's request was not under consideration and that he should face criminal charges for leaking classified information. Dianne Feinstein and Mike Rogers, respectively the heads of the Senate and House intelligence committees, maintained the same tough line and accused Snowden of damaging US interests.
The former NSA employee this week appealed for clemency and an opportunity to address members of Congress about US surveillance. He also asked for international help to lobby the US to drop the charges against him. The White House, stung by domestic and international criticism, has shown growing appetite to rein in some of the NSA programmes that Snowden exposed but it has not softened its hostility to the 30-year-old fugitive.
Pfeiffer told ABC's This Week that no clemency offers were being discussed following Snowden's appeal in a letter released by a German lawmaker who met him in Moscow.
Germany 'should offer Edward Snowden asylum after NSA revelations' (3 November 2013)
An increasing number of public figures are calling for Edward Snowden to be offered asylum in Germany, with more than 50 asking Berlin to step up it support of the US whistleblower in the new edition of Der Spiegel magazine
Heiner Geissler, the former general secretary of Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, says in the appeal: "Snowden has done the western world a great service. It is now up to us to help him."
The writer and public intellectual Hans Magnus Enzensberger argues in his contribution that "the American dream is turning into a nightmare" and suggests that Norway would be best placed to offer Snowden refuge, given its track record of offering political asylum to Leon Trotsky in 1935. He bemoans the fact that in Britain, "which has become a US colony", Snowden is regarded as a traitor.
Other public figures on the list include the actor Daniel Brühl, the novelist Daniel Kehlmann, the entrepreneur Dirk Rossmann, the feminist activist Alice Schwarzer and the German football league president, Reinhard Rauball.
The weekly news magazine also publishes a "manifesto for truth", written by Snowden, in which the former NSA employee warns of the danger of spy agencies setting the political agenda.
Obama rallies for McAuliffe, Cuccinelli seeks referendum (3 November 2013)
President Barack Obama cast Republican Ken Cuccinelli on Sunday as part of an extreme tea party faction that shut down the government, throwing the political weight of the White House behind Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the final days of a bitter race for governor.
Seeking an upset, Cuccinelli cast this week's Virginia gubernatorial election as a referendum on Obama's troubled national health care law.
National issues that have divided Democrats and Republicans spilled into the race and colored the final hours of campaigning ahead of Tuesday's vote. As one of just two gubernatorial races in the nation, the results of Tuesday's elections could hold clues about voter attitudes and both parties' messages heading into the 2014 midterm elections.
Obama tore into Cuccinelli as an ideologue unwilling to compromise, while Cuccinelli was telling his supporters that Tuesday's election will be a test for the health care law and McAuliffe's support for it.
JFK: The Smoking Gun says Secret Service did it (3 November 2013)
The Secret Service Did It: Discovery contributes to the coming glut of programming marking the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination with JFK: The Smoking Gun. The Canadian-Australian documentary expands on the theory that the shot that killed the president came from an underqualified Secret Service agent in the car following Kennedy. It's based on the work of retired Australian police detective Colin McLaren, who told The Canadian Press, "This is not conjecture, this is all based on evidence and forensic study" (Discovery at 8).
Seven causes, seven cures for lack of motivation (3 November 2013)
(NaturalNews) Most problems with motivation come from subconscious thought patterns. Interestingly, many of of these patterns are intended to motivate you.
The problem is, they are ineffective strategies learned long ago when you had no idea what was going on.
Other causes of poor motivation come from subconscious attachments to self-deprivation. Yes, you can become attached to a deprived, empty life, believe it or not. In this case, a life of passion isn't familiar to you, so you avoid it.
Begin to set yourself free by learning about the ineffective motivation patterns that hold you back
Here are seven common motivational styles that are actually de-motivating - and what to do about each of them. Can you see yourself in one or more of the examples?
Need earlier news?
Visit Pam's NEWS LINK ARCHIVES
Sources (if found on major alternative news boards) -- you may want to look at these boards yourself, as they're much more extensive than my site:
[AJ] - InfoWars.com, PrisonPlanet.com, or other Alex Jones-affiliated sites
[BF] - BuzzFlash.com
[DN] - DemocracyNow.org
[R] - Rense.com
[WRH] - WhatReallyHappened.com
...and a few other news sources (a work in progress)
Banner and artwork photo information