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Week of 3rd to 9th of January 2010

Egypt bans Gaza aid convoys
Egyptian authorities have announced that all aid convoys travelling to Gaza will be banned from travelling across Egypt after a riot broke out at the Rafah border crossing earlier in the week.

Ahmed Abul Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister, said in remarks published on Saturday that members of Viva Palestina, the last convoy allowed through, had "committed hostile acts, even criminal ones" on Egyptian soil.

"Egypt will no longer allow convoys, regardless of their origin or who is organising them, from crossing its territory," he told government-backed newspaper Al-Ahram.

More than 50 people were wounded during a clash between Egyptian authorities and international members of the convoy on Tuesday after Egypt decided to allow 139 vehicles to enter Gaza, but said a remaining 59 vehicles would have to pass via Israel.

The Rafah border is the only crossing point into the Palestinian territory not controlled by Israel. However, both Rafah and the Israeli-controlled crossings have largely remained sealed since 2007, when the Palestinian group Hamas gained control of the Strip.

Pro-Gaza activists leave Egypt
CAIRO -- A group of several hundred international activists from an aid convoy to the blockaded Gaza Strip have been allowed to leave Egypt Saturday, despite earlier threats to have some arrested because they scuffled with police, an airport official said.

The official said six of the activists, who were wanted by the prosecutor general for their role in violence at El-Arish port where the convoy was delayed, were allowed to leave along with the rest.

"A higher political authority ordered that all activists be allowed to depart," said the official without naming the authority. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.

The official did not give names of the six activists, but he said two of them were Turkish, two Britons, a Kuwaiti and a Malaysian.

Problems at Cairo airport as aid activists leave
Heated arguments have erupted as authorities attempt to send home some 500 international activists who were part of an aid convoy to the blockaded Gaza Strip, a Cairo airport security official said today.

The official said many activists could not pay for their plane tickets and the Foreign Ministry was asking their respective embassies to foot the bill.

The Viva Palestina aid convoy bound for the Gaza Strip arrived Tuesday at the Mediterranean port of El-Arish where participants scuffled with Egyptian security when part of the convoy was not allowed through.

The official also said a special plane from Istanbul for Turkish activists was delayed on the tarmac.

PAM COMMENTARY: I can't believe that the Egyptian government kicked these humanitarians out of its country, but then was too CHEAP to pay for their airplane tickets!

Galloway steadfast in breaking Gaza siege again
British lawmaker George Galloway says he has been manhandled by Egyptian intelligence officers before being deported from country on Friday.

Upon his arrival to London, Galloway told Press TV that Egypt took revenge on him due to its disdain for aid convoys which expose the Israeli-imposed blockade on the Gaza Strip.

"I am sorry to say that Egypt is implicated in this siege. That's the reason of their revenge on me."

"They [Egyptians] hate these convoys because they expose a siege that Egypt denies," He added.

Whale Wars: Sea Shepherd lodges piracy charge against Japanese whalers
Boston -- Paul Watson and his antiwhaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are keeping up the pressure after the collision earlier this week between their high-tech speedboat the Ady Gil and a larger vessel pulling security for a Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.

On Friday, Sea Shepherd filed a legal complaint against the Japanese whaling fleet in the Netherlands, where Mr. Watson's flagship, the Steve Irwin, is registered. "We filed a complaint for criminal prosecution with our prosecutor, requesting the start of an investigation into what we consider to be a crime -- piracy, actually -- committing violence on the high seas," Liesbeth Zegveld, a legal adviser for the group, told Reuters.

Also on Friday, the group announced that it had abandoned efforts to tow the Gil, which had its bow sheered off in the collision, to port. The vessel, which was built for $2.5 million under the moniker Earthrace and circled the globe in a world record 60 days, was donated to Sea Shepherd last year. The boat, which had been currently valued at $1.5 million by Watson, sank after its tow line snapped.

Earlier this week, authorities in New Zealand, where the Gil was registered, and in Australia, which has responsibility for search and rescue operations in the area of the Southern Ocean where the collision took place, said they would investigate the incident. For its part, Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research (ICR), the government-funded body that finances and oversees the country's annual whale hunt, accused Sea Shepherd of "extremist" and illegal behavior.

Conservationists File Piracy Claim Against Whalers
On Friday, Sea Shepherd lodged a piracy complaint with the Dutch prosecuting authority, Sea Shepherd Deputy CEO Chuck Swift told The Associated Press by satellite phone from his ship, the Bob Barker. The ship is named for the former TV game show host, who donated $5 million to buy it.

A copy of the complaint translated from Dutch to English by Sea Shepherd officials was provided to the AP. It argues the whalers are guilty of piracy because they served on a vessel that was used to commit an act of violence. The complaint urges Dutch authorities to take action within two weeks.

''They have certainly proven that some of them have as much disregard for the law and human life as they do for the law and whale life,'' Swift said. ''We could have had six dead.''

The group chose to file the complaint in the Netherlands because one of the Ady Gil crew members is Dutch and the Sea Shepherd's main ship, the Steve Irwin, is registered there, according to the complaint.

Sea Shepherd is also considering filing charges of attempted murder in New Zealand, where the Ady Gil was registered, Swift said.

Ady Gil Captain: We Tried To Turn To Starboard Just Before Impact
We just received an email from Captain Pete Bethune of the Ady Gil explaining a bit why the ship appeared to move at the last minute as the Shonan Maru No.2 was closing in on her. Here are his words,

�We were just idling. My guy driving tried to turn to starboard at last minute but was too late. Also had a wave pick us up which carried us another metre or so into danger. In the end we had right of way. They were on our port side and they were also overtaking. So it is up to them to steer clear of us regardless. A good result for the Japanese in short term, but this will hurt them dearly in the long term I believe.�

I also asked Peter who received that water cannon-to-the-face after the collision. Adding insult to injury, he confirmed it was him.

Did the CIA Deploy a Blackwater Hit Team in Germany?
This week, a senior lawmaker in Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union called on Washington to provide an explanation. "If this commando really existed and the U.S. government knew about it but didn't notify our government then this would be a very grave incident," said the lawmaker, Wolfgang Bosbach.

His concerns were echoed in the US by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. "This really is part of an ongoing investigation that I can't talk about, but even the fact that there is that allegation, I think, gives one a picture of the degree to which Blackwater has been completely enmeshed in these secret operations," Schahowsky said. "And, you know, at least the allegation that they are, I think is disturbing enough. And there is an investigation going on around activities like that."

Dieter Wiefelsp�he domestic policy spokesperson for the parliamentary group of Germany's center-left Social Democrats, told Der Spiegel it is irrelevant that Darkazanli's targeted assassination was never carried out. "If it can be confirmed, then this was a murder plot," he said. The conservative Christian Democratic Union joined the Social Democrats in calling for an official inquiry.

Blackwater Injustice (Comment)
Urbina's order, however technically sound, is a blow for the Iraqi victims' families and sends a message that US-funded private forces are above the rule of law--American law at least.

A source familiar with the US military investigation of the Nisour Square shooting has told The Nation that the Blackwater personnel allegedly responsible should never have been allowed to leave Iraq and should have been handed over to Iraqi authorities for potential prosecution in Iraqi courts. The source, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the ongoing case, said US military investigators had determined the men were not eligible for the immunity granted to contractors under Order 17, the edict issued by L. Paul Bremer, then head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which barred Iraqi courts from prosecuting US contractors without US consent.

Xe Services aims for $1 billion Afghan deal; Re-branded Blackwater firm bids to train police force despite legal woes
WASHINGTON - Blackwater Worldwide's legal woes haven't dimmed the company's prospects in Afghanistan, where it's a contender to be a key part of President Barack Obama's strategy for stabilizing the country.

Now called Xe Services, the company is in the running for a Pentagon contract potentially worth $1 billion to train Afghanistan's troubled national police force. Xe has been shifting to training, aviation and logistics work after its security guards were accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians more than two years ago.

Yet even with a new name and focus, the expanded role would seem an unlikely one for Xe because Democrats have held such a negative opinion of the company following the Iraqi deaths, which are still reverberating in Baghdad and Washington.

Advocacy groups raise concerns on health bill [BF]
WASHINGTON � Advocacy groups lobbied President Barack Obama and Congress on Thursday, trying to eliminate what they called a "loophole" in Senate health care legislation they said could allow insurers to raise rates on customers based on their weight or blood sugar levels.

The groups said that would contradict one of the main goals of the congressional health care overhaul, which is to eliminate insurance company practices such as charging more, or denying coverage, based on health status.

The push came amid intense behind-the-scenes negotiations on Capitol Hill and at the White House to reconcile sweeping health care legislation passed by the House and Senate into a final bill Obama could sign before his State of the Union address in early February.

House Democrats held a conference call during which a number of lawmakers vented frustration over provisions in the Senate bill they don't want to be forced to accept, most prominently a tax on high-value insurance plans that House Democrats fear could hurt middle-class workers and union members.

How Big Pharma Profits From Fear [R]
With Big Pharma raking in billions off swine flu fears, the last thing they need is a government handout.

Yet Uncle Sam is busy playing Daddy Warbucks with YOUR lunch money, helping Swiss drugmaker Novartis open a new vaccine plant in North Carolina. You've generously contributed around $700 million to help Novartis build their shiny new drug factory -- $220 million three years ago, and $486 million this year.

And I'll bet you didn't even get a thank-you card.

In return for this bad investment in a foreign company, the U.S. government gets the right to PURCHASE vaccine for 17 years. Not only that, but these vaccines will be created using a new and unproven biotech method that relies on dog kidneys instead of chicken eggs.

In other words, this plan really is a dog.

I'm a doctor, not an economist. But if this is someone's idea of stimulus, you do the math: The plant now employs 191 people making an average of $50,000 per year. At that rate, it would take around 75 years for the government money put into this joint to make its way back into our own economy.

Courts Roll Back Limits on Spending in Election Law
If the Supreme Court, as widely expected, rules against core elements of the existing limits, Democrats say they will try to enact new laws to reinstate the restrictions in time for the midterm elections in November. And advocates of stricter campaign finance laws say they hope the developments will prod the president to fulfill a campaign promise to update the presidential campaign financing system, even though it would diminish his edge as incumbent.

Many legal experts say they expect the court to use its imminent ruling, in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, to eliminate the remaining restrictions on advertisements for or against candidates paid for by corporations, unions and advocacy organizations. (The case centers on whether spending restrictions apply to a conservative group�s documentary, �Hillary: The Movie.�)

Even if the court rules more narrowly, legal experts and political advocates say that the 2010 elections will bring the first large-scale application of previous court decisions that have all but stripped away those restrictions. Though the rulings have not challenged the bans on direct corporate contributions to parties and candidates, political operatives say that as a practical matter the rulings and a deadlock at the Federal Election Commission have already opened wide latitude for independent groups to advocate for and against candidates.

�It will be no holds barred when it comes to independent expenditures,� said Kenneth A. Gross, a veteran political law expert at the firm of Skadden Arps in Washington.

PAM COMMENTARY: ...So that insurance companies, big pharma, and the oil companies can control Congress even more than they already do today!

Cancer Risks Debated for Type of X-Ray Scan
The scanning machines, called �backscatter scanners,� deliver a dose of ionizing radiation equivalent to 1 percent or less of the radiation in a dental X-ray. The amount is so small that the risk to an individual is negligible, according to radiation experts. But collectively, the radiation doses from the scanners incrementally increase the risk of fatal cancers among the thousands or millions of travelers who will be exposed, some radiation experts believe.

Full-body scanners that are already in place in some airports around the country and abroad use a different type of imaging technology, called millimeter wave, that uses less powerful, non-ionizing radiation that does not pose the same risk.

But those machines also produce images that are less clear. And in the wake of the attempted bombing of an airplane traveling to Detroit from Amsterdam on Dec. 25, the United States is turning to backscatter scanners for routine security checks. Congress has appropriated funds for 450 scanners to be placed in American airports. On Thursday, President Obama called for greater use of �imaging technology� to spot weapons and explosives.

Chavez says Venezuela jets intercepted U.S. plane
CARACAS (Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez said he ordered two F-16 jets to intercept a U.S. military plane that twice entered Venezuelan skies on Friday, but Washington said none of its planes flew over the South American country's airspace.

Brandishing a photo of the plane, which he described as a P-3, Chavez said the overflight was the latest violation of Venezuelan airspace by the U.S. military from its bases on the Netherlands' Caribbean islands and from neighboring Colombia.

"They are provoking us ... these are warplanes," he said.

Chavez said the F-16s escorted the U.S. plane away after two incursions lasting 15 and 19 minutes each.

A spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department denied Chavez's assertion, saying in an e-mail: "We can confirm no U.S. military aircraft entered Venezuelan airspace today. As a matter of policy we do not fly over a nation's airspace without prior consent or coordination."

PAM COMMENTARY: Who knows which story to believe -- I remember when Reagan used to deny illegal flyovers of Nicaragua in the 80s... until the Sandinistas shot down Hasenfus' plane and had physical evidence to prove otherwise.

Honduran generals face coup charges
Honduras' attorney-general has charged the country's senior military chiefs with "abuse of power" for a coup that removed Manuel Zelaya, the ousted president, according to a supreme court spokesman.

Danilo Izaguirre told the AFP news agency that the court had three days to respond to the charges.

"They are various commanders, and the crimes are abuse of power," he said.

Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the armed forces chief of staff; Venancio Cervantes, the air force chief; and Luis Javier Prince, the navy chief, were among those accused over the arrest and expulsion of Zelaya to Costa Rica on June 28.

PAM COMMENTARY: It would be amazing if a military coup could be reversed through a country's court system.

Little 'green' vehicles taking over Detroit; International auto show to push fuel-efficiency, enviro-friendly images
Aurora-based Magna International Inc., the world's third biggest auto-parts maker, will appear for the first time to demonstrate its "electrification capabilities" so it can capitalize on the seismic shift away from the internal combustion engine.

The move away from big vehicles has now become a religion in Detroit as gasoline prices climb and governments institute stricter emission limits to counter pollution and climate change.

Among manufacturers attempting to generate market buzz is industry leader Toyota, with its small hybrid concept car. The Japan-based auto giant, which has sputtered in the past year, rolled out the first hybrid, the Prius, more than a decade ago.

"We think their new hybrid concept could be the hit of the show," said analyst Bill Pochiluk, president of U.S.-based Automotive Compass.

�Blackwatergate��Private Military Firm in Firestorm of Controversy over Involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany [DN]
JUAN GONZALEZ: And Jeremy, what about that Iraq situation, the Nisoor Square killings? There were some settlements that Blackwater has reached with some of the victims, but not all of them. And what�s been the reaction of the Iraqi government to the acquittals of the Blackwater people?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, first, on the settlement that was announced yesterday, we�re talking about not just the Nisoor Square massacre, but we�re also talking about six other incidents�the shooting of bodyguards at an Iraqi TV station, the killing of three other individuals shortly before Nisoor Square. And my understanding from sources is that the victims who�the families of people who died were paid somewhere in the ballpark of $100,000, and then injuries were compensated between $20,000 and $30,000. And then there were a couple of people that got more because of the nature of their injuries. But you�re talking about Blackwater getting�they get $1.5 billion in Iraq. Ninety percent of this company�s revenue comes from the US government. For them to pay, you know, five, six million dollars is chump change. In fact, one source that�s been involved with these cases told me that Blackwater got a real bargain here. And indeed, Blackwater released a statement saying that they were pleased with it, and it allows the company to get on with its business.

But one story that people are not really looking at, the way that these guys got off on these manslaughter charges for Nisoor Square is identical to the way that Oliver North got off on the criminal charges stemming from Iran-Contra, because they were granted immunity by the State Department immediately after the shooting. And so, the prosecutors then, from the Justice Department, had to use�could not use any information from the statements that they gave, because the had been promised immunity by the State Department. Why on earth did the State Department give these guys immunity? These were the prime suspects, and you give them an immunity that generally is reserved for people that you�re trying to flip as witnesses, not the actual suspects.

But I spoke to�and this is something no one�s reported yet�I spoke to a source with direct knowledge of the US military�s official investigation of Nisoor Square, and this source told me that the US military had determined that it was a criminal event, that it was unprovoked fire, and�and this is what the important part is�and that the military had determined that those men who did the shooting at Nisoor Square were not entitled to immunity under the Bremer-era Order 17 that granted immunity to contractors, because they shot unprovoked civilians, which violated the terms of their contract, and had disobeyed orders from superiors not to leave a post where they were, meaning that they were not eligible for that immunity.

And the military determined that the appropriate legal venue would have been in Iraq, that the Iraqis should have been allowed to go and arrest those individuals, but they were secretly ferried out of Iraq in the dead of night by the State Department and Blackwater, taken to the US, where they then got off on murder�on manslaughter charges, on the same technicality that Oliver North got off on.

George Galloway Deported From Egypt By Viva Palestina
Galloway had been trying to return to Rafah after news broke that seven of the Viva Palestina convoy members were said to be arrested. Police, who at one point were numbered at 25 mainly plain-clothes officers, refused to allow him to return.

Several officers even followed Galloway to the toilet, rest room and a BA lounge.

The incident began after George Galloway and his colleague Ron McKay arrived at the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt.

As soon as they emerged onto Egyptian soil both Men were forcibly pushed into a van, refused exit and told that they were leaving the country. They were then driven off in a police convoy. Viva Palestina convoy of 550 people from 17 countries was attacked by Egyptian riot police and plane clothes intelligence officers in the early hours of Wednesday (6th January). 55 of the convoy members were injured and 7 were also arrested.

However Galloway and Turkish MP's struck a deal with Egyptian authorities, part of this deal was that the 7 detainees were released without charge.

On the enforced drive to Cairo, news came through of the imminent arrest of the 7 but when Galloway demanded to return to Rafah, permission was repeatedly denied.

PAM COMMENTARY: There are a few new video clips embedded in this article. See earlier links for more of the story on Galloway, and Egypt's outrageous attempts to prevent the humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza.

85,000 jobs lost in Dec., but Nov. revision shows jobs growth
The jobless rate was unchanged at 10% and the report moderately disappointed economists who believed two years of job losses ended last month. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg said employment would be flat in December.

Obama said job losses for the last quarter were one-tenth of the losses at the start of the year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics even revised up the November employment figures from a loss of 11,000 jobs to an increase of 4,000 � the first monthly jobs gain since the recession started in December 2007.

Canadian and U.S. jobs data disappoint
With the December data in hand, it suggests the Canadian economy shed 240,000 jobs in 2009 � the bulk of which occurred in the first half of the year. In the last five months of the year, the economy generated an average of 20,000 new jobs per month.

Hall said he believes average monthly gains of 20,000 are likely in the offing, as this recovery is likely to mirror the one following the recession of the early 1990s. "One characterized by some jobs growth followed by consolidation. Not terrific, but infinitely preferable to the experience of the previous year."

The Canadian recession ended in the third quarter with meagre annualized growth of 0.4 per cent, as domestic strength was offset by a weak export sector that was hampered by a strong Canadian dollar and weak U.S. demand. Economists estimate growth in the final three months of 2009 to register between three and four per cent, although GDP output in October was below expectations.

The Bank of Canada is expected to begin raising its benchmark lending rate in the third quarter.

Icy hazards persist through US, deep into South
Multiple deaths have been blamed on this week's cold, including a 44-year-old man whose body was found face-down in the snow early Friday in Billings, Mont.

In Ohio, a winter storm warning was in effect until Saturday morning. That's on top of the snow that had already coated Interstate 70, where a tractor-trailer spun out of control Thursday, crossed the median and swerved into oncoming traffic, colliding with a small bus transporting adult disabled passengers, the Ohio Highway Patrol said.

Three passengers on the bus were killed, as was its driver. Six other passengers on the bus, which was carrying 11 people, were injured, as was the driver of the commercial truck, Sgt. Raymond Durant said.

Schools in at least 10 states were closed, as were many roads and government offices.

The National Weather Service said 5 to 7 inches of snow was expected Friday across western Pennsylvania. In Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, it had snowed every day since New Year's, a stretch that meteorologists say is unusual.

Travel was beginning to return to normal Friday at Chicago's airports, after a storm that dumped about 8 inches of snow. The Chicago Department of Aviation said there were still minor delays at O'Hare International Airport because crews had to deice aircraft before they could take off.

Idaho Fish and Game helicopter crashes
BOISE, Idaho � The Idaho Department of Fish and Game says a helicopter carrying two research biologists has crashed on the North Fork of the Clearwater River.

The agency says the biologist and pilot did not suffer life-threatening injuries during the crash around noon Friday. The biologists were in the region putting radio collars on elk, moose and wolves.

The department will suspend all flights until next week to review safety procedures.

State Fish and Game biologists fly about 1,000 hours each year to conduct aerial surveys, wildlife counts and capture wildlife for research.

The King at 75: An oral history of Elvis Presley
Some have been fired, more than once, by a boss who often enlisted his father to deal the bad news.

They�ve had their dates yanked right from their arms, left helpless to protest. One has been cheated on, publicly, the transgressions splayed across tabloid newspapers.

They�ve witnessed random gunplay, blown-out TVs, shattered chandeliers and shot-through hotel ceilings. They revived their friend from certain death and risked their livelihood to vainly talk sense into their superstar employer/soul mate/companion who was spiraling to an inevitable demise at age 42.

They have also been players in one of the greatest sagas in entertainment history, humbled recipients of cars and cash, motorcycles and mortgage payments, loyalty and love. And to a person, they love Elvis Presley.

Even today, on the anniversary of Elvis� 75th birthday and more than three decades after his death, they speak reverentially of the undisputed King of Rock �n� Roll as if he is still actually alive.

Michael Jackson's doctor Conrad Murray likely to face charges shortly: reports
"The LAPD investigation into Michael Jackson's death has been completed and the case will go to the D.A. within weeks, law enforcement sources tell TMZ ... and, we're told, it's all but certain Dr. Conrad Murray will be criminally charged in MJ's death.

"One very informed source says the LAPD investigation was "exhaustive" and "extremely thorough" and the D.A. has enough evidence to pull the trigger on a criminal case against Dr. Murray," TMZ said. "... we're told the case is complicated, in part because Dr. Murray did not break any laws in administering Propofol to Jackson."

TMZ reported that a source said the D.A. and the police have been working on the case together and "it's all but certain the case will be filed."

Speculation is Dr. Murray will be charged with involuntary manslaughter, which will leave prosecutors to prove gross negligence in the case.

Opponents vow to appeal approval of railway-tie plant
A controversial gasification plant that will turn railway ties into energy has the go-ahead from the Ministry of Environment, but opponents are already saying they will appeal.

Aboriginal Cogeneration Corp. president Kim Sigurdson told The Daily News from Winnipeg on Thursday a permit has been approved for his company to set up a gasification plant on Mission Flats.

Two one-megawatt gasifiers will go into operation late next year, he said.

eBay defamation suit centers on Web comments about seller
A judge has dismissed three of the claims in a lawsuit over a Nevada woman's allegedly disparaging comments about an eBay seller -- but attorneys continue litigating remaining issues in the complaint including a count of defamation.

The lawsuit, filed in Clark County District Court in Las Vegas on June 24, has attracted the attention of some eBay participants by highlighting the issue of how much freedom eBay buyers should have to publicly complain about purchases they make on the online selling exchange.

Nikki Foote of Henderson, also known as Kristy Cunningham, was sued over comments Foote allegedly publicly posted on eBay as user "nikki809" charging that the Gucci handbag she purchased for $495 was a fake.

The seller, Ruhanieh Badi�i of Austin, Texas, insists the bag is authentic and says the comments have hurt the eBay trading business that is her livelihood.

Container shortage threatens Portland, Northwest export boom
Recession-weary Northwest farmers are landing big sales in Asia, an encouraging sign of recovery. But a severe shortage of shipping containers, as steamship lines boost rates, downsize vessels and slow ships to save fuel, stifles what could be a U.S. export boom.

Portland commodities trader Larry Jansky recently received 19 containers a month late. He barged the steel boxes to Idaho. He loaded them with dried peas and garbanzo beans. He got them back to Portland in time for shipping to India, Taiwan and South Korea.

Yet the vessel was full. Longshoremen left the $400,000 worth of cargo on the dock, awaiting a ship about a week later. The delay exposed Jansky's North Pacific Group Inc. to postponed payments, rising shipping rates and the risk that buyers in India, where local chickpeas ripen soon, could use the excuse to reject delivery.

"We're getting bombed with rate increases, container shortages and space issues," said Jansky, who has traded and exported for 30 years. "It's one of the most difficult times I've seen in my whole trading career."

Giant ocean carriers have lost billions during the recession. They are anchoring newly built big ships, subbing smaller ones in Portland and elsewhere, charging hundreds of dollars more per container and constricting deliveries of empties in a desperate and coordinated attempt to boost income.

World Trade Center design firm to close
The late Minoru Yamasaki founded his firm in the 1950s and soon became one of the world�s most sought-after modernists. He designed the World Trade Center towers in New York as well as many prominent buildings in Metro Detroit, including the McGregor Memorial Conference Center on Wayne State University�s Campus and the One Woodward Avenue office tower downtown.

Yamasaki died in 1986, and for almost a quarter century his former partners carried on, designing office buildings in Oakland County and commissions in the Middle East, where Yamasaki himself had had a thriving practice. But the worldwide recession and credit crunch contributed to the firm�s collapse.

Modris �Mike� Pudists, a long-time designer who retired from Yamasaki last spring after 46 years, lamented the end of the firm.

�I think that after Yama�s death we managed pretty well. We were up to almost 100 people a year and a half ago. But what are you going to do when the jobs basically dried up?�

DNA sample taken from 1982 Tylenol murder suspect
The longtime suspect in the 1982 Tylenol murders has submitted his DNA and fingerprints to investigators on the order of a Massachusetts judge, according to sources familiar with the probe.

The samples, sought in a DuPage County grand jury subpoena, were taken immediately from James William Lewis and his wife following a closed hearing in Middlesex Superior Court on Wednesday, the sources said.

The court action came nearly a year after FBI agents searched Lewis' suburban Boston home. Authorities here reopened the investigation into the seven unsolved Tylenol murders in the Chicago area in 1982 because of advances in forensic technology and new tips to law enforcement.

Lewis was convicted of extortion in connection with the Tylenol killings after he admitted to writing a letter to Tylenol's manufacturer the week after the killings, demanding $1 million "to stop the killing."

But he denied having a role in the murders and was never charged in the deaths. Lewis was released from prison in 1995 after serving more than 11 years.

Pfizer to cut 680 jobs in Collegeville and Great Valley
What has been expected since Pfizer Inc. bought rival Wyeth in October is now becoming reality: local layoffs.

Pfizer gave formal notice today that it plans to cut a total of 680 jobs from a combined workforce of 4,500 at its Collegeville and Great Valley campuses, where Wyeth had major operations.

Spokeswoman Gwen Fisher said 450 of the layoffs will come from Collegville, and the other 230 from Great Valley. They will take effect March 12.

The announcement was met with a swift expression of "disappointment" from State Sen. Andy Dinniman, who, along with other area legislators, had been pushing Pfizer to limit any post-merger job eliminations.

"We did not expect that the layoffs would be as great as they turned out to be," Dinniman said in an interview.

Ohio companies to get $82 million in tax credits for advanced energy projects
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Nearly a dozen companies in Ohio will receive $82 million in tax credits to expand or build advanced energy manufacturing projects -- and maybe create jobs

. The credits were included Friday in $2.3 billion in tax credits President Barack Obama announced his administration would fund to assist 183 manufacturing projects in 43 states.

The money will come from the $787 billion stimulus bill approved last year.

Companies winning the credits include solar panel makers, wind turbine manufacturers and companies that make parts for wind turbines and companies that are developing energy management technologies, such a super-smart electric meters.

Suspended attorney admits embezzlement in Seneca land deal
A suspended attorney pleaded guilty in federal court this morning, admitting that he embezzled from a $2.1 million golf course land deal involving a Seneca Nation gambling corporation.

Timothy J. Toohey, 62, of Lewiston, admitted to tax fraud and receiving $202,000 that was stolen from an Indian tribal organization, both felonies.

Toohey admitted that he and Bergal Mitchell III, former vice president of the Seneca Gaming Corp., made an "unlawful agreement" that enabled them to receive part of the money from the land deal.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James P. Kennedy said in court papers that after Seneca Gaming purchased the Lewiston land from developers in February 2006, Toohey got $202,000 of the money; Mitchell got $248,000; and Mitchell's wife, Rachel, got $90,000.

The Senecas purchased more than 200 acres of land from a company called Old Creek Development, prosecutors said in court papers.

Park Service says Yellowstone averaged 190 snowmobiles per day in December
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyo. - The National Park Service reports that an average of 190 snowmobiles and 36 snowcoaches operated in the park each day last month.

Yellowstone opened for the winter season on Dec. 15.

Yellowstone is limiting snowmobile traffic to 318 machines a day for this winter season and the next season. That is less than half the number allowed in the past few years.

The state of Wyoming and Park County are challenging the restriction on snowmobile traffic in federal court. They claim the restriction hurts tourism.

PAM COMMENTARY: I'm not there to personally observe whether the limit is too high or too low for snowmobiles, but the argument is that tourism has to be balanced with limits on noise and the disturbing of wildlife.

Sign of leak detected at nuclear plant in Vt.; Test of well finds tritium in water
Williams said it was the first time a groundwater sample at the plant had tested positive for tritium.

Both Williams and William Irwin, radiological health chief for the Vermont Department of Health, said there was no threat to the public health and safety from the level of tritium reported. They said the 17,000 picocuries of radioactivity per liter of water measured at Vermont Yankee was 3,000 less than the 20,000 picocurie safety limit set for drinking water by the Environmental Protection Agency.

But Arnold Gundersen, a former nuclear industry engineer who has consulted with the Legislature on issues related to Vermont Yankee, called the discovery of tritium on the plant site �a big deal.��

�It�s a sign that there�s a pipe or a tank leaking somewhere�� at the plant, Gundersen said. �It�s highly unlikely that the highest concentration in the ground would happen to be at the monitoring well,�� he added.

Costa Rica widens evacuation area around Turrialba volcano after ash eruptions
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - Costa Rica has widened evacuations around the Turrialba volcano in response to eruptions of ash.

The National Emergency Commission says all resident living within a radius of 4 miles (6 kilometers) of the peak are being evacuated. About 50 people have taken refuge at government shelters.

The commission said Wednesday that ash has fallen in several communities east of the Costa Rican capital of San Jose.

George Galloway deported from Egypt; Respect MP has spent past month travelling from London to deliver aid and supplies to Gaza Strip
George Galloway was deported from Egypt today after plainclothes police officers refused the Respect MP entry to the Gaza Strip and bundled him on to a plane bound for London.

Galloway, declared "persona non grata" by the Egyptian foreign ministry, arrived back in the UK at around 1pm. He had spent the past month travelling from London to deliver 198 truckloads of aid and supplies to Gaza in a challenge to Israel's economic blockade of the territory.

The supplies successfully made it through to Rafah but when the MP and his aide, Ron McKay, arrived at the crossing from Gaza to Egypt they were confronted by police officers.

"We were surrounded by plainclothes men who bundled us into a van," said McKay. "Two guys came in with us and they locked us in."

PAM COMMENTARY: This is disturbing news after he worked so hard to get the convoy through. It was shocking enough that the Egyptian government wanted to prevent humanitarian aid from getting to the Palestinians.

Egypt declares George Galloway 'persona non grata' as he's kicked out of the country after crossing the border from Gaza
Galloway had crossed the border into Egypt - but wanted to return to Gaza after new broke that members of the convoy had been arrested.

The incident began after Mr Galloway and his colleague, Ron McKay, arrived at the Rafah crossing from Gaza to Egypt.

'As soon as they emerged on to Egyptian soil, both men were forcibly pushed into a van, refused exit and told that they were leaving the country,' a spokeswoman said.

'They were then driven off in a police convoy.'

A police officer maintained security only escorted him for his own protection. 'It was to protect him from the Egyptian people's anger,' he said.

'He was told that he is a trouble-maker and his behaviour is undermining Egyptian security.'

PAM COMMENTARY: "Oh, boo-hoo-hoo, you said mean things about us and we're not men enough to take it..." If they hadn't been so uncool about letting him through to begin with, he wouldn't have been the big hero. Now he's not only a bigger hero, but the Egyption government looks terrible -- they not only wanted to starve Palestinians out to help Israel, but now are taking revenge on anyone who tries to bring humanitarian relief. This could end certain political careers there -- we'll see how it plays out in the years to come.

Spiteful Mubarak succeeds only in creating a PR disaster for Egypt and himself [WRH]
Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, has plumbed new depths and caused deep offence with his shameful bullying of the Viva Palestina convoy bound for Gaza, which had driven for weeks and thousands of miles from many countries to bring medical aid and other relief to women and children cruelly shut off from the world and under endless lethal bombardment by Israel.

The dirty tricks resorted to by Mubarak and his lieutenants, which repeatedly delayed the convoy when only a few hours away from its destination, forced it to retrace its steps and take a dangerous and unnecessary sea voyage menaced by Israeli gunboats, heaped massive extra costs on the mercy mission then confronted it with 2,000 riot police, put him and his rotten regime beyond the pale. In other words, far outside acceptable standards of decency.

Mubarak�s misdeeds have shamed the Egyptian people and indeed all Arabs, and will be written indelibly into the history of the Middle East. Who would have thought that a man of his experience would visibly stoop so low as to invite wholesale ridicule and disgust?

Faced with all those obstacles the splendid men and women with Viva Palestina rose to the challenge in fine style and gave real meaning to the anthem "We shall overcome".

They overcame all right. They overcame all the mean-minded chicanery the loathsome vultures of the Middle East could throw at them.

And with their generous hearts, human decency and sense of honour, the Viva Palestina team delivered a master-class in true grit and cross-cultural togetherness in the teeth of unjustified hostility.

Impressive too was the leader George Galloway. The British MP, considered a renegade in Westminster, once again showed himself to be head and shoulders above the pygmies of the British government when it comes to �doing the right thing�.

They all received sterling help en route from many authorities that cooperated in exemplary fashion. Egypt please take notes.

3 in 25 juveniles in detention are sexually abused, study finds; A federal report identifies 13 detention centers with high rates of abuse. It's a 'systematic problem,' a human rights activist says.
About 3 out of every 25 youths in state and privately run juvenile correctional facilities have experienced at least one incident of sexual victimization, according to a federal study released Thursday.

The study, which is the first of its kind, brings attention to the need for more training and accountability for staff members at such facilities, said Linda McFarlane, deputy executive director of Just Detention International, a nonprofit human rights organization that works on preventing abuse in detention centers.

"It's more of a systemic problem," she said.

The study defines victimization as any forced sexual activity with another youth or any sexual activity with facility a staffer. The facilities included juvenile halls and detention centers.

The study, by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, also identified 13 facilities with a high rate of sexual victimization. Out of the centers, six had victimization rates of 30% or more, four had rates between 25% and 30%, and three had rates between 20% and 25%. Two Virginia facilities made the list, as did two Texas facilities.

New ad campaign touts 'made in China'
BEIJING � Tainted toothpaste, drugged catfish, lead-painted Elmos, poison pet food. Scandals involving Chinese-made products have ordinary people here worried that a bad reputation threatens to derail their status as No. 1 exporter in the world.

So what to do? Call in Madison Avenue.

"Made in China, made with the world" is the theme of an ad campaign masterminded by DDB Guoan, the Chinese branch of Manhattan-based agency DDB.

"Overcoming Western prejudice will be a long process for us. And we have to be more patient and tolerant, and adopt more ways of communication," Renmin University communication professor Yu Guoming told China Daily.

PAM COMMENTARY: Cheap, poisoned, and made with slave labor by Chinese dissidents -- what more could you want? Now new and improved, now with a fresh new scent!

Governor deals blow to health care reform
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who until recently endorsed Democrats' efforts to reform health care, has changed direction and become a battering ram for Republicans, who have seized on his caustic comments this week that the bill is a "trough of bribes, deals and loopholes" that unfairly penalize the state.

The governor raised eyebrows in his 27-minute State of the State address Wednesday when he criticized the financial burdens of expanding government health care, saying, "You've heard of the bridge to nowhere? This is health care to nowhere."

The Republican National Committee immediately bannered Schwarzenegger's comments in a news release crowing, "Governator to Dems: Terminate this Bill."

Jahan Wilcox, spokesman for the RNC, said Schwarzenegger was "echoing similar concerns we've seen from Republican and Democratic governors - that they do not want their budgets raided for this bill."

In Washington, Schwarzenegger's remarks were characterized as a devastating blow to reform, an apparent withdrawal of his support on the same day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and legislative leaders met with President Obama about reconciling the House and Senate versions of the bill.

PAM COMMENTARY: I don't like it either -- especially the Senate version is a obviously written for or by the insurance industry, with a lot of gifts to big pharma as well. I'd rather they just scrap it and start over.

Steele comments have GOP aides pleading, 'Get him to stop'
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, under fire this week for a string of controversial statements he has made while promoting his new book, has so angered the party's congressional leaders that their aides said they told Steele's handlers to "get him to stop."

Steele, who has been making regular television appearances, said Monday that he did not believe Republicans could win back their congressional majorities in 2010. "Not this year," Steele told Fox News Channel, saying he was just beginning to look at races, even though the party has been recruiting candidates for many months.

Believing that Steele's off-the-cuff remarks threaten to damage the party's brand -- at the very time when Republicans are trying to capitalize on a national political environment that may hurt Democrats -- senior aides to top Republican leaders confronted Steele's staff on a conference call Wednesday.

"You really just have to get him to stop. It's too much," a top congressional aide said on the call, according to others on the call, adding that Steele was hurting morale among Republican members of Congress and candidates.

The call turned into "a bickering match," aides said Thursday, as one top congressional staffer accused Steele of launching "a Republican apology tour at the exact wrong time." Another congressional aide said Steele was appearing on television "unprepared and unknowledgeable."

PAM COMMENTARY: Oh please, the RNC chair needs "handlers" now? I don't know which catchy phrase to use on this one -- "Truth hurts, doesn't it," "Don't shoot the messenger," or "Don't talk down to him because he's black." I can't believe the arrogance of some Republicans -- for 8 years they launch illegal wars and try to destroy our rights and turn this country into a police state, then blame the RNC chair for their problems? Earth to Republican "leadership" -- if people hate you, it's because they remember what you did only a few years ago. And try to treat the black man with as much respect as you gave that clueless white disaster of yours, "Duh-bya."

U.S. says contractor arrested in Cuba is no spy
It's unclear what Cuba ultimately plans to do with the contractor, whose name has not been released, but experts say that he could be used as a bargaining chip in future discussions between the United States and Cuba.

Washington has long supplied Cuban dissidents with laptop computers and cell phones. But the Development Alternatives Inc. subcontractor arrested Dec. 5 in Havana worked with sophisticated telecommunications equipment.

Analysts say the gear was probably designed to help Cubans talk or surf the web via satellite, circumventing the government network. Critics of U.S. policy say that makes his legal status there murky.

``The detained DAI subcontractor was not working for any intelligence service,'' company president and CEO James Boomgard said in a statement Thursday. ``He was working with a peaceful, non-dissident civic group -- a religious and cultural group recognized by the Cuban government -- to improve its ability to communicate with its members across the island and overseas.''

On Wednesday, the Cuban government publicly accused the contractor, whose name has not been released, of working for U.S. intelligence services. In a December speech, Cuban leader Ra�stro referred to the man's ``sophisticated satellite communications equipment,'' and added: ``the enemy is as active as ever.''

Body Scanners Increase Privacy, Says Corporate Media [AJ]
With the resistance to naked body scanners in airports building, the corporate media is now claiming that technology which allows fat TSA thugs sitting in back rooms to ogle your naked daughter actually �enhances privacy�.

In our Orwellian brave new world where down is the new up, University of Ottawa professor Mark Salter gushes over the virtual strip searches with a gusto that makes you wonder whether he�s on the same payroll as people like Michael Chertoff, who have been aggressively promoting the scanners they are invested in as a solution to the underwear bomber threat, no matter that such scanners would not even have stopped Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Flight 253.

In his Globe and Mail article, Salter doesn�t try to deny that the scanner produces a crisp image of your naked body, indeed, he ends his piece by asking, �Will Canadians be willing to fly naked?�

�Let me be controversial by saying the millimetre-wave scanner actually enhances privacy,� Salter ludicrously claims, arguing that everything is kosher because the government has promised to keep the strip search anonymous and not store the details in a database � and you can really trust them � after all, governments never keep illegal databases of our information do they? They haven�t been caught doing exactly that on almost every front since 9/11.

PAM COMMENTARY: Warning: The images in this article show you what airport body scans REALLY look like, which is much like a nude female in black & white, with a bluish tint to the pictures. Don't view unless you're OK with seeing that. (I'd like to say you shouldn't view unless over 18, but the media for some reason is trying to pretend the scans are different from other naked pictures out there called "porn.")

What Body Scanners Show - Pervert Heaven (Video) [R]
PAM COMMENTARY: More graphic human nudity, this time on a video, and of both a female and male. Again, don't watch the video unless you're OK with seeing EVERYTHING -- but if you are, it's important to know what these scanners can do (aside from damage your DNA). It's basically like letting a stranger take nude b&w photos of you through your clothes.

Former Bush Attorney Charged With Trying To Kill His Wife [BF]
John Michael Farren, who served as deputy counsel to President George W. Bush, has been charged with strangulation and attempted murder after allegedly choking his wife and beating her with a flashlight.

Police said Farren attacked his wife at their New Canaan home Wednesday night. According to police, she passed out during the attack but regained consciousness and fled with their children to the house of a neighbor, who called 911. There, police found her bleeding from her head, face and body.

She is reportedly at Norwalk Hospital in stable condition with a broken jaw, a broken nose and other injuries.

Cell Phone Radiation Is Actually Not Bad For Us Now, It Prevents Brain Disorders [AJ]
This is one of the most obviously senseless, illogical and foolish studies I have ever seen. Not only is the construct of the study absurd, but the researcher�s discussions and conclusions are so outlandish and unsupported, that they make global warming studies actually look scientific. I find it very suspicious that not even one of these authors had a disclosure statement. Another disturbing fact was that this study was supported by Byrd Alzheimer�s Institute.

This is an obvious attempt by the cell phone industry to further warp (literally) and sway public opinion on the detrimental health effects of cell phone radiation which are increasingly catching the media�s attention.

Electromagnetic frequencies and radiation are emerging health problem of the 21st century. �Cells in the body react to EMFs as potentially harmful, just like to other environmental toxins, including heavy metals and toxic chemicals,� said Martin Blank, PhD.

�Based on the existing science, many public health experts believe it is possible we will face an epidemic of cancers in the future resulting from uncontrolled use of cell phones and increased population exposure to WiFi and other wireless devices. Thus it is important that all of us, and especially children, restrict our use of cell phones, limit exposure to background levels of Wi-Fi, and that government and industry discover ways in which to allow use of wireless devices without such elevated risk of serious disease,� said David Carpenter, MD.

�Radio frequency radiation and other forms of electromagnetic pollution are harmful at orders of magnitude well below existing guidelines,� said Magda Havas, PhD.

�The overall problem with environmental electromagnetism is much deeper, not only of concern at power line frequencies, but also in the radiofrequency range encompassing mobile phones. Here the public�s continuing exposure to electromagnetic radiation is largely connected to money. Indeed the tens of billions of dollars in sales one finds in the cell phone industry makes it mandatory to corporate leaders that they deny, in knee-jerk fashion, any indication of hazard,� said Abraham R. Liboff, PhD .

Dodd headed to Treasury? [BF]
This morning, The Atlantic�s Marc Ambinder reported that retiring Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) may be offered a job in the Obama administration. �Privately, senior White House officials have communicated to Dodd their belief that his position was untenable. A sinecure or administration position is likely,� he wrote. Roll Call further speculates that Treasury Secretary could be a possibility:

"Speculation has also begun about potential employment for Dodd in the Obama administration.

"For instance, several Democratic Senate aides noted that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is an extremely unpopular figure in the Senate. Geithner has also taken the brunt of the criticism for the administration�s handling of the economy and, these sources speculated, if the country�s financial picture does not brighten before Election Day, he could be the first secretary to leave the administration."

Beach man among ex-Xe guards charged in Afghan deaths
Drotleff and Cannon are charged with second-degree murder, attempted murder and firearms offenses in the 2009 incident, which occurred while they were working for Paravant, a subsidiary of Moyock, N.C.-based Xe [formerly known as Blackwater].

If convicted, they could be sentenced to life in prison or death.

According to the indictment, they were providing weapons training to the Afghan National Army. Paravant was working for the U.S. Defense Department as a subcontractor to Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon Co.

According to news reports at the time, Drotleff, Cannon and two other Xe contractors were off-duty when they became involved in a traffic accident with a civilian vehicle in Kabul, the Afghan capital.

Perceiving the other vehicle as a threat, the contractors fired on it, the U.S. military said.. The Wall Street Journal quoted a person familiar with the incident as saying that at least some of the men had been drinking.

PAM COMMENTARY: A little more detail on the murder charges in this lengthy article, but the rest is for the jury to decide.

Human sacrifices 'on the rise in Uganda' as witch doctors admit to rituals [R]
One man said he had clients who had captured children and taken their blood and body parts to his shrine, while another confessed to killing at least 70 people including his own son.

The latter has now given up the ritual and is campaigning to stamp it out, according to BBC News.

The African country's government claimed human sacrifice was on the increase.

According to officials trying to tackle it, the crime is directly linked to rising levels of development and prosperity - and an increasing belief that witchcraft can help people get rich quickly.

PAM COMMENTARY: Uganda brings back memories for me. Back in the 80s, I met a Ugandan woman through friends at UW. She was about to take a journey to Kenya, I think, because she could pose as a Kenyan citizen and go through the border without showing ID. This was important because she'd left Uganada back when Idi Amin was going nuts there, and her passport said "Refugee." She explained to me that even though Amin was no longer in power, she could still get in trouble with the government for coming back as a refugee. So she had to take extra precautions to visit her family back in Uganda. In addition to that complicating factor, her family had trouble getting decent consumer goods in Uganda (whether due to product shortages or poverty I don't know), and so she was packing her suitcase with things like shoes to take back to them. Quite a complicated little trip, but I heard later that she made it back to the states alive, so at least it worked out for her.

Fed Advice to A.I.G. Scrutinized
New revelations that the government stopped the American International Group from revealing information about its bailout had securities lawyers and policy makers buzzing on Thursday about whether the information had to be disclosed under federal securities law, and if so, what to do about the lack of compliance.

Joel Seligman, a historian of the Securities and Exchange Commission, said the disclosure rules were supposed to apply to all public companies, with only a few narrow exceptions for things like trade secrets and national security. There was no exception for �too big to fail� companies on federal life support, he said. Companies are supposed to disclose all information that could be material, though that term is not clearly defined.

�When an organization is troubled, it actually makes disclosures of this kind more important,� Mr. Seligman said.

Tip of the Iceberg; Spitzer, Black, and Partnoy call for release of AIG documents
In a December New York Times op-ed, we called for the full public release of AIG email messages, internal accounting documents and financial models generated in the last decade. Today, a Bloomberg story revealed that under Timothy Geithner's leadership, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York told AIG to withhold details from the public about its payments to banks during the crisis. This information was discovered when emails between the company and the Fed were requested by representative Darrell Issa, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The emails requested by Issa span five months beginning in November 2008. If five months of emails reveal information key to our understanding of the aftermath of the crisis, imagine what 10 years of emails could contribute to our understanding of its causes. We believe the AIG emails and other internal company documents are the 'black box' of the financial crisis. If we understand the failure of AIG, we will more fully understand the crisis -- what caused it and more importantly how to prevent it from happening again.

Toronto Humane Society star arrested; THS agent once hailed for saving trapped dog charged with impersonating a peace officer
Tre Smith, the movie star-handsome public face of the Toronto Humane Society who once smashed a car window to save a dehydrated dog, has joined the slate of high-profile employees arrested as part of an ongoing OSPCA investigation.

Taken out of the THS headquarters at Queen and River Sts. in handcuffs Thursday afternoon, Smith is charged with one count of perjury and two counts of impersonating a peace officer.

A senior THS agent, Smith is accused of continuing to act as an animal cruelty investigator despite his suspension last June when the OSPCA stripped the THS of its affiliate status.

"The top priority was animal care," said Chris Avery, lawyer for the OSPCA, when asked why Smith's arrest came so long after five other key staff members were charged with animal cruelty and obstructing peace officers last November.

Viva Palestina Aid Convoy Arrives in Gaza, George Galloway Describes �Desperate� Situation [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe the condition of Gaza? It�s been a year since the Israeli assault. You were there last year also trying to bring in aid.

GEORGE GALLOWAY: It�s desperate. If I give you a tiny example only to give you an example, I�m here in quite a nice hotel, except there is no food in the hotel. There�s no food for breakfast, there�s no food for lunch. Now I make that point only to illustrate that if there�s no food in the best hotel in Gaza, imagine what the people are suffering. I�ve watched with my own eyes Palestinian women and girls in the early morning mists on top of garbage heaps, combing through the garbage heaps looking for food. In an Arab Muslim country in 2009 and �10, it�s a absolutely scandalous situation.

And, Amy, remember why and how it came about. It�s been imposed by men. It�s not a natural disaster. It�s been imposed by men to punish the people of Palestine for voting for a party in a free election that the big powers, including yours and mine and Israel, don�t like. Now, I myself would not have voted for them; I�m not a Hamas supporter. But the only people entitled to choose the leadership of the Palestinians are the Palestinians themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you been meeting�as a British member of Parliament, did you meet with any Egyptian leaders? And is there an explanation of why the Gaza Freedom March was kept out�they allowed in about a hundred people, but many refused under those conditions�and why the Egyptian government is stopping these peace activists from entering Gaza?

GEORGE GALLOWAY: Well, I�m glad to say that at every stage we insisted on all of our convoy entering Gaza, and we refused to leave Al-Arish without our prisoners, six people who were being held prisoner by the Egyptian government�s forces. And we refused to accept the exclusion from Egypt of some of our convoy members, all of whom were initially excluded, but all, in the end, were let in and are with me in Gaza. So, in terms of solidarity, I�m proud of what we have achieved.

No, there�s no explanation from the Egyptian regime at all. How could there be, in a way? How do you explain to anyone that Egypt, once the heart of the Arab world, is now playing a part in building an iron wall of shame around a suffering people who are being effectively starved, they hope, into surrender, but if not into surrender, then into death?

PAM COMMENTARY: How many politicians would go through so much to help people in need? Few can measure up to Galloway. Try to read or listen to the entire interview if you can -- it's shocking.

Bristol aid convoy reaches Gaza after battle with riot police
Despite clashes with Egyptian riot police, the Viva Palestina aid convoy � including volunteers and trucks from Bristol � have reached Gaza to deliver humanitarian supplies to the besieged population.

Flowers were thrown on the windscreens of the 200-strong convoy, which left the UK on December 5, as the vehicles finally entered the Palestinian territory.

The head of the Bristol-Gaza-Link Association spoke of her relief that the convoy�s goal had been reached and the fears for the volunteers during clashes last night with Egyptian authorities.

"We're all so relieved! People in Bristol have been raising funds and collecting aid for months throughout the autumn," said Hasina Khan.

"I don't think we quite knew what we were taking on, or quite how difficult it was going to be. We've felt the success of our convoy, and even the safety of our friends, have hung in the balance many times. I can't describe the joy and happiness of knowing they've finally made it to Gaza!"

PAM COMMENTARY: This reminds me of claims leading up to Gulf War II from the Bush administration, saying that people would throw flowers at US troops for "liberating" them from Saddam Hussein. As this article shows, people generally throw flowers when you do something NICE for them. If the something you do isn't so nice, then maybe you'll get a shoe in lieu of flowers...

Lawsuits by Iraqis Over Security Firm Are Settled
The lawsuits sought compensation for deaths and injuries. Unlike federal probes that have specifically targeted company contractors for their actions, the civil lawsuits accused the Moyock, N.C.-based company -- and founder Erik Prince -- of producing a climate in which it was acceptable for innocent Iraqis to die.

"Mr. Prince personally directed and permitted a heavily-armed private army ... to roam the streets of Baghdad killing innocent civilians," one of the lawsuits said.

The terms of the settlement were not released, and Blackwater declined to discuss them.

Relief from the lawsuits was a second major legal development for a company that has been beleaguered by federal, congressional and civil scrutiny. A federal judge last week dismissed charges against the Blackwater contractors that were involved in the 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square.

That decision enraged many Iraqis, who saw it as proof of what they long suspected -- that security contractors were above the law. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Monday vowed to seek punishment of the Blackwater guards, saying that Iraq would not "abandon our right to punish this firm."

The lawsuits covered that shooting and more, including the 2006 killing of an Iraqi guard, the February 2007 killings of three people guarding the Iraqi Media Network and another shooting that occurred a week before the killings at Nisoor Square that attorneys said killed three people.

Blackwater changed its name to Xe last year, saying its brand had been tarnished by its work in Iraq. The company had contracts with the U.S. government to provide security for diplomats and other figures in Iraq, though executives have said the company is shifting its focus away from that type of work. Iraqi leaders last year refused to provide Blackwater a license to operate there.

Two former Blackwater employees face murder charges
Two former Blackwater contractors who were involved in a Kabul, Afghanistan, shooting that left two Afghans dead and a third injured have been charged with murder, the Justice Department announced today.

The charges are the latest against employees associated with the military contractor formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide and now known as Xe. The company has been a key part of the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A 13-count indictment charges Justin Cannon, 27, and Chris Drotleff, 29, with second-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. Each faces two counts of second-degree murder, one count of attempted murder, six counts of using and discharging a firearm during a violent crime, and four counts of murder resulting from the use of a firearm during a violent crime.

If convicted, they could face the death penalty or life in prison, the Justice Department said. The indictment was returned in the Eastern District of Virginia.

EPA replacing Bush smog limit with stricter rule
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed stricter health standards for smog, replacing a Bush-era limit that ran counter to scientific recommendations.

The new limits -- which are presented as a range -- will likely put hundreds more counties nationwide in violation, a designation that will require them to find additional ways to clamp down on pollution or face government sanctions, most likely the loss of federal highway dollars.

The tighter standards will cost tens of billions of dollars to implement, but will ultimately save billions in avoided emergency room visits, premature deaths, and missed work and school days, the EPA said.

The proposed range was what scientists had recommended during the Bush administration. However, former President George W. Bush personally intervened and set the standard above what was advised after protests from electric utilities and other industries. The Bush standard was still stricter than the previous smog standard set in 1997.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement Thursday that science, this time around, had been followed.

Scientists decry impacts of mountaintop coal mining
Mountaintop coal mining -- in which Appalachian peaks are blasted off and stream valleys buried under tons of rubble -- is so destructive that the government should stop giving out new permits to do it, a group of scientists said in a paper released Thursday.

The group, headed by a University of Maryland researcher, did one of the most comprehensive studies to date of the controversial practice, also known as "mountaintop removal."

Afterward, they did something that scientists usually don't: step beyond data-gathering to take a political stand.

"Until somebody can show that the water [that runs off mine sites] can be cleaned up . . . this has got to be stopped," said Margaret Palmer, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, and the study's lead author.

For now, Palmer said, "there is no evidence that things like this can be fixed."

The group's paper, published in the journal Science, was released in the same week that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- which has been closely scrutinizing these mines -- angered environmentalists by supporting a new mine permit. The EPA said the Hobet 45 mine, in West Virginia, had made changes that would eliminate nearly 50 percent of the environmental impacts, and protect 460 union mining jobs.

Reagan grandson arrested in Van Nuys [Updated]
Officers responded to a panic button call on the 4700 block of Allot Avenue about 12:20 a.m. and found Reagan exiting a rear door. He was drinking and "very uncooperative," Borihanh said. Police did not know who was home at the time or who pushed the panic button.

[Updated at 9:11 a.m.: Reagan's father, Michael, said his son did not know that he had tripped an alarm when he arrived home with friends early this morning. When Cameron Reagan heard a commotion outside, he went outside and found the house surrounded by police, Michael Reagan said, according to the Associated Press.]

[Updated at 9:20 a.m.: Michael Reagan, who no longer lives in the home, said the alarm goes directly to the police station. "They surround the house with police cars because of who we are," he told the AP, adding that his son did not understand what was happening and panicked. "There was a lot of misunderstanding at 1 a.m."]

Cameron Reagan has had previous brushes with the law. In 2001, a judge ordered him to attend drug rehab and anger management after he was found with marijuana. In 1999, he was convicted of receiving stolen property. Earlier, he was convicted of vandalism.

Reagan has suffered from attention-deficit disorder since childhood, which attorneys in 2001 said caused him to drop out of college and made him unable to hold a job. At one point, according to court documents, Reagan was destitute and living on the streets.

Reagan is the son of Michael and Colleen Reagan. Michael Reagan, the adopted son of the former president and his first wife, Jane Wyman, is a nationally syndicated talk radio host and a Fox News contributor.

PAM COMMENTARY: His father Michael is the right-wing-nut who said he'd pay for the bullets to shoot 9/11 truthers. Here's a special message for his kid Cameron from me personally: It's all your dad's fault, kid. No matter how screwed up you are, don't blame yourself. Wow, you're strong. It's hard to believe anyone survived childhood with that guy. It makes me feel even more grateful for the wonderful father I had, and reminds me that not everyone had that advantage growing up. You're tough, so feel special.

Video shows Japanese whaling ship ramming Sea Shepherd conservation speedboat, appears to be deliberate
PAM COMMENTARY: This is the video we've been waiting for -- an UNEDITED view of the Sea Shepherd speedboat Ady Gil being rammed by a Japanese whaling ship. Yesterday I linked to a video put out by the whaling group that was edited several times, and didn't show the impact itself.

Instead, this video is unedited (continuous video without breaks in the footage), and it has a much better vantage point to see the accident. The footage was apparently shot by the Sea Shepherd group itself, and includes audio during the incident, with people saying "Whoa!" many times, as well as the expletive "F--k!" followed by, "They hit it? Did they?"

It appears from this video that the speedboat was at a near-standstill but moving forward very slowly, perhaps from drift after stopping, or on low throttle to avoid being tossed by waves from the side. Its port side is facing the other ship, meaning that it had the right of way at sea at the time of the accident (unlike the highly edited Japanese video that I linked to yesterday seemed to show). They also didn't make any sudden turns or tight maneuvers just before the accident.

In contrast, the whaling vessel was moving at a surprisingly fast clip for such a large ship, and appears to have corrected course TWICE in order to "aim" for the speedboat. If the whaling ship had been proceeding slowly and only turned once, I may have believed in the possibility of an honest mistake -- perhaps it was human error, or the boat couldn't turn quickly enough to correct course. However, after the whalers turned starboard once and appeared to have a chance of missing the speedboat, they suddenly corrected to their port side, thus ensuring their ship's bow would plow straight into the Ady Gil. I'd then think that there could be one more possible explanation for the whaling crew's actions, the physical limitations of a large boat in making tight and quick turns at sea -- but then that theory is proven wrong as the whaling ship takes a sharp turn to the port side after the accident, proving that the ship was in fact physically capable of turning away from the speedboat and avoiding the earlier accident altogether, if the crew had wanted to do so.

Of course it will be up to courts and diplomats to sort this one out, and there is the issue of the conservation group putting its boat in that position in the first place. But then you have to consider -- why does Japan need whale meat that badly? What, are they starving to death and whales are the only species left to fish? It's just an issue of profit over there, and Japanese consumers could be more responsible and just not buy whale meat, or its profiteers could observe the international laws on whaling and sell something else. Really, that's the best answer for everyone involved.

Australia and New Zealand to investigate Sea Shepherd collision; Video shows Japanese Whaling Ship Hitting Smaller Sppedboat
Australia and New Zealand are to launch separate investigations into yesterday's collision between a Japanese whaling ship and a speedboat belonging to the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd.

The Australian government stopped short of sending a patrol ship to Antarctic waters a day after anti-whaling activists claimed their hi-tech boat, the Ady Gil, had been deliberately rammed by the Japanese patrol boat, the Shonan Maru No 2.

The incident, in which one activist suffered cracked ribs, marked a dramatic escalation in hostilities between whalers and campaigners.

Sea Shepherd's founder, Paul Watson, called on the Australian navy to protect the group's remaining ships, the Steve Irwin and a converted harpoon vessel, the Bob Barker.

How interest groups behind health-care legislation are financed is often unclear
But outside such established interest groups is a significant but more elusive collection of organizations, many of them particularly energized in opposition to Democratic health-care reform efforts. Most are organized as nonprofits, meaning they do not have to reveal many financial details beyond basic revenue and expenses. Some are bankrolled by charitable foundations with a political bent or by industries with a financial stake in the debate; nearly all use names that seem designed to obscure their origins.

The Partnership to Improve Patient Care, for example, headed by former congressman Tony Coelho (D-Calif.), was formed by the drug industry in November 2008 to lobby against binding government effectiveness studies, which could be used to determine what insurance companies must cover. The American Council on Science and Health is an industry-friendly group whose board member Betsy McCaughey helped set off the "death panels" frenzy last year.

"It's sort of like money-laundering their PR," said Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal-leaning group that runs a Web site called PRWatch.org. "A lot of these groups are heavily funded by corporations and then don't reveal it. They try to imply that they are funded primarily by individuals, but that's clearly not the case."

The Center for Medicine in the Public Interest (CMPI) is a New York-based think tank headed by Peter Pitts, a former Food and Drug Administration official who appears frequently on newscasts condemning Democratic health-care proposals. CMPI is an offshoot of the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute, which has received foundation grants over the years from Philip Morris, Pfizer and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, according to public records.

While serving as president of CMPI, Pitts also works as the global health-care chief at Porter Novelli, a New York public relations firm whose clients include Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, Wyeth and Pfizer. He acknowledges that CMPI also receives money from the pharmaceutical industry, which is supporting reform legislation in exchange for a White House promise to limit cuts.

Pitts said he sees no conflict between his two roles, saying the jobs "are completely separate." Tax filings show that Pitts earned a $250,000 salary from CMPI in 2007, when he also headed another firm's global health-care practice.

Israel now able to defend itself with rockets
Israel has completed its �Iron Dome� security system, which is designed to intercept multiple threats.

Israeli defence officials have said the dome proved itself to be effective by successfully intercepting many rockets during a military exercise.

According to the military, the system is designed to protect Israelis from attacks by militants in Gaza and Lebanon.

The system, which is effective against short-range rockets like those used by Gaza and Lebanese militants, will be ready to go into operation by May.

It uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and shoot them down within seconds of their launch.

The Israel Defence Ministry has described the system�s ability to change its calculations to account for weather or other conditions in fractions of a second, before firing projectiles that home in on the rockets, detonating them in the sky.

PAM COMMENTARY: I'm skeptical of any missile system that supposedly can intercept rockets in flight. Remember how the US government claimed the Patriot Missile was over 90% effective during the Gulf War, then we found out later that it hardly hit anything other than a UK jet, killing the crew members? Time for a few flashbacks...

US Patriot missile downs RAF Tornado in "friendly fire" incident, kills crew members (FLASHBACK)
In a written statement, Caplin said that there were several contributory factors which led to the deaths of crewmen Flt Lt Kevin Main and Flt Lt David Williams in March 2003: "Like most aircraft accidents, no single cause was to blame. The board of inquiry has established the causes of this tragic accident and has highlighted the various factors that contributed to it."

These factors include failure of the aircraft's "identification friend or foe" (IFF) system and the "wide classification criteria" of the patriot's anti-radiation missile recognition system.

Put simply, the Tornado failed to identify itself as friendly, and was then classified as an enemy rocket by the Patriot battery, which promptly shot it down.

Furthermore, an inquiry into the incident "painted a picture of inexperienced US troops, heavily reliant on technology to make decisions, but lacking crucial equipment which could have helped them identify the Tornado as a friendly aircraft".

Doubts raised about the Patriot's reliability and performance (FLASHBACK)
The list of threats is significant here. In fact, the Patriot was hurriedly modified for anti-ballistic missile service in Desert Storm. It was heralded as a great success at the time for its performance against Scuds - particularly in Israel - but later analysis told a different story.

The tally of Scuds claimed was, in fact, fictitious. An initial kill rate of 40-50 per cent soon became a mere 5-10 per cent. Worse still, Patriot suffered from a serious software problem which quickly manifested itself with disastrous results:

"On February 25, 1991, a Patriot missile defense system operating at Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, during Operation Desert Storm failed to track and intercept an incoming Scud. This Scud subsequently hit an Army barracks, killing 28 Americans. This report responds to your request that we review the facts associated with this incident and determine if a computer software problem was involved. If so, you asked that we provide information on what the specific software problem was, and what has been done to correct it."

That's the first paragraph of a 1992 report by the Information Management and Technology Division of the General Accounting Office in response to a request by Howard Wolpe, Chairman, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, House of Representatives.

Patriot Missiles a Failure in Gulf War (FLASHBACK) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about your debunking of, in 1991 after the Gulf War, the what was considered the star at the time, the Patriot missiles, and how successful they were in dealing with taking out the scuds. You came to a very different conclusion that so outraged Raytheon, that made the Patriot missile, and the Pentagon, that they classified your findings, your studying of the videotape. Explain what you found.

THEODORE POSTOL: Well, first of all, classifying the public information is not consistent with a democratic process, and I did not acquiesce to their claims. But what my colleagues and I found is that the Patriot was essentially a total failure in the Gulf War of 1991. This is now widely accepted as truth. When we first raised the question, the US Army had told the Congress that the Patriot was 96% effective in the Gulf War of 1991. We found that it almost certainly failed to intercept a single scud warhead in the entire war.

So this was an important result, not so much because of its implications for the war of 1991, since very little was done in terms of military consequence from the incoming scuds, but it was very important in the political debate that followed, where people were trying to make this falsely represented success into an argument for a complete and comprehensive missile defense that would be global.

And so, there are two levels to this, like in many situations: there�s a political level and a technical level. And today I�ve been focusing on the technical level, because I think you have very competent people on this panel who can speak to the political level. So I�m just trying to add reality to the discussion, in terms of the technical possibilities.

Israel Plays Down Effectiveness of Patriot Missile (FLASHBACK)
WASHINGTON, Oct. 30� Senior Israeli scientists and military officers have disclosed new information indicating that the American Patriot missiles used in Israel in the Persian Gulf war destroyed far fewer Scud missile warheads than previously believed, Israeli and Defense Department officials said today.

Over the last few weeks, senior Israeli Air Force officers and civilian scientists have related these new findings to military analysts in Israel and to senior researchers at the Pentagon.

They indicate that the Patriots destroyed fewer than 44 percent of the Iraqi Scud missile warheads, the figure both the Israeli Government and the missile's manufacturer, the Raytheon Corporation, had offered immediately after the war.

Under the new analysis, the estimate ranges between zero and 20 percent of the warheads.

Pentagon and Israeli officials say the new analysis contributes to a continuing re-evaluation of a defense system that was hailed as a high-technology hero of the war.

An Israeli official acknowledged today that there is "strong evidence to suggest" that the number of Scud warheads destroyed "may be lower," than the Government's official estimate.

Tragic heiress Casey Johnson 'spent final days in rat-infested slum with no water or electricity'
Tragic heiress Casey Johnson lived her final days in squalor in a rubbish-strewn slum with no electricity, water or gas, and rats in her swimming pool.

Cut off from her family fortune, the 30-year-old Johnson & Johnson scion�s privileged life spiralled out of control into a drug-fuelled hell, according to reports in the U.S.

Police were still investigating the circumstances surrounding Ms Johnson�s death after her body was discovered on Monday at her West Hollywood home.

But last night, friends said the heiress was broke as she battled diabetes and emotional demons in the final months of her life.

She reportedly lived without basic utilities at her rented home because she couldn�t afford to pay the bills and kept her Porsche hidden in the garage to prevent it from being repossessed.

PAM COMMENTARY: Shocking if true, although a lot of people are having a hard time with the bad economy, especially in California. With her network of friends you'd think she'd at least get a loan, but she may have been too proud to ask for help.

33 Conspiracy Theories That Turned Out To Be True, What Every Person Should Know [AJ]
Conspiracy theory is a term that originally was a neutral descriptor for any claim of civil, criminal or political conspiracy. However, it has come almost exclusively to refer to any fringe theory which explains a historical or current event as the result of a secret plot by conspirators of almost superhuman power and cunning. To conspire means �to join in a secret agreement to do an unlawful or wrongful act or to use such means to accomplish a lawful end.� The term �conspiracy theory� is frequently used by scholars and in popular culture to identify secret military, banking, or political actions aimed at stealing power, money, or freedom, from �the people�.

To many, conspiracy theories are just human nature. Not all people in this world are honest, hard working and forthcoming about their intentions. Certainly we can all agree on this. So how did the term �conspiracy theory� get grouped in with fiction, fantasy and folklore? Maybe that�s a conspiracy, just kidding. Or am I?

Skeptics are important in achieving an objective view of reality, however, skeptism is not the same as reinforcing the official storyline. In fact, a conspiracy theory can be argued as an alternative to the official or �mainstream� story of events. Therefore, when skeptics attempt to ridicule a conspiracy theory by using the official story as a means of proving the conspiracy wrong, in effect, they are just reinforcing the original �mainstream� view of history, and actually not being skeptical. This is not skeptism, it is just a convenient way for the establishment view of things to be seen as the correct version, all the time, every time. In fact, it is common for �hit pieces� or �debunking articles� to pick extremely fringe and not very populated conspiracy theories. This in turn makes all conspiracies on a subject matter look crazy. Skeptics magazine and Popular Mechanics, among many others, did this with 9/11. They referred to less than 10% of the many different conspiracy theories about 9/11 and picked the less popular ones, in fact, they picked the fringe, highly improbable points that only a few people make. This was used as the �final investigation� for looking into the conspiracy theories. Convenient, huh?

Humanitarian convoy reaches Gaza
British members of a humanitarian convoy are finally travelling into Gaza following clashes with Egyptian police.

Around 520 people on board about 150 trucks full of supplies were involved in violent scenes at the port city of El Arish, near Gaza.

Protests reportedly broke out when Egyptian authorities at El Arish ordered some lorries to use an Israeli-controlled checkpoint.

The activists, led by MP George Galloway, wanted the goods to be transported via Egypt's Rafah crossing.

After negotiations, an agreement was reached to allow 139 of the lorries and vans to pass through the Egyptian territory.

Mr Galloway's parliamentary assistant Kevin Ovenden, 41, who is travelling with the party, said the convoy was relieved to be back on the move.

PAM COMMENTARY: So far I've only seen one other report claiming that the convoy has reached Gaza, and that was a few sentences from an Israeli news service. We'll see if it's true as more news breaks.

Study Turns up 10 Autism Clusters in California [R]
CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. researchers have identified 10 locations in California that have double the rates of autism found in surrounding areas, and these clusters were located in neighborhoods with high concentrations of white, highly educated parents.

Researchers at the University of California Davis had hoped to uncover pockets of autism that might reveal clues about triggers in the environment that could explain rising rates of autism, which affects as many as one in 110 U.S. children.

But the findings likely say more about the U.S. healthcare system than the causes of autism, said researcher Irva Hertz-Picciotto of UC Davis' MIND Institute, whose study will be released online on Wednesday in the journal Autism Research.

Advocacy groups have been clamoring for treatment options and for better research to show what might be causing an apparent increase in autism cases.

PAM COMMENTARY: Could it be that parents with that profile are better able to afford all of the recommended vaccines for their kids?

Israeli airstrike on Gaza kills two, injures three
At least two Palestinian resistance fighter have been killed and three others critically injured in an Israeli airstrike on southern Gaza.

Israeli warplanes struck the Gaza Strip late on Tuesday near the southern city of Khan Yunis, Reuters reported.

The Popular Resistance Committees said its members had been targeted by the attack.

German official demands inquiry into alleged CIA "assassins" plot
Hamburg's top security official called Wednesday for an inquiry into media claims that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) deployed assassins in the city in 2004, DPA reported.

US magazine Vanity Fair said this week it would be publishing a story that the CIA sent a team from the private security firm Blackwater, now Xe, to Hamburg to "find, fix and finish" an alleged al-Qaeda fund-raiser, Mamoun Darkazanli, 51.

Christoph Ahlhaus, interior minister of Hamburg state, said he wanted the German government to check the claims out. Earlier, a Berlin spokesman said the government had it had no knowledge of such an operation.

On Monday, Hamburg prosecutors said they would study the claims.

Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy (excerpt below from page 4 of this article)
Off and on, Black and Richer�s onetime partner Ric Prado, first with the C.I.A., then as a Blackwater employee, worked quietly with Prince as his vice president of �special programs� to provide the agency with what every intelligence service wants: plausible deniability. Shortly after 9/11, President Bush had issued a �lethal finding,� giving the C.I.A. the go-ahead to kill or capture al-Qaeda members. (Under an executive order issued by President Gerald Ford, it had been illegal since 1976 for U.S. intelligence operatives to conduct assassinations.) As a seasoned case officer, Prado helped implement the order by putting together a small team of �blue-badgers,� as government agents are known. Their job was threefold: find, fix, and finish. Find the designated target, fix the person�s routine, and, if necessary, finish him off. When the time came to train the hit squad, the agency, insiders say, turned to Prince. Wary of attracting undue attention, the team practiced not at the company�s North Carolina compound but at Prince�s own domain, an hour outside Washington, D.C. The property looks like an outpost of the landed gentry, with pastures and horses, but also features less traditional accents, such as an indoor firing range. Once again, Prince has Wild Bill on his mind, observing that �the O.S.S. trained during World War II on a country estate.�

Among the team�s targets, according to a source familiar with the program, was Mamoun Darkazanli, an al-Qaeda financier living in Hamburg who had been on the agency�s radar for years because of his ties to three of the 9/11 hijackers and to operatives convicted of the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in East Africa. The C.I.A. team supposedly went in �dark,� meaning they did not notify their own station�much less the German government�of their presence; they then followed Darkazanli for weeks and worked through the logistics of how and where they would take him down. Another target, the source says, was A. Q. Khan, the rogue Pakistani scientist who shared nuclear know-how with Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The C.I.A. team supposedly tracked him in Dubai. In both cases, the source insists, the authorities in Washington chose not to pull the trigger. Khan�s inclusion on the target list, however, would suggest that the assassination effort was broader than has previously been acknowledged. (Says agency spokesman Gimigliano, �[The] C.I.A. hasn�t discussed�despite some mischaracterizations that have appeared in the public domain�the substance of this effort or earlier ones.�)

The source familiar with the Darkazanli and Khan missions bristles at public comments that current and former C.I.A. officials have made: �They say the program didn�t move forward because [they] didn�t have the right skill set or because of inadequate cover. That�s untrue. [The operation continued] for a very long time in some places without ever being discovered. This program died because of a lack of political will.�

Group slams Chertoff on scanner promotion
WASHINGTON - Since the attempted bombing of a US airliner on Christmas Day, former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has given dozens of media interviews touting the need for the federal government to buy more full-body scanners for airports.

What he has made little mention of is that the Chertoff Group, his security consulting agency, includes a client that manufactures the machines. Chertoff disclosed the relationship on a CNN program Wednesday, in response to a question.

An airport passengers� rights group on Thursday criticized Chertoff�s use of his former government credentials to advocate for a product that benefits his clients.

�Mr. Chertoff should not be allowed to abuse the trust the public has placed in him as a former public servant to privately gain from the sale of full-body scanners under the pretense that the scanners would have detected this particular type of explosive,�� said Kate Hanni, founder of FlyersRights.org, which opposes the use of the scanners.

Chertoff�s advocacy for the technology dates to his time in the Bush administration. In 2005, Homeland Security ordered the government�s first batch of the scanners - five from California-based Rapiscan Systems. Rapiscan is one of only two companies that make full-body scanners in accordance with current contract specifications required by the federal government.

Ottawa ordered airline scanners months ago: Baird [WRH]
Transport Minister John Baird says Canada must improve its airline security in the wake of a failed U.S. terror attack -- but he insists that Ottawa is not following the lead of Washington on security issues.

Baird announced Tuesday afternoon that body scanners that can see through the clothes of air travellers will be installed at airports across Canada over the next two months. Under the new system, travellers who are singled out for extra screening will be able to choose whether they prefer to undergo a pat-down search or to be scanned by trained security staff.

On Wednesday morning, Baird told CTV's Canada AM that Canada chose to pursue the high-tech scanner technology months ago, putting an order in to manufacturers "before the United States were in the queue...and before some of the countries in Europe."

"We're taking the leadership in this. We have to move quickly and expeditiously, we're confident that these are the best machines available on the market and they are the only ones recognized by the (U.S.) Transportation Security Administration, so that was an important part of our decision," Baird said during an interview from Ottawa.

�Obama Has Kept the Machine Set on Kill��Journalist and Activist Allan Nairn Reviews Obama�s First Year in Office
ANJALI KAMAT: So, Allan, what would you say is the difference between the preceding eight years under the Bush administration and this past year, as we move forward under Obama?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, in this respect, on matters I was just talking about, there�s no substantive difference. In fact, as far as one can tell, Obama seems to have killed more civilians during his first year than Bush did in his first year, and maybe even than Bush killed in his final year, because not only has Obama kept the machine set on kill, but he had his special project, which is Pakistan and Afghanistan. He used this to get elected. He had to prove himself. He had to go through what the New York Times once called the �presidential initiation rite,� under which each president must, in their words, demonstrate his willingness to shed blood. Obama did that by saying, �I�m going to attack more vigorously Afghanistan and Pakistan.� And he�s brought chaos.

I mean, you just saw the report from Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has squeezed the Pakistani military to attack their own tribal and border areas with extensive civilian death and retaliation from the residents of those areas through a series of bombings across the major cities of Pakistan.

Likewise in Somalia, Bush backed Ethiopia in an invasion of Somalia, basically an Ethiopian-US invasion of Somalia. Now Obama is pumping in new arms, new weapons, into the midst of the killing and chaos there. Somalis are streaming into Yemen as refugees. The already disastrous level of hunger and starvation is increasing. His body count probably exceeds that of Bush.

PAM COMMENTARY: Nairn is famous for his reporting along with Amy Goodman from East Timor, where the journalists were beaten by Indonesian military occupying the country at the time. From the Wikipedia entry on Nairn (which sounds OK as far as I know, but Wikipedia is often inaccurate in some of its details): "In 1991, covering developments in East Timor, Nairn and fellow journalist Amy Goodman were badly beaten by Indonesian soldiers after they witnessed a mass killing of Timorese demonstrators in what became known as the Dili Massacre. He was beaten with the butts of M16 rifles and had his skull fractured in the melee. Nairn was declared a 'threat to national security' and banned from East Timor, but he re-entered several times illegally, and his subsequent reports helped convince the U.S. Congress to cut off military aid to Jakarta in 1993. In a dispatch from in East Timor on March 30, 1998, Nairn disclosed the continuing U.S. military training of Indonesian troops implicated in the torture and killing of civilians. In 1999, Nairn was detained briefly by the Indonesian Army."

Episode 37: NIH Zeros In on Research Conflicts (Audio comments)
The National Institutes of Health wants to make sure that the researchers it subsidizes don't also receive money from drug companies. That could put universities under greater pressure to keep tabs on their scholars, say Paul Basken and Sara Hebel.

PAM COMMENTARY: We'll see if NIH is really able to resolve such conflicts -- usually such moves are talked about when criticism is heavy, but then they back off later. (Note that you have to press the little "play" button with a triangle on it for their comments to start playing.)

Japanese Whalers Ram Sea Shepherd Ship Ady Gil; Famed Catamaran is sinking in the Southern Ocean, Six crewmembers Rescued by the Sea Shepherd Ship Bob Barker
In an unprovoked attack captured on film, the Japanese security ship Shonan Maru No. 2 deliberately rammed and caused catastrophic damage to the Sea Shepherd catamaran Ady Gil.

Six crew crewmembers, four from New Zealand, one from Australia, and one from the Netherlands were immediately rescued by the crew of the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker. None of the crew Ady Gil crew were injured.

The Ady Gil is believed to be sinking and chances of salvage are very grim.

According to eyewitness Captain Chuck Swift on the Bob Barker, the attack happened while the vessels were dead in the water. The Shonan Maru No. 2 suddenly started up and deliberately rammed the Ady Gil ripping eight feet of the bow of the vessel completely off. According to Captain Swift, the vessel does not look like it will be saved.

�The Japanese whalers have now escalated this conflict very violently,� said Captain Paul Watson. �If they think that our remaining two ships will retreat from the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in the face of their extremism, they will be mistaken. We now have a real whale war on our hands now and we have no intention of retreating.�

Captain Paul Watson onboard the Steve Irwin is racing towards the area at 16 knots but still remains some five hundred miles to the north. The Bob Barker has temporarily stopped the pursuit of the Nisshin Maru to rescue the crew of the Ady Gil. The Japanese ships initially refused to acknowledge the May Day distress of the Ady Gil, but ultimately did acknowledge the call. Despite acknowledging the call, they did not offer to assist the Ady Gil or the Bob Barker in any way.

The incident took place at 64 Degrees and 03 Minutes South and 143 Degrees and 09 Minutes East

Until this morning the Japanese were completely unaware of the existence of the Bob Barker. This newest addition to the Sea Shepherd fleet left Mauritius off the coast of Africa on December 18th and was able to advance along the ice edge from the West as the Japanese were busy worrying about the advance of the Steve Irwin from the North.

PAM COMMENTARY: The web site linked above may change as they add more information. And I'm not sure about Japanese law, but in general when a ship puts out a mayday signal at sea, you have the obligation to render aid if you can.

Dorgan to leave Senate, giving Republicans chance to win North Dakota seat
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) will not run for reelection this year, he said Tuesday, providing Republicans with a major opportunity to pick up a Senate seat in the November midterm elections.

"After a lot of thought, I have made the very difficult decision that I will not be seeking reelection in 2010," the three-term senator said in a statement. "This decision is not a reflection of any dissatisfaction with my work in the Senate, nor is it connected to a potential election contest next fall (frankly, I believe if I were to run for another term I would be reelected)."

Dorgan came to Washington in 1980 as the state's lone congressional representative. He has handily won every election since, drawing less than 60 percent only in his first Senate race in 1992.

"Senator Dorgan should be very proud of his more than 30 years of devoted service in the United States Congress and to the people of North Dakota," President Obama said in a statement.

But Dorgan was facing a potentially serious race in November against his state's popular Republican governor, John Hoeven. Senate strategists indicated that Hoeven was genuinely undecided about the race but that an open Senate seat in the Republican-leaning state -- North Dakota has not voted for a Democrat for president since 1964 -- now makes it very likely that he will run.

Dorgan is the first Democratic senator to announce his retirement in 2010, while six Republican senators, from Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri and New Hampshire, already have said they are not running for reelection this year.

PAM COMMENTARY: Awwww! Dorgan was a good Senator, one of the few who'd stand up to the FDA and big pharmaceutical companies. And ya gotta love all those great charts and graphs. I doubt that North Dakota will come up with anything that good next time around, but we'll see.

Citing Tough Race, Dodd Steps Aside
Senator Christopher J. Dodd, the embattled Connecticut Democrat who was facing an increasingly uncertain bid for a sixth term, announced on Wednesday that he would not run.

Mr. Dodd, 65, a pivotal figure in the push for health care reform and financial regulation, said he had made the decision on Christmas Eve as he stood by the grave of his close friend Senator Edward M. Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery. Mr. Dodd said he went there after the Senate had passed the bill to overhaul the health care system.

�In the long sweep of American history,� he said outside his home in East Haddam, Conn., �there are moments for each elected official to step aside and let others step up. This is my moment to step aside.

He said one reason for his decision was that he was in �the toughest political shape� of his career. His popularity has plummeted amid the fallout from legislation he supported that appeared to clear the way for bonuses for executives of American International Group, the troubled insurance company that received billions in federal bailout money, and low-rate mortgage loans that he took from another company that figured in the financial meltdown, Countrywide Financial.

His short-lived presidential campaign in 2008 also figured in the minds of many Connecticut voters, still unhappy that he moved his family to Iowa before the all-important Democratic caucuses there.

PAM COMMENTARY: Dodd was one of the few who seemed to have a backbone, and he did some good in office. I can't say that I agree with everything that came from him, but I am concerned that Connecticut might send someone much worse after he's gone.

Accused Holocaust museum shooter dies
WASHINGTON - The 89-year-old man accused of a deadly shooting at Washington's Holocaust museum died today in a prison hospital.

At Butner federal prison in North Carolina, spokeswoman Denise Simmons announced that James von Brunn died shortly before 1 p.m. today.

Von Brunn's lawyer, A.J. Kramer, called the death "a sad end to a tragic situation," but declined further comment.

Appeals court overturns Kickapoo casino conviction
A federal appeals court has overturned the embezzlement convictions of a former tribal manager and members of his family who allegedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Texas' first legal casino.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans issued a ruling Tuesday overturning on procedural grounds the conspiracy and theft convictions of Isidro Garza Jr.; his wife, Martha; and son, Timoteo, a former state representative.

Garza, the former manager of the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, was given vast financial oversight of the tribe and the casino near Eagle Pass from 1996 until he was ousted in 2002. He, family members and other tribal employees � the so-called Kickapoo Seven � were indicted in 2004 for allegedly misappropriating funds from the lucrative casino operation for personal purchases and their political aspirations.

The appellate court, however, ruled that the 2007 trial of Garza, his wife and son was wrongly moved to Waco, creating undue hardship by forcing witnesses, family members and attorneys to travel more than 300 miles for the proceedings.

KFC markets 'fiery' wings on fire hydrants
LOUISVILLE (AP) � Fast-food chain KFC is giving two Indiana cities $7,500 so it can emblazon founder Colonel Sanders' face on their hydrants and fire extinguishers to promote new "fiery" chicken wings.

Experts say to expect more ads like this, on public property from sewer grates to the local landfill, as companies look to cut through the clutter of traditional advertising. Cash-strapped governments have long sold space on mass transit, benches, trash cans and other public property to help stretch budgets.

KFC told Indianapolis and nearby Brazil, Ind., that it wanted to improve their fire safety by helping pay for new hydrants and extinguishers in exchange for advertising on them. The company plans to e-mail a national network of mayors on Wednesday to find three more cities to participate in the approximately $15,000, month-long effort, which began Tuesday.

Alternative marketing efforts like this have been growing as people become immune to advertising in print, outdoors and on television, said Allen Adamson, managing director of branding firm Landor Associates in New York.

Israeli delegation cancels UK trip over threat of arrest for war crimes
An Israeli military delegation decided against its planned trip to Britain on Tuesday after their hosts could not guarantee that they would not be arrested on war crimes charges, according to a published report.

"The Israelis called off their trip because their British army hosts could not guarantee they would not be arrested, the Israeli officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter," the Associated Press reported. "Neither the Israeli military nor the British government would comment."

The delegation is the latest in a series of Israeli officials who called off plans to visit the U.K. due to the threat of arrest under the doctrine of "universal jurisdiction."

Universal jurisdiction is a legal theory formed after World War II and practiced by many nations as a way of denying safe haven to war criminals.

Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni was the focus of an arrest warrant issued in London in mid-December after Palestinian complainants brought a universal jurisdiction case against her over Israel's military campaign in Gaza.

Fla. sheriff fears missing lottery winner killed
In 2006, Abraham Shakespeare � a truck driver's assistant who lived with his mother � won $30 million in the Florida lottery. His good fortune may have cost him his life.

Shakespeare vanished months ago. His mother hopes he is somewhere in the Caribbean, lying on a beach and enjoying the good life away from all the hangers-on who were constantly hitting him up for money.

The sheriff has a more ominous theory: Shakespeare was killed.

"There are a lot of odd and bizarre circumstances in this case," Sheriff Grady Judd said. "We fear and are preparing for the worst. We're working this case as if it were a homicide."

Shakespeare, 43, won the big jackpot after buying a lottery ticket at a convenience store in a town called Frostproof, claiming later that he gave the last $3 in his pocket to a homeless man just before the winning numbers were announced.

Egypt Allows Through Gaza Aid Convoy After Protests
RAFAH, Egypt (Reuters) - Egypt has reached a deal with members of an aid convoy to take supplies to Palestinians in Gaza after protests overnight, but Cairo barred their private cars from crossing, an Egyptian security source said.

Cairo had insisted the food and other supplies should enter Gaza via an Israeli-controlled checkpoint but convoy leaders wanted to use the Egyptian-controlled Rafah border crossing.

Overnight, Egyptian security forces and members of the convoy, which is led by left-wing British politician George Galloway, threw stones at each other when tempers frayed over the route the trucks were to take.

And in a further sign of the tensions surrounding the border, an Egyptian soldier was killed and four Palestinians were wounded in a gunbattle in Rafah during a separate protest against an anti-smuggling wall Cairo is building on the Gaza border.

The official Egyptian news agency MENA said 17 Egyptian soldiers were also injured and seven foreign activists were arrested.

The shooting was the most serious incident between Egyptian forces and Hamas since Cairo began an underground steel barrier a month ago. The project could choke off the movement of weapons and goods through tunnels into the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade of the territory, which is ruled by Hamas Islamists who oppose international efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Egypt breaks agreement and prevents entry of Gaza aid convoy, clashes with protesters
An Egyptian border guard was killed and 15 Palestinians injured today in clashes on the Gaza border after an international aid convoy was delayed entering the strip.

The sudden and rare outbreak of violence between Gazans and Egyptians signals growing frustration among Palestinians with Egypt's attempt to seal the border with an underground steel wall to cut off hundreds of smuggling tunnels.

At first, Egyptian security forces clashed with a pro-Palestinian convoy led by the British MP George Galloway which has spent the past month travelling from London to deliver 198 truckloads of aid and supplies to Gaza in a challenge to Israel's economic blockade of the strip. Several protesters and policemen were injured after clashes at el-Arish, an Egyptian port on the Mediterranean, a few miles south of Gaza, where the trucks were waiting.

Later, there were large demonstrations by Palestinians just over the border inside Gaza. Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist movement that won elections four years ago and controls Gaza, called for a protest over the delay of the Viva Palestina aid convoy, which quickly got out of hand. An Egyptian border guard on a watchtower was shot dead and nine others were injured by stones. Shots were also reported from the Egyptian side of the border. Several Palestinians were seriously injured.

Airline pickpocket strikes as passengers sleep; Police investigating whether scammer stole thousands of euros
PARIS - French police are investigating whether a pickpocket stole thousands of euros from passengers as they slept on an Air France flight from Tokyo to Paris.

"There is an investigation under way," a spokesman for the border police at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris said when asked to confirm a report on the Web site of the Le Figaro.

The paper said around 4,000 euros ($5,744) appeared to have been stolen from five business class passengers as they slept on the overnight flight.

"On this flight, which takes off from Tokyo Narita at 10 p.m., passengers often sleep deeply before waking up shortly before arriving in Paris at around 4 a.m.," Le Figaro quoted one of the alleged victims as saying.

PAM COMMENTARY: First they bombard you with radiation to make a naked picture of your body, then they steal your cash. What could make flying any more enjoyable? Perhaps no meals served aboard, and having to pay a fee to carry luggage on with you?

Video footage of conservation boat Ady Gil and Japanese whaler collision (Video)
PAM COMMENTARY: This looks like footage of the Japanese whaling ship hitting the conservation boat. It appears to have been taken by the Japanese vessel. And what does it show? Not much -- the video has been edited several times, apparently to cut out the portion where the ships collided.

The conservation boaters claimed they were at a standstill, and at the beginning of this video it looks as though they're actually passing the Japanese ship. The video cuts several times, and it isn't clear whether this video was shot during the same incident, the same hour, or the same day. Then the video cuts again and the conservation boat is still going, apparently past the bow of the Japanese ship and comes out the other side. (Does this mean they spliced video from an earlier incident onto the later crash video? I can't tell for sure, but it seems as though they would have provided us with continuous video if they wanted to be honest.) Then the video cuts again, and you're seeing the conservation boat which has clearly been hit and is missing a huge chunk, but at this point the conservation boat is just sitting there in the water, just as the Sea Shepherds said the boat was at the time of impact. How could they have come to a complete stop like that mid-crash? It just isn't possible, and smells of dirty tricks by the Japanese videographers. (Want me to NOT say you're dishonest? Then let's see the FULL unspliced video! Yeah, I could splice a bunch of junk together to prove I walked on the moon this morning, but it isn't true. Let's see some raw evidence here, not just your fantasy TV production!)

Who was legally responsible for the crash? I'm not exactly sure, but I've done some boating in the past and understand basic laws of the sea. The whaling ship apparently hit the starboard side of the conservation boat. According to the right of way at sea, the conservation boat should have stopped for the whaling ship. (This is because the ship facing the starboard of another boat has right of way; that's why there's a green light on the starboard side, to basically give the green light to the other ship. "Starboard" is the right-hand side of the boat, as you face the bow or front of the boat. The "port" or left side of the boat as you face the front has a red light on it. That's to tell the boat facing the port side to stop, that the other boat has right of way.)

HOWEVER, right of way doesn't appear to be quite so clear in this case. If one boat was stopped, obviously that complicates matters, especially if the offending boat took an unexpected turn. It also appears from the video that when the conservation boat was in motion, the Japanese ship was trying to veer left a little into the conservation boat. (This is before the video cuts to another scene... several times.) That could indicate that the Japanese ship was trying to hit the conservation boat during one of the prior incidents, spliced onto the later crash.

Anyway, hopefully the Sea Shepherds took their own video to give us a better idea of what happened during the cuts in the Japanese video. And the conservation group got what they wanted -- lots and lots of publicity, with them being the good guys, the whalers the bad guys. Too bad about the boat, though -- it looks wild! Take a look at the video -- it really does have that "stealthy" look to it...

Whaling war set to worsen after crash
Mr Bethune told the Herald the 1000-tonne Japanese ship turned towards the 18-tonne Ady Gil from about 75 metres away when most of its crew were on deck.

''We thought they were going to turn a water cannon on us and I told my crew to brace for that,'' he said. ''Then they T-boned my boat. It was just massive. It's finished. It's been my life for four years, and now it's gone. It's a miracle we all survived.''

An Ady Gil crew member, Laurens de Groot, said the crash was no accident.

''They have no mercy those guys. They were trying to kill us, ramming us like that in one of the most hostile environments in the world. The only way to describe it is attempted murder.''

However, video footage released by Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research last night showed the Ady Gil gradually increasing speed into the path of the Shonan Maru 2, countering the Sea Shepherd account that the ship was not moving.

The six aboard were uninjured and left the floating rear section for the Bob Barker without trouble in the icy conditions.

Conservationists: Whaling ship �plowed� into us; Boat takes on water after cat-and-mouse chase leads to Antarctic collision
SYDNEY - A conservation group's boat had its bow sheared off and was taking on water Wednesday after it collided with a Japanese whaling ship in the frigid waters of Antarctica, the group said. The boat's six crew members were safely rescued.

The clash was the most serious in the past several years, during which the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has sent vessels into far-southern waters to try to harass the Japanese fleet into ceasing its annual whale hunt.

Clashes using hand-thrown stink bombs, ropes meant to tangle propellers and high-tech sound equipment have been common in recent years, and collisions between ships have sometimes occurred.

The society said its vessel Ady Gil � a high-tech speedboat that resembles a stealth bomber � was hit by the Japanese ship the Shonan Maru near Commonwealth Bay and had about 10 feet (three meters) of its bow knocked off.

Locky Maclean, the first mate of the society's lead ship, said one crewman from New Zealand appeared to have suffered two cracked ribs but the others were uninjured. The crew was safely transferred to the group's third vessel, though the Ady Gil's captain remained on board to see what could be salvaged, he said.

Harley gears up for India market
Harley-Davidson Inc. (HOG) will start sales in India in June and will introduce 12 models to the country, according to a statement distributed in New Delhi on Tuesday, Bloomberg reported.

The Milwaukee-based motorcycle maker said in August that it would initially set up dealerships in cities including Mumbai and New Delhi. Harley will import the motorcycles, accessories and riding gear.

The motorcycle maker has already set up an Indian unit in Gurgaon, near New Delhi. The company aims to expand its India dealer network to 20 in five years, Anoop Prakash, managing director of Harley's local subsidiary, told Bloomberg.

Drinkers think they can drive; Perception doesn't match inebriation
For a good number of people, it doesn't matter if their blood-alcohol level is above the legal limit, double the legal limit or even three times the legal limit - they still think they're perfectly capable of driving.

Or so they told Journal Sentinel reporters after submitting to a breath test at Summerfest, Miller Park and three Milwaukee bar districts this summer.

"I've been way more messed up and drove successfully," said a 23-year-old Brookfield man on Old World 3rd St. whose 0.13 blood-alcohol concentration was well above the 0.08 level that state law defines as drunkenness. He was one of 75 drinkers who agreed to be tested.

PAM COMMENTARY: Actually, the legal limit is pretty low -- they always try to convince people that the number they've chosen will make people drunk if passed, but that just isn't true. The people who are way past that number -- a small percentage of those are the ones who usually cause the accidents. I don't know the difference between people who can drive safely and those who can't after drinking -- I think dehydration makes the effects worse, and some are better than others at staying alert and overcoming the carefree attitude brought on by drinking. Now, I don't want to encourage anyone to drink too much! It's better to error on the side of caution. I'm just questioning the assumptions of this article's author.

Drink limits �plucked out of the air� as an �intelligent guess� (UK) (FLASHBACK)
Guidelines on safe alcohol consumption limits that have shaped health policy in Britain for 20 years were �plucked out of the air� as an �intelligent guess�.

The Times reveals today that the recommended weekly drinking limits of 21 units of alcohol for men and 14 for women, first introduced in 1987 and still in use today, had no firm scientific basis whatsoever.

Subsequent studies found evidence which suggested that the safety limits should be raised, but they were ignored by a succession of health ministers.

One found that men drinking between 21 and 30 units of alcohol a week had the lowest mortality rate in Britain. Another concluded that a man would have to drink 63 units a week, or a bottle of wine a day, to face the same risk of death as a teetotaller.

The disclosure that the 1987 recommendation was prompted by �a feeling that you had to say something� came from Richard Smith, a member of the Royal College of Physicians working party that produced it.

He told The Times that the committee�s epidemiologist had confessed that �it�s impossible to say what�s safe and what isn�t� because �we don�t really have any data whatsoever�.

PAM COMMENTARY: I did find one study online from the US, but its results didn't prove their supposed conclusion -- their research question was suspiciously written in such a narrow fashion that it couldn't prove anything about the overall numbers (and in the case of academic studies, people paying for your research want your conclusions to be what they expect, so studies are often flawed in favor of funding sources). If I find a real study that shows extra-low limits do anything significant or not, I'll post it here. But remember -- I have a degree in sociology, and I'm not posting any junk science thrown together for research grants. For now, it seems like a fashionable issue of the day -- and a great excuse for courts to make money charging DUI offenders thousands of dollars a pop for "traffic school."

Limits to antidepressants' effectiveness: study
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Mild to severe depression might be better treated with alternatives to antidepressant drugs, which do not help patients much more than an inactive placebo, researchers said Tuesday.

Combining data from six studies that examined the effectiveness of two commonly prescribed antidepressants -- paroxetine and imipramine -- found the drugs produced benefits only slightly greater than a placebo in patients with mild to severe depression.

"They would have done just as well or just about as well with a placebo," said Robert DeRubeis, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, who with colleagues performed the meta-analysis.

Paroxetine is one of a popular class of drugs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and is sold under the brand name Paxil by GlaxoSmithKline. Imipramine is an older tricyclic antidepressant drug developed in the 1950s.

The so-called placebo effect is powerful in treating depression, where people believe they are helped even though they are taking an inactive sugar pill, DeRubeis said.

PAM COMMENTARY: I often wonder if anti-depressants make matters worse by masking symptoms while whatever caused the depression becomes worse (I suspect Omega-3 deficiency in most cases) . However, the "placebo effect" may have to do with more water intake, according to the author of "Your Body's Many Cries for Water." That could mean that dehydration plays a role in depression -- an interesting possibility.

FDA's drug approvals flat in 2009, safety up; New leaders credited for harder stance on bogus products, report says
WASHINGTON - Drug approvals from the Food and Drug Administration were flat last year compared with 2008 and warnings fell, even as the agency's new leadership struck a tougher stance on safety.

The FDA approved 26 first-of-a-kind prescription drugs last year, up slightly from 25 in 2008, according to figures from Washington Analysis, an investment research group. New drugs cleared in 2009 included Novartis' kidney cancer drug Afinitor and Bausch and Lomb's pink eye medicine Besivance.

An FDA spokeswoman on Tuesday could not confirm or comment on the agency's year-end drug approval numbers.

During the same time frame, the agency added 31 new or updated "black box" warning labels to drugs already on the market. That was down from 56 boxed warnings in the previous year, when the agency issued several broad warnings that resulted in boxed labels for entire groups of drugs.

The 2009 totals suggest a moderate approach to regulation from FDA, despite drug industry concerns that recently-appointed Obama administration officials would bring a tougher approach to drug safety.

President Barack Obama tapped FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein last year to restore the agency's credibility, following a string of bungled drug safety issues.

PAM COMMENTARY: We NEED a tougher approach to drug safety -- look at all the junk approved by the FDA that was killing people.

Sea turtles strand in record numbers on Outer Banks
A record number of endangered sea turtles are recovering at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island after being stunned by frigid water temperatures and stranding on Outer Banks beaches.

On Tuesday morning, sea turtle rescuers brought one more of the cold-blooded creatures to the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles rehabilitation center at the aquarium, bringing the number of turtles found over the past few weeks to 44.

Aquarist Christian Guerreri said that all of the turtles -- loggerhead, green and kemp�s ridley -- have been found on Cape Hatteras National Seashore beaches, most on the soundside. Four of the animals did not survive, and nine have been sent to other rehabilitation facilities, including five that were sent to Virginia Beach.

Guerreri said that 28 sea turtles were found cold-stunned on Outer Banks beaches last winter.

Madiba and Zuma names now linked forever
Jacob Zuma's new wife has set tongues wagging with her intention to use the double-barrel "Madiba-Zuma" surname after their traditional marriage in Nkandla on Monday.

Speculation on Monday was rife that the combined surname would give her the extra cachet that comes with the use of two of the most recognised names in the country.

One is the surname of her new husband, the president of the country, and the other the clan name of former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Nelson Mandela.

While the ailing statesmen could not be present at the nuptials, his grandson, Mandla Mchunu, who was among the hundreds of guests who witnessed the traditional ceremony.

South Africa's Zuma weds third wife
(CNN) -- South African President Jacob Zuma married third wife Tobeka Madiba on Monday in a traditional Zulu ceremony at his rural homestead of Nkandla.

Polygamy is legal in South Africa but remains a subject of contentious national debate. Zuma has married five times in total but has faced criticism from opponents who say the practice is out of step with modern times.

Reverend Theunis Botha, the leader of the opposition Christian Democratic Party, called Monday's ceremony a "giant step back into the dark ages."

Zuma's first wife, Sizakele Khumalo, was among those in attendance Monday to see her husband, 68 this year, marry 37-year-old Madiba.

Fireworks at Monday's opening of world's tallest building in Dubai, Burj Khalifa
PAM COMMENTARY: A cool-looking photo, and more in the gallery that follows it.

Feds oppose closing locks to stop Asian carp
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - The Obama administration Tuesday opposed Michigan and other states that want to close shipping locks near Chicago to prevent ravenous Asian carp from invading the Great Lakes.

Solicitor General Elena Kagan told the U.S. Supreme Court that heeding the states' request would endanger public safety while disrupting cargo and passenger vessel traffic.

While acknowledging the carp pose a threat to the lakes and their $7 billion fishery, Kagan said it was unclear that closing the locks immediately was necessary to keep them out.

Chopper crashes in remote Calif. forest; 4 men die
Three California Department of Fish and Game biologists and a pilot were killed Tuesday afternoon when their helicopter crashed in a craggy stretch of the Sierra National Forest where they were surveying wildlife.

The crash happened in a narrow canyon near Redinger Lake after the Bell 206 helicopter struck a power line and sparked a blaze that scattered debris throughout a quarter-mile of brush, Madera County officials said.

Killed in the accident were two longtime state scientists, 48-year-old Clu Cotter and 40-year-old Kevin O'Connor, as well as a scientists' aide, 31-year-old Tom Stolberg, all of Fresno. Pilot Dennis Donovan also died, but his hometown and age were not released.

The men were conducting a routine aerial mission to study deer herds feeding in the steep, wooded region near the border of Fresno and Madera counties.

Xe pulls plug on its counterpiracy venture; ship up for sale
Apparently unsuccessful in marketing it for anti-piracy operations, Xe has put its 183-foot ship McArthur up for sale.

In an online advertisement on the Web site Yachtworld.com, the McArthur is listed at a reduced price of $3.7 million. The vessel is docked in Alicante, Spain.

Xe, the Moyock, N.C.-based private military company formerly known as Blackwater, acquired and refurbished the 40-year-old ship three years ago and declared itself ready to begin patrolling the Gulf of Aden to protect merchant vessels against pirates.

In an interview with The Virginian-Pilot in 2008, Bill Mathews, then Blackwater�s executive vice president, placed the value of the overhauled vessel at $15 million.

Based in Norfolk, the McArthur was built in 1966 by Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., now BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair. For most of its life, it was used as a research vessel by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It contains a helicopter pad and two-bed hospital.

The impending sale was first reported Monday on the blog of the U. S. Naval Institute, a nonprofit forum on global security issues. Xe had no immediate comment on the report.

Washington Post: Emanuel considering a run for Chicago mayor
Rahm Emanuel, the irrepressible White House chief of staff and former congressman from Chicago responsible for that "thumpin''' that Republicans took in the House elections of 2006, the one who might have liked to be speaker of the House some day, could have other aspirations back home.

So says Sally Quinn, the veteran columnist of the Washington Post. Other, more knowledgeable handicappers of the Chicago political scene doubt this scenario seriously.

Religion on Fox: News or evangelism?
The picture on the television screen and the audio of reporter Brit Hume's words struck me as contradictory. Just below the image of the reporter's face, the insignia "Fox News" appeared in three different places. Yet, the content of Mr. Hume's comments was not that of a news reporter so much as that of a televangelist.

Speaking about Tiger Woods on "Fox News Sunday" January 3, 2010, Mr. Hume observed that Mr. Woods' recovery "depends on his faith." Was that a personal opinion of the reporter, a theological belief, or a "breaking news" story? After telling his audience that Mr. Woods is a Buddhist, Hume said, "I don't think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is (sic) offered by the Christian faith." Evidently the reporter has expertise in both Buddhist and Christian thought. With such self-assumed authority, Hume addressed Woods personally, "Tiger, turn to the Christian faith and you can make a total recovery and be a great example to the world."

Having served as a Christian minister for 50 years, I am delighted to see my faith discussed in public. However, I am not pleased to see my faith used in a utilitarian manner whether the issue is personal forgiveness or national politics. Unfortunately, the manipulation of faith has become so common that to many it now seems acceptable.

Gallery: Today's Best Pictures (Calgary Herald)
PAM COMMENTARY: Some nice photos in this gallery.

Google officially unveils Nexus One smart phone
After weeks of speculation, Google Inc. finally unveiled its Nexus One smart phone at a packed press conference on Tuesday, showing off features, applications and performance the company claims push the possibilities of mobile devices.

Among the highlights of the much anticipated touchscreen phone, developed in partnership with manufacturer HTC, are ultra high resolution 3D graphics, souped-up processing speed and dual microphones that improve voice quality. A new version of Google's Android operating system enables voice control over functions like e-mail and texting, and feeds live data to widgets on the desktop, updating information from services like Facebook.

"It's the exemplar of what's possible on mobile phones through Android," said Mario Queiroz, vice president of product management. "The Nexus One belongs in an emerging category of devices, which we call 'superphones.'"

Google will sell the device directly online beginning today, at www.google.com/phone. The phone runs $529 without a service agreement or $179 with a two-year contract through T-Mobile. The company also announced that Verizon Wireless and Vodafone will being providing service for the phone in the U.S. and Europe, respectively, starting this spring.

Judges examine rise in complaints against MI5
The tribunal judges, who oversee the work of MI5 and other law enforcement agencies authorised under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, confirmed yesterday that they were looking at why the number of complaints had more than doubled from 66 in 2007 to 136 in 2008.

But critics of the secret system for investigating the misuse of surveillance powers want to know why only three complaints investigated by the tribunal have ever been upheld.

Six of the most recent allegations, not included in the 136, have been brought by young Muslim men living in London who allege that they were harassed and blackmailed by MI5 to spy on Muslim communities.

Yesterday The Independent reported on two men of Somali origin living in Birmingham who have made similar complaints. All eight men allege they were given a choice of working for the Security Service or facing detention or harassment in the UK and overseas.

Banks take revenge for new consumer rules
Happy new year. Now pay up.

That's the message from our friends in the banking industry, who are introducing all sorts of fees and changes as a slew of regulations take effect designed to make financial heavyweights friendlier to customers.

From costlier checking accounts to higher credit card fees, banks are scrambling to find ways to compensate for as much as $50 billion in annual revenue that could be lost because of the tougher rules and requirements.

"This isn't about a money grab," said Scott Talbott, senior vice president for government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable, an industry group. "This is about covering operating costs and risks related to transactions."

PAM COMMENTARY: What happened to the days when banks made their money through mortgages and other loans to the local community? Wasn't that the trade between account holders and the bank? The bank would provide a safe, often insured place to keep your money, and in return they could loan some of your money out to turn a profit. Now they want every last dime they can squeeze out of people. Maybe credit unions and smaller, more responsible banks can save us -- although often they're bought out by the larger banks, and you find yourself facing the same big bank that you dumped years earlier.

New York cop firing at pit bull hits fellow officers
Two New York Police Department officers have been injured after they were grazed by a bullet fired by a fellow officer aiming at a pit bull in the Bronx.

Police say the officers suffered non-life-threatening injuries, and were conscious and speaking at Jacobi Hospital. The incident began not far from 2471 Davidson Ave. in the Bronx.

Police say plainclothes officers in an unmarked police car chased a drug suspect to a basement apartment, where the suspect let out a pit bull that charged the officers.

One officer fired one shot which splintered off a wall and hit the other two officers, one in the face and one in the leg.

Baucus denounces allegations as 'smear'
Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., was the focus of scrutiny among Internet bloggers throughout the weekend, as footage of him giving a speech on the Senate floor was posted on YouTube amid allegations that the senator was drunk.

The Drudge Report, one of the most popular sites on the Internet, linked to the video with a headline that read: �Drunk with power? Top Dem slurs on Senate floor.�

The speech is from last Tuesday and appears to be time-stamped at just after 4:30 p.m. EST. It shows Sen. Baucus responding to a complaint from Republican Sen. Roger Wicker from Arizona during the debate over health-care reform.

On Monday, Sen. Baucus� office denounced the suggestion that Baucus was drunk on the Senate floor as an �untrue, personal smear,� according to the Billings Gazette.

�This is beyond the pale, and this type of gutter politics has no place in the public sphere,� Baucus spokesman Ty Matsdorf told the Gazette.

PAM COMMENTARY: Oh please! George Duh-bya used to slur his words all the time, only with Bush there was actually a real history of a DUI and substance abuse.

11 Sentenced for Climbing Mount Rushmore
(RAPID CITY, S.D.) � Sentences for 11 Greenpeace members who climbed Mount Rushmore National Memorial in July to hang an anti-global warming banner range from jail time to community service.

The activists were sentenced Monday in federal court in South Dakota. All pleaded guilty to illegally climbing Mount Rushmore while charges such as interfering with a government official were dismissed.

Six were sentenced to 50 hours community service, plus a $450 fine each. The other five had prior trespassing convictions. Four of them received 10 days suspended jail time with 100 hours of community service. The last received two days in jail.

A judge ordered that all community service be done at a national park, preferably at Mount Rushmore.

Greenpeace earlier agreed to pay more than $30,000 in civil penalties.

PAM COMMENTARY: You know, I'm sure they're trying to protect the statues, but I've seen huge bighorn sheep climbing around Rushmore. I'm sure those big ol' sheep weigh just as much, or more, as the Greenpeace activists.

Body scanners break child porn laws (UK)
The rapid introduction of full body scanners at British airports threatens to breach child protection laws which ban the creation of indecent images of children, the Guardian has learned.

Privacy campaigners claim the images created by the machines are so graphic they amount to "virtual strip-searching" and have called for safeguards to protect the privacy of passengers involved.

Ministers now face having to exempt under 18s from the scans or face the delays of introducing new legislation to ensure airport security staff do not commit offences under child pornography laws.

They also face demands from civil liberties groups for safeguards to ensure that images from the �80,000 scanners, including those of celebrities, do not end up on the internet. The Department for Transport confirmed that the "child porn" problem was among the "legal and operational issues" now under discussion in Whitehall after Gordon Brown's announcement on Sunday that he wanted to see their "gradual" introduction at British airports.

A 12-month trial at Manchester airport of scanners which reveal naked images of passengers including their genitalia and breast enlargements, only went ahead last month after under-18s were exempted.

Madsen: Diplomat pedophilia is widespread (Video) [WRH]
PAM COMMENTARY: Madsen has some shocking allegations on "pedo-tourism" -- including Blackwater contractors holding children for sexual abuse by diplomats in Iraq. Madsen is a former spy for the NSA, by the way -- he has his own paid news service at http://www.waynemadsenreport.com (not all links or articles require a membership to see, for example the flashback below).

Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food (FLASHBACK)
Among the population, biologist David Schubert of the Salk Institute warns that �children are the most likely to be adversely effected by toxins and other dietary problems� related to GM foods. He says without adequate studies, the children become �the experimental animals.�[2]

The experience of actual GM-fed experimental animals is scary. When GM soy was fed to female rats, most of their babies died within three weeks�compared to a 10% death rate among the control group fed natural soy.[3] The GM-fed babies were also smaller, and later had problems getting pregnant.[4]

When male rats were fed GM soy, their testicles actually changed color�from the normal pink to dark blue.[5] Mice fed GM soy had altered young sperm.[6] Even the embryos of GM fed parent mice had significant changes in their DNA.[7] Mice fed GM corn in an Austrian government study had fewer babies, which were also smaller than normal.[8]

Reproductive problems also plague livestock. Investigations in the state of Haryana, India revealed that most buffalo that ate GM cottonseed had complications such as premature deliveries, abortions, infertility, and prolapsed uteruses. Many calves died. In the US, about two dozen farmers reported thousands of pigs became sterile after consuming certain GM corn varieties. Some had false pregnancies; others gave birth to bags of water. Cows and bulls also became infertile when fed the same corn.[9]

In the US population, the incidence of low birth weight babies, infertility, and infant mortality are all escalating.

Tobacco turns green leaf as possible biofuel, home insulation
Tobacco, in the form of cigarette butts, is also being studied as a way to better insulate homes.

The London Evening Standard recently reported that the London borough of Harrow is studying innovative technology to recycle the butts into rolls of home insulation. Currently, the butts, about 4,000 of which are dropped in the town center every day, end up in landfills.

Harrow plans to collect them, sterilize them and break them down into insulation "pillows." It got the idea from recycling company Igloo Environmental, set up by environmental researcher Shaun Grimes, who said he was inspired by seeing birds line nests with cigarette butts.

PAM COMMENTARY: Hmmm... I can't say that any of this makes sense to me. Have you ever seen a smoker light the wrong end of a cigarette? Those filters light up GREAT once you get them started, don't they? I can't imagine something that flammable being used for home insulation. And making GMO tobacco to produce more oil? Why not just grow crops NATURALLY oily? Don't we already have enough problems with GMOs out there?

Gluten: What You Don't Know Might Kill You
A recent large study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with diagnosed, undiagnosed, and "latent" celiac disease or gluten sensitivity had a higher risk of death, mostly from heart disease and cancer. (i)

This study looked at almost 30,00 patients from 1969 to 2008 and examined deaths in three groups: Those with full-blown celiac disease, those with inflammation of their intestine but not full-blown celiac disease, and those with latent celiac disease or gluten sensitivity (elevated gluten antibodies but negative intestinal biopsy).

The findings were dramatic. There was a 39 percent increased risk of death in those with celiac disease, 72 percent increased risk in those with gut inflammation related to gluten, and 35 percent increased risk in those with gluten sensitivity but no celiac disease.

This is ground-breaking research that proves you don't have to have full-blown celiac disease with a positive intestinal biopsy (which is what conventional thinking tells us) to have serious health problems and complications--even death--from eating gluten.

Yet an estimated 99 percent of people who have a problem with eating gluten don't even know it. They ascribe their ill health or symptoms to something else--not gluten sensitivity, which is 100 percent curable.

Obama White House Probing Rogue Network of Moles Behind Christmas Detroit Patsy Fiasco, Reports Richard Wolffe on MSNBC [R]
Washington DC, Jan. 4, 2010 � Officials in the Obama White House are considering the possibility that the Christmas day attempt by Nigerian terrorist Umar Farouk Mutallab to blow up an airliner about to land in Detroit was deliberately and intentionally facilitated by unnamed networks inside the US intelligence community. This was the gist of a report by Richard Wolffe delivered in this evening�s edition of cable network MSNBC�s Countdown program, hosted by Keith Olbermann: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3036677/#34694889. This report comes on the eve of a special White House interagency conference convoked by Obama to deal with the massive systemic failure of US intelligence in allowing the Yemen alumnus Mutallab to board the Amsterdam to Detroit flight while allegedly carrying a PETN explosive device on his person. A transcript of Wolffe�s remarks can be found at: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2010/1/4/821905/-White-House-is-investigating-whether-intel-was-intentionally-withheld-re:-Flight-253-bomber.

Wolffe attributed his account to top officials in the Obama White House. The intentional sabotage of US antiterrorist screening procedures would explain why Mutallab had been able to use his US visa, escape interrogation and special searches, and board his flight, even though he was festooned with every red flag in the annals of airport security. If Wolffe�s report is accurate, these Obama officials may be pulling on a thread which could begin to unravel the entire secret structure of illegitimate power which has afflicted this country � in this case, the apparatus which manufactures terrorist incidents for political purposes of mass manipulation, dictatorship, and war.

PAM COMMENTARY: Yeah, that whole incident seemed like another false flag event to me. Real events are rarely hyped in the press like that -- when you see all the big TV networks and major newspapers spouting the same obvious propaganda, the event was designed to be used for a hidden political agenda. In this case, they probably want more oil wars in the Middle East. And there are various reasons for that -- some people are heavily invested in the defense industry and make money whenever there's a war, others are invested in oil companies who benefit from US military action to basically seize oil territory like Iraq, auctioning off the oil wells years later. Others claim that Brzezinski wants the US to surround China, so that China will attack Russia for him. (He's an old Russian-hating Pole.) Oil wars in the Middle East do tend to cut off China's oil supply from its neighbors, at least temporarily. Notice that China signed a recent oil deal with Venezuela, which makes no sense at all. Environmentally, WE should be buying our oil from countries closer to us, as should China. Politics has reversed the geographical logic of the oil trade -- hence burning more oil in those big oil tankers traversing the Pacific Ocean. Gotta be an oil man making THOSE political decisions!

Ben Pavone, California Lawyer, Refuses to Pay Bank of America Credit Card, Threatens to Sue
Ben Pavone told Bank of America in a letter last week that he refuses to pay off his credit card debt until the bank lowers his interest rate. And, he added, if they try to ruin his credit, he'll sue 'em.

The San Diego, Calif. attorney is angry about two things: his interest rate, which has gone up to 27.99 percent, and his credit limit, which has gone down to just above his balance. "I'm sure I'm going to be hit with penalties," he said.

Pavone said he got "squeezed for cash" and asked Bank of America to raise his credit limit in October. The bank responded with a two-page letter. The first page declined the request; the second told him his limit would be reduced from $32,100 to $30,400. Bank of America cited "economic trends" in both decisions.

"I consider your action an anticipatory repudiation of the contract and am treating you as in breach," he wrote in a Dec. 31 letter to the bank. "I am therefore not paying the money that is currently due on January 3, 2010 out of protest."

Pavone said he got the protest idea from Ann Minch, the Red Bluff, Calif. woman who launched a "debtors' revolt" via YouTube in September. Minch won imitators and also a reduced interest rate on her own card. Pavone, Minch et al are all asking the same question: Why is it fair for bailed-out banks to reward themselves with bonuses and at the same time to soak taxpayers who've done nothing wrong?

Ice Slows Operation At N.J. Nuclear Power Plant [WRH]
A nuclear power plant South Jersey was forced to partially shut down due to ice build-up on the Delaware River.

Officials said the power plant in Salem County had to shut down one generator and reduce power in another at about 8 a.m. Saturday due to floating ice on the river.

Ice was accumulating on rotating screens used to take water to a non-radioactive part of the plant.

Plant officials told Eyewitness News that it is the first time that they had to take this unusual step because of ice.

Officials are continuing to monitor the situation to determine when the plant can resume full operation.

Living on Nothing but Food Stamps [BF]
CAPE CORAL, Fla. � After an improbable rise from the Bronx projects to a job selling Gulf Coast homes, Isabel Bermudez lost it all to an epic housing bust � the six-figure income, the house with the pool and the investment property.

Now, as she papers the county with r�m�and girds herself for rejection, she is supporting two daughters on an income that inspires a double take: zero dollars in monthly cash and a few hundred dollars in food stamps.

With food-stamp use at a record high and surging by the day, Ms. Bermudez belongs to an overlooked subgroup that is growing especially fast: recipients with no cash income.

About six million Americans receiving food stamps report they have no other income, according to an analysis of state data collected by The New York Times. In declarations that states verify and the federal government audits, they described themselves as unemployed and receiving no cash aid � no welfare, no unemployment insurance, and no pensions, child support or disability pay.

Their numbers were rising before the recession as tougher welfare laws made it harder for poor people to get cash aid, but they have soared by about 50 percent over the past two years. About one in 50 Americans now lives in a household with a reported income that consists of nothing but a food-stamp card.

Quality of U.S. Temperature Data [WRH]
The official record of temperatures in the continental United States comes from a network of 1,221 climate-monitoring stations overseen by the National Weather Service, a department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). These surface stations are supposed to be setup in accordance with guidelines given by the NOAA's Climate Reference Network (CRN). The guidelines are available to see here.

In 2007 a project was initiated by Watts to visually inspect and document the quality of the surface stations. So what did they find? Some of the stations that they found are pictured above. We can see the thermometers located next to asphalt parking lots, located next to air-conditioner exhausts, located on brick buildings, located next to BBQ pits, located next to trash burning barrels, located on rooftops and near sidewalks. All of which absorb and radiate heat. These all influence the thermometer to read higher than it would otherwise.

Let's look at the numbers.

There are 1,221 active climate-monitoring surface stations in the USA. Of those 1,221 stations, 948 have been evaluated by Watt's Surface Stations project. Of these 948, 90% have been found to be very poorly sited. Poorly sited means that they are likely reporting higher or rising temperatures. This means the overwhelming majority of stations in the USA have been reporting bad data. (Please note that the USA data is generally considered the best data in the world. Yikes!)

PAM COMMENTARY: This is from WhatReallyHappened.com, a site that generally links to articles that argue against the science of global warming. A lot of the anti-warming "science" was financed by the oil industry, and so I'm fairly skeptical of anything from that side of the issue, especially when it relies on emotional arguments. But this article has some good field work and raises legitimate concerns.

Matthews: Politico Serves As The Drudge-Like �News Conduit� For Dick Cheney [BF]
Last month, Politico conducted an �interview� with former Vice President Dick Cheney. As ThinkProgress noted at the time, the paper�s top reporters � Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen � transcribed Cheney�s attacks on Obama without challenge, criticism, or rebuttal.

Indeed, Cheney has been using Politico as his print version of Fox News. In May, Politico�s Allen was leaked an �exclusive� preview of Cheney�s attacks on Obama�s decision to close Guantanamo. Again in October, Allen �broke news� that Cheney was attacking Obama�s Afghanistan policy. And just last week, Allen again reported a Cheney attack on Obama�s handling of the Christmas Day terrorist incident that was released �in a statement to Politico.�

Does Cheney �have a thing with Politico?� MSNBC�s Chris Matthews asked Politico�s Jonathan Martin today on Hardball. �He uses you like he�d use Drudge or somebody,� Matthews charged. A stunned Martin had no response for why Cheney has been so willing to give Politico �exclusives.� �You�d have to ask the Vice President, Chris,� Martin responded, �I�m not sure.� Matthews kept pressing the issue:

MATTHEWS: I mean, he�s got his own news conduit.

MARTIN: You know, we aggressively report on both sides.

MATTHEWS: It�s not reporting. He feeds you this stuff. � I do like Politico. He�s feeding you guys this crap. [...]

What�s he call up and say? �I got a hot one for you, Jon. Can you take � what�s your email address?� Is that what he does?

PAM COMMENTARY: Remember how former Prez George Duh-bya Bush plugged Politico at one of his press conferences? That tipped me off right there. Since then, I've looked at their site from time to time, but typically the quality of their reporting is too poor to use here. It's much like a tabloid for DC, kind of like the New York Post, only for a political city.

This Year�s Housing Crisis
The financial crisis and Great Recession have their roots in the housing bust. When it comes, a lasting recovery will be evident in a housing rebound. Unfortunately, housing appears to be weakening anew.

Figures released last week show that after four months of gains, home prices flattened in October. At that time, low mortgage rates (courtesy of the Federal Reserve) and a home buyer�s tax credit (courtesy of Congress) were fueling sales. That should have propped up prices. But it was not enough to overcome the drag created by a glut of 3.2 million new and existing unsold single-family homes � about a seven-month supply.

The situation, we fear, will only get worse in months to come. Rates already are starting to rise as lenders brace for the Fed to curtail support for mortgage lending as early as the end of March. The home buyer�s tax credit is scheduled to expire at the end of April. And a new flood of foreclosed homes is ready to hit the market.

It is increasingly clear that the Obama administration�s anti-foreclosure effort � which pressed lenders to reduce interest rates � isn�t doing nearly enough. High unemployment rates also mean that many borrowers who did qualify for aid have been unable to keep up with even reduced monthly payments.

As a result, an estimated 2.4 million foreclosed homes will be added to the existing glut in 2010, driving prices down by another 10 percent or so. That would bring the average decline nationwide to about 40 percent since the peak of the market in 2006.

Casey Johnson found dead at LA home
Casey Johnson, the heir to the Johnson & Johnson business empire and daughter of the owner of the New York Jets American football team, has died, a spokesman for the family and police said.

Johnson, 30, was found dead at her Los Angeles home on Monday morning, according to the website TMZ.com.

The cause of death was not yet known, a police official said, and a preliminary investigation had found no signs of foul play. The results of toxicology tests could take six weeks to obtain.

Britain must grow more sustainable food, says Benn
Britain must grow more food in a different way to respond to mounting ecological challenges such as climate change, and help provide food for burgeoning world populations, the environment secretary Hilary Benn has told farmers.

"Food security is as important to this country's future wellbeing � and the world's � as energy security. We need to produce more food. We need to do it sustainably. And we need to make sure that what we eat safeguards our health," he said.

Launching the government's food strategy goals for the next 20 years with a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, he proposed a consumer-led, technological revolution which would transform UK farming over the next generation. "We know that the consequences of the way we produce and consume our food are unsustainable to our planet and to ourselves. There are challenges for everyone involved in the food system, from production right through to managing food waste."

The government aims to develop a "meanwhile" lease to formalise arrangements between landowners and voluntary groups by encouraging people to set up temporary allotments or community gardens on land awaiting development or other permanent use. It is also considering establishing a "land bank" to broker better links and ensure plots are not left idle.

Ministers believe the move could foster community spirit and skills as well as improve physical and mental health.

Pregnant women having too many ultrasounds
A new Canadian study finds that some women are having more ultrasounds then recommended.

The study published Monday online in the Canadian Medical Association Journal says nearly one in five women have four or more ultrasound exams during the second and third trimesters.

Guidelines generally recommend two ultrasound exams be performed in a pregnancy without complications � one in the first trimester and one in the second trimester to screen for fetal anomalies.

4 U.S. soldiers under Canadian command killed in Afghanistan
KANDAHAR�Four American soldiers under Canadian command have been killed in southern Afghanistan, the first U.S. troops killed by enemy action there in the new year.

The IED strike occurred Sunday in the volatile Zhari district of Kandahar province.

Military officials confirmed the deaths of the four Americans, who were honoured Monday during a ramp ceremony at Kandahar Airfield. No further details were released pending notification of next of kin.

Unlike the rules governing Canadian ramp ceremonies, U.S. Defence Dept. regulations prohibit journalists from covering the solemn rituals.

"I can confirm that four ISAF soldiers from the U.S. have died in an IED (strike)," Lt.-Col. Todd Breasseale, a joint task force spokesman, said in Kabul.

Sources told The Canadian Press the four were members of the 1st Battalion of the 12th Infantry Regiment based in Fort Carson, Colo.

PAM COMMENTARY: Remember the controversy in the early years of the war, putting American soldiers under the command of foreign military leadership?

Drummer�s anthrax case spurs a public health hunt
Officials suspect that the woman, who has not been identified and is in critical but stable condition at a Massachusetts hospital, ingested anthrax spores released from animal-skin-covered drums. Some drums used at the center were made in West Africa, though others came from the United States and Canada.

On Thursday, New Hampshire officials confirmed that the strain of anthrax spores found on two drums used at the Dec. 4 drumming circle, as well as on an electrical socket at the United Campus Ministry, matched the anthrax strain that infected the woman. The officials have taken 56 other drums for testing.

The woman, who is not a student, brought her own synthetic drum to the circle on Dec. 4.

Gastrointestinal anthrax is exceedingly rare in the United States, with only one case on record, reported in 1942, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Anthrax is more often contracted by breathing the spores or by absorption through cuts or abrasions on the skin, but that is also rare, CDC officials said. There were 236 cases of anthrax reported to the CDC between 1955 and 1999.

�We have a very unusual situation,�� said Elizabeth Talbot, a professor of infectious diseases at Dartmouth Medical School who is acting as medical adviser to the state.

Officials cautioned that the anthrax contracted by the woman is different from weaponized anthrax, a manufactured variety that is treated so that it remains suspended in the air for long periods, creating a greater chance it will be inhaled. The anthrax involved in this case is nonweaponized or wild anthrax, Talbot said, adding that it is not contagious.

Court records reveal trouble at Turkey Point (Florida nuclear plant)
"There are the old gauges . . . where . . . a needle that goes around and around,'' Ware testified, saying they were "not very reliable." When operators looked at the indicators daily, "they'd be stuck.

"So over the years, they developed the habit of pinging them to get them to move. . . . Well, that's not OK in a nuclear plant because you have to have reliable, you know, verification of where those rods are positioned. . . . That's a lesson from Three Mile Island," the worst nuclear disaster in American history.

In the hush-hush nuclear world, such insider details rarely, if ever, become public, but now a lawsuit has made public 2,000 pages of testimony that offer a fascinating window into the experiences, thoughts and frustrations of Turkey Point executives, employees and contract workers that reveal myriad problems.

Florida Power & Light, which operates the plant, says it's safe and all its actions are done according to federal regulation. "Turkey Point has been operating for more than 30 years and has a very good safety record," says FPL spokesman Michael Waldron. All the control-rod indicators have now been "updated or replaced and have extremely high reliability."

NRC spokesman Joey Ledford spokesman said the NRC was aware of control rod position indication problems and FPL has upgraded them in Reactor Unit 4 and plans to upgrade them in Unit 3 next year, complying with all regulatory requirements.

Waldron emphasized that the transcripts from 17 people were made in 2008 by an investigator of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as part of a dispute between FPL and David Hoffman, its former senior licensed operator who quit abruptly, writing a late-night resignation letter saying he couldn't follow executives' demands that he do something he believed was extremely dangerous.

FPL is now suing Hoffman, seeking the return of a $50,000 bonus, and Hoffman is counter-suing. Hoffman also filed a complaint with the NRC, saying FPL had discriminated against him because he had raised concerns about safety.

PAM COMMENTARY: In the spirit of full disclosure, I used to be a contractor for FPL. I remember "getting the tour," where they told me that their Miami call center could handle calls from all over the state during a hurricane. That didn't make sense to me, so I asked if it was wise to have all of their lines going into Miami -- wouldn't it be better to have different call centers in the state where they could forward calls, just in case the hurricane was hitting Miami and the phone and data lines were knocked out there?

Huh? What was I talking about? How likely was that to happen, anyway? My question just didn't make sense to them.

Well, they let me go after a trip-and-fall on their property from their own negligence, and then the auto accident of '98 when I was hit by a speeding SUV -- both accidents within a month of each other. The medical appointments were taking too much time away from my work, they told me. But I kept in touch with one of my co-workers there named David. He was a great Lotus Notes guy, in fact he eventually left FPL to work for IBM, the company that bought Lotus Notes. (I'd also worked for IBM as a contractor in the past.)

Probably over a year later, David told me that FPL wanted him to stay in their call center during a small hurricane headed toward southern Florida. (This was probably Hurricane Irene, based on its storm characteristics.) He'd stay on lock-down in the Miami call center to handle power outage calls.

I told him that was the dumbest idea I'd ever heard, that I'd tell FPL no. The hurricane could knock out power and phone/data lines, and workers would be stuck there with the hurricane damaging the building, possibly harming or killing everyone inside. I reminded him that once a hurricane starts, you can't leave the building -- winds and flooding prevent travel, and rescue crews can't help you until it's over, whenever they finally have time to get to you. If you don't leave in advance, you're there for the duration of the storm, come what may. (I remember FPL asking me to stay through Hurricane Georges in 1998 -- a Category 5 storm, and HUGE, covered ALL of the 100+ mile Florida Keys island chain when it hit land! I told them no, and they weren't happy, but I was under an evacuation order at the time and they couldn't force me to stay. If a Category 4 or 5 hurricane like that had made it as far north as their building, I'm sure all of their employees who had stayed would have perished. Many of their employees had lived in Homestead during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and remembered coming back to homes that were flattened or entirely missing. Hadn't they learned their lessons already?)

The hurricane was going to be weak, a Category 1, and Miami was at the outer edge of its expected strike range, and so I guess David felt safe staying there. He told them yes, went into "lock-down" at the call center.

Well, need I say more? The hurricane veered to the outer edge of its predicted path, and made a direct hit on Miami. David's words to me later were that "It sucked." The power and phones went out immediately, and they had to sit in that building for the duration of the storm without even lights to see each other in the windowless room. (I think he said that they did have a backup generator, but it either failed or was knocked out by the storm immediately, was of no use to them.) Thankfully, the storm wasn't powerful enough to harm the workers inside.

David went to work for IBM shortly after that.

The moral of the story -- how can you trust a company's safety based on assurances from its management? (Relying on work-arounds described by this article sounds just like the FPL I knew -- cheap and short-sighted -- even though I didn't work at the nuclear plant location.) You really have to assess the situation independently, based on physical inspections and its past safety record.

Google to unveil its cellphone Tuesday
SAN FRANCISCO�Google Inc.'s vision for how a mobile phone should be made and sold will likely raise the stakes in the Internet search leader's bid to gain more control over how people surf the web while they're on the go.

The catalyst in Google's latest attempt to shake up the mobile market apparently will be the Nexus One, the first smart phone designed by the company's own engineers.

Google has said little about the phone except to confirm that its workers received the handsets three weeks ago for a final round of internal testing. Google is expected to provide the first concrete details about the phone, along with the company's vision for how such devices should be made and sold, during a news conference on Tuesday at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.

In its invitation to the event, Google said the wireless market had only seen "the beginning of what's possible" with the free Android operating system that it introduced for mobile phones in late 2007.

Judge Dismisses All Charges Against Blackwater Guards in Nisoor Square Massacre [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: Were you surprised, Scott?

SCOTT HORTON: Well, we knew this was going to be an issue. I think it was surprising that we got a decision before any evidence was ever taken and it went to trial. And in fact, you know, I think the vehemence of Judge Urbina�s decision is also something of a surprise.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, explain exactly what it was he decided and what it was he was objecting to.

SCOTT HORTON: Well, first of all, I should note that General Odierno�s statement is completely incorrect; that is, the decision to dismiss these charges had nothing to do with lack of evidence or weak evidence against the Blackwater employees. To the contrary, there was copious evidence. There was plenty of evidence prosecutors could have used that they evidently weren�t prepared to, including eyewitnesses there. The decision to dismiss was taken as a punishment measure against Justice Department prosecutors based on the judge�s conclusion that they engaged in grossly unethical and improper behavior in putting the case together.

And specifically what they did is they took statements that were taken by the Department of State against a grant of immunity; that is, the government investigators told the guards, �Give us your statement, be candid, be complete, and we promise you we won�t use your statement for any criminal charges against you.� But the Justice Department prosecutors took those statements and in fact used them. They used them before the grand jury. They used them to build their entire case. And they did this notwithstanding warnings from senior lawyers in the Justice Department that this was improper and could lead to dismissal of the case. It almost looks like the Justice Department prosecutors here wanted to sabotage their own case. It was so outrageous.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that�s possible?

SCOTT HORTON: I think it is possible. Specifically in this case, there were briefings that occurred on Capitol Hill early on in which senior officials of the Justice Department told congressional investigators, staffers and congressmen that essentially they didn�t want to bring the case. In fact, one of the congressmen who was present at these briefings told me they were behaving like defense lawyers putting together a case to defend the Blackwater employees, not to prosecute them. And I think we see the evidence of that copiously in Judge Urbina�s opinion.

Source: 2 killed in Afghanistan bombing were security contractors
Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Two of the seven CIA officers killed Wednesday in a suspected terrorist attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan were contractors for Xe, a private security firm formerly known as Blackwater, a former intelligence official said Thursday.

A current intelligence official confirmed to CNN that the casualties included a mix of people -- CIA staff and contractors. The CIA considers contractors to be officers.

The Taliban have claimed responsibility for Wednesday's attack, which wounded six other people. A senior U.S. official said information suggested that a bomber walked into a gym facility at Forward Operating Base Chapman -- in Khost Province, near the border of Pakistan -- and detonated bombs in a suicide vest.

It is not known how the bomber got past security. In a posting on its Web site Thursday, the Taliban claimed the bomber was an Afghan National Army soldier.

Aid convoy will enter Gaza from Rafah
JERUSALEM (JTA) -- An aid convoy carrying 200 truckloads of basic food and medical supplies will be allowed to enter Gaza.

The Viva Palestina convoy organized by British lawmaker George Galloway arrived in the Egyptian port of El-Arish Sunday. The cargo was set to be unloaded and enter Gaza through the Rafahborder crossing accompanied by some 450 activists from 17 countries.

Egypt had insisted that the convoy travel from a port on the Red Sea, where it arrived last week, to a port on the Mediterranean in order to enter Gaza.

Egypt to allow aid convoy into Gaza
An international aid convoy will be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip after organizers struck a deal with Egyptian authorities over its transit route.

Egypt's state-owned Middle East News Agency reported that a ship carrying the 150-vehicle convoy with hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies will be unloaded at the Egyptian port of El-Arish after arriving Sunday.

The report said that the British-based group Viva Palestina is accompanied by 528 activists from 17 countries who will also travel to Gaza.

Egypt had refused to allow the group in through the Red Sea, insisting it use a Mediterranean route closer to the Gaza border.

Brazil landslides 'may close nuclear plants'
Two nuclear power stations near a city in southern Brazil hit by deadly landslides may be temporarily shut down, the mayor has said.

Mayor Tuca Jordao, of Angra dos Reis, said main roads had been blocked by landslides and could obstruct any evacuation in the case of an emergency.

He said the plants - Angra I and Angra II - were not damaged or threatened but should be shut down as a precaution.

A landslide that hit a nearby resort on Friday killed at least 29 people.

Floods and landslides have killed more than 70 people in southern Brazil.

Burma's leader announces first elections since 1990
Burma's military leader confirmed today that the country would hold its first elections in two decades this year but warned voters to make the "correct choices" when they go to the polls.

The long-awaited election would be Burma's first since 1990, when the main opposition party, led by the democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, won by a landslide. The junta ignored the result.

In an occasionally cryptic message to mark the anniversary of Burma's independence from Britain in 1948, General Than Shwe said his seven-stage road map was the sole process in the country's transition to democracy.

"Plans are under way to hold elections in a systematic way this year," he said in the address, read out on television by a senior junta official. "In that regard, the entire people have to make correct choices." No date has been set for the election.

The 76-year-old general also warned people to "remain vigilant at all times against dangers posed by neocolonialists", in a reference to the US, Britain and other western nations critical of its record on human rights and treatment of political opponents.

Some will interpret the message as a warning not to vote for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. The NLD does not recognise the country's new military-authored constitution and has yet to decide whether to take part in the election.

C.I.A. Data Sharing With Environmental Scientists Is Revived
The nation�s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government�s intelligence assets � including spy satellites and other classified sensors � as sensitive instruments that can assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.

The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. As part of the effort, reconnaissance satellites in the last year have scrutinized Arctic sea ice in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and images of the ice pack have been declassified to speed scientific analysis.

The trove of images is �really useful,� said Norbert Untersteiner, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in polar ice and is a member of the team of spies and scientists behind the effort.

Scientists, Professor Untersteiner said, �have no way to send out 500 people� across the top of the world to match the intelligence gains, adding that the new understandings might one day result in ice forecasts.

Apple is not to blame for hearing loss caused by iPods, rules U.S. appeal court
A U.S. judge has ruled that Apple is not responsible for hearing loss caused by music played too loud on iPods.

The San Francisco appeal court upheld a 2008 ruling, as the company warns users of the dangers of playing music too loud.

It also reasoned that iPod users had the option to choose how loud they raise the volume.

Joseph Birdsong and Bruce Waggoner had claimed that the popular music devices were defective because they could reach 115 decibels - the equivalent volume to a helicopter.

Use of potentially harmful chemicals kept secret under law
Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States -- from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners -- nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics -- including the Obama administration -- say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

At a time of increasing public demand for more information about chemical exposure, pressure is building on lawmakers to make it more difficult for manufacturers to cloak their products in secrecy. Congress is set to rewrite chemical regulations this year for the first time in a generation.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, manufacturers must report to the federal government new chemicals they intend to market. But the law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.

Government officials, scientists and environmental groups say that manufacturers have exploited weaknesses in the law to claim secrecy for an ever-increasing number of chemicals. In the past several years, 95 percent of the notices for new chemicals sent to the government requested some secrecy, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 700 chemicals are introduced annually.

Shooting Handcuffed Children [WRH]
The occupied government of Afghanistan and the United Nations have both concluded that U.S.-led troops recently dragged eight sleeping children out of their beds, handcuffed some of them, and shot them all dead. While this apparently constitutes an everyday act of kindness, far less intriguing than the vicious singeing of his pubic hairs by Captain Underpants, it is at least a variation on the ordinary American technique of murdering men, women, and children by the dozens with unmanned drones.

Also this week in Afghanistan, eight CIA assassins (see if you can find a more appropriate name for them) were murdered by a suicide bombing that one of them apparently executed against the other seven. The Taliban in Pakistan claims credit and describes the mass-murder as revenge for the CIA's drone killings. And we thought unmanned drones were War Perfected because none of the right people would have to risk their lives. Oops. Perhaps Detroit-bound passengers risked theirs unwittingly.

The CIA has declared its intention to seek revenge for the suicide strike. Who knows what the assassination of sleeping students was revenge for. Perhaps the next lunatic to try blowing up something in the United States will be seeking revenge for whatever Obama does to avenge the victims (television viewers?) of the Crotch Crusader. Certainly there will be numerous more acts of violence driven by longings for revenge against the drone pilots and the shooters of students.

In a civilized world, the alternative to vengeance is justice. Often we can even set aside feelings of revenge as long as we are able to act so as to deter more crime. But at the same time that the puppet president of Afghanistan is demanding the arrest of the troops who shot the handcuffed children, the puppet government of Iraq is facing up to the refusal of the United States to seriously prosecute the Blackwater assassins of innocent Iraqis. Justice will not be permitted as an alternative to vengeance -- the mere idea is anti-American.

Cryonics believers aim to return from dead; More pay to preserve bodies in hopes of medical breakthroughs
"If there's any possible chance that I might be able to speak with my dad again, I'd like to do that," said Hagen, 45, who recently became a member at the Cryonics Institute. "What's the worst that could happen? If I am buried or cremated, I know I am gone. There is a possibility, however remote, that this may actually pan out, and I may speak with my family members again."

Robert Ettinger, a former Wayne State University professor and Clinton Township resident, founded the institute more than 30 years ago. Unable to persuade scientists to preserve bodies at low temperatures after death in hopes of rejuvenation by yet-invented technology, Ettinger did it himself. The Cryonics Institute opened in Detroit in 1976 before moving in 1993 to Clinton Township.

For years, membership was in the single digits, but it has exploded 500 percent since 2000 to 830 worldwide folks who want to preserve themselves, DNA or pets. The facility has preserved 64 animals, mostly dogs and cats, but a few birds and a hamster.

Some credit the Internet for the growth. Others chalk it up to contemporary advances in science, including research into aging and disease, resuscitation after deep cooling and regenerative medicine.

Group Gives Up Death Penalty Work
Last fall, the American Law Institute, which created the intellectual framework for the modern capital justice system almost 50 years ago, pronounced its project a failure and walked away from it.

There were other important death penalty developments last year: the number of death sentences continued to fall, Ohio switched to a single chemical for lethal injections and New Mexico repealed its death penalty entirely. But not one of them was as significant as the institute�s move, which represents a tectonic shift in legal theory.

�The A.L.I. is important on a lot of topics,� said Franklin E. Zimring, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. �They were absolutely singular on this topic� � capital punishment � �because they were the only intellectually respectable support for the death penalty system in the United States.�

You Can't Trust A Tortured Brain: Neuroscience Discredits Coercive Interrogation [WRH]
ScienceDaily (Sep. 22, 2009) � According to a new review of neuroscientific research, coercive interrogation techniques used during the Bush administration to extract information from terrorist suspects are likely to have been unsuccessful and may have had many unintended negative effects on the suspect's memory and brain functions.

A new article, published in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Science, reviews scientific evidence demonstrating that repeated and extreme stress and anxiety have a detrimental influence on brain functions related to memory.

Memos released by the US Department of Justice in April of 2009 detailing coercive interrogation techniques suggest that prolonged periods of shock, stress, anxiety, disorientation and lack of control are more effective than standard interrogatory techniques in making subjects reveal truthful information from memory. "This is based on the assumption that subjects will be motivated to reveal veridical information to end interrogation, and that extreme stress, shock and anxiety do not impact memory," says review author, Professor Shane O'Mara from the Institute of Neuroscience at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. "However, this model of the impact of extreme stress on memory and the brain is utterly unsupported by scientific evidence."

Psychological studies suggest that during extreme stress and anxiety, the captive will be conditioned to associate speaking with periods of safety. For the captor, when the captive speaks, the objective of gaining information will have been obtained and there will be relief from the unsavory task of administering these conditions of stress. Therefore, it is difficult or impossible to determine during the interrogation whether the captive is revealing truthful information or just talking to escape the torture. Research has also shown that extreme stress has a deleterious effect on the frontal lobe and is associated with the production of false memories.

Neurochemical studies have revealed that the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, brain regions integral to the process of memory, are rich in receptors for hormones that are activated by stress and sleep deprivation and which have been shown to have deleterious effects on memory. "To briefly summarize a vast, complex literature, prolonged and extreme stress inhibits the biological processes believed to support memory in the brain," says O'Mara. "For example, studies of extreme stress with Special Forces Soldiers have found that recall of previously-learned information was impaired after stress occurred." Waterboarding in particular is an extreme stressor and has the potential to elicit widespread stress-induced changes in the brain.

Airline watch lists grow; screening expanded; Dozens more names added for scrutiny following botched terror attack
WASHINGTON - The names of dozens more people have been added to the government's terrorist watch list and no-fly list after a failed terrorist attack on Christmas prompted U.S. officials to closely scrutinize a large database of suspected terrorists, an intelligence official said Monday.

People on the watch list get additional checking before they are allowed to enter the United States; those on the no-fly list are barred from boarding aircraft in or headed for the United States.

The review of the National Counterterrorism Center's massive Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database was prompted by the attempt to bring down a Detroit-bound jetliner. That incident also spurred enhanced security screening that took effect Monday for people traveling to the United States from or through Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and 11 other countries.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the watch lists and requested anonymity, but said that after the Dec. 25 incident counterterrorism officials reviewed information in TIDE on people from countries where terrorists have operated.

PAM COMMENTARY: More attempts at scaring the brainwashed.

Heart attack and stroke fears over fat-busting wonder pill
A fat-busting pill used by thousands in the UK is being investigated by medicines watchdogs over fears it could cause heart attacks and strokes.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA), which licenses the use of the drug Reductil, is looking at the results of a clinical trial which suggests that its active ingredient, sibutramine, could lead to an increased risk of developing heart problems.

Nearly 330,000 prescriptions for the drug, which tricks the brain into believing the stomach is full, were written out in 2008.

The safety data has come from an international trial of 10,000 patients carried out during the past six years.

Tax preparers to see new IRS regulations requiring competency tests, setting ethical standards
WASHINGTON (AP) � The IRS plans to require tax preparers to pass a test and register with the government to better police a largely unregulated industry used by most taxpayers.

The Internal Revenue Service says there could be more than a million people offering tax preparation services. Most offer sound advice, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman says, but many don't and the agency knows little about them.

The new regulations, announced Monday, won't be in effect for the current filing season � individual tax returns are due April 15. But Shulman said tax preparers will be held to higher standards in future years as the IRS steps up its oversight to help reduce fraud and errors.

"Taxpayers will get improved service and enhanced standards from tax preparers, and they'll have less risk that they'll get bad advice," Shulman told reporters. "The tax preparation industry will get more consistency and a level playing field."

Drug Side Effects Blamed for 20 Percent of Hospital Readmissions
(NaturalNews) One in every five patients readmitted to the hospital within a year of an inpatient treatment ends up there because of an adverse drug reaction, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust.

The research was presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in Manchester and published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology.

"While medicines have lots of benefits, they can also have harmful side-effects resulting in re-admission to hospital" researcher Emma Davies said. "Managing this involves checking patients' medicines while they are in hospital and regularly reviewing prescriptions in primary care after patients are discharged."

Researchers examined data from approximately 1,000 patients who had been admitted to a large Liverpool hospital. Among the 290 patients who were readmitted within one year and for whom data were available, 21 percent had been readmitted at least partly because of an adverse drug reaction.

The researchers defined an adverse drug reaction as "an appreciably harmful or unpleasant reaction, resulting from an intervention related to the use of a medicinal product, which predicts hazard from future administration and warrants prevention or specific treatment, or alteration of the dosage regimen, or withdrawal of the product."

After analyzing each case, the researchers concluded that 57 percent of the adverse drug reactions probably or definitely could have been prevented. The most common side effects resulting in readmission were reactions to aspirin (prescribed to prevent heart attacks or strokes) or diuretics (prescribed for the treatment of high blood pressure or heart failure).

OFFICERS are suing their police force for illnesses allegedly caused by their radios.

They claim that radiation emissions from the Airwave police radio network has left them with a range of ailments including nausea, headaches and stomach aches.

Lancashire Police Authority is now seeking legal advice and speaking with its insurers over compensation claims brought by officers who claim the terrestrial trunked radio (TETRA) technology is not safe. Civil claims have been made against the force and the suppliers of the �controversial equipment have since made changes to prevent �audio anomalies�.

Dubai names tallest building after bailout patron
The developer of the newly opened tower said it cost about $1.5 billion to build the tapering metal-and-glass spire billed as a "vertical city" of luxury apartments and offices. It boasts four swimming pools, a private library and a hotel designed by Giorgio Armani.

The Burj's developers say they are confident in the safety of the tower, which is more than twice the height of New York's Empire State Building's roof.

Greg Sang, Emaar's director of projects, said the Burj has "refuge floors" at 25 to 30 story intervals that are more fire resistant and have separate air supplies in case of emergency. And its reinforced concrete structure, he said, makes it stronger than steel-frame skyscrapers.

"It's a lot more robust," he said. "A plane won't be able to slice through the Burj like it did through the steel columns of the World Trade Center."

Dubai was little more than a sleepy fishing village a generation ago, but it boomed into the Middle East's commercial hub over the past two decades on the back of business-friendly trading policies, relative security and vast amounts of overseas investment.

Shell accused of abandoning solar power buyers in the developing world; Row over responsibility for sold-off systems has left Sri Lankan communities unable to replace faulty equipment
Shell has become embroiled in a major row with the World Bank and green energy companies after allegations that it is unfairly refusing to honour warranties on solar power systems sold to the developing world.

A widespread breakdown of its equipment in Sri Lanka and elsewhere has left the oil firm accused of abandoning a responsibility to impoverished communities while damaging the prospects of the wider renewable power sector in a world desperate to reduce carbon emissions following the Copenhagen climate change summit.

PAM COMMENTARY: Another reason to boycott Shell (see earlier link on their dealings in Nigeria).

Gaza aid convoy leaves Syria
George Galloway, a British politician leading the convoy, had appealed to Egyptian authorities to grant the lorries access to Gaza through the Red Sea port of Nuweiba.

But Egyptian authorities had insisted that the aid be delivered through its Mediterranean port, a much longer journey that requires the convoy to go around the Sinai peninsula and through the Suez Canal.

Organisers of the convoy eventually agreed, and they are expected to reach El Arish on Monday, before crossing into Gaza.

Viva Palestina and another convoy, the Gaza Freedom March, were scheduled to arrive in Gaza on December 27 to commemorate the first anniversary of Israel's war on Gaza that killed 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

The Viva Palestina convoy is expected to deliver European, Turkish and Arab aid - both food and medical supplies - to Gazans affected by an Israeli blockade on the Strip.

Israeli enacted the siege after a Hamas election victory and the group's push of Fatah armed forces from the territory in June 2007.

PAM COMMENTARY: People should be able to vote for whoever they want.

Banks Roll Out New Check, Card Fees [R]
The nation's banks will be bombarding customers with new fees and products in 2010 as they try to replace more than $50 billion in revenue wiped out by new rules that clamp down on certain business practices.

So far, the changes are mostly concentrated in checking accounts and credit cards. In addition to attaching new fees to old products, banks are introducing new types of accounts that they hope will reel in new customers and reduce their funding costs.

Claims: UK interrogators �routinely� used sexual abuse against Iraqi prisoners [BF]
A secretive British commando unit is facing a slate of new allegations that they "routinely" used sexual abuse against Iraqi prisoners, according to published reports.

Five individual prisoners singled out one female guard in particular, known to them as "Katy," according to British publication The Times. The paper said that prisoners alleged the sexual abuse was used "routinely."

The allegations, which range from the use of pornography, masturbation, sexual humiliation and even male rape, bring the total number of complaints against the British army's Joint Forward Intelligence Team (JFIT) to 40.

"Interrogators are also accused of coercive practices outlawed in Britain, including threats and actual violence, the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, exposure to heat and cold, hooding and threats to rape and murder detainees� families," the paper noted.

Women of Oregon fishing families stand a long, lonely watch
Boats and those who work them go after -- among a multitude of other species -- albacore, halibut, black cod, Pacific whiting, shrimp and, when runs and regulations allow, salmon. But Dungeness crab is the state's big-money catch.

An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife study showed that fishermen delivered more than 204 million pounds of fish to Oregon ports in 2008, generating $213 million in personal income. That year's crab catch, above average at 13 million pounds, brought in $26 million.

Newport, with about 10,240 residents, is home to about 250 commercial vessels, in addition to the distant-water fleet, those that call Oregon home but fish off Alaska, California and elsewhere. So it's no surprise that for months leading up to crab season's opening day -- Dec. 1 in 2009 -- the place bustles.

By October each year, gear shacks all over town hum as fishermen enlist spouses, children and friends to help repair crab pots, rig them with new line, paint buoys and stockpile the sardines, squid, clams, turkey and mink carcasses commonly chopped up for bait.

Gaza group fears more delays
A GROUP of Londonderry men carrying humanitarian and medical supplies to Palestine hope to arrive in Egypt by Sunday afternoon (January 3) but fear further delays before they achieve their objective of arrival in Gaza.

Jonathan Crockett, Danny Doyle, Eddie McBride, Derek McChrystal and Eanna O'Donaghaile - travelling with the Viva Palestina humanitarian convoy - were forced to make the circuitous trip back through Damascus to the Syrian port of Latakia after being barred entry by Hosni Mubarak's Egyptian Government via the Jordanian port of Aqaba.

The men - who have driven across Europe to get to Gaza - stress that the next 24 hours will be critical to their success.

Kevin Ovenden, leader of Viva Palestina and associate of Respect MP George Galloway, stated that the group had secured a cargo ship to carry hundreds of ambulances to Al-Arish in Egypt.

The cargo ship was due to make the 20-hour crossing accompanied by just a small number of between 12 and 60 campaigners.

Meanwhile the remaining 450 people will fly on chartered airplanes to Al-Arish and arrive on Sunday afternoon (January 3) before the boats, Viva Palestina were this afternoon hopeful. Mr Ovenden expressed misgivings over the potentially hostile reception they might receive upon arrival in Egypt.

When the last Viva Palestina convoy arrived in Egypt there were violent clashes between activists and the Egyptian police wielding sticks as the convoy was stopped at Rafah.

Mr Ovenden said it was likely the group would be held up for a period upon arrival in Al-Arish.

"There will be an inevitable 2-3 day delay and possibly more. Rumours suggest the Rafah crossing into Gaza is open from the 3rd to the 5th.

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Sources (if found on major news boards):
[AJ] - InfoWars.com, PrisonPlanet.com, or other Alex Jones-affiliated sites
[BF] - BuzzFlash.com
[DN] - DemocracyNow.org
[R] - Rense.com
[WRH] - WhatReallyHappened.com


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All original content including photographs © 2010 by Pam Rotella. (News excerpts copyright by their corresponding authors, news organizations, or other copyright holders, and quoted here typically as "fair use" or "teaser" paragraphs to generate interest in the full articles.)