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News from the Week of 15th to 21st of May 2011
Happy Mother's Day this week!

Iceland's Grimsvotn volcano starts new eruption (21 May 2011)
Iceland's most active volcano, Grimsvotn, has started erupting, scientists say.

The volcano, which lies under the Vatnajokull glacier in south-east Iceland, last erupted in 2004.

In 2010, plumes of ash from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano caused weeks of air travel chaos across Europe.

Officials say the latest eruption is unlikely to cause similar problems, although a flight ban has been imposed around the area.

Why would-be engineers end up as English majors (20 May 2011)
"Many students want to be in science, but very talented people are choosing other fields. That shouldn't be the case," Hurtado said. "It's important to understand how we close this gap."

Poor scientific literacy among college students is one reason students pursuing science and math are less likely to graduate from those programs. High school graduates aren't prepared for first-year science classes in college, Hurtado said.

But there's another problem, too: Higher education, itself. Science and math programs are designed and taught to winnow down the number of students. University tenure systems often reward professors who conduct research and publish their work, but not those who teach well.

Among students who majored in liberal arts, business or other fields, 73% of white students and about 63% of black and Latino students finished their degrees in five years.

Forty-one percent of American students who start off majoring in science, math, engineering or technology fields graduate from those programs within six years.

Judge issues rulings in Mitrice Richardson's parents' suit (17 May 2011)
Defense attorneys moved to have portions of the lawsuits dismissed, including the claim that deputies knew that Mitrice Richardson, who was acting in a bizarre manner, was in need of immediate assistance from a doctor.

However, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge William Fahey ruled that the parents have provided sufficient details in the complaint to keep that part of the case alive for now.

Sutton's lawyer, Leo Terrell, said the medical assistance issue has always been the main part of both cases.

However, Fahey did dismiss allegations in Sutton's suit that her daughter was discriminated against as a disabled person because she allegedly was not provided access to a working telephone to call her mother, money or transportation. But he said Terrell can file a request to bring an amended complaint if he provides law supporting such an argument.

Barack Obama responds to vegan question (VIDEO, FLASHBACK) (1 August 2008)
"Americans would benefit from a change in diet."

Clinton's interview on CNN, talking about his change to a plant-based diet (VIDEO, FLASHBACK) (21 September 2010)
"The short answer is, I went on essentially a plant-based diet..."

Fear of equine virus cancels California events (21 May 2011)
The nation's $39 billion a year equine industry has been racked with a deadly virus that has killed at least seven horses - one in Bakersfield - and sickened another 37 in eight states, including 14 in California.

State and federal officials continued Friday to try to pinpoint the original source of a mutated form of equine herpes virus-1, known as equine herpes myeloencephalopathy. The neurological illness leads to interference with the blood supply, causing tissue damage and a subsequent loss in normal brain and spinal cord function. Other symptoms include high fever, lethargy, weakness and lack of coordination.

In the meantime, equestrian associations and stables across the country have canceled shows, exhibitions and competitions to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. California's equestrian community is also postponing horse events until it's safe to resume. There are 698,000 horses in California, a business valued at $4.1 billion, according to the American Horse Council.

"We first became aware of the disease in the 1970s," said Dr. Kent Fowler, an equine veterinarian and the animal health branch chief for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. "In the last decade we've seen an increase in these types of varied strains."

French press publishes Straus-Kahn accuser's name and "photos" (20 May 2011)
BOSTON -- Here's a story that illustrates the chasm between how France and America handle men, women and rape.

The French elite are outraged over what they see as American vulgarities surrounding the treatment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former IMF chief and putative 2012 presidential frontrunner, accused of raping a 32-year-old Sofitel chambermaid in Manhattan last weekend.

Among the "barbaric" American practices under critique by Parisians: showing photos of the accused in handcuffs; marching him through a scrum of photographers on the way to court; and pillorying him tabloid style -- the NY Post called him "a horny toad," for example. As GlobalPost has reported, French law restricts some media coverage of alleged perpetrators prior to conviction, including publication of images showing the accused in handcuffs, to preserve the dignity of the innocent.

Despite their outrage, the French press is blatantly committing what American journalists regard as a cardinal sin of rape coverage: violating the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Dem group's ad depicts Paul Ryan stand-in tossing elderly woman off a cliff (20 May 2011)
Republican scare-mongering of Democratic health reform has officially come back to bite them -- hard -- in a rather juvenile ad from an independent Democratic group.

The ad, by advocacy group The Agenda Project, depicts a man in a black suit, ostensibly a stand-in for Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff.

It evokes all the worst images from 2009's summer-long health reform debate, in which Republicans on Fox News insisted for months that offering insurance coverage for "end-of-life care" was somehow akin to establishing what they called "death panels" that would decide who was worthy of saving.

Agenda Project's ad is a response to Rep. Ryan's plan to end the public health program Medicare, which currently supports the well-being of more than 46 million Americans. Ryan's plan would convert Medicare into a coupon program over the next decade and force many seniors to seek care from the more costly private market.

PAM COMMENTARY: Ryan's nuts. I used to live in his district. People there never really paid attention to his calls to end programs like Social Security, but now that Republicans control the House, he's finally getting enough press coverage for people to figure him out. I doubt he'll last through another election.

Morgan Harrington's "Disappeared" episode, part 1 of 3 (FLASHBACK, VIDEO) (20 April 2011)
Morgan Harrington's "Disappeared" episode, part 2 of 3 (FLASHBACK, VIDEO) (20 April 2011)
Morgan Harrington's "Disappeared" episode, part 3 of 3 (FLASHBACK, VIDEO) (20 April 2011)
PAM COMMENTARY: I didn't post this when it first came out, and thought my readers who missed it on TV might want to see it now. Enjoy it until someone complains about copyrights to YouTube and they take it down.

Obama pledges new aid to Mideast nations embracing democracy (19 May 2011)
Speaking at the State Department before an audience of U.S. diplomats, administration officials and foreign envoys, Obama made his first broad attempt to place the region's wave of popular uprisings, which have swept away autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt and threatened several others, in the context of American interests and values. Aides said he felt it was importrant to address the armed rebellion in Libya, the uprising in Syria and the moribund peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

The speech was aimed in part at reassuring allies alarmed by what they perceive as drift in Obama's policy in the rapidly changing region, after weeks when Osama bin Laden's killing and a domestic debate over the national debt took center stage.

It comes a day after Obama announced new financial sanctions against seven senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses, naming President Bashar al-Assad among them for the first time.

Obama's counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, also phoned Yemen's embattled president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, on Wednesday to urge him to accept an Arab-brokered agreement that would usher him from office within a month.

Jeremy Scahill on Blackwater Founder Erik Prince's Private Army of "Christian Crusaders" in the UAE (18 May 2011)
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the significance of this mercenary army that Prince is setting up for the UAE.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, when Erik Prince decided to move to the United Arab Emirates, he gave an interview to a former CIA employee in Vanity Fair in which he said that he was going to be leaving the soldier of fortune business and said he wanted to go and teach high school, and he said, you know, "I'll teach history. Even Indiana Jones was a teacher." Well, it's true that Indiana Jones was a teacher, but he also was an anti-mercenary. In fact, in a famous scene in the movie, Indiana Jones, Raiders of the Lost Ark, his archnemesis, Belloq, who's working for the Nazis, accuses Indiana Jones of giving a bad name to mercenaries. So, Erik Prince, rather than pursuing that path, has actually pursued the path of the mercenary.

And when he moved to the United Arab Emirates, he said he did so because it was a free society and a country that respected the free market. Well, it didn't take long for him to get down to business with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and essentially hatched a plot to build up a mercenary army within the borders of the UAE, relying on labor from Colombia. Blackwater has a long history of working with Colombians. In fact, Blackwater paid Colombians $34 a day to operate in Iraq. And when the Colombians protested their payment, saying that they were getting less than the Bulgarians or the others that were working for Blackwater, the white soldiers, Blackwater threatened them, according to the Colombians, and wouldn't give them their passports back and said, you know, "We're just going to release you onto the streets of Baghdad." And eventually the Colombians left, and they went and they assassinated the recruiter that had hired them for Blackwater. So it's ironic that Prince is using the Colombians. Now their pay has been increased to something like $150 a day.

And the purpose of this force, as stated in the corporate documents and in the New York Times, is to deal primarily with the internal situation in the United Arab Emirates. Anyone who's been to the UAE knows that the economy is entirely fueled by migrant workers, people from the Philippines or from Pakistan or Bangladesh. And they live in these camps, and their conditions are not good, to say the least. So, one of the concerns seemed to be that unrest could spread in those camps, and they didn't want to use UAE forces to quell those rebellions, but instead send in Erik Prince's.

The other thing, Amy, that I think is significant about this -- and we reported on this on Democracy Now! a year ago -- Erik Prince gave a speech in late 2009 in which he talked about the rising influence of Iran in the Middle East and talking about how the Iranians were fanning the flames of Shia revolt. The regime in Bahrain has used the justification to crack down on protesters that they're agents of Iran or that they're being influenced or supported by Iran. And Prince essentially came up with a plan, in front of this military audience, for the United States to advocate quietly sending in -- this is in late 2009 -- quietly sending in private forces, run by Americans or other Westerners, into countries in that region with the express purpose of confronting Iranian influence. We now know that part of the UAE's arrangement with Erik Prince was aimed precisely at that. So this seems like it's been something in the works for some time.

I spoke to Representative Jan Schakowsky earlier this week, who of course is on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and has been the most ferocious congressional critic of Blackwater. And she's raising some very serious questions about whether Erik Prince obtained the necessary license to export these types of services to a foreign country. You have to have a license, what's called an ITAR license, from the State Department that says, hey, this former Navy SEAL, who has had access to top-secret information from the United States, actually is authorized to conduct these services. Blackwater has been fined in the past millions and millions of dollars by the Justice Department for not obtaining those kinds of licenses. So, it could be, if he didn't obtain these licenses, that he is actually breaking U.S. law in providing these services to the UAE.

Facebook Doesn't Like This Bill (15 May 2011)
California could force Facebook and other social-networking sites to change their privacy protection policies under a first-of-its-kind proposal at the state Capitol that is opposed by much of the Internet industry.

Under the proposal, SB242, social-networking sites would have to allow users to establish their privacy settings - like who could view their profile and what information would be public to everyone on the Internet - when they register to join the site instead of after they join. Sites would also have to set defaults to private so that users would choose which information is public.

Currently, some sites, like Facebook, have default settings that make certain information - such as photos, biographical information and family information - available to everyone on the Internet after a user registers, unless the user changes those privacy settings.

And while Facebook itself has not told the Legislature it is opposed to , the bill's author, Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, said the social-networking giant has worked in "stealth mode" to oppose it.

The legislation would require that privacy controls be explained in "plain language." Willful violations of the law would result in a $10,000 fine for each violation.

"You shouldn't have to sign in and give up your personal information before you get to the part where you say, 'Please don't share my personal information,' " Corbett said.

PAM COMMENTARY: It's about time. Those social networking sites are like a sexual predator's dream, and I worry for young kids who think they need to tell everyone in the world where they go to school and who their friends are. When an ex-boyfriend goes psycho after a breakup, he's going to use that "friend" feature as a map of whose driveways to check for his ex's car. And I don't know how many times I've told YouTube not to share my age, but they still do. I still use YouTube anyway and like their service a lot, but how do you stop mega-corporations who won't even talk to you from violating their own policies?

For this year's Mother's Day card, a 2010 picture of the eagles' nest at Norfolk Botanical Garden in Norfolk, Virginia. Both parents are watching the nest in this photo. But last year's success was followed by some sad news this year -- the mother eagle was killed by an airplane, and now her chicks have been relocated to the Wildlife Center of Virginia, according to news posted on the Eagle Cam (see "fun link" of the month above). Unfortunately, the botanical garden in Norfolk is located next to the airport -- you can climb up an embankment near the garden's main building and see planes being loaded. Yet these wild eagles chose the location of their nest; humans only erected a web cam there to watch them. That eagle pair frequently raised 3 chicks a year, with all 3 surviving through fledging -- very rare for eagles. We'll see if her mate returns to that nesting location in the years to come. In the meantime, we can watch their eaglets grow at the wildlife center on the Eagle Cam "fun link" at the top of this page.

Mother's Day card to readers 2011, eagles and eaglets at Norfolk Botanical Garden in 2010, photo by Pam Rotella

Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater's Founder (15 May 2011)
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates -- Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.

The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest or were challenged by pro-democracy demonstrations in its crowded labor camps or democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.

PAM COMMENTARY: Somehow it seems the things this guy does should be illegal. And good luck to the endangered employees of any private security force that thinks it can fight off Iran's army.

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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 © 2011 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.)