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Click to visit VeggieCooking.com NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2011

News from the Week of 18th to 24th of December 2011

Stop the War on Christmas: Cease Fire in Afghanistan (24 December 2011)
Shouldn't Americans of every faith tradition band together to stop the war on Christmas? Let us call on President Obama to announce that on December 24 and 25, the United States will observe an offensive cease-fire in Afghanistan and urge others to join the cease-fire as a goodwill gesture to promote peace talks.

PAM COMMENTARY: When is that war going to end, anyway? And when is Obama going to admit that 9/11 was a Bush black op to launch pre-planned oil wars? There was never a legitimate justification for invading Afghanistan, other than its rich rare mineral deposits, the planned Unocal pipeline, and a military bump in the road on the way to invading Iraq...

As Bradley Manning Hearing Concludes, Military Prosecutors Say WikiLeaks Disclosures Aided al-Qaeda (23 December 2011)
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, Kevin, on this issue of the overcharging on the 22 counts for which Manning faces up to 150 years in prison, if convicted, the prosecution is alleging there were 22 separate incidents in which he violated state secrets?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Well, no. There's not 22 separate incidents. There's only maybe about six or seven, when you break it down. But they're attaching charges, additional charges, to each of the documents. So, for example, he's alleged to have released the Iraq War Logs and Afghanistan War Logs, the United States State embassy cables, the Reykjavik cable, the Garani video of a Farah incident in Afghanistan, the "Collateral Murder" video, etc. And then, for each of those, there is a set of specifications that go along with leaking those pieces of information. And so, they're saying that he downloaded unauthorized software to his computer in order to make transfers to WikiLeaks. And they're saying that he had unauthorized information on his computer that he downloaded. And then, of course, the transfer of the information out to WikiLeaks is a charge, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: You said they presented their case based on the restrictions. What were the restrictions for the defense, Kevin?

KEVIN GOSZTOLA: Well, I would begin by mentioning that the investigative officer, Paul Almanza, was objected by the defense. The defense wanted him to recuse himself on the first day. And part of the problem that they had was that he has a background with the Department of Justice, which also has an investigation into WikiLeaks right now. And the defense's fear--and it looks like it could be happening here, especially if Manning is charged and is going to get life without parole--they're worried that Bradley Manning is going to be--they think they're going to try to flip Bradley Manning to go against WikiLeaks. And so, that was part of the issue.

The other issue was that the prosecution would not allow these witnesses. So they had a list of 48 witnesses. Ten of them happened to be on the prosecution's list. There were 38 witnesses then that they were trying to call on their own accord. And those were all denied. Thirty-six of them were denied. And so, they ultimately had two witnesses that were able to speak. And so, what happened is, you've got people who were watching, wondering why nobody from Quantico is taking the stand to discuss his pretrial confinement. And you've also--were wondering why the defense's case was so weak. Well, the answer is because that the government and this investigative officer, Almanza, did basically everything they could to ensure that only a few bits of evidence were able to be entered into the record to support the defense's argument for Bradley Manning.

PAM COMMENTARY: Oh yeah, talking to the press at all these days is "aiding al-Qaeda." In fact, because al-Qaeda (which some claim is nothing but a CIA front group, originally created to fight the Russians in Afghanistan, but controlled by the CIA to this day as a "black ops" cover for instigating pre-planned oil wars) is able to read the news, publishing anything at all is "aiding al-Qaeda." I'm "aiding al-Qaeda" right now, just by typing on my computer...

With Indefinite Detention Measure, Has Congress Also Expanded Rendition of U.S. Citizens Abroad? (22 December 2011) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: While much of the media focus has been on the bill's provisions regarding indefinite detention, Mother Jones magazine has revealed the bill also contains text that could make it easier for the U.S. government to transfer American citizens to foreign regimes and security forces, a process known as rendition.

For more on this, we're joined by Nick Baumann, the reporter for Mother Jones who writes about national security issues. He is with us in Washington, D.C.

Nick, talk about the significance of this other aspect of the defense bill that we have heard very little about.

NICK BAUMANN: So, there's a menu of options in the bill for how the president--after he determines someone is a member of al-Qaeda or a member of the Taliban or member of associated forces or has supported those groups, there's a menu of options for what he can do. He can send the person to a civilian trial, which is what civil libertarians would prefer. He could send the person to a military commission, essentially. He could detain the person indefinitely, which is what has raised so much controversy so far. And then there's a fourth option, which allows him to transfer the terrorist suspect to a foreign country or any other foreign entity, which could be--could mean just about anything.

Seafood 10,000 Times Over Safe Limit for Carcinogenic Contamination, FDA Says to Eat it Anyway (23 December 2011) [R]
Despite seafood showing extremely high levels of contamination, the FDA still deems the food safe for consumption. The FDA not only falsely softened the risk of seafood consumption due to carcinogenic contaminants such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the seafood supply, but also ignored individual FDA staff members who called for higher levels of contamination protection.

The oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was one of the largest offshore oil spills in history. One recent study conducted by researchers at the Natural Resources Defense Council found that FDA Gulf seafood "safe levels" actually allowed 100 to 10,000 times more carcinogenic PAHs in seafood than what is safe. This move by the FDA is not only only irresponsible for environmental and human safety, but puts those who are more vulnerable at a higher risk, such as pregnant women and children.

Researchers who conducted the study, which was published in the top peer-reviewed environmental health journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found the information from snatched internal emails and unreleased assessments from the FDA under the Freedom of Information Act. The FDA argues that the reason they downplayed the risk is biased on the side of safety. The director of the FDA has been reported stating "overly conservative estimates would lead you [to] remove a great deal of food from our refrigerators and pantries than is needed". Seeing as consuming highly contaminated seafood is completely opposite of safe, this kind of response of course suggests that the FDA's decision had little to do with safety and was likely driven by political factors.

This wouldn't be the first time that the FDA falsified or presented manipulated data. The agency also ignored the fact that mercury, an element that is highly toxic in all forms, was found in a large number of brand-name processed foods. But instead of addressing this major public health concern, the FDA decided to focus their time on crushing beneficial supplements through ridiculous NDI regulations that threaten the entire infrastructure of the nutraceuticals industry.

Why Is the FDA Saying It's OK to Eat Seafood 10,000 Times Over the Safe Limit for Dangerous Carcinogens? (18 December 2011) [R]
Ever since the largest offshore oil spill in history spewed into the Gulf of Mexico last year, independent public health experts have questioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's efforts to effectively protect Americans from consuming contaminated seafood.

Now a recent study by two of the most tenacious non-government scientists reveals that FDA Gulf seafood "safe levels" allowed 100 to 10,000 times more carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in seafood than what is safe. The overarching issue the report addresses is the failure of the FDA's risk assessment to protect those most vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, such as young children, pregnant women and high-consumption seafood eaters.

In an effort to pinpoint how the FDA decided to set its acceptable levels for PAH contaminants in Gulf seafood, researchers at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which performed the study -- published in the leading peer-reviewed environmental health journal Environmental Health Perspectives -- also scoured documents wrested from the FDA under the Freedom of Information Act.

These include internal emails and unreleased assessments that suggest the FDA not only downplayed the risk of contamination but also that the EPA, and even members of FDA staff, had proposed higher levels of contamination protection, which in the end were ignored.

PAM COMMENTARY: This is the original article cited in the preceding news link.

Frankincense production in dramatic decline: study (24 December 2011)
It could well be enough to make the Magi turn in their graves.

Ecologists warned Wednesday that production of frankincense, one of the three gifts the Wise Men gave to the baby Jesus in a key part of the Nativity story celebrated at Christmas, was in dramatic decline.

A research team from the Netherlands and Ethiopia said their new study had shown numbers of the Boswellia tree which produces the fragrant resin were falling due to fire, grazing and insect attack.

Frankincense, used in incense and perfume, could be "doomed" if current trends continue, according to the research published in the British Ecological Society's Journal of Applied Ecology.

Oil interests push China into Sudanese mire (24 December 2011)
JUBA, South Sudan -- At a restaurant along the River Nile offering crocodile and ostrich meat, officials of the world's newest -- and desperately destitute -- nation hosted a lunch this month for Liu Guijin, China's visiting envoy for African affairs.

Liu's visit to Juba, the dirt-track capital of South Sudan, which split from Sudan in July, came at a tense time: Sudan had just bombed a refugee camp, armed militias were mining roads, and troops were clashing in disputed border areas.

The Chinese envoy, however, came here mainly to talk about oil.

The Chinese "are very worried," said Stephen Dhieu Dau, South Sudan's minister of petroleum and mining, who attended the lunch with Liu. "Their wish is to see the continuation of production and the flow of the crude. This is their concern."

Mentally ill flood ER as states cut services (24 December 2011) [R]
CHICAGO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - On a recent shift at a Chicago emergency department, Dr. William Sullivan treated a newly homeless patient who was threatening to kill himself.

"He had been homeless for about two weeks. He hadn't showered or eaten a lot. He asked if we had a meal tray," said Sullivan, a physician at the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago and a past president of the Illinois College of Emergency Physicians.

Sullivan said the man kept repeating that he wanted to kill himself. "It seemed almost as if he was interested in being admitted."

Across the country, doctors like Sullivan are facing a spike in psychiatric emergencies - attempted suicide, severe depression, psychosis - as states slash mental health services and the country's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression takes its toll.

Silicon Valley lives in its own prosperity bubble (24 December 2011)
"We live in a bubble, and I don't mean a tech bubble or a valuation bubble. I mean a bubble as in our own little world," says Google Chairman Eric Schmidt. "And what a world it is: Companies can't hire people fast enough. Young people can work hard and make a fortune. Homes hold their value. Occupy Wall Street isn't really something that comes up in daily discussion, because their issues are not our daily reality."

It was never clearer than in 2011 that Silicon Valley exists in an alternate reality - a bubble of prosperity. Restaurants are booked, freeways are packed, and companies are flush with cash.

The prosperity bubble isn't just a state of mind: Times are as good as they've been in recent memory. The region gets 40 percent of the country's venture capital haul, up from 31 percent a decade ago, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that growth of the area's job market led the nation, jumping 3.2 percent, triple the national rate.

PAM COMMENTARY: They're just talking about a few companies here -- California overall has a very high unemployment rate.

Justice Dept. rejects South Carolina voter ID law, calling it discriminatory (23 December 2011)
The Obama administration entered the fierce national debate over voting rights, rejecting South Carolina's new law requiring photo identification at the polls and saying it discriminated against minority voters.

Friday's decision by the Justice Department could heighten political tensions over eight state voter ID statutes passed this year, which critics say could hurt turnout among minorities and others who helped elect President Obama in 2008. Conservatives and other supporters say the tighter laws are needed to combat voter fraud.

Justice Department lawyers, facing intense pressure from civil rights groups to act against the new laws, are still reviewing Texas's statute.

In its first decision on the laws, Justice's Civil Rights Division said South Carolina's statute is discriminatory because its registered minority voters are nearly 20 percent more likely than whites to lack a state-issued photo ID. Under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, South Carolina is one of a number of states that are required to receive federal "pre-clearance" on voting changes to ensure that they don't hurt minorities' political power.

GOP: Gingrich, Perry will not be on Virginia.Primary Ballot (23 December 2011)
WASHINGTON -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has failed to qualify for Virginia's March 6 Republican primary, a development that complicates his bid to win the GOP presidential nomination.

"After verification, RPV has determined that Newt Gingrich did not submit required 10k signatures and has not qualified for the VA primary," the Republican Party of Virginia announced early Saturday on its Twitter website.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry also fell short of the 10,000 signatures of registered voters required for a candidate's name to be on the primary ballot, but former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul will be on the ballot.

State GOP spokesman Garren Shipley said volunteers spent Friday validating petitions that the four candidates submitted by the Thursday 5 p.m. deadline to the State Board of Elections. Shipley was not available early Saturday to discuss the announcement posted on the website.

'If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed' (23 December 2011)
If Joseph and Mary were making their way to Bethlehem today, the Christmas story would be a little different, says Father Ibrahim Shomali, a parish priest in the town. The couple would struggle to get into the city, let alone find a hotel room.

"If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed," says the priest of Bethlehem's Beit Jala parish. "He would either have to be born at a checkpoint or at the separation wall. Mary and Joseph would have needed Israeli permission -- or to have been tourists.

"This really is the big problem for Palestinians in Bethlehem: what will happen when they close us off completely?"

Bethlehem is the heart of Christian Palestine and it swells with pride every Christmas. Manger Square is transformed into a grotto of lights and stalls crowned by a towering Christmas tree. Strings of illuminated angels, stars and bells festoon the streets. But just a few minutes' drive to the north, the festive atmosphere stops abruptly.

Al Sharpton Does a Bill Clinton (22 December 2011)
What do Bill Clinton, former President George W. Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully, and the Rev. Al Sharpton have in common? They're all political animals who don't eat meat. Sharpton first got an idea of what happens to animals on factory farms when he appeared in PETA's video exposing cruelty in slaughterhouses that supply KFC and called on the black community to join PETA's boycott of the fast-food chain. His message to KFC? "That's foul!"

We caught up with Sharpton, who now hosts MSNBC's show PoliticsNation, to ask him what inspired him to change his eating habits, how his new diet makes him feel, and what his favorite foods are.

"I overhauled my diet after a 40-day hunger strike when I was in jail for the Vieques [military bombing practice] protest," Sharpton told us. "I dabbled with weight loss ideas, wanting to keep off the pounds I lost. First, I gave up red meat, then chicken. I ran into Bill Clinton, who told me how he has more energy, needs less sleep, and can think more clearly since going vegan, and I can tell you the same thing happened to me. I also kept in mind the words of another vegetarian friend--Coretta Scott King--who always spoke of the ethical reasons to give up meat."

Sharpton dedicated his PETA Humanitarian Award to King when he accepted it at PETA's awards gala in New York City in 2006.

Surprise as scientists find Viagra makes heart relax (23 December 2011)
Viagra helps ailing hearts to recover in a surprising way - by making them less stiff, scientists have learned. The impotency drug causes too-rigid heart chamber walls to become more elastic. The research explains how Viagra might benefit patients with diastolic heart failure.

People with the condition have abnormally inflexible ventricles, the heart's major pumping chambers, that do not fill sufficiently with blood. This leads to blood ''backing up'' in the lungs and breathing difficulties.

Scientists found that Viagra activates an enzyme that causes a protein in heart muscle cells to relax.

The effect was seen in dogs with diastolic heart failure within minutes of the drug being administered.

PAM COMMENTARY: The problem with studies that claim to find a new use for old drugs is that they're sometimes designed to keep the drug's patent from expiring. Often further research can't verify the findings.

Viagra has some terrible potential side effects like heart attacks and blindness, but on the bright side, Viagra has saved quite a few animals' lives because their body parts are no longer as popular in folk medicine for impotence.

Slower Internet likely to persist in rural Alaska (24 December 2011)
All the federal money being poured into Alaska villages in an effort to improve Internet speed isn't likely to help a big chunk of Web users -- those who access it by satellite link. From KUCB in Unalaska via the Alaska Public Radio Network:
"The Federal Communications Commission is trying to address Internet inequality on a national scale by shifting $4.5 billion in government subsidies away from traditional telephone networks toward Internet-based systems. ...

"That's a big deal for Alaska, where less than 75 percent of residents have access to broadband.

"What qualifies as broadband, though, will be different for Alaskan communities served by satellite, which includes most communities off the road system..."

House, Senate pass 2-month extension of payroll tax cut (23 December 2011)
Both the House and Senate approved a measure Friday morning to extend the payroll tax cut through February. The action ends a bitter, weeks-long partisan stalemate and barely escapes a deadline to keep 160 million workers from seeing smaller paychecks after the new year.

The Senate passed the bill first, taking a little more than a minute to complete a simple voice vote attended by a handful of members. About a half-hour later, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) presided over a brief session, and lawmakers took only a few minutes to approve the measure.

The bill also extends unemployment benefits for two months, postpones scheduled trims in reimbursements to doctors who serve Medicare patients and tweaks the payroll tax reporting rules to lessen the burden on small businesses of implementing the two-month pact. To seal the deal, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) promised Thursday that he would appoint a conference committee to take up negotiations after New Year's Day on how to fund a full-year tax cut.

The House vote was a remarkable capitulation on the part of Republicans, who had three days earlier rejected such a deal with Democrats as the kind of half-measure that their new majority was elected to thwart.

Syria claims Damascus suicide bombings kills 40 (23 December 2011)
DAMASCUS - Syria said suicide bombers hit two security service bases in Damascus Friday, killing at least 40 people and casting a pall over the work of an Arab mission to oversee an end to nine months of bloodshed.

The bombings, blamed on Al-Qaeda, were the first attacks against the powerful security services in the heart of the capital since the uprising began, and overshadowed new protests against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"The new toll for the two attacks today is established at 40 dead and 150 injured," foreign ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told AFP.

One bomber tried to ram a vehicle packed with explosives into the compound of the General Security Directorate, Syria's most important plain-clothes security service, in the Kfar Suseh neighbourhood of Damascus, witnesses said.

Oil slick from Shell spill heads for Nigerian beaches (23 December 2011)
LAGOS, Nigeria -- An oil spill near the coast of Nigeria is likely the worst to hit those waters in a decade, a government official said Thursday, as slicks from the Royal Dutch Shell spill approached the country's southern shoreline.

The slick from Shell's Bonga field has affected 115 miles of ocean near Nigeria's coast, Peter Idabor, who leads the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency, told The Associated Press. Idabor said the slick continued to move toward the shore Thursday night, putting at risk birds, fish and other wildlife in the area.
Shell, the major oil producer in Nigeria, said late Thursday the spill came from a "flexible export line" connecting the offshore field to a waiting tanker. The company published photographs of the spill, showing a telltale rainbow sheen in the ocean, but said it believes that about 50 percent of the leaked oil has already evaporated.

The spill comes at a bad time for Shell. It is trying to become the first oil company to produce oil offshore in the Alaska Arctic, but still must clear court challenges and regulatory hurdles.

Russia's Arctic oil projects under scrutiny after deadly rig sinking (23 December 2011)
MOSCOW--The sinking of a floating oil rig that left more than 50 crew dead or missing is intensifying fears that Russian companies searching for oil in remote areas are unprepared for emergencies -- and could cause a disastrous spill in the pristine waters of the Arctic.

Only four months ago, Russian energy giant Gazprom sent Russia's first oil platform to the environmentally sensitive region, and industry experts and environmentalists warned it is unfit for the harsh conditions and is too far from rescue crews to be reached quickly in case of an accident. They are demanding Russia put Arctic oil projects on hold.

Russia is the world's largest oil producer, but it extracts most of its oil onshore, with no more than 2 per cent of its production coming from mature offshore fields in the warm Black and Caspian seas and relatively new fields just off Sakhalin Island in the far east.

As Russia's core oil fields in Eastern Siberia are depleted, companies are looking north. The government hopes that up to 80 million tons of oil will be produced annually in the Arctic by 2030.

NYPD's spying programs produced mixed results (23 December 2011)
When New York undercover officers and informants were infiltrating a mosque in Queens in 2006, they failed to notice the increasingly radical sentiments of a young man who prayed there. Police also kept tabs on a Muslim student group at Queens College, but missed a member's growing anti-Americanism.

Those two men, Najibullah Zazi at the mosque and Adis Medunjanin at the school, would go on to be accused of plotting a subway bombing that officials have called the most serious terrorist threat to the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.

Ever since The Associated Press began revealing New York Police Department spying programs on mosques, student groups, Muslim businesses and communities, those activities have been stoutly defended by police and supporters as having foiled a list of planned attacks.

Recently, for instance, when three members of Congress suggested an inquiry into those programs, Republican Rep. Peter King of New York rallied to the NYPD's defense.

PAM COMMENTARY: Claiming a victory of prevention is easy when you don't have to prove it. And while they were chasing threats imaginary or far in the future, murders and rapes that had already been committed in New York went unsolved, for those crimes where the police actually bothered to take a report -- crimes committed by real killers who are still on the streets, continuing to victimize people.

US survey helps shed light on forest-damaging bug (23 December 2011)
RICHMOND, Va. -- Triangular, purple kite-like contraptions placed in trees nationwide are helping agriculture officials learn more about a deadly beetle that's threatening forests.

The 61,500 traps installed in 48 states are part of a survey of the emerald ash borer. The invasive pest has killed tens of millions of ash trees in the United States and Canada.

The 2011 survey shows the tiny, green beetle hasn't been detected outside of the 15 states that it's already known to exist, but it has been found in more counties in those states than last year.

Officials say the traps help them figure out how the beetle migrates and also help them raise public awareness about the bug. That's particularly important this time of year as the insect can be unknowingly transported in firewood.

British women forced to pay for removal of faulty breast implants while French get operation for free (23 December 2011)
The French authorities have advised women with breast implants that have sparked health concerns to have them removed "as a preventive measure".

It was feared that the implants made by French company Poly Implant Prostheses (PIP) could be linked to cancer, but French health minister Xavier Bertrand said there was no evidence of an increased incidence of the disease.

However he said there remained a risk the implants could rupture and leak silicone gel, and recommended all 30,000 women who have them should get them taken out "as a preventive measure not of an urgent nature".

The French state said it would foot the bill for the removals.

Around 40,000 women in Britain also have PIP implants but the NHS will only remove them free of charge if they are found to have ruptured.

Final autopsy report on FAMU hazing victim Robert Champion details extensive bruising, swelling (21 December 2011)
FAMU drum major Robert Champion's body was badly bruised on the chest, arms, shoulders and back when it arrived at the medical examiner's office, according to a full autopsy report released Wednesday.

Champion's body showed extensive bruising and swelling as well as numerous abrasions, the report from the Orange-Osceola medical examiner said.

Champion died Nov. 19 from "hemorrhagic shock" brought on by being beaten during a hazing incident, the medical examiner said last week when it ruled the death a homicide. It blamed "blunt force trauma" for his injuries.

Champion, who was 6 feet 1 and 235 pounds, suffered no broken bones or organ damage, but his injuries led to "significant rapid blood loss" into his "soft tissues" -- and that that sent his body into a fatal shock.

House leadership agrees to Senate's extension of unemployment benefits, payroll tax cut (23 December 2011)
Facing withering criticism from across the political spectrum and abandoned by Senate allies, House Republicans bowed to political reality Thursday and agreed to a two-month extension of a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans.

The agreement represented a remarkable capitulation on the part of House Republicans, who had two days earlier rejected such a deal with Democrats as the kind of half-measure that their new majority was elected to thwart.

And it amounts to a Christmas gift for President Obama, who attempted to paint his Republican opponents as willing to raise taxes for millions of Americans. Such an image could have cost the party politically just as it is gearing up to try to take back the White House and the Senate in 2012.

The agreement resolved the last stalemate in a year of bitter congressional fighting that earned lawmakers their lowest approval ratings in recent memory.

In exchange for supporting the 60-day patch, Republicans secured minor face-saving concessions from Senate leaders, who had already passed a two-month deal on an overwhelming vote of 89 to 10. Senate leaders had balked at the House's demand to restart talks over the holidays on a full-year extension of the tax cut.

PAM COMMENTARY: I'll believe it when I see it -- any member of Congress could object to this deal, and then it would be necessary for Congress to return to DC in order to pass it.

Implants: France recommends removal but UK does not (23 December 2011)
The French authorities have recommended that 30,000 women have faulty breast implants removed as a precaution.

The government, which says there is no evidence of a cancer link, will cover the cost.

The implants by French firm Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) were banned last year after they were found to contain a non-medical grade silicone filler.

But the UK government ruled out routine removal, saying there was "no evidence" of a safety concern.

It is thought some 40,000 British women have the implants.

B.C. medical group recommends pot legalization (22 December 2011)
VANCOUVER -- Some B.C. medical health officials are now advocating for marijuana to be legalized, arguing that the government's costly enforcement activities are making little difference.

The Health Officers' Council of B.C., which represents B.C.'s medical health officers and other physicians, researchers and consultants, is endorsing a report being released Thursday that suggests a direct link between the province's $7-billion illegal cannabis industry and the increase in gang-related homicides in B.C. from 1997 to 2009.

The report, based on Canadian and U.S. data, finds that Canada's anti-marijuana enforcement strategies are failing to keep pot out of the hands of teens, who said it is relatively easy to locate a supplier willing to sell them a bag of the increasingly potent grass.

The report has been compiled by Stop the Violence B.C., a coalition of B.C. law enforcement officials, health experts and academics advocating marijuana law reform.

Victim of 'subway vigilante' Bernhard Goetz found dead in motel room - exactly 27 years after notorious shooting incident (23 December 2011)
One of the four teens who were famously shot by Bernhard Goetz in a New York subway in 1984 has died in a possible suicide.

James Ramseur was found dead in the Paradise Motor Inn in the Bronx at about 11am yesterday.

Sources told the New York Daily News that two empty prescription pill bottles were found near the body, suggesting Ramseur may have taken his own life.

The 46-year-old was scheduled to check out on Thursday, but when he never did, the manager of the motel entered the room and found his body.

Ramseur was the youngest of four teens who surrounded Goetz on the 2 train on December 22, 1984.

PAM COMMENTARY: In the spirit of full disclosure, I've met Mr. Goetz a couple of times in New York City. He was with another vegetarian author there, and according to his friends, Goetz now feels terrible about the shooting and doesn't like talking about it. Well, he's hanging out with vegetarians -- people who don't even like harming animals. That reveals a lot about his state of mind.

In defense of his 1980s state of mind, though -- and I'm sure he'd cringe at me saying this but I'll say it anyway -- he may not have been alive to feel bad about it today, had he not survived the planned mugging that day...

Sensenbrenner apologizes to first lady over "big butt" remark (22 December 2011)
U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has written a formal apology to first lady Michelle Obama for disparaging her appearance during a recent chat at a Hartford church.

"I regret my inappropriate comment and I have sent a personal note to the First Lady apologizing," Sensenbrenner said in a statement Thursday. His office declined to release the letter.

The veteran congressman made reference to Michelle Obama's "big butt" while talking to a group of church members at a Christmas bazaar at St. Aidan's Episcopal Church in Hartford earlier this month. He was suggesting it was hypocritical for her to launch a national campaign to combat obesity.

Perhaps Sensenbrenner - who was accompanied by an aide - assumed it was safe to crack wise about the first lady's posterior in such a heavily Republican area.

PAM COMMENTARY: HE should talk -- Sensenbrenner is a seriously heavy man.

Science retracts story linking retrovirus, fatigue (23 December 2011)
The journal Science on Thursday fully retracted a controversial study that had linked a mouse leukemia retrovirus to chronic fatigue syndrome, a disabling illness affecting an estimated 1 million people in the United States.

Some data in the study were retracted in September when the Cleveland Clinic, which participated in the initial research, reported that its findings had resulted from laboratory contamination. The notice posted by Science on Thursday cited additional concerns about the research, although the wording made it clear that not all the original authors agreed to the retraction.

"The majority of the authors have agreed in principle to retract the report, but they have been unable to agree on the wording of their statement," wrote the editor-in-chief, Bruce Alberts. The journal was therefore "editorially retracting" the study on its own, he wrote.

The study, published in October 2009, had been hailed by people with chronic fatigue syndrome as proof that their devastating condition had an organic rather than a psychological origin. As a result, some patients began taking antiretroviral drugs normally used to treat HIV in hopes that they might work against the suspected retrovirus.

PAM COMMENTARY: I know of 3 theories on the cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, and each one probably explains a certain percentage of the cases. None of them are psychological:

1.) Dr. Hulda Clark claimed that she found Epstein-barr virus (the microbe responsible for mononucleosis) infesting chronic fatigue patients' muscles, and she recommended a strong anti-viral regimen, including the Clark zapper.

2.) Dr. Joel Wallach says that it's a selenium deficiency known to veterinarians as "stiff lamb disease" or "white muscle disease." Selenium supplementation helps, but I'm not yet sure what else Wallach recommends to help reverse the condition. Selenium is a mineral needed in only small amounts, and the mineral can build up to toxic levels. Before experimenting with this model of the disease, supplementation amounts should be researched carefully.

3.) The injury model is known to chiropractors. The precursor is a soft tissue injury that causes myofascitis. Basically, when a muscle is torn, it spasms around the tear, which is known as a "trigger point," to protect the injury so that it can heal. The unfortunate thing about these protective spasms is that they then pull on surrounding muscles and tendons, creating new injuries and perpetuating the condition. If myofascitis continues and is bad enough, it'll progress to chronic fatigue. I had a bad case of myofascitis after my car was hit by a speeding SUV in '98. The back spasms were debilitating -- UNTIL I supplemented with valerian root to calm the spasms for a few weeks, which allowed the muscles to heal. My chiropractor, who'd treated patients like me over her lifetime, later told me that she thought my vegan diet with a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables had made the difference in stopping my myofascitis from progressing into fibromyalgia. I should really type this up as another alternative health article someday, along with things that I found helpful after a couple of auto accidents. For example, I had extreme cravings for certain foods rich in calcium and Vitamin C, and after 2 accidents realized that vitamin and mineral supplementation needed a boost to provide extra raw materials for the body to repair itself. Silica was also needed, found in certain supplements/foods that come with warnings. (Among those are hops, found in beer, but hops have powerful phytoestrogens and so they're not good in large quantities, especially for men. Horsetail is the supplment I used, but it can cause stomach upset, and it isn't recommended for lengthy periods of regular use without the supervision of a health care professional. I had stomach upset after taking the herb, and that stomach upset lasted well beyond discontinuing its use.)

There are probably other theories on the cause of chronic fatigue, but the psychological diagnosis -- I don't like doctors who blame patients for their own field's lack of knowledge. If their field hasn't found a good drug to "treat" (a/k/a mask the symptoms of) the disease, then I'd prefer that they simply be honest with their patients and admit that.

Wisconsin's biggest wind farm goes online (20 December 2011)
Construction of the largest wind farm in the state is complete, with the Glacier Hills Wind Park northeast of Madison online and generating power for We Energies.

With 90 turbines, the Columbia County wind project is expected to generate 162 megawatts of power, or enough over a year's time to power 45,000 homes. We Energies also operates the 88-turbine Blue Sky Green Field Wind Center in Fond du Lac County.

"The completion of Glacier Hills on time and on budget was achieved largely through the talents of Wisconsin companies and Wisconsin labor," Gale Klappa, the utility's chairman and chief executive, said in a statement announcing the wind farm was placed into commercial service.

Wisconsin contractors participating in the project included Boldt Construction, Edgerton Contactors and Michels Corp., with towers manufactured by Broadwind Energy, formerly TowerTech, in Manitowoc.

When all costs are finalized, We Energies said, the project will come in below the target of $363.7 million set by the state Public Service Commission.

The two We Energies wind farms are part of the utility's plan to meet Wisconsin's renewable-energy standard, which requires the utility to supply about 8% of its power from renewable sources by 2015.

Problems possible with nearly 65,000 Arlington graves, report says (22 December 2011)
After a year-long effort to account for every grave at Arlington National Cemetery, Army officials said Thursday that there might be problems, some as minor as typographical errors in paper records, with nearly 65,000 sites -- or one-quarter of the graves at the nation's most prominent military burial ground.

In a highly anticipated report, mandated by Congress last year after the discovery of misidentified remains, the cemetery cited monumental challenges in completing the task: missing Civil War-era logs, illegible headstones and burial procedures that changed significantly over the 150-year history of the site.

"In a lot of cases, the marker is absolutely right," said Army Col. John Schrader, the co-chair of the task force. "The service was conducted flawlessly and someone wrote something on a piece of paper wrong."

Although the review has not yet found additional people buried in the wrong spots, "the discovery of burial errors cannot be ruled out," the report said.

Execution-drug info must be revealed, court rules (23 December 2011)
A state appeals court has ordered prison officials to identify pharmaceutical companies they contacted in search of drugs to be used in executions, saying the public is entitled to the information even if it leads to a backlash against the companies.

The ruling by the First District Court of Appeal emphatically rejected the reasoning of a San Francisco Superior Court judge, who said in February that the strong public views on both sides of capital punishment, and the prospect of boycotts and other actions against potential suppliers of execution drugs, justified withholding the companies' names.

In Tuesday's ruling, the appeals court said "the passionate nature of the death penalty debate ... heightens public interest in the information at issue in this case."

Only evidence of a potential security threat to a pharmaceutical company would justify concealing its name, and state officials have offered no such evidence, said Presiding Justice J. Anthony Kline in the 3-0 ruling.

Washington Post Editorial: Boehner and House Republicans leave the unemployed in desperate straits (22 December 2011)
The best solution at this point would be for embattled House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to back away from the cliff to which his rebellious caucus has driven him and to agree to the Senate bill in exchange for a promise from the Senate to return earlier than late January and have conferees work on a year-long extension. It is telling that the speaker, having promised a new, open House, refused to allow the Senate measure to come to the floor for an up-or-down vote, in which enough Republicans might have voted with Democrats to approve the measure.

The unnecessary disruption and economic drag of letting the tax reduction expire is unfortunate. But the real harm involves the failure to extend unemployment benefits. State-paid unemployment insurance would be available for the customary 26 weeks, but extended, federally subsidized coverage that has become routine during economic downturns would end. This is cruel and unwarranted at a time when there are about four jobless workers for every available position and two-fifths of the unemployed have been looking for work for more than six months. If the benefits are not extended, about 1.3 million people will lose coverage in January alone. As the president's Council of Economic Advisers points out in a report, "In no prior case has Congress allowed special extended benefits to expire when the unemployment rate was as high as it is today." Can lawmakers really celebrate the holidays while leaving so many Americans in such desperate straits?

House Republicans under pressure for walking away from unemployment extension, payroll tax cut (22 December 2011)
House Republicans faced mounting pressure Wednesday from critics inside and outside Congress who worry that their standoff with President Obama over whether to extend a payroll tax cut could do lasting damage to the GOP.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, who is seeking the party's presidential nomination, warned that the showdown could end badly for Republicans, citing his own experience in losing the political battle to President Bill Clinton during the 1996 government shutdown.

"Incumbent presidents have enormous advantages. And I think what Republicans ought to do is what's right for America. They ought to do it calmly and pleasantly and happily," Gingrich said.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board captured the frustration among House Republicans in the paper's Wednesday editions, asking whether the GOP's handling of the tax debate "might end up re-electing the President before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest."

Nigeria on alert as Shell announces worst oil spill in a decade (22 December 2011)
Nigerian coastal and fishing communities were on Thursday put on alert after Shell admitted to an oil spill that is likely to be the worst in the area for a decade, according to government officials..

The company said up to 40,000 barrels of crude oil was spilled on Wednesday while it was transferred from a floating oil platform to a tanker 75 miles off the coast of the Niger delta.

All production from the Bonga field, which produces around 200,000 barrels a day, was last night suspended. "Early indications show that less than 40,000 barrels of oil have leaked in total. Spill response procedures have been initiated and emergency control and spill risk procedures are up and running," said Tony Okonedo, a Shell Nigeria spokesman.

Satellite pictures obtained by independent monitors Skytruth suggested that the spill was 70km-long and was spread over 923 square kilometers (356 sq miles).

PAM COMMENTARY: Shell in trouble yet again...

And I really want them to stop using the Rotella name for one of their OIL products. Rotella is a word used in the name of certain seashells, like microgaza rotella rotella or rotella gigantea, but it's also a Roman/Italian family name. A family that doesn't go around supporting apartheid in South Africa, or murdering Nigerian chieftains and blaming it on anti-oil activists there, or endangering the environment with massive oil spills. Shell also owns Rotella.com, and so nobody with the last name "Rotella" can have that web site domain. STOP using the ROTELLA name for your OIL products, Shell!

Rush to clean major oil spill from Shell field off Nigeria (21 December 2011)
The slick was moving in the direction of Forcados, which is located along the coast of Nigeria's Delta state, he said.

Nnimmo Bassey, the Nigeria-based head of Friends of the Earth International who has closely monitored spills in the country, called it a major incident and pressed for an independent analysis of the amount of oil leaked.

"We can see a real threat to livelihood to fishermen and local communities onshore," he said.

The leak occurred Tuesday at Shell's Bonga field some 120 kilometres off Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer and an OPEC member. Production has halted at the field, which has a capacity of 200,000 barrels per day.

PAM COMMENTARY: How are "dispersants" a "clean up"?

Cudahy meat plant sues U.S. Navy over massive 2009 fire (22 December 2011)
Patrick Cudahy Inc. its parent corporation and several insurers have sued the U.S. Navy, seeking $326 million in losses from the massive 2009 fire at the meat packing plant caused by a stolen military flare set off as part of a 4th of July celebration.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Milwaukee, alleges the Navy was negligent in failing to control its inventory of flares at Camp Wilson in Twentynine Palms, Calif, where Joshua Popp, a U.S. Marine Corps reservist, was stationed in 2007.

Popp took the "green star cluster " illumination flare that his brother later set off from his parents' back yard in Cudahy on July 5, 2009. It landed on the roof the Patrick Cudahy plant, causing the fire that shut down part of the plant for months.

Smithfield Foods Inc. settled its various claims with insurers over the blaze for $208 million, according to company filings. Those insurers now join the new lawsuit, along with Smithfield, which claims it also suffered $118 million in uninsured losses from the fire.

FLASHBACK: The Cudahy fire of July 2009...
Cudahy fire July 2009

Cudahy fire July 2009

Great Lakes wolves lose federal protection (22 December 2011)
A resurgent population has prompted authorities to lift federal protections for the gray wolf in Wisconsin and other parts of the Upper Midwest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday that it was removing Endangered Species Act protections for the wolf in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and portions of adjoining states.

After the announcement, Gov. Scott Walker ordered the state Department of Natural Resources to implement a state wolf management plan, which is designed to protect animals while also being able to control a growing population.

Wolves - which can travel up to 30 miles a day - have soared to about 800 in Wisconsin. That far exceeds the state's goal of 350. There are now more than 4,000 wolves in the Midwest.

Lockerbie bomber: 'I am an innocent man' (22 December 2011)
"I am an innocent man," the Libyan said. "I am about to die and I ask now to be left in peace with my family."

Megrahi said he had never seen a Maltese shopkeeper whose identification was central to his conviction. Tony Gauci had identified Megrahi as buying clothes, fragments of which were found among the plane wreckage.

"I never bought clothes from him," Megrahi said. "He dealt with me very wrongly. I have never seen him in my life before he came to court."

The interview was published soon after a memorial service marking the 23rd anniversary of the bombing was held in the US.

Radioactive leak at St. Francisville nuclear plant reported by Entergy (22 December 2011)
Officials at Entergy Corp.'s nuclear power plant near Baton Rouge say they have notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about a leak of radioactive hydrogen. The Advocate reports that an elevated level of tritium was found Wednesday in a groundwater monitoring well at the Entergy River Bend Station in St. Francisville.

Entergy says the leak is not considered a public health threat because it was only in one of 31 monitoring wells.

Plant spokeswoman Katie Damratoski says Entergy is still investigating the source and cause of the leak. She says River Bend Station will check the contaminated well and those around it every month.

Signs Point to Economy's Rise, but Experts See a False Dawn (21 December 2011)
In recent weeks, a broad range of data -- like reports on new residential construction and small business confidence -- have beaten analysts' expectations. Initial claims for jobless benefits, often an early indicator of where the labor market is headed, have dropped to their lowest level since May 2008. And prominent economics groups say the economy is growing three to four times as quickly as it was early in the year, at an annual pace of about 3.7 percent.

But the good news also comes with a significant caveat. Many forecasters say the recent uptick probably does not represent the long-awaited start to a strong, sustainable recovery. Much of the current strength is caused by temporary factors. And economists expect growth to slow in the first half of 2012 to an annual pace of about 1.5 to 2 percent.

Even that estimate could be optimistic if Washington lawmakers fail to extend aid for the long-term unemployed and a payroll tax cut for the United States' 160 million wage earners.

At stake is about $150 billion, the bulk of which would go to middle-class families and the unemployed. If Congress does not pass the measures, economists say, it would significantly weaken growth from already-damped levels anticipated early in the new year.

Iraq gripped by sectarian crisis as 57 killed in wave of bombings (21 December 2011)
At least a dozen separate blasts hit mostly Shia neighbourhoods of the Iraqi city, though some Sunni areas were also affected. The attacks ranged from "sticky bombs" to fully-loaded car bombs, some doubled up to ensure emergency crews were caught by the second blast, a common tactic of Sunni insurgents.

Officials said that by lunchtime 57 people had been confirmed dead, and 179 injured, with the figures still rising.

At first sight, the blasts are likely to be attributed to Sunni groups, in response to the hard line taken by the Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in the days since American forces observed President Obama's promise to withdraw by the end of the year.

He has issued a warrant for the arrest of the Sunni vice-president, Tareq al-Hashemi, accusing him of running a hit squad, and called for a vote of no confidence against his own Sunni deputy, vice-premier Saleh al-Mutlaq.

Wal-Mart pulls formula after Mo. baby's death (21 December 2011)
LEBANON, Mo. (AP) -- Wal-Mart has pulled a batch of powdered infant formula from more than 3,000 of its stores nationwide after a newborn Missouri boy who was given the formula became gravely ill with a suspected bacterial infection and died after being taken off life support, the retailer said Wednesday.

No government recall had been ordered for the 12.5-ounce cans of Enfamil Newborn powder with the lot number ZP1K7G. Manufacturer Mead Johnson Nutrition said its records showed the lot tested negative for the bacterium before it was shipped.

But Wal-Mart spokeswoman Dianna Gee said the company decided to pull the lot "out of an abundance of caution" while health officials investigate Sunday's death of 10-day-old Avery Cornett. The product could go back on shelves depending on the outcome of the investigation, but customers who bought the cans have the option of returning them for a refund or exchange, Gee said.

Gena Terlizzi, spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, said Wednesday that samples of the formula given to Avery were sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for testing.

South Korea speculates that Kim Jong-il really died in his bed, not on a train (22 December 2011)
South Korean spymasters, stung by being caught unaware when North Korean leader Kim Jong-il died, are challenging the official version of his death.

South Korean National Intelligence Service Director Won Sei-hoon has told the National Assembly there were no signs that Kim's special armoured train ever moved out of the station in the capital of Pyongyang, South Korean media reported.

Kim was reported by state-controlled North Korean media to have died on a train at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 17.

The news, announced two days later, shocked South Korea and the Western world.

BofA in $335M settlement over Countrywide loans (21 December 2011)
NEW YORK -- Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million to resolve allegations that its Countrywide unit engaged in a widespread pattern of discrimination against qualified African-American and Hispanic borrowers on home loans.

The settlement with the U.S. Justice Department was filed Wednesday with the Central District court of California and is subject to court approval. The DOJ says it's the largest settlement in history over residential fair lending practices.

According to the DOJ's complaint, Countrywide charged over 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers higher fees and interest rates than non-Hispanic white borrowers with a similar credit profile. The complaint says that these borrowers were charged higher fees and rates because of their race or national origin rather than any other objective criteria.

"These institutions should make judgments based on applicants' creditworthiness, not on the color of their skin," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "With today's settlement, the federal government will ensure that the more than 200,000 African-American and Hispanic borrowers who were discriminated against by Countrywide will be entitled to compensation."

Obama holiday card is un-American, gripes Palin (21 December 2011)
Sarah Palin this week is carrying on the annual tradition of Republican complaining about the official holiday cards issued by the Obama White House. The main problems for Palin and Fox News: Where's the word "Christmas," and what's with the dog? The card features a drawing by Los Angeles-based artist Mark Matuszak of a fireplace-lit room in the White House with the Obama family dog, Bo, warming himself before the flames. From Fox News:

"It's odd," she said, wondering why the president's Christmas card highlights his dog instead of traditions like "family, faith and freedom."

... Palin said the majority of Americans can appreciate the more traditional, "American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree."

To which Tim Murphy of Mother Jones responds, under the headline "Fox and Sarah Palin freak over White House Christmas card":

It's all pretty non-controversial. Boring, even. Unless, of course, you're Fox News -- in which case the bookshelf is filled with Lenin's B-sides, the Constitution is burning in the fireplace, Winston Churchill's bust is conspicuously absent, Bo has become dependent on the federal government for handouts, and the empty seat is a stirring reminder of President Obama's nonexistent leadership.

PAM COMMENTARY: What a whiner -- no wonder people have a hard time taking her seriously.

In America, it's the thought that counts. Receiving a card means that somebody is thinking of you and took the time to select a card and mail it to you. That's the joy of receiving holiday cards. The card being pretty, like Obama's, is just a bonus.

The Christmas "e-card" I've used for this site recently shows deer huddled together in a blizzard. It's meant to wish my readers a "Merry Christmas," as the card says. The scene also shows my appreciation for wildlife and the environment. But bottom line, it's just a card to let people know that I'm thinking of them and hope that they have a nice holiday. That's what cards do. They don't need to do anything else.

Alaska and Feds square off in Steller sea lion case (21 December 2011)
Ryan Steen, an attorney for one of the industry plaintiffs, Freezer Longline Coalition, said NMFS was unable to find a cause of the stress, yet moved on making a finding of jeopardy in issuing the restrictions. "That is the fundamental problem here," Steen said Wednesday in U.S. District Court.

NMFS says it acted properly

John Martin, lead attorney for the agency in the case, said NMFS used the best scientific data available at the time.

He said plaintiffs were painting an overly rosy picture of Steller sea lions and that any improvements are not statistically significant. He noted that much more is known now than was a decade ago, when fishing as an indirect cause of stress to the sea lions was seen as possible. Today it is seen as a likely contributor, he said. That likelihood "couldn't be ruled invalid," he said.

Attorney: FBI informant took actions 'analogous to kidnapping' in Fairbanks militia case (20 December 2011)
FAIRBANKS -- The attorney for militia leader Schaeffer Cox argued in court papers this week that an FBI informant took actions "analogous to kidnapping" to keep Cox in Alaska and incite him to plan violent attacks against the government this spring.

In a brief filled Monday, attorney Nelson Traverso said Cox decided to leave the state in February rather than get into a confrontation with state authorities who had issued a warrant for his arrest on previous, unrelated charges. But he said Cox was impeded by FBI informant Gerald "JR" Olson -- referred to as confidential informant 1 in court documents. Olson had recently been convicted of running a fraudulent septic tank business in Palmer and received a lower sentence in exchange for investigating Cox for the FBI.

"With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see that CI-1 [Olson] was desperate and did what he did in order to create a situation where he would be the ?hero' and thereby benefit his own penal interests," Traverso said.

Traverso is asking a federal judge to dismiss charges of owning illegal weapons against Cox based on the conduct of the informant.

PAM COMMENTARY: Seems like a lot of time and effort spent on such a simple charge.

Closing arguments begin in WikiLeaks case (22 December 2011)
With Bradley Manning's preliminary hearing winding down Thursday, it still could be weeks before the Army intelligence analyst learns whether he will be court-martialed for allegedly creating the biggest national security leak in U.S. history.

Prosecutors were beginning their closing arguments, to be followed by the defense, on what was set to be the final day of a seven-day proceeding.

After the Article 32 hearing, the presiding officer, Lt. Col. Paul Almanza, will have until Jan. 16 to recommend whether the 24-year-old Crescent, Okla., native should stand trial for aiding the enemy and 21 other charges.

Military officials say Almanza's timeline could be extended, and there is no deadline for a final decision by Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, commander of the Military District of Washington.

The standard of proof is whether reasonable grounds exist to believe Manning committed the alleged offenses.

Darrell Issa: California uncooperative in gas-mileage probe (21 December 2011)
Issa, who has the power to subpoena, has expressed concern that California exercised outsized influence in the setting of rules, complaining about "extreme secrecy" in negotiations between the Obama administration, California officials, environmentalists and the auto industry that led to new federal fuel-economy standards.

"Did you make the statement that the negotiations featured a deliberate vow of silence or that care was taken to 'put nothing in writing, ever?'" was among the questions that Issa asked Nichols in a Dec. 19 letter.

A California Air Resources Board spokesman said, "We will respond to the letter and look forward to once again explaining how California's efforts are designed to save consumers money, increase the nation's energy security and help fight climate change."

In 2009, the Obama administration, car makers and California officials announced an agreement to significantly reduce vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and improve auto mileage. The agreement came after the Obama administration granted California permission to implement its own law to curb carbon dioxide emissions from cars, an action that increased the pressure on car makers to agree to tougher nationwide fuel-economy standards.

Issa was already miffed at Nichols for declining to appear, or send a representative, at an October Capitol Hill hearing on the fuel-economy rules.

PAM COMMENTARY: Fuel economy is a good thing. I don't see how a California politician earns support by attacking fuel economy. It's bad enough that Southern California has to breathe a brown gasoline haze 24/7.

Issa was used and abused by his own party to pay for former Gov. Gray Davis' recall in California, but the party had zero intention of supporting Issa's run for governor after that (they went with Schwarzenegger instead). I find it surprising that Issa would bother doing any favors for oil companies after that, especially when he's accountable to such an environmentally conscious, antiwar state.

Key West, Florida, to release genetically modified mosquitoes into the wild (22 December 2011)
If all goes as planned 5,000 to 10,000 Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes will be released early next year into Key West, Florida.

The mosquitoes are based upon technology developed by a British biotech firm, Oxitech.

The company's mosquitoes are genetically modified to stop larvae from developing to adults, and as such should not affect other insects or other species like fish and birds that might eat the insects. The goal would be for the modified mosquitoes to overwhelm the existing population of male mosquitoes.

Key West health officials say they're not overly concerned about the implications of releasing the mosquitoes, noting the use of modified fruitflies to protect agriculture. They hope to replicate the success the company says it has had in other countries. Oxitech claims to reduced the Cayman Islands mosquito population by 80 percent.

Not everyone is thrilled by this prospect, however.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth argues that the state or federal government should block the release of the mosquitoes until the company can answer a number of questions, such as: What impact will a major decrease in Aedes aegypti population have on the local food chain and ecosystem? Could other more dangerous bugs take its place, such as the Asian Tiger mosquito?

Oy vey! Yiddish making a comeback at colleges (21 December 2011)
ATLANTA -- A group of American college students stands in a semicircle, clapping and hopping on one foot as they sing in Yiddish: "Az der rebe zingt, Zingen ale khsidim!"

"When the rebbe dances, so do all the Hasidim," the lyrics go.

This isn't music appreciation or even a class at a synagogue. It's the first semester of Yiddish at Emory University in Atlanta - one of just a handful of college programs across the country studying the Germanic-based language of Eastern European Jews.

The language came close to dying out after the Holocaust as millions of Yiddish speakers either perished in Nazi concentration camps or fled to other countries where their native tongue was not welcome. Emory and other universities like Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and McGill University in Canada are working to bring the language back, and with it, an appreciation for the rich history of European Jewish culture and art.

Hungry, hungry holidays -- Unemployment extension set to expire, taxes going up due to Republican House's radical pipeline game (21 December 2011)
WASHINGTON -- The Senate is gone, the House is packing up, and for now that means working Americans will see their taxes rise in January.

After weeks of bitter partisan wrangling, the Capitol emptied for the holidays with no sign of negotiation toward a compromise that would save an expiring tax break. As of Jan. 1, the payroll tax cut that has been in place all year is scheduled to return to 6.2 percent from its current 4.2 percent, meaning that biweekly paychecks on average will be $40 smaller. Long-term unemployment benefits for 3 million people also are poised to expire, and doctors face an estimated 20 percent cut in Medicare payments.Facing that unpleasant reality, Republicans fell into an angry family feud over their strategy.

Several GOP senators who face re-election next year accused their House GOP colleagues of acting irresponsibly. The House voted to disagree with the bipartisan bill the Senate had passed to preserve the tax cut for two months so Congress would have more time to work on a full-year extension.

Democrats, meantime, were happy to accuse Republicans of voting to block a tax cut and leaving town without finishing their work - the same argument Republicans planned to use on them."The issue right now is this: The clock is ticking; time is running out," President Barack Obama said in a statement at the White House after the vote.

PAM COMMENTARY: That's why the Senate never should have included a quick decision on the pipeline in the 2-month extension bill -- no matter how much irresponsible legislation is handed to Boehner and Cantor, it's never enough for their ultra-radical agenda. The poor are just a bargaining chip to them -- they have no conscience or morals.

Feds asked researchers at UW to withhold details about bird flu creation (20 December 2011)
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. government asked scientists at two research centers, including UW-Madison, not to reveal all the details of how to make a version of the deadly bird flu that they created in labs in the U.S. and Europe.

Bill Mellon, UW-Madison associate dean for research policy, said virology professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka has gone through several iterations of a manuscript to the journal Nature to comply with the recommendations.

"That is an awkward situation to be in because, obviously, we're interested in disseminating science," Mellon said.

The lab-bred virus, being kept under high security, appears to spread more easily among mammals. That's fueled worry that publishing a blueprint could aid terrorists in creating a biological weapon, the National Institutes of Health said.

But the NIH said it was important for the overall findings to be published in scientific journals, because they suggest it may be easier than previously thought for bird flu to mutate on its own and become a greater threat.

"It's very important research," NIH science policy director Dr. Amy Patterson told the Associated Press. "As this virus evolves in nature, we want to be able to rapidly detect ... mutations that may indicate that the virus is getting closer to a form that could cross species lines more readily."

Some seal deaths linked to flu found in wild birds (21 December 2011)
PORTSMOUTH -- The death of 162 seals that washed up along the New England coast this year could be linked to a virus similar to one found in birds.

Since Sept. 1, officials have been investigating the unusual occurrence, saying they are still collecting data, testing and continuing research. The dead harbor seals were collected along Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts coasts by the New England Aquarium.

"This H3N8 virus is usually associated with wild birds, and a separate group of H3N8 infects horses and dogs," said Dr. Hon Ip, of the USGS's National Wildlife Health Center. "This is the first time that a virus which is similar to the H3N8 avian influenza virus has been associated with a large scale mortality in marine mammals."

The influenza A virus subtype has never before been seen in harbor seals. Officials said it caused the death of at least five of the 162 animals that washed up on New England shores this year. Experts believe that influenza A virus caused a bacterial pneumonia which was responsible for the death of the seals.

In most cases in the past where land animals were infected with the H3N8 virus and suffered upper respiratory infections, they recovered. This is the first time it has been seen in harbor seals.

No Keystone? No problem: Canada will sell oil to China, Harper says (20 December 2011)
OTTAWA -- Canada could sell its oil to China and other overseas markets with or without approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline in the United States, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In a year-end television interview, Harper indicated he had doubts the $7-billion pipeline would receive political approval from U.S. President Barack Obama, and that Canada should be looking outside the United States for markets.

"I am very serious about selling our oil off this continent, selling our energy products off to Asia. I think we have to do that," Harper said in the Monday interview with CTV National News with Lisa Laflamme.

Harper's comments were released a day after the White House sent signals it might kill TransCanada Corp.'s oilsands pipeline if it is forced to make a decision on the project in 60 days, saying there wasn't sufficient time to complete a new environmental review.

Wives of missing Russian rig workers decry "suicide mission" (21 December 2011)
As hopes faded Tuesday for the rescue of 39 workers still missing after an oil rig capsized in a fierce winter storm off the east coast of Russia, the wife of one of the men called the towing of the platform through icy waters a suicide mission.

The multi-ton Kolskaya oil and gas drilling platform sank Sunday in the Sea of Okhotsk about 146 miles off Sakhalin Island while being towed to its new destination in Vietnam. Fourteen crew members were rescued and 14 were found dead Sunday, officials said. The 39 missing workers are unlikely to have survived in such frigid waters.

"My husband called me several times and said that the mission was suicidal, as it was prohibited to transport rigs in those waters between Dec. 1 and Feb. 29," Lyudmila Kozlova, the wife of Capt. Alexander Kozlov, said in a phone interview from the port of Murmansk in northwestern Russia. "He said the waves were very high, and the wind was very strong and cold and if the platform got all iced over it would surely capsize, which turned true in the end."

The rig's owner, AMNGR, which is based in Murmansk, blamed force majeure, or an unsurmountable event, in the sinking and insisted that the rig was well maintained, having undergone work this year. The rig was being towed by an icebreaker and a tugboat.

Bay of Plenty motels fill up despite Rena spill (21 December 2011)
Maritime New Zealand said 243 containers had been removed from the ship, which has been stuck on Astrolabe Reef since early October.

Dive surveys had confirmed there had been no change to the status of the vessel, despite further buckling to the hull on its starboard side over the weekend. The stranded ship remains in a fragile state.

Yesterday's fly-over noted patches of oil and a 3km-long sheen about 20m wide stretching northwest. Patches of rainbow sheen were visible for up to 7-8km off the western side of Motiti Island, about half a kilometre from the coast.

Beach cleaning continued yesterday, with Omanu and Papamoa East surf club areas targeted.

The beach grooming equipment has been bolstered by specialist gear from the United States and a self-propelled beach cleaner donated to the clean-up effort by Focus Paihia Community Trust.

Large Southern California wind farm earns federal approval (21 December 2011)
The Interior Department approved plans on Tuesday for a wind farm east of San Diego on more than 12,000 acres of public lands centered in the McCain Valley.

The Tule Wind Project, developed by Iberdrola Renewables, the U.S. division of the Spanish energy company, will be able to power about 65,000 homes.

Iberdrola hopes to complete the desert power plant by the end of 2012 to take advantage of U.S. government incentives before they expire, but it still needs approvals from the California Public Utilities Commission, U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, California State Lands Commission and County of San Diego.

The next crucial review for the 200 megawatt installation is a county major use permit, said Harley McDonald, a business developer in Encinitas for Iberdrola Renewables. She foresees public hearings before the county during the first quarter of 2012.

Feeling the recall heat: Walker reinstates funding to help rape victims (21 December 2011)
Madison - Gov. Scott Walker pulled back Tuesday on budget cuts that would have affected services for rape victims and efforts to fight sexual predators of children.

The move came after advocates for victims and some lawmakers criticized the proposed cuts. The decision preserved some $294,000 for services to victims of sexual assault and $45,000 in funding to prevent child pornography.

"We are now helping make sure that funding goes toward preventing sexual predators from preying on our children," Walker said in a statement.

The cuts had been proposed by the state Department of Justice to handle additional budget cuts that had been required by Walker's Department of Administration.

The $174 million in cuts across state government had been required as part of the 2011-'13 budget bill signed in June but weren't specified by agency in that legislation. In October, the administration said the Department of Justice would need to find $4 million out of those total cuts in its agency budget.

The governor is also restoring a 10% cut to the sexual assault funding that was part of a standard cut made to many state programs in the budget.

Facebook challenged over putting users in advertisements (21 December 2011)
Currently if a Facebook user clicks the ?like' button on a brand's page on the site, the social network can use the image and name of that person in an advert endorsing the same company.

A US court, which previously refused to progress a case of several disgruntled Facebook members who were angered by this process, has overturned its decision.

The San Francisco Federal Court has now allowed the group of Facebook users to proceed with their class action suit which accuses the social network or unlawfully exploiting their preferences on the site for commercial gain and without their permission.

In a recent BBC documentary about Facebook, which received scores of complaints, presenter Emily Maitlis asked Elliot Schrage, Facebook's head of global communications and public policy, about this type of activity on the site.

He said that by people clicking the ?like' button on brands' Facebook pages, was them effectively giving their consent for their name to be allied to that company and endorsing it in a sponsored story or advert.

PAM COMMENTARY: Add it to the big heap of reasons NOT to use social networking sites...

Scientists to study psychological benefits of birdsong (21 December 2011)
Remove birds from poetry, Aldous Huxley once said, and we would have to cast aside half of the English canon.

Now, the impact of birdsong on our creativity and on our sense of wellbeing is to be explored in a three-year research project at the University of Surrey, supported by the National Trust and Surrey Wildlife Trust.

The study will examine the psychological impact of being exposed to birdsong, including whether it helps us relax, can assist our ability to complete tasks and even think creatively.

Eleanor Ratcliffe, the researcher undertaking the study said while there was a growing body of environmental psychology looking at how the natural world affects people, there was still a lot to understand about the power of specific natural sounds.

"Ho ho ho. Happy Holidays. Hope you & yours STARVE TO DEATH!" -- U.S. House Republicans vote against temporary extension for Unemployment benefits and payroll tax cut (20 December 2011)
The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday blew off the Senate's bipartisan proposal to extend a payroll tax cut for two months, instead voting for a conference committee that would work on a bill with the Senate.

Problem is, the Senate is already gone home for the holidays, and won't be returning until Jan. 23. And if the extenstion isn't approved, an estimated 160 million people will see lighter paychecks beginning in January. The tax cut is about $1,000 a year for families, the White House said.

President Barack Obama told Republicans shortly after their vote that they need to "come together right now and do the right thing," noting that the Senate was able to do so, even if it means they must return after the holiday break to negotiate extending the two-month period to a year. "We have more important things to worry about than politics right now," Obama said.

But House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, wasn't able to muster the votes to pass the Senate bill with the two-month extenstion, and didn't schedule a vote that would have failed -- and would have painted Republicans as raising people's taxes. Instead of voting on the Senate bill, House Republicans voted to meet with the Senate to work out their differences on the tax cut legislation. Boehner went as far as to appoint six "conferees."

Drug poisoning deaths continue tragic climb (20 December 2011)
Ninety percent of poisoning deaths in the United States are due to drugs, the federal government reported Tuesday. Drug poisoning deaths now outnumber traffic deaths as the leading cause of injury death in the country.

The report, from the National Center for Health Statistics, points to misuse or abuse of prescription drugs as the driver of the upward trend in poisoning deaths. The number of deaths from opioid painkillers (such as morphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone) rose from 4,000 per year in 1999 to 14,800 in 2008.

Those deaths are more common among males, people ages 45 to 54, non-Hispanic whites, American Indians or Alaska Natives than among other groups, the report said. About three-quarters of the deaths were accidental, 13% were suicides and 9% were undetermined, it said.

Overall, there were 41,000 poisoning deaths in the U.S. in 2008, the latest year for which statistics are available.

With new generic rivals, Lipitor's sales halved (19 December 2011)
Sales of cholesterol blockbuster Lipitor plunged by half barely a week after the world's top-selling drug got its first U.S. generic competition, new data show.

That's despite a very aggressive effort by Lipitor maker Pfizer Inc. to keep patients on its pill, which generated peak sales of $13 billion a year, through patient subsidies and big rebates to insurers.

Lipitor lost patent protection on Nov. 30 in the U.S., where the drug was still generating about $7.9 billion in annual sales. Two generic versions costing about a third less hit the market right away, one made by India's Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd. and the other an authorized generic, made by Pfizer and sold by its partner, Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc.

Lipitor's patent loss has been closely watched across the pharmaceutical industry, where most companies face generic competition, and a big revenue hit, for at least some of their top drugs over the next few years.

Better tests needed to detect and treat prostate cancer, doctors say (20 December 2011)
A blood screening result that suggests prostate cancer is bound to provoke high anxiety -- even though up to 80 percent of those findings turn out to be false positives.

Anxiety deepens, of course, if a biopsy confirms a cancer diagnosis -- to the extent that many men demand surgery or radiation even when they don't need it.

Now, two national health panels have made startling recommendations that call into question the way doctors have been handling prostate cancer testing and treatment. One panel said men should skip standard prostate-specific antigen (PSA) testing unless they have symptoms such as urinary blockage or pain. A second panel urged many men with low-risk prostate tumors to turn to "active surveillance" rather than immediate surgery or radiation.

The recommendations -- the first is part of a draft report by the U.S. Preventive Services task force in October, the second came from a panel convened by the National Institutes of Health this month -- have generated controversy, even as researchers in South Florida and elsewhere work to develop better methods.

Deaths of Alaska ringed seals trigger federal investigation (20 December 2011)
Federal, state and local wildlife scientists don't know what's sickening and killing ringed seals off the coast of Alaska and Canada, but they will get more resources to find out. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Tuesday it had declared the deaths of ringed seals an "unusual mortality event." The declaration will provide additional expertise for the investigation and give researchers access to funds for more in-depth diagnosis, said Dr. Teri Rowles, NOAA's coordinator of national marine mammal health and stranding response.
"It's additional work on top of all the excellent work that has been ongoing," she said during a conference call for reporters.

Walrus off Alaska's northwest coast have demonstrated some of the same symptoms, and a declaration of unusual mortality may follow by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA officials said.

Ringed seals are the smallest of Alaska's ice seals and are the main prey of polar bears. NOAA is considering listing ringed seals as a threatened species because of projected loss of snow cover and sea ice from climate warming. Sea ice and snow are crucial for ringed seal breeding.

PAM COMMENTARY: Watch out for the aggressive ads on this page -- a video starts playing without the reader taking any action.

Two new planets are most Earth-like ever seen -- but hot as hell (20 December 2011)
Astronomers have spotted the two smallest, most Earth-like planets to be discovered outside our solar system. They are orbiting a star called Kepler-20 almost 1,000 light years away in the constellation Lyra. Reaching the two newly-discovered planets would take the fastest spacecraft more than 4m years.

The planets, Kepler-20 e and Kepler-20 f, are 1.03 and 0.87 times the diameter of Earth respectively. The previous record holder for the smallest planet found outside the solar system, Kepler-10 b, has a diameter 1.42 times that of Earth.

"The first of these planets has a diameter just 3% larger than the Earth, which makes it the closest object in terms of size in the known universe," said Dr Fran?s Fressin of the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who led the team of researchers that found the planets. "The second one is 13% smaller than the Earth. With a diameter around 7,000 miles, which is also smaller than Venus, it is in fact the smallest planetary body ever discovered in orbit of another sun-like star. Most importantly, it is the first time we cross the Earth-size threshold. In other words, it is the first time that humanity has been able to detect a planet of Earth's size or smaller around another sun."

The results, which come from observations by Nasa's Kepler space telescope, are published in Nature on Tuesday. The telescope, launched in March 2009, watches more than 150,000 stars for signs of orbiting planets.

Puffin found in Montreal headed home (20 December 2011)
MONTREAL - A Hudson woman has been playing host to a special guest -- one that is desperately trying to get home.

Looks like he's booked on a morning flight to Newfoundland on Thursday.

A 6-month old Atlantic puffin has been paddling around the bathtub of Lindsay D'Aoust's home since Dec. 15, the day the bird was found in downtown Montreal.

A veterinary technician spotted him on Guy St. How he got there remains a mystery.

Cantor and Republicans demand yearlong deal with controversial oil sands pipeline approval in exchange for payroll tax cut, unemployment extension (20 December 2011)
President Obama has made extending the expiring one-year payroll tax holiday his year-end priority, arguing that letting workers keep and spend more of their paychecks would boost the still-sputtering economy.

If the tax holiday is not extended, payroll taxes will jump from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent in January, costing the average family $1,000 next year. The Senate package also includes provisions that would extend jobless benefits for millions of unemployed Americans and avert a cut in reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said he had no intention of restarting talks with the House. A two-month deal, he said, would provide time for the parties to work out a deal for the entire year.

"I will not reopen negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders, and supported by 90 percent of the Senate," said Reid.

House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) called the eleventh-hour tumult "a partisan convulsion driven by the tea party."

Clean-energy households poised to pay tariff like other customers (20 December 2011)
In a policy shift that could affect many solar-energy users, Arizona regulators for the first time will levy small monthly fees on those who receive utility rebates for solar energy.

The state's utilities charge monthly renewable-energy tariffs to help them pay for solar-panel rebates and to purchase alternative energy to meet the state requirement that they get 15 percent of their power from such sources by 2025.

Because the fees are based on energy use, once customers go solar, they don't pay much of a renewable-energy tariff. As people take advantage of utility rebates and pay to put solar panels on their homes, they wind up buying much less power from their utility.

Supporters, led by Arizona Corporation Commissioner Brenda Burns, say it is only fair that people who take advantage of solar rebates to cut their utility bills continue to pay a few dollars a month in renewable-energy tariffs so that more people can use rebates to go solar themselves.

White House sticks to secrecy as the death toll in drone strikes estimated in the thousands (20 December 2011)
The administration has said that its covert, targeted killings with remote-controlled aircraft in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and potentially beyond are proper under both domestic and international law. It has said that the targets are chosen under strict criteria, with rigorous internal oversight.

It has parried reports of collateral damage and the alleged killing of innocents by saying that drones, with their surveillance capabilities and precision missiles, result in far fewer mistakes than less sophisticated weapons.

Yet in carrying out hundreds of strikes over three years -- resulting in an estimated 1,350 to 2,250 deaths in Pakistan -- it has provided virtually no details to support those assertions.

In outlining its legal reasoning, the administration has cited broad congressional authorizations and presidential approvals, the international laws of war and the right to self-defense. But it has not offered the American public, uneasy allies or international authorities any specifics that would make it possible to judge how it is applying those laws.

Unemployment Insurance Under the Knife (16 December 2011)
The Great Recession officially began four years ago December, and although we may be in the third year of recovery, for more than 13 million Americans without jobs it doesn't much feel like a recovery. Even as the national unemployment rate inches down below 9 percent, the massive job hemorrhaging that began in 2008 has left a legacy of widespread suffering. Of the 8.7 million jobs lost since December 2007, fewer than 2.5 million have been recovered. With population growth factored in, we are 10.9 million jobs short of what we need to get the nation back to pre-recession levels, when the unemployment rate was 5 percent.

In the midst of this crisis, there are huge gaps in our patchwork system of state and federal unemployment insurance. Many of the jobless don't get any benefits: only 29 percent receive state benefits, with federal benefits covering an additional 32 percent. More than half of those who do get state benefits exhaust them before they can find a job (they typically max out at twenty-six weeks). Then, depending on state unemployment rates, the federal government provides anywhere from thirty-four to seventy-three weeks of additional compensation--hence the plight of the "99ers," for whom the federal program often represents the last chance to avoid plunging into poverty. For the ninth time since June 2008, Congress is staring down another deadline to keep the system of extended unemployment benefits from expiring. With roughly 3.5 million relying on federal benefits, why is renewal of the program once again a political question? Reauthorizing the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program was once treated as emergency spending that didn't need to be paid for. In today's highly politicized, deficit-focused climate on Capitol Hill, the Republicans are already insisting that the projected $44 billion cost be offset by cuts from other programs, even though unemployment benefits stimulate local economies and reauthorizing them would create approximately 530,000 jobs.

The recurring debates about how long we should continue to care about the jobless before cutting them loose has, in some respects, obscured deeper damage to the larger federal-state system of unemployment insurance. The program was established in 1935 as part of the New Deal promise to insure American workers against the risk of involuntary unemployment. Today, it is a critical component of a fraying safety net, a lifeline that helps people pay for essentials like food and housing until they can find that next job. Unemployment insurance covers, on average, about a third of a worker's pre-layoff wage. The average weekly unemployment check is a modest $295, but since benefits are spent quickly on basic needs, they have a direct stimulating impact on local economies. Yet in more than half the states, unemployment trust funds are drying up, forcing states to borrow from the federal government to pay their basic program benefits. Some of this is caused by the record high number of claims, but most results from poor financing of the program over many years. The crunch is about to get worse: the more than $38 billion states have borrowed is coming due in the form of interest and increases in federal unemployment taxes. Ten states enacted major benefit cuts and eligibility restrictions in 2011. Six states have reduced the number of weeks of state benefits below the twenty-six-week standard that states have maintained for half a century, and some have imposed new obstacles on applicants.

In the 1930s, when FDR and Frances Perkins proposed a system of insurance for jobless workers, only one state program existed. To make sure that states took on the challenge of insuring against job loss, the system stipulated that employers would be taxed on the labor of their employees, but that those taxes would be largely offset by a credit if the state created an unemployment insurance program that met minimum federal standards. The government commission that proposed this system noted, "So long as there is danger that business in some States will gain a competitive advantage through failure of the State to enact an unemployment compensation law, few such laws will be enacted."

Uranium mining report in Virginia notes potential city water supply contamination (20 December 2011)
The report notes that the state has "essentially no experience in regulating uranium mining." Before opening the door to uranium mining and processing, it says, the state would need a new system of rigorous, transparent procedures for mining operations, environmental protection and proper monitoring of radioactive mining waste for many generations to come. Setting up such a system could take at least four years and actual uranium mining, if approved, likely wouldn't begin for five to eight years after a license is granted.

The 302-page study is expected to be a critical tool in the debate over whether to lift a 30-year ban on uranium mining in the state. Virginia Uranium wants the moratorium lifted to begin extracting and processing uranium buried under Coles Hill, a farm outside the town of Chatham in Pittsylvania County.

Proponents say the site, considered one of the largest uranium deposits in the world, could be the center of an economic boom for the state and supply needed nuclear fuel for the country.

Critics contend that allowing the mining operation would pose an unacceptable risk of radioactive contamination to people and the environment, including the nearby river system that feeds Lake Gaston -- a major source of water for Hampton Roads. Virginia Beach officials have expressed particular concern about that possibility.

PAM COMMENTARY: If an accident were to occur, Fairfax and Virginia Beach could potentially have their water supplies contaminated. And the financial benefits would go to the owners of the few properties where the deposits are found.

Scott Walker's Next Target: Cancer Screenings for Women (16 December 2011)
First he gutted worker's rights, then slashed state education funding and dumbed-down sex ed. Next on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's hit list? Breast and cervical cancer screenings for women. Come January 1, Wisconsinites who rely on Planned Parenthood to access free cancer screenings may be out of luck.

The Wisconsin Well Woman Program is an 17-year-old state service created to ensure that women ages 45 to 64 who lack health insurance can access preventive health screenings. It is administered by the Department of Health Services and provides referrals and screenings for breast cancer, cervical cancer, and multiple sclerosis at no cost. The state currently uses a number of contractors to coordinate and provide those services, including Planned Parenthood. But now, in a move that could leave many women in the state without access to the program, the Walker government is ending Planned Parenthood's contract.

In four Wisconsin counties, Planned Parenthood is the only health care provider currently contracted as a coordinator for the cancer screenings. Coordinators evaluate women for eligibility, enroll them in the program, and then connect them to health care providers that can perform the exams. The coordinators also do community outreach, letting women know that there are options for preventative care even if they don't have health insurance. Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin has been a contractor since the program began--including during the terms of previous GOP governors Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum--but the group recently learned that its contract is being terminated at the end of the month.

Beth Kaplan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Health Services, told Mother Jones that no decision has been made on the contract and would not comment on why it might not be continued. But Tanya Atkinson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin, says they were told that the state is cutting them out of the program. "They have very clearly stated that they were ending the contract with us," she says. [UPDATE: Walker himself has confirmed that the state is ending its contract with Planned Parenthood.]

PAM COMMENTARY: Walker's motto: Do as much damage as possible before people kick me out of office.

Japan Picks Lockheed to Build Its Next Fighter Jet (20 December 2011)
TOKYO -- Japan said on Tuesday that it had chosen Lockheed Martin's F-35 jet as its next main fighter, a boost for the American defense contractor and for Tokyo's relations with the United States amid heightened fears of instability on the Korean peninsula following the death of Kim Jong-il.

Though the decision was likely made before Mr. Kim's death, which was announced Monday, a deal would strengthen the American-Japan security partnership at a time when Tokyo is increasingly nervous about regional instability and about China's rising military might.

Japan's choice of the F-35 over jets from Boeing and a BAE-led consortium also comes as a victory for Lockheed Martin, whose stealth fighter program has been plagued by delays and is facing scrutiny from American lawmakers.

"The F-35 Program Office looks forward to strengthening partnerships with Japan, and contributing to enhanced security throughout the Asia-Pacific region," the Pentagon said in a statement.

Boehner to the Unemployed: Merry Christmas -- You don't get more benefits until I get an oilsands pipeline! (18 December 2011)
Barack Obama, US president, has made the extension of payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance the centrepiece of his economic agenda heading into the 2012 re-election campaign. Mr Boehner's comments raise the prospect again that Congress will not reach an agreement on extending the tax breaks and benefits before they run out on December 31 if a new stalemate ensues.

On Sunday evening, Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, suggested Mr Obama was not prepared to reopen talks. "If House Republicans refuse to pass this bipartisan bill to extend the payroll tax cut, there will be a significant tax increase on 160m hardworking Americans in 13 days that would damage the economy and job growth," Mr Pfeiffer said. "It's time House Republicans stop playing politics and get the job done for the American people."

The White House and Democrats had already made significant concessions -- such as dropping their insistence on a millionaire's surtax and accepting a provision to speed up the approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline -- to woo Republicans into a deal.

Mr Boehner suggested that the House and the Senate negotiate together a new package which could be approved by both chambers. He said House Republicans wanted immediate approval of the oil pipeline and new changes to environmental regulations.

Japan tsunami debris expected to reach Alaska shores soon (19 December 2011)
On Wednesday, Canadian television showed photos of bottles and metal containers that washed up near Tofino, in the middle of the west coast of Vancouver Island. One resident interviewed said he had "never seen such a large quantity of debris at once."

An even larger quantity is out there. Much larger.

In September, the Russian ship Pallada reported encountering a vast stretch of debris 2,000 miles from Japan. The Pallada -- a tall-masted sailing ship used to train sailors that visited Kodiak and Sitka in July of this year -- took seven days to pass through the flotsam. By some estimates the area of the mass is twice the size of Texas.

No tsunami-related debris has been reported in Alaska, according to the Center for Alaska Coastal Studies in Homer and the Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation in Juneau. But that may speak more to the absence of observers than to the oceanographer's predictions.

Kim Jong-il played his one card brilliantly (19 December 2011)
North Korea's now dead leader, Kim Jong-il, was a master at playing geo-political poker with what appeared to be a very weak hand.

But 69-year-old Kim, who died over the weekend from a heart attack, didn't play poker with cards and chips but with missiles and nuclear weapons.

Despite the appalling poverty of North Korea's 23 million people, including a famine which reportedly took the lives of hundreds of thousands of his countrymen, Kim Jong-il managed to maintain his vice-like grip on power even when a purported stroke he suffered in August 2008 raised questions concerning the regime's future.

Critical to his political survival was his use of North Korea's weapons program to blackmail the United States and others, particularly South Korea, to provide humanitarian and other assistance to Pyongyang as the price to bring him to the negotiating table. To make sure countries like the U.S., South Korea, Japan and others didn't underestimate his regime's military capabilities, Kim Jong-il would regularly remind them by provoking military incidents near the two nations' borders and territorial waters. In one case the North Koreans sank a South Korean naval vessel.

China moves to deepen influence over North Korea in attempt to ensure stability (19 December 2011)
PYONGYANG-- The only images out of North Korea are of mass hysteria and mourning, but analysts see vast shifts behind the scenes following the death of leader Kim Jong-il.

China is moving quickly to deepen its influence over senior officials in North Korea and particularly with those in the military to try to ensure stability in the isolated nation, the New York Times reports from Chinese and foreign former government officials and analysts.

Kim's death "means that China will have to assume a heavier responsibility over the relationship in order to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula," Xu Wenji, a professor of Northeast Asian studies at Jilin University and a former Chinese envoy to South Korea, told the Times.

Kim's death was reported by a weeping announcer dressed in black on state television Monday (Sunday night, Toronto time), according to a still photograph released by Yonhap. He was 69.

"The death significantly enhances uncertainty on the peninsula," A Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, told the newspaper.

Pentagon taps iPhone app - plans app store (19 December 2011)
At Camp Blessing in Afghanistan's Pech Valley, some American soldiers played "Angry Birds" on their iPhones when off-duty. Jonathan Springer decided to put his device to a different use: building an app to help fight the Taliban.

"I wanted to give something back to soldiers that might help save their lives," Springer, 32, said in an interview from his base at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The result is Tactical Nav, an iPhone application the U.S. Army captain built with $30,000 of his savings and a maxed-out credit card a year ago. The $5.99 app uses GPS technology and the iPhone's camera to chart coordinates and guide artillery fire.

It has been downloaded about 8,000 times by U.S., Canadian and Australian soldiers, as well as hunters and hikers, Springer said. From e-mails he has received from soldiers who have gone on patrol with it, the app has been used in both combat and training, Springer said.

If Teri Takai gets her way, American soldiers, sailors and Marines may all soon be able to download Tactical Nav and other military programs through a dedicated U.S. Defense Department app store. Takai, the department's chief information officer, wants to build a secure network of smart-phone apps to help soldiers fight in new ways, from more precise maps to better manuals. If security challenges get resolved, the project will result in a revenue source for app developers and a potential boon for iPhones, iPads and Android devices.

End of the road for Saab as owners file for its bankruptcy (19 December 2011)
Saab's owners Swedish Automobile had been in talks with potential buyers Youngman and Pang Da, but GM, which sold Saab in February 2010, refused to agree to necessary technology licence transfers to the Chinese car companies.

Further talks had been underway with a different combination of would-be investors, including a Chinese bank, but Detroit-based GM said it could not support the proposals as they were "not meaningfully different" from the previous options.

In a statement this weekend GM spokesman James Cain said: "Each proposal results either directly or indirectly in the transfer of control and/or ownership of the company in a manner that would be detrimental to GM and its shareholders. As such, GM cannot support any of these proposed alternatives."

Guy Lofalk, Saab's court-appointed administrator, had already applied to end the reorganisation earlier this month on the grounds that the carmaker was out of money and had no realistic hope of gaining financing soon.

'Craigslist killer' case highlights the plight of America's jobless (19 December 2011)
Sanson, 58, replied to a job advert on Craigslist in October looking for a watchman on an Ohio farm. The position paid just $300 a week but came with a trailer home to live in free. The applications flooded in from desperate men across the country willing to work for low pay just to have a little income.

Except there was no farm and no job.

Richard Beasley, a self-styled preacher with convictions for burglary, is alleged to have posted the advert to lure men to an isolated wood and shoot them.

Beasley and a 16-year-old schoolboy, Brogan Rafferty, are accused of shooting four men, killing three of them, who travelled from as far as Virginia and Florida as well as from Ohio. The police suspect there are more victims.

Twitter stake bought by Saudi billionaire (19 December 2011)
Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, the second-largest investor in Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, has taken a $300m (?193m) stake in Twitter.

Alwaleed, who has a net worth estimated to be just below $20bn, has taken the stake in conjunction with his Kingdom Holding Company investment firm.

Applying an $8bn valuation figure for Twitter used by some analysts, the investment amounts to a 3.75% stake.

In a statement, Kingdom Holding said that the investment was "the result of several months of negotiations and comprehensive due diligence".

"Our investment in Twitter reaffirms our ability in identifying suitable opportunities to invest in promising, high-growth businesses with a global impact," said Alwaleed.

How Facebook Can Hurt Your Credit Rating (19 December 2011)
You know those deadbeat friends of yours on Facebook? They could end up killing your credit score and costing you a loan. At the very least, your no-account pals could bump up your interest rate.

A chilling story in the New York Observer' BetaBeat blog this week details the efforts of several online banks that plan to analyze your social media profiles to determine how big a credit risk you are. It's yet more evidence that, unlike Las Vegas, what happens on Facebook doesn't stay on Facebook -- and could come back to bite you in unexpected and unpleasant ways.

How are banks going to use this information? First, they're going to use your friends list to troll for future prospects. If you just took out a line of credit against the equity in your house, maybe your friends will too -- assuming they've got any equity left.

But that's only the start. Per author Adrianne Jeffries:

...in the last year or so, financial institutions have started exploring ways to use data from Facebook, Twitter and other networks to round out an individual borrower's risk profile--although most entrepreneurs working on the problem say the technology is three to five years away from mainstream adoption...

But there's a nightmare scenario: if banks learn how to use social media, they could gather information they aren't allowed to ask for on a credit application--including race, marital status and receipt of public assistance--or worse, to redline segments of the social graph.

PAM COMMENTARY: Another reason to avoid social networking sites.

Oilsands lobby group counter-boycotts Chiquita in banana-ban-a-rama (19 December 2011)
OTTAWA -- A Calgary-based oilsands advocacy group is urging a boycott of Chiquita Brands International Inc. after the fruit producer vowed to stop using fuel from Canada's controverisal energy source.

EthicalOil.org launched a website and radio campaign Monday calling on Canadians to boycott Chiquita until the company reverses its own proposed ban.

Last week, Chiquita announced at its annual conference with trucking companies that it would stop using fuel produced from Alberta's oilsands to ship its product. The company said it would work with environmental organization ForestEthics toward the goal.

Bradley Manning hearing: Agents say video, showing American Apache gunship crew killing Reuters journalist and his driver, found in room (18 December 2011)
In the course of a disjointed morning session beset by technical problems, it emerged that officers searching Manning's room at his Iraqi military base found a CD marked secret containing a video of a US Apache helicopter crew shooting dead 11 men, later found to include a Reuters journalist and his driver. The disc was in a box and ready to post, the court heard.

The court also heard that Manning created an online persona for himself, a female called Breanna, and downloaded information regarding gender identity disorder.

The second day of Manning's hearing got off to a farcical start as the government's first witness was initially unable to be heard in court. Special Agent Toni Graham attempted to address the court via speakerphone from her base in Hawaii.

Unfortunately her mobile phone connection was weak. After a few minutes of broken speech, proceedings were called to halt. "I can be in my office in a half an hour," the special agent said after repeated failed attempts to be heard.

When she returned, Graham was pressed by the defence over an affidavit she signed that led to Manning's room at Forward Operating Base Hammer outside Baghdad being searched. She told the court that she had travelled to Iraq to carry out an initial investigation into Manning after information about him was passed to the military from a "confidential informant in direct contact with Manning" -- presumably Adrian Lamo, the hacker who seemingly chatted online with the intelligence analyst and then betrayed him.

WikiLeaks investigators 'feared Bradley Manning had links to foreign agents' (18 December 2011)
Information led special agents to the Maryland house of Manning's aunt, whom he was in contact with while deployed in Iraq as an intelligence analyst.

In one conversation, Manning questioned her about the impact of what is alleged to be one of his most high-profile leaks -- that of video footage of a US Apache helicopter killing 11 men in Iraq, including a Reuters journalist and his driver.

Mander told the court: "Prior to detainment in Iraq, he contacted her and asked about the Apache video, about how the release of the video was being perceived in the US.

"He contacted her to ask her to make a posting to his Facebook page referring to the Apache video."

Last US troops withdraw from Iraq (18 December 2011)
The final 110 vehicles carrying 500-odd troops mostly belonging to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, crossed the border with Kuwait at 7:38am [4.38am GMT], leaving just a couple of hundred soldiers at the US embassy, in a country where there were once nearly 170,000 troops on 505 bases.

The final column trundled across the southern Iraq desert from their last base through the night and daybreak along an empty highway to the Kuwaiti border.

"I just can't wait to call my wife and kids and let them know I am safe," Sgt. First Class Rodolfo Ruiz said as the border came into sight. Soon afterwards, he told his men the mission was over, "Hey guys, you made it."

"It feels good, it feels real good" to be out of Iraq, Sergeant Duane Austin said after getting out of his vehicle in Kuwait.

Hacker who betrayed Bradley Manning expresses regret over possible jail term (15 December 2011)
Adrian Lamo, the hacker who betrayed the alleged WikiLeaks source Bradley Manning to the US authorities, has said it would be to his "lasting regret" were the soldier to be given a lengthy custodial sentence.

Lamo, 30, dubbed the "world's most hated hacker" for his role in passing information on Manning to military intelligence after the soldier befriended him on internet chat, said that he understood that Manning was an idealistic young man who believed he could change the world for the better and "who didn't necessarily know what he was doing.

"I think about him every day. The decision was not one I decided to make, but was thrust upon me."

Lamo's comments come on the eve of the opening of a pre-trial hearing in the prosecution of Manning, who is charged with multiple counts of transferring state secrets to WikiLeaks including hundreds of thousands of US embassy cables. The hearing starts in Fort Meade, Maryland, on Friday amid exceptionally tight security.

WikiLeaks: Private Bradley Manning claimed to be mentally unstable (18 December 2011)
The 24-year-old private, who is accused of the largest intelligence leak in American history, was also involved in a series of violent incidents following his deployment to Iraq in October 2009 yet was given continued access to the secret network from which prosecutors say he stole hundreds of thousands of files and then passed to WikiLeaks.

Testimony from the officer who commanded the intelligence unit where Pte Manning was posted described an overstretched and undisciplined outfit where soldiers regularly played music and watched movies on the same computers used to access classified intelligence.

Pte Manning's civilian defence lawyer, David Coombs, told the court martial hearing that his client had sent a distressed email to his immediate supervisor, Master Sergeant Paul Watkins. "He told [Watkins] he was suffering a gender identity disorder and in that email even had a picture of himself dressed as a woman."

In the email Pte Manning warned that his ability to work as an analyst of attacks by Shia militants in Iraq was being impaired by his emotional problems.

Yet rather than pass the message to his superior officers, Master Sergeant Watkins tried to counsel the young soldier himself and only alerted the intelligence unit's commander, Captain Steven Lim, of the incident after Pte Manning had been arrested, the court heard.

PAM COMMENTARY: How does listening to music or watching movies affect anything? The movies were probably on DVD, which doesn't expose the machine to networks or the internet to watch them. That's probably the least risky behavior of all -- they're not writing e-mails that could be intercepted, and they're not visiting questionable web sites that might install viruses on the machine.

Oil Rig Sinks Off Russia; 49 Missing (18 December 2011)
MOSCOW -- An oil drilling rig that was being towed in a storm sank Sunday off the coast of Sakhalin Island with 67 people on board, most of whom are still missing.

Rescuers found 14 survivors, 4 bodies and two life rafts floating empty in the frigid Pacific Ocean. The rig was not operating when it listed in high waves and sank.

The two ships that had been towing the rig, an icebreaker and a tugboat, found 14 survivors, according to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations.

Later, reports by the Interfax news agency said rescuers pulled four bodies from the sea, and found the two empty life rafts, leaving 49 people unaccounted for by early Sunday evening.

Russia blasting into fragile Arctic in search of oil (17 December 2011)
The rush is on to drill offshore in the fragile Arctic, and Russia is at the front of the pack with ambitious, and risky, plans to exploit some of the world's biggest untapped oil and natural gas reserves.

Around 1,200 kilometres northwest of here, squeezed from all sides by the powerful ice of the Pechora Sea, Russia's first ice-resistant stationary oil rig in the Arctic shelf is set to begin drilling for crude.

Fifteen years in the building, the Prirazlomnaya drilling platform is 126 square metres, weighs 117,000 tons without ballast, and sits on a gigantic box of heavy steel designed to withstand the intense pressure of constantly shifting Arctic ice.

It took an icebreaker and three tugs to tow it from Murmansk to the drill site, a 10-day journey that ended Aug. 28. The voyage marked the beginning of a new, some say dangerous, era in the Arctic.

Virginia residents oppose preparations for climate-related sea-level rise (17 December 2011)
Outside of greater New Orleans, Hampton Roads is at the biggest risk from sea-level rise of any area its size in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The water has risen so much that Naval Station Norfolk is replacing 14 piers at $60 million each to keep ship-repair facilities high and dry.

The area has historic geological issues. A meteor landed nearby 35 million years ago, creating the Chesapeake Bay Impact Crater. And a downward-pressing glacial formation was created during the Ice Age. These ancient events are causing the land to sink, accounting for about one-third of the sea-level change, scientists say.

This geology is lost in local meetings, where distrust of the local and federal governments is at center stage.

When planners redesignated property as a future flood zone, activists said officials were acting on a hoax. They argued in meetings and on Web sites that local planners are unwitting agents of Agenda 21, a United Nations environmental action plan adopted in 1992 that the activists see as a shadowy global conspiracy to grab land and redistribute wealth in the United States.

The Shocking Campus Shooting in Virginia You Never Heard Of (15 December 2011)
Last week's ambush and murder of a campus police officer at Virginia Tech naturally evokes memories of the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech four and a half years ago. Another shocking killing -- one that happened in 1840 -- sheds further light on how to understand campus shootings.

For several years at the University of Virginia, students had an annual tradition of raising hell around campus, burning tar barrels and shooting pistols into the air. The rioters wanted the freedom to carry arms on campus and each year marked the anniversary when restrictions were put into place that resulted in some defiant students being expelled. On November 12, 1840, the dean of the faculty, law professor John Davis, heard gunfire and stepped onto the porch of his pavilion, one of the on-campus residences of the UVA professors. Discovering a masked student, Davis pursued, tried unmasking him, then gave up. As he turned to walk home, he was shot. After two days during which doctors tried and failed to remove the bullet, Davis died, survived by his wife and seven children.

My new ebook novella dramatizing this largely forgotten incident, The Professor's Assassin, condenses some of the events for storytelling purposes, but the impact and drama come straight out of the history. Professor Davis was popular with students and faculty alike at the university chartered by Thomas Jefferson twenty one years earlier. Davis had actually advocated leniency toward rioters, allowing previously expelled students to "make application for readmission, on their disclaiming participation in the principal acts of riot and violence which had been committed, or, if they could not do so, on their making proper atonement." Davis, on his deathbed, refused to name his assailant. How he knew the shooter's identity in the first place is not clear -- whether he had recognized the voice of the gunman or some distinctive article of clothing, or perhaps saw the student's face when he grabbed for his mask.

During an earlier outbreak of student violence, William Barton Rogers, the future founder of MIT who at this time taught natural history at UVA, wrote "our police is worthless." Without Davis's cooperation before he died (his wife likewise refused to name the assailant), the faculty and even the students took active roles in the investigation, some being deputized for the purpose. The culprit must have been aware of the lack of investigative skill and authority around him, because he actually remained on campus until the clues piled up against him. In spite of the gravity of the crime, the suspect, eighteen-year-old Joseph Semmes, a member of a wealthy Georgia family, was permitted to post $25,000 bail (an enormous amount at the time). Semmes skipped bail and there was never a trial. This left a strong sense that consequences could be avoided by "money and influence triumph[ing] over law," as one of the students remarked who had helped identify and capture Semmes.

As health rates soar, many choose to forgo insurance (18 December 2011)
Ann Williams left health coverage behind when she cut back to part-time hours and has remained uninsured for the past six years.

Both Virginia Beach residents continue to monitor their health but have found alternate ways to pay for their care.

For decades, the American health care system has relied on insurance - both government and private - to pay patients' medical bills. Even last year's controversial overhaul was based on the assumption that universal insurance coverage is desirable for both patients and health care providers.

Yet with rising health costs, high unemployment and a stagnant economy, insurance keeps getting more difficult to afford. Most people still believe they need insurance, but more and more are going without, and it's not just those with low income. In the past few years, the number of uninsured people with higher incomes increased significantly, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. The U.S. census shows that about 8 percent of people in households with incomes above $75,000 were uninsured in 2010.

Toxic legacy: Russian oil spills spread devastation (17 December 2011)
USINSK, Russia -- On the bright yellow tundra outside this oil town near the Arctic Circle, a pitch-black pool of crude stretches toward the horizon. The source: a decommissioned well whose rusty screws ooze with oil, viscous like jam.

This is the face of Russia's oil country, a sprawling, inhospitable zone that experts say represents the world's worst ecological oil catastrophe.

Environmentalists estimate at least 1 percent of Russia's annual oil production, or 5 million tons, is spilled every year. That is equivalent to one Deepwater Horizon-scale leak about every two months. Crumbling infrastructure and a harsh climate combine to spell disaster in the world's largest oil producer, responsible for 13 percent of global output.

Oil, stubbornly seeping through rusty pipelines and old wells, contaminates soil, kills all plants that grow on it and destroys habitats for mammals and birds. Half a million tons every year get into rivers that flow into the Arctic Ocean, the government says, upsetting the delicate environmental balance in those waters.

High oil prices leave Alaska flush (18 December 2011)
Rising oil prices drove up state oil revenues in the 2011 fiscal year by more than $2 billion, with total oil revenues to the state topping $7 billion for the year, according to the Alaska Department of Revenue.

For the current fiscal year, revenues are projected to go up even further and top $8.2 billion, driving the state to another budget surplus, according to the department's Fall Revenue Sources Book, released Thursday.

Those numbers are for unrestricted general fund revenues; other oil revenue was allocated directly into the Alaska Permanent Fund, more than $1 billion last year.

Alaska's strong financial status was driven largely by the state's ACES oil tax, passed in 2007 under former Gov. Sarah Palin. It allows the state to reap big rewards from the current high oil prices.

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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.)