Pam Rotella's Vegetarian FUN page -- News on health, nutrition, the environment, politics, and more!
NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2012
News from the Week of 22nd to 28th of January 2012
Fried foods not a heart health risk if you use the right oils, say researchers (27 January 2012)
(NaturalNews) A common dietary fallacy among many people, resulting from misinformation in media outlets, is fear of fats. If you still harbor lingering anxieties about consuming any type of oil for fear you will have a heart attack, fear no more. A recent study in Spain found that eating food fried in olive or sunflower oil does not cause heart disease.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal online, finds that the heart risk factors associated with eating fried foods do not apply to foods cooked in olive and sunflower oils. "In a Mediterranean country where olive and sunflower oils are the most commonly used fats for frying, and where large amounts of fried foods are consumed both at and away from home, no association was observed between fried food consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease or death," the researchers, led by Pilar Guallar-Castillon from Autonomous University of Madrid, concluded in their article.
Guallar-Castillon and her team drew on data for 40,757 Spanish adults aged 29 to 69 who participated in EPIC (the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study), a large-scale study of diet, health and lifestyle which recruited nearly half a million participants in ten European countries. None of the study participants were diagnosed with heart disease prior to the beginning of the study. Study subjects were interviewed about their diet and cooking methods. Subjects also supplied detailed information about how they cooked their food and whether they used sunflower or olive oil, the two most popular cooking oils in Spain. The researchers then divided participants into statistical groupings according to how much fried food they consumed
Eleven years after the study commenced, 606 coronary heart disease events and 1,135 deaths (from all causes) had occurred among the study subjects. Researchers compared this information with records about which subjects consumed the highest amounts of fried foods. After adjusting for factors such as BMI, high blood pressure and other risk factors, the scientists found no correlation between heart disease events or deaths and higher levels of fried food consumption. They found no difference in health results among subjects who used olive oil and those who used sunflower oil to fry their food.
As economy implodes and households seek cheaper food, McDonald's profits soar (27 January 2012)
(NaturalNews) When times get tough, many people cope by flocking to their favorite "comfort" foods that make them feel good, and that are perceived as being affordable. And this appears to be precisely why fast food giant McDonald's has posted record revenues for this past year, according to a recent report by the UK's Telegraph.
McDonald's raked in a record $27 billion this past year, which is good news for the chain as it prepares to open 1,300 new stores around the world this year. Reports indicate that McDonald's profits have been steadily increasing since the 1990s, in fact, and particularly during times of economic crisis when many families are cutting back on expenditures.
Though McDonald's food is not actually as inexpensive as it seems -- paying five-to-seven dollars for a meal with such poor nutritional value can hardly be considered a bargain -- many people perceive it as such. And as a result, sales of favorites like Big Macs, French fries, and now lattes and espressos at many of its McCafe stores, have continued to rise.
McDonald's has come a long way in modernizing its menus and revamping its look to appear healthier and more trendy. And yet its chicken McNuggets, for instance, are still made with "mechanically separated chicken," which is a disgusting meat paste that almost looks like a type of pink soft serve dessert (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/04/mechanically-separated-meat-chicken-mcnugget-photo_n_749893.html).
Many of the restaurant's other menu items are loaded with various forms of monosodium glutamate, a brain "excitotoxin," hydrogenated vegetable oils, most of which have been genetically modified, and synthetic preservatives and anti-foaming agents like TBHQ and dimethylpolysiloxane (http://www.naturalnews.com/032820_Chicken_McNuggets_ingredients.html).
Topless protesters detained at Davos forum (28 January 2012)
Three topless Ukrainian protesters were detained Saturday while trying to break into an invitation-only gathering of international CEOs and political leaders to call attention to the needs of the world's poor. Separately, demonstrators from the Occupy movement marched to the edge of the gathering.
After a complicated journey to reach the heavily guarded Swiss resort town of Davos, the Ukrainians arrived at the entrance to the complex where the World Economic Forum takes place every year.
With temperatures around freezing in the snow-filled town, they took off their tops and tried to climb a fence before being detained. "Crisis! Made in Davos," read one message painted across a protester's torso, while others held banners that said "Poor, because of you" and "Gangsters party in Davos."
Davos police spokesman Thomas Hobi said the three women were taken to the police station and told that they weren't allowed to demonstrate. He said they would be released later Saturday.
The activists are from the group Femen, which has become popular in Ukraine for staging small, half-naked protests to highlight a range of issues including oppression of political opposition. They have also conducted protests in some other countries.
KBR asks federal judge to dismiss case brought by Oregon soldiers (27 January 2012)
Lawyers for the soldiers said they worry that KBR's filings could delay the case "for years." Said soldiers' lawyer David Sugerman of Portland, "we need to get this case to trial."
The lawsuit's roots lie in the spring and summer of 2003, when Oregon National Guard soldiers and other U.S. and British troops provided security for KBR contractors who were trying to restore a damaged water treatment plant that was used to help produce Iraqi oil.
Among the substances at the plant was a carcinogenic compound called sodium dichromate, used to prevent corrosion.
Some of the Oregon soldiers have shown symptoms, from nosebleeds to skin rashes, that their lawyers say was caused by exposure to the chemical. And they say their exposure to sodium dichromate increases their risk of developing cancer.
'Fracking': made-up word not cracking up the natural-gas industry (26 January 2012)
NEW YORK -- "Fracking" is stirring a linguistic and political debate as controversial as what it defines.
Fracking -- as in hydraulic fracturing, a technique long used by the oil and gas industry to free oil and gas from rock -- is not in the dictionary.
Indeed, the industry hates it and President Obama didn't use it in his State of the Union speech, even as he praised federal subsidies for it.
The word sounds nasty, and environmental advocates used that to generate opposition -- and revulsion -- to what they say is a damaging process that threatens water supplies.
"It obviously calls to mind other less socially polite terms, and folks have been able to take advantage of that," said Kate Sinding, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council who works on drilling issues.
One of the chants at an anti-drilling rally in Albany, N.Y., this month was "No fracking way!"
After 7 decades, right-to-work laws' impact is unclear (28 January 2012)
However, the chamber study does not account for significant factors affecting employment in the period cited. A massive decline in American manufacturing had a severe impact on jobs in the Rust Belt, where states without right-to-work laws are clustered.
The Sun Belt, where most states have the law, had fewer manufacturing jobs to lose and experienced big increases in population.
In Oklahoma, the job gains after the law passed also were not unusual in the region. Three neighboring states without a right-to-work law -- Missouri, New Mexico and Colorado -- experienced similar job growth, in some cases even exceeding Oklahoma's.
Several major employers shut down in Oklahoma City, including Gulfstream Aerospace in 2002 and Bridgestone Firestone in 2006.
Other factors affecting businesses may play a larger role in job growth in right-to-work states, Eren and Ozbeklik's study concluded. Many have "higher subsidies for new factories, low taxes on capital and weaker environmental/safety regulations," they said. In Oklahoma and Idaho, "it is not likely that RTW laws have any impact on manufacturing- employment rate."
Right to work -- for less (FLASHBACK) (15 January 2012)
King, whose legacy is honored nationally next week, often spoke of the link between organized labor and the civil rights movement. He recognized that the cause of freedom needed allies, and that unions such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the United Auto Workers were key allies in the struggle. The unions shared in that recognition, and do to this day.
Unions from the North were strong enough to provide meaningful support for the civil rights struggle because right-to-work laws had been blocked in the Northern states arrayed around the Great Lakes and into New England. Like the vast majority of states that fought to end slavery in the 19th century, and that elected representatives (Republicans and Democrats) who opposed segregation in the 20th century, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana rejected proposals to limit collective bargaining rights. Democrats and Republicans in these states recognized that strong unions, like strong businesses, were necessary to economic and social progress.
Now, however, Republicans in traditionally pro-labor states have begun to attack the rights of workers and their unions. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich went after public-sector unions, signing laws that took away collective bargaining rights from teachers, nurses, snowplow drivers and, in Ohio's case, firefighters and police officers. Ohio reversed the assault at the polls last November, voting 61-39 percent to overturn Kasich's law, and Wisconsinites are preparing to recall and remove Walker and his cronies.
But even as some states are pushing back against the anti-labor agenda, others are moving to embrace it, as Republican legislatures in Indiana and New Hampshire have taken the lead in trying to pass right-to-work laws in those states. A right-to-work proposal could well end up on Ohio's November ballot, and Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has actively discussed moving to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state.
What 'Right to Work' Means for Indiana's Workers: A Pay Cut (FLASHBACK) (11 January 2012)
For the past year, public employees around the country have been under attack. With collective bargaining cast as a fiscal issue, private sector workers are encouraged to vent their economic frustrations at lazy government clerks living high on the hog off others' hard-earned tax dollars. "We can no longer live in a society," Scott Walker, then governor-elect of Wisconsin, argued, "where the public employees are the haves and taxpayers who foot the bills are the have-nots."
But it turns out that the same forces that bankrolled the attack on public employees have also been advancing an agenda to eliminate unions for private sector workers.
Twenty-two states--predominantly in the old Confederacy --already have "right to work" laws, mostly dating from the McCarthy era. "Right to work" (RTW) does not guarantee anyone a job. Rather, it makes it illegal for unions to require that each employee who benefits from the terms of a contract pay his or her share of the costs of administering it. By making it harder for workers' organizations to sustain themselves financially, RTW aims to undermine unions' bargaining strength and eventually render them extinct.
With the Republican sweep of state legislatures in 2010, a coalition of corporate lobbies, right-wing ideologues and Republican operatives seized the moment to fulfill their long-sought goal of extending RTW into traditionally union-friendly parts of the country.
Fear dementia? Your diet, weight more important than genes, experts say (24 January 2012)
"For years, scientists thought that Alzheimer's was primarily genetic," said Gary Wenk, professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University. "We now believe that, while there's a genetic component, Alzheimer's is primarily a lifestyle disease."
People do carry genes, including APOE-4, that predispose them toward the disease, but whether they activate those genes depends heavily on their lifestyles, said Dr. Stuart Lipton, professor at Sanford-Burnham Research Institute, where he's scientific director of neuroscience, aging and stem-cell research.
"A myth exists that if the Alzheimer's gene is in your family, you're going to get it. But that only affects 1 percent of cases," Lipton said. "What matters most is how you superimpose your lifestyle on top of your genetic background."
A degenerative brain disorder that causes progressive loss of memory and intellectual and social skills, Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, affecting 5.4 million Americans, nearly half a million in Florida alone, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Though no cure exists, medications can slow progress.
Study links D deficiency to depression (21 January 2012)
Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a number of ailments -- rickets, osteoporosis, hypertension and certain neurological disorders.
Now a study at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center, suggests that a lack of vitamin D also could lead to depression.
The study was published recently in the Mayo Clinic. The researchers, led by Dr. E. Sherwood Brown, a psychiatrist, examined the results of nearly 12,600 participants over four years.
Those with higher levels of vitamin D were found to be at the lowest risk for depression. And lower levels of the vitamin correlated strongly with an increased risk of depression, especially among those with a history of depression.
PAM COMMENTARY: This seems to support the link between Vitamin D deficiency and "Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)."
Medical-pharmaceutical trade journal publishes call for more regulation of nutritional supplements (28 January 2012)
WALTHAM, Mass.--Pieter A. Cohen, M.D., took a jab at the dietary supplement industry, saying FDA has not enforced the new dietary ingredient (NDI) provision of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), in a recent New England Journal of Medicine perspective (DOI 10.1056/NEJMp1113325). His answer is not to call on FDA to step up enforcement, but instead, he says new laws are needed. DSHEA is fundamentally flawed, he wrote, because it lacks a preapproval review process for all supplements.
In response, Duffy MacKay, N.D., vice president, scientific and regulatory affairs, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), said DSHEA provides a balance between regulation and consumer access to dietary supplements. He said supplements are generally more affordable than pharmaceutical drugs, but this trend would reverse if Cohen had his way. "If the supplement industry were subjected to pharmaceutical industry-like regulation, consumers would bear the burden of increased costs and reduced availability to a wide variety of products," MacKay said.
Cohen, Cambridge Health Alliance, Somerville, MA, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, argued FDA should require scientific evidence to demonstrate safety of dietary ingredients. He said this will improve the safety of new supplements, and create a database of evidence that scientists, physicians, regulators and consumers can use to access supplement safety. Cohen expressed this same opinion on a recent episode of the Dr. Oz Show.
According to FDA's recently released NDI Draft Guidance, the agency will accept history of use as a safety standard if scientific evidence is not available.
PAM COMMENTARY: Perhaps the FDA should conduct its own testing before approval -- for drugs as well as supplements. That way drug companies won't be able to hide data on dangerous drugs so easily, and supplement companies won't suffer increased costs for the few manufacturers who need regulation.
People also need to take personal responsibility and do their own research, even try different products, to find what helps with their own situations. When one drug doesn't work, doctors change medicine for people, and it's the same with supplements. Only with supplements, an expensive trip to the doctor's office to authorize the change isn't necessary.
I have noticed some questionable labels on products intended for use in the dieting and body building industries -- it seems everyone is looking for a quick buck there. But in general, very few supplement manufacturers make false claims on their product labels, and punishing everyone for the few would limit peoples' choices. For diseases that can be fatal, limiting access could be deadly.
US FDA approves Pfizer's Inlyta for kidney cancer (28 January 2012)
The drug is one of several new medicines Pfizer is banking on to help replace lost revenue from its cholesterol fighter, Lipitor. The world's top-selling drug began facing generic competition late last year.
"This announcement is welcome news for Pfizer as investors have long waited for signs of revival of (research) productivity," Barclays Capital analyst Tony Butler said in a note.
Last month, Pfizer also won approval to sell its Prevnar pneumonia vaccine to older adults, and not just children. The expanded population could generate more than $1.5 billion in sales.
But with six other drugs for advanced kidney cancer already sold in the United States, analysts said Pfizer will struggle to gain market share. Butler sees peak sales for Inlyta at $600 million.
Pfizer said the average monthly cost of Inlyta is less than $8,900, which is generally consistent with other drugs approved for advanced kidney cancer.
Shares of Pfizer closed 0.7 percent lower at $21.48 on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday, in line with a fall in the wider Arca Pharmaceuticals Index.
PAM COMMENTARY: Monthly cost of "less than $8,900" -- there's a price you'll never see with dietary supplements.
'Preferred' pain drug methadone now called dangerous, a drug of last resort (28 January 2012)
When it comes to battling pain, Washington health officials have encouraged doctors to reach for methadone, a powerful and inexpensive prescription drug. For the past decade, the state has declared methadone to be as safe and effective as any other narcotic painkiller.
But in a striking reversal that has gained momentum this week, doctors are receiving stark warnings that methadone is riskier and more dangerous -- a drug of last resort -- because it's unpredictable and poses a heightened risk of accidental death.
"It's a dangerous drug because it accumulates in the body and people die in their sleep," Dr. Jane Ballantyne, a pain specialist at the University of Washington, said Friday. "It's very tricky and difficult to use safely."
Ballantyne and the university are helping spearhead a series of state-sponsored training programs to educate physicians, pharmacists and advanced nurse practitioners about the risks of pain drugs.
Virginia House votes to end HPV vaccine mandate (28 January 2012)
For the second year in a row, the House of Delegates has voted to repeal a state mandate to vaccinate girls before entering sixth grade against a virus that is linked to cervical cancer.
The House passed the bill, HB1112, by a vote of 62-34 Friday.
A similar bill passed the Republican-controlled House last year but failed to advance beyond a Democratic-controlled Senate Education and Health Committee. Republicans now hold a majority on that committee after taking organizational control of the Senate this year.
The General Assembly passed legislation in 2007 adding the vaccine to the state's list of required immunizations for children. The law has an opt-out clause allowing parents to refuse the HPV vaccine for their children after receiving information about the link between HPV and cervical cancer.
PAM COMMENTARY: The HPV vaccine was and is controversial due to its questionable efficacy, and its side effects. In previously healthy girls, side effects include blood clots, fainting, anaphylactic shock, paralysis, and death.
People also question the idea of adding yet another shot to vaccine schedules suspected of causing the country's high autism rate. The HPV vaccine was so controversial when first introduced by former Delegate Phil Hamilton (now in prison for a similar conviction, although not for the vaccine manufacturer's donations) that the commonwealth's then-Governor Tim Kaine added an opt-out for parents before signing the bill.
Several attempts to repeal the bill have since failed. I saw one news report claiming that Virginia is the only state radical enough to continue making the vaccine mandatory, although I don't have time to confirm that statistic at the moment.
Hispanic delegates baffled by Newt Gingrich plan to liberate Cuba (27 January 2012)
Newt Gingrich has promised to liberate Cuba one camera at a time.
The Republican candidate sought to win over Latino voters in Miami on Friday with a scheme to flood the communist-ruled island with cellphone cameras so the population can film the authorities at work in order to discourage repression. The proposal was met with bafflement from some of the delegates Gingrich was addressing at the Hispanic Leadership Network.
After condemning Barack Obama for his support of the Arab spring without pressing for political change in Cuba, Gingrich said that as president he would not negotiate with Havana but use the power of his office to intimidate Cuban officials into the fear of being held accountable for their actions after the communist regime falls.
"The moral force of an American president who's seriously intending to free the people of Cuba and the willingness to intimidate those who would be oppressors by saying to them in advance: you will be held accountable," he said. "So one of my goals would be to flood the island with enough cellphones that are video cameras that any act of oppression is filmed by 30 people, and they start posting them: this person will be on the list after the revolution. You watch the moral of the police force drop dramatically as they are no longer all powerful."
PAM COMMENTARY: You need infrastructure and money to have pervasive internet and cell phone infrastructure. Cuba doesn't have it, and won't have it anytime soon. It's not the Middle East.
BP emails reveal company veiling spill rate (28 January 2012)
NEW ORLEANS -- On the day the Deepwater Horizon sank, BP officials warned in an internal memo that if the well was not protected by the blow-out preventer at the drill site, crude oil could burst into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 3.4 million gallons a day, an amount a million gallons higher than what the government later believed spilled daily from the site.
The email conversation, which BP agreed to release Friday as part of federal court proceedings, suggests BP managers recognized the potential of the disaster in its early hours, and company officials sought to make sure that the model-developed information wasn't shared with outsiders. The emails also suggest BP was having heated discussions with Coast Guard officials over the potential of the oil spill.
The memo was released as part of the court proceedings to determine the division of responsibility for the nation's worst offshore oil disaster, which began when the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20, 2010, killing 11 men about 50 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast. The first phase of the trial is set to start Feb. 27.
BP officials declined to comment on the emails late Friday.
The official amount of oil that flowed from the well was pegged at 206 million gallons from at least April 22 until the well was capped on July 15, a period of 85 days. That's a daily flow rate of about 2.4 million gallons - two-thirds of the way to BP's projection of what could leak from the well if it was an "open hole." BP has disputed the government's estimates.
Having an accurate flow rate estimate is needed to determine how much in civil and criminal penalties BP and the other companies drilling the well face under the Clean Water Act.
Caffeine Alters Estrogen Levels in Younger Women (27 January 2012)
"This is important physiologically because it helps us understand how caffeine is metabolized by different genetic groups," said Dr. Enrique Schisterman, an author of the study and senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health. "But for women of reproductive age, drinking coffee will not alter their hormonal function in a clinically significant way."
The study, which was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, analyzed data on more than 250 women who were examined one to three times a week over two menstrual cycles. They provided blood samples along with details about behaviors like exercise, eating and smoking. On average, they consumed about 90 milligrams of caffeine a day, equivalent to roughly one cup of coffee.
After controlling for a number of variables, like age and diet, the researchers found that among Asian women, those who had 200 milligrams or more of caffeine a day had higher estrogen levels compared to those who consumed less. A similar pattern was seen among black women, though it was not statistically significant. In white women, however, 200 milligrams or more of caffeine appeared to have a slight lowering effect on estrogen.
Nationwide, about 90 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 34 drink the caffeine equivalent of one to two cups of coffee every day.
Drinking eight teas a day 'cuts blood pressure and heart disease' (27 January 2012)
Drinking eight cups of black leaf tea, such as Earl Grey or English Breakfast, a day "significantly" cuts blood pressure, researchers at the University of Western Australia found.
Volunteers with normal to high blood pressure were given three drinks a day containing 429 milligrams of the plant chemicals polyphenols -- the equivalent of eight and a half teas a day. A second group were given a tea-flavoured placebo.
After six months, the blood pressure of the tea-drinking group had fallen by between two and three mmHg, the measurement of pressure used in medicine.
A blood pressure fluctuating with the heartbeat between 112 and 63 mmHg is considered healthy, while a reading fluctuating between 140 and 90 is deemed high.
If the experiment was emulated by the general population, the number of people with high blood pressure would be cut by ten per cent and the risk of heart disease would fall by between seven and ten per cent.
Walker insider is charged, said to be readying testimony in plea deal (27 January 2012)
A former aide to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) will testify against her former colleagues after officials filed charges of illegal campaign activity while working on taxpayer time, local media has learned.
Darlene Wink, a 61-year-old former public employee charged on Thursday with two misdemeanor counts of political solicitation by a public employee, could be the weak link that spills yet another major scandal over the embattled governor, even as he appears likely to face a recall election later this year.
Prosecutors on Thursday announced four felony charges for another Walker insider, 43-year-old Kelly Rindfleisch, who worked with Wink as one of Walker's aides.
That brings the total number of Walker insiders facing criminal charges to six, according to The Wisconsin State Journal, which concluded the ongoing investigation had turned up a "pattern of illegal fundraising" and confirmed that Wink was working on a plea bargain that would include testimony.
Park Service: 'Occupy D.C.' to be evicted on Monday (27 January 2012)
The National Park Service will bar Occupy DC protesters from camping in the two parks where have been living since October, in a blow to one of the highest-profile chapters of the movement denouncing economic inequality.
The Occupy DC protesters must stop camping in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza, both a few blocks from the White House, starting at about noon on Monday, the Park Service said on Friday.
The Park Service will start to enforce regulations that "prohibit camping and the use of temporary structures for camping in McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza," the agency said in a flyer distributed at the sites.
"Although 24/7 demonstration vigils and the use of symbolic temporary structures, including empty tents used as symbols of the demonstration, may be permitted in the park areas, camping and the use of temporary structures for camping is not."
Egyptian protesters press their demand for end to military rule (27 January 2012)
REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- Tens of thousands of protesters flooded Cairo's Tahrir Square on Friday demanding a swift transfer of power from the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces to a civilian government in order to complete the revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak and led to the seating this month of a new parliament.
The air was filled with an array of banners and anti-military slogans: "Down down with military rule," "Free revolutionaries will continue the path" and "Speak out, don't be afraid, the army needs to leave." Major liberal forces, including the April 6th Youth, Kefaya and the Revolution Youth Coalition, also announced they would begin a sit-in, a move likely to set up a confrontation with police.
[Updated 1:38 p.m. Jan. 27: The rally also sharpened tensions between liberals and Islamists. The two sides threw stones and bottles at one another, underscoring the dismay secularists have over the control of the new parliament by the Muslim Brotherhood and the more conservative Salafis. Many activists have accused the Brotherhood, once the nation's leading opposition force, of cooperating with the army and betraying the revolution. Egyptian media reported three people were injured.]
The march was dubbed "Friday of Rage" to commemorate exactly one year ago when demonstrators were killed as protests overwhelmed security forces and the momentum shifted away from the state to the people. The anger of activists has since focused on the ruling military council, which has refused to relinquish power until after a president is elected in June.
Israel threatens possible strike on Iran (28 January 2012)
Economic sanctions by the European Union and the United States can only be allowed a limited time period to prevent Iran from attempting to acquire a nuclear arsenal before a military strike must be contemplated, Israeli leaders have declared.
The tough public stance from Tel Aviv comes amid conflicting reports on the readiness of the Israeli military establishment to carry out an attack on Iran.
One account claims that Israel's security agencies have concluded that the turmoil predicted from a strike, and the likely response from Tehran, has been widely exaggerated. However, a senior British official told The Independent that the hierarchy of the intelligence service, Mossad, and the armed forces continued to have deep trepidation about conflict in the region.
Speaking at the Davos economic summit yesterday, the Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, yesterday warned that a situation could be rapidly reached when even "surgical" military action could not block the Tehran regime from getting the bomb. "We will know early enough whether the Iranians are ready to give up their nuclear weapons," following measures such as the recently announced EU oil embargo, he said.
Erin Brockovich probes high school girls' mystery illness (27 January 2012)
Brockovich gained notoriety with a 2000 movie (Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts) about her efforts to expose a toxic chemical cover-up in California.
She told USA TODAY on Thursday that after families of affected teens and other community members asked her to look into the Le Roy case, she has spent the past week studying federal and state reports of a 1970 train derailment that spilled cyanide and an industrial solvent called trichloroethene within five kilometres of the high school attended by the 12 girls who started reporting neurological symptoms last fall. Three other teens, including one boy, are reportedly experiencing similar symptoms.
A statement issued by the school district said "medical and environmental investigations have not uncovered any evidence that would link the neurological symptoms to anything in the environment or of an infectious nature." An indoor- air-quality report and a mold report are posted on the school district's website.
"When I read reports like this that the New York Department of Health and state agencies were well-aware of the spill and you don't do water testing or vapor extraction tests, you don't have an all-clear," says Brockovich, of Los Angeles.
According to a 1999 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, almost one tonne of cyanide crystals spilled to the ground in the derailment, along with 130,000 litres of trichloroethene. The crystals were removed but the trichloroethene was absorbed into the ground.
Environmental groups, government face off over Northern Gateway pipeline review (27 January 2012)
CALGARY and TORONTO -- Environmental groups are seeking confirmation the ongoing regulatory review of the Northern Gateway pipeline is unbiased, as federal politicians committed to making drastic changes to major project reviews reaffirmed their concerns special interests are serving to "hijack" assessments.
Three organizations represented by legal group Ecojustice fear the review of Enbridge Inc.'s $5.5-billion project is being characterized by Ottawa as flawed, so the federal government can justify drastically cutting future environmental review of major projects. Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver has promised any changes would balance economic and environmental interests.
Ecojustice submitted a motion Friday to the joint review panel examining the proposed 1,200-kilometre oil pipeline from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. It asks regulators to determine if their assessment has been undermined or has the appearance of being pre-determined by damning comments against some interveners, made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other federal ministers.
The motion from Vancouver-based Ecojustice wants the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency conducting the review to issue a statement confirming independence and that the panel was "not influenced by statements of the prime minister, the minister of natural resources or other ministers of the Crown."
New California rules require cleaner cars (27 January 2012)
California, long a national leader in cutting auto pollution, pushed the envelope further Friday when state regulators approved a suite of rules designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and put far more more pollution-free vehicles on the road in coming years.
The package of Air Resources Board regulations would require auto manufacturers to offer increasing numbers of zero or very low emission cars such as electric battery, hydrogen fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles in California starting with model year 2018. By 2025, one in seven new autos sold in California, or roughly 1.4 million, would be ultra-clean, moving what is now a novelty into the mainstream.
Three years in the works, the new rules package also toughens standards for auto emissions that form smog and contribute to global warming.
When is a coyote not a coyote? When it's also a wolf (27 January 2012)
"I prefer the term coywolf to describe how they are hybrids with these 2 species," writes researcher Jonathan G. Way in an email. "It really is pretty simple, as these animals are bigger than western coyotes but smaller than eastern wolves."
Regardless of what we call them, it's clear from reader photos and stories that these relatively large animals are not afraid to live in close proximity to humans. Interactions, for good or ill, are bound to be more common.
Toronto Animal Services education officer Robert Meerburg has some simple advice for people living around coyotes: Stop feeding them.
"Coyotes are very opportunistic," says Meerburg. "They will take any free meal they can get."
Drugs, the teenager found murdered on the Queen's estate and how the Baltic Mafia is terrorising one of Britain's oldest market towns (27 January 2012)
In Riga, friends say, Alisa was always laughing and happy, taking the bus to school with her friends.
After she arrived in the UK in late 2009, she studied for three months at a local school in Chatteris, eight miles from Wisbech, before transferring to the Wisbech campus of the College of West Anglia to study English language full-time.
However, she skipped classes and took last summer's exams only because her grandmother promised her a present if she completed them.
She constantly begged for money from her family, and sold almost everything she owned (including her bicycle for £10) to pay for cannabis, crystal meth, a highly addictive man-made psycho-stimulant, and ketamine, a powerful tranquilliser used by vets on horses.
PAM COMMENTARY: The location of her body was probably a message to other potential victims, too -- "Even the Queen can't stop us!"
Alaska senate committee to consider ban of 'bath salt' intoxicants (27 January 2012)
JUNEAU -- Alaska legislators today were to take up a bill that would ban a few substances sold over the counter and marketed as bath salts, which are a variety of chemical compounds that mimic effects of popular illicit drugs like cocaine and ecstasy.
The Senate Judiciary Committee was to hear SB140, a bill co-sponsored by Republicans Kevin Meyer and Cathy Giessel, both of Anchorage, and Democrat Donald Olson from Nome.
Long-term side effects of bath salts are relatively unknown because few studies have been conducted.
The Alaska Legislature criminalized the similarly unknown synthetic marijuana last year, which was often packaged as incense and sold over the counter. Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew said the same is needed for bath salts during this session.
Low IQ behind some conservative beliefs (27 January 2012)
Children with low intelligence are more likely to grow up to be social conservatives and racists, researchers found in a study published out of the U.K.
The study, which appeared in the journal Psychological Science and was written up by LifeScience, built upon previous research linking low education with prejudice, using data from two studies testing IQ and then political beliefs.
"As suspected, low intelligence in childhood corresponded with racism in adulthood. But the factor that explained the relationship between these two variables was political: When researchers included social conservatism in the analysis, those ideologies accounted for much of the link between brains and bias," LifeScience wrote.
Lead researcher Gordon Hodson, of Brock University in Ontario, concluded that people with low IQs are attracted to the hierarchy and structure in socially conservative institutions.
His findings are expected to cause some controversy since they play into some stereotypical notions of the political divide in the U.S., where liberals can be characterized as elitist and intellectual and conservatives as dumb and backwards.
Arizona police sergeant's photo prompts Secret Service probe (27 January 2012)
A post on the Facebook page of a veteran Peoria police sergeant depicting the photo of seven Centennial High School students in Peoria, four with guns and one holding up a T-shirt with a bullet-riddled image of President Barack Obama, was brought to the U.S. Secret Service's attention by a citizen and an "appropriate follow-up" is being conducted, a Washington D.C-based spokesman for the federal agency told The Republic Friday.
"Any time information like this is brought to our attention we have to conduct a follow-up," Max Milien, spokesman for the Secret Service, said.
Milien described the Facebook post in the category of "unusual direction of interest," which would merit an agency follow-up, he said.
"We understand an individual's right to free speech but we also have the right to speak to the individual to determine what their intent is," Milien added.
PAM COMMENTARY: There's a picture of the T-shirt in the video embedded in the page.
The Autumn Foliage Gallery, a/k/a Pam spends time with the Secret Service (FLASHBACK) (28 October 2004)
Not that the Secret Service agents were mean or abusive while being paranoid -- they were the nicest paranoids I've ever met. In fact, they seemed like a bunch of nice guys who'd just been trained as paranoids. I was totally honest with them, too, because I could tell they were intelligent enough to handle whatever I threw at them. For example, my web page both saved me and made them even more suspicious. The photo galleries helped because I could mention that I post photo galleries all the time, even ones with blatant political significance like the Mena airport. (So of course one agent disappears from the room, checks out the web site, then comes back to tell me that the photo galleries were really nice, and he found my Roach v. Bush link.) Of course they wanted to know how I felt about Bush, since I had anti-Bush bumper stickers on my car as well (along with pro-Kerry ones) aside from my internet articles poking fun at Bush's intelligence, grammar, war mongering... Bush provides so much material to work with. They wanted to know if I'd driven past President Bush's Crawford ranch & took pictures of that, too. (Don't make me sick!) Or if I'd stopped in Little Rock on my way to Mena. Or if I'd attended any political events recently. (The only one I could recall was Fighting Bob Fest last year, where I saw Kucinich speak -- and he DIDN'T mind me taking his picture.) Now that's really, really paranoid. And I'm paranoid enough, from years of being stalked. We had a regular paranoid-fest going on. But on the other hand, when they asked if I wanted to harm President Bush, I told them that I had no intentions of harming the man, I just hated the man for good reason -- mostly the economy & the war on Iraq. They were comfortable with my dislike for the man, as long as I didn't express a desire to blow him away. So of course they asked me a few more times, in different ways, if I was sure that I didn't want to harm President Bush, until they were satisfied that I limited myself to exposing the man on the internet.
I don't even know how many hours I spent with the Secret Service that morning while they pursued various lines of questioning. Near the end of the interview, they brought in another man to fill out some forms, and by that time I was slower in my answers, and repeatedly informed him that I'd already given things like info on relatives to other agents. He was quick though, seeming to sense I was worn out, and I was on my way soon after that. Frankly, I was tired... and I wanted to eat lunch.
Bush In Verbal Gaffe; Says White House never stops thinking about ways to harm U.S. (FLASHBACK) (5 August 2004)
AUGUST 5--In an unfortunate, though not uncommon, verbal miscue, President George W. Bush today told a White House audience that his administration never stops thinking about ways to harm the United States. The embarrassing malapropism came as Bush appeared before military brass to sign a new $417 billion defense appropriation bill. Referring to the country's enemies, Bush said, "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
Buried in a separate legal case, Justice Dept. admits that Bruce Ivins was not the 2001 anthrax killer (27 January 2012)
In documents deep in the files of a recently settled Florida lawsuit, Justice Department civil attorneys contradicted their own department's conclusion that Ivins was unquestionably the anthrax killer. The lawyers said the type of anthrax in Ivins's lab was "radically different" from the deadly anthrax. They cited several witnesses who said Ivins was innocent, and they suggested that a private laboratory in Ohio could have been involved in the attacks.
The unusual spectacle of one arm of the Justice Department publicly questioning another has the potential to undermine one of the most high-profile investigations in years, according to critics and independent experts who reviewed the court filings.
"I cannot think of another case in which the government has done such an egregious about-face. It destroys confidence in the criminal findings,'' said Paul Rothstein, a law professor at Georgetown University.
The documents were filed in a lawsuit over the October 2001 death of Robert Stevens, a Florida photo editor who was the first victim of the attacks. His survivors accused the government of negligence for experimenting with anthrax at Fort Detrick, a case that lingered in court until the Justice Department quietly settled it in late November.
Professor Francis Boyle on the anthrax attacks of 2001 - interview by Alex Jones (FLASHBACK) (21 August 2008)
ALEX JONES: OK, Dr. Boyle, this has been an amazing interview. And I just want you in the next 6, 7 minutes or so to cover any other key points, any other areas, any web sites you want to plug. You've got the floor.
FRANCIS A. BOYLE: Well, I have a book on the subject called "Biowarfare and Terrorism" -- Clarity Press -- which you can read, that sets out the case or the basic points that I'm making here today. Everything I'm saying in there has been confirmed by the latest revelations.
In addition, since that book went to press, I have reviewed the Pentagon's report to Congress on their chemical and biological warfare programs. And it's very clear -- they are engaged in the development and use of anthrax as a weapon of warfare. It is also clear if you read through there, the Pentagon in this biowarfare programs is now testing -- open-air testing, which is something that Congress passed a statute to prohibit, and yet there was put in there a Presidential waiver.
So we have to understand the stockpile of this super-weapons grade anthrax is still there, probably at Dugway, or perhaps Battelle in Ohio, and waiting to be used again when the Pentagon and the CIA decide they want to terrorize the American people.
Cheney has said if there's another terrorist attack, he'll blame it on Iran. There's an election coming up that, you know, they're going to want to win for McCain, who's in the pocket of the neoconservatives currently running the government, and the continuity of government. So there are a variety of occasions coming up for these people to use this anthrax and panic the American people, either towards war, towards a police state, or towards electing the Presidential candidate they want.
PAM COMMENTARY: Just in case anyone was wondering WHICH company in Ohio...
U.S. to pay Lantana widow $2.5 million for the 2001 anthrax attack that killed her husband (FLASHBACK) (29 November 2011)
Bob Stevens, 63, died in October 2001 days after he opened an anthrax-laced letter while working as a photo editor for the then-Boca Raton-based Sun, a supermarket tabloid owned by American Media Inc. In the shell-shocked days following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, his death and subsequent deadly anthrax letter bombs sent to news outlets in New York City and Congressional offices in Washington, D.C. gripped the nation.
A $100 million investigation - the largest in FBI history - fingered Bruce Ivins, a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Md., as the perpetrator. Ivins killed himself in July 2008, shortly before he was to be charged in connection with the attacks that killed Stevens and four others.
After living with the case for eight years and reading scores of classified documents, Schuler said he isn't convinced Ivins was solely responsible. If Ivins did turn the anthrax spores into powder, he would have needed much more than the 21 hours the FBI said he spent concocting the toxin on weekends before the attacks.
"He would have had to start a lot earlier than the FBI says and done it over a period of years," he said.
Officials at the U.S. Justice Department declined comment on the settlement.
Occupy protest seizes UC Davis building, blocks bank (27 January 2012)
Taking advantage of some extra patience on the part of administrators who came under heavy criticism for the pepper-spraying of demonstrators in November, student protesters on the UC Davis campus have seized control of a vacant campus building and are sporadically blocking access to an on-campus bank.
Two days into the Occupy movement takeover of a single-story cottage that formerly served as the Cross Cultural Center, the administration hasn't officially told the students they can't be in the building. The lights and heat remain on as the university examines its options.
"We're monitoring it. We are going to make decisions based on the best interest of the university. Nobody wants a repeat of what happened in November," said Claudia Morain, a spokeswoman for the university.
Campus police pepper-sprayed a number of students during a Nov. 18 standoff as officers sought to clear a tent encampment from the university quad. The university was widely vilified after videos of the spraying posted on the Internet were viewed millions of times.
CDC "can't say what exactly causes Morgellons" (27 January 2012)
A long-awaited study, released Wednesday by the journal PLoS ONE, may be a disappointment for those who have called for more awareness and recognition of Morgellons -- in which sufferers complain of crawling, itching feelings and of tiny specks and filaments sticking out of sores on their skin.
Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, of patients studied, 59% had cognitive deficits of some sort, and 63% had evidence of "clinically significant somatic complaints."
Those strange colored filaments and specks? Mostly just bits of cotton and nylon fibers from clothing, the authors concluded. They could have gotten stuck in the sores in relation to the constant scratching of the skin.
The researchers can't say what exactly causes Morgellons, but the results do fall in line with an Archives of Dermatology study described last year in a Times article, in which findings by Mayo Clinic researchers indicated that Morgellons disease might be better described by a psychological disorder known as "delusional parasitosis."
PAM COMMENTARY: I can't help but think of chronic fatigue syndrome, where there are several legitimate causes (selenium deficiency, Epstein-Barr virus, myofascitis worsening) but the medical field wants to tell patients that they're crazy because they don't understand it.
Feds claim company backing Utah nuclear plant is a fraud (26 January 2012)
A company once touted as one of the main financial backers of Utah's first nuclear power plant is in big trouble with federal securities regulators.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has accused LeadDog Capital and its principals of scamming investors. LeadDog was named as the source of $30 million in financing for Blue Castle Holding's proposed 3,000-megawatt nuclear power plant near the Green River.
Blue Castle CEO Aaron Tilton said his company had an agreement with the New York-based hedge fund for the working capital but he never pulled the trigger on the deal and no longer has dealings with LeadDog.
Still, the claimed $30 million in backing by LeadDog played a significant role in the state's controversial decision last week to grant rights to Blue Castle for 53,600 acre-feet of water from the Green River, water the nuclear power plant must have to operate its two planned reactors. The decision is expected to be the only official say the state has over the project, which must win approval of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Found: 'Lost" evidence that let police walk free (U.K.) (27 January 2012)
A victim of one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice reacted furiously last night to the latest revelations and demanded a public inquiry into a case that has raised serious doubts about the ability of the criminal justice system to investigate itself.
The officers were accused of fabricating evidence following the murder of Lynette White, a prostitute, in 1988, resulting in the wrongful convictions of the so-called "Cardiff Three". The officers' trial collapsed in disarray last month when prosecutors revealed that files had been destroyed.
But the police watchdog said last night that the files had been discovered in their original boxes and were still in the hands of South Wales Police, which had investigated the case against officers from the same force.
Stephen Miller, 45, who spent four years in prison before being freed on appeal, told The Independent last night: "There has to be a public inquiry. This is ridiculous. When is it going to stop? Those officers are never going to be seen back in court. Some of my co-accused have now passed away -- where is the justice for them?"
Leonard Pitts Jr.: Gingrich resorts to an old GOP strategy -- targeting racial resentment (27 January 2012)
I got my first job when I was 12. The deacons at my church paid me $2 a week to keep it swept and mopped.
So I do not need Newt Gingrich to lecture me about a good work ethic. In this, I suspect, I speak for the vast majority of 39 million African Americans.
There has been a lot of talk about whether Gingrich's recent language, including his performance at last week's South Carolina debate and his earlier declaration that Barack Obama has been America's best "food-stamp president," amounts to a coded appeal to racist sensitivities. The answer is simple: yes.
In this, Gingrich joins a line of Republicans stretching back at least to Richard Nixon. From that president's trumpeting of "law and order" (i.e., "I will get these black demonstrators off the streets") to Ronald Reagan's denunciation of "welfare queens" (i.e., "I will stop these lazy black women from living high on your tax dollars") to George H.W. Bush's use of Willie Horton (i.e., "Elect me or this scary black man will get you") the GOP long ago mastered the craft of using nonracial language to say racial things.
So Gingrich is working from a well-thumbed playbook when he hectors blacks about their work ethic and says they should demand paychecks and not be "satisfied" with food stamps. As if most blacks had ever done anything else. As if an unemployment rate that for some mysterious reason runs twice the national average does not make paychecks hard to come by. As if blacks were the only, or even the majority of, food-stamp recipients.
Asteroid to pass close to the Earth today (27 January 2012)
A bus-sized asteroid is scheduled to pass close to the Earth on Friday, Jan. 27, around 10:30 a.m. EST.
Also known as Asteroid 2012 BX34, the flying rock measures around 36 feet and will be coming within 36,750 miles of Earth. Though this distance does not seem close in everyday terms, this is a close call in cosmic terms.
The relatively small asteroid, however, would not have much of an effect even if it did hit the Earth, which experts insist it will not. In comparison, NASA scientists explain that asteroids capable of causing widespread destruction need to be at least around 400 feet.
According to Spaceweather.com, some amateur astronomers might be able to catch a glimpse of the bus-sized asteroid with a telescope and have a close-up and personal encounter with a large flying rock.
BP Can't Collect Part of $40 Billion Spill Costs From Transocean (27 January 2012)
BP Plc can't collect from Transocean Ltd. part of the $40 billion in cleanup costs and economic losses caused by the 2010 oil well blowout and Gulf of Mexico spill, a judge ruled, sending Transocean shares higher.
BP must indemnify Transocean for pollution-related economic damage claims under its drilling contract, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans ruled yesterday. London-based BP sued Transocean in April to recover a share of its damages and costs from the spill.
Any awards for punitive damages against Transocean or civil penalties under the U.S. Clean Water Act won't have to be covered by BP, the judge wrote in his 30-page decision. He didn't say whether Transocean will be liable for punitive damages or Clean Water Act penalties. Transocean has already accepted responsibility for equipment losses and paying personal injury and death claims, citing contract provisions.
"This confirms that BP is responsible for all economic damages caused by the oil that leaked from its Macondo well, and completely discredits BP's ongoing attempts to evade both its contractual and financial obligations," Transocean said in an e-mailed statement. "Transocean is pleased to see its position affirmed, consistent with the law and the long-established model for allocating risks in the offshore oil and gas industry."
MSU researchers show how new viruses evolve, and in some cases, become deadly (27 January 2012)
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- In the current issue of Science, researchers at Michigan State University demonstrate how a new virus evolves, which sheds light on how easy it can be for diseases to gain dangerous mutations.
The scientists showed for the first time how the virus called "Lambda" evolved to find a new way to attack host cells, an innovation that took four mutations to accomplish. This virus infects bacteria, in particular the common E. coli bacterium. Lambda isn't dangerous to humans, but this research demonstrated how viruses evolve complex and potentially deadly new traits, said Justin Meyer, MSU graduate student, who co-authored the paper with Richard Lenski, MSU Hannah Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics.
"We were surprised at first to see Lambda evolve this new function, this ability to attack and enter the cell through a new receptor -- and it happened so fast," Meyer said. "But when we re-ran the evolution experiment, we saw the same thing happen over and over."
This paper follows recent news that scientists in the United States and the Netherlands produced a deadly version of bird flu. Even though bird flu is a mere five mutations away from becoming transmissible between humans, it's highly unlikely the virus could naturally obtain all of the beneficial mutations all at once. However, it might evolve sequentially, gaining benefits one-by-one, if conditions are favorable at each step, he added.
"He Says One Thing and Does Another": Ralph Nader Responds to Obama's State of the Union Address (25 January 2012)
RALPH NADER: Well, I think his lawless militarism, that started the speech and ended the speech, was truly astonishing. I mean, he was very committed to projecting the American empire, in Obama terms, force projection in the Pacific, and distorting the whole process of how he explains Iraq and Afghanistan. He talks about Libya and Syria, and then went into the military alliance with Israel and didn't talk about the peace process or the plight of the Palestinians, who are being so repressed. Leaving Iraq as if it was a victory? Iraq has been destroyed: massive refugees, over a million Iraqis dead, contaminated environment, collapsing infrastructure, sectarian warfare. He should be ashamed of himself that he tries to drape our soldiers, who were sent on lawless military missions to kill and die in those countries, unconstitutional wars that violate Geneva conventions and international law and federal statutes, and drape them as if they've come back from Iwo Jima or Normandy. So I think it was very, very poor taste to start and end with this kind of massive militarism and the Obama empire.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And on the economy, Ralph Nader, on the economy, your response to what Obama said last night?
RALPH NADER: A lot of good-sounding words. He's very good at that. I'm glad he focused on Wall Street abuses on more than one occasion. I'm glad that he focused on renewable energy. But notice that he just mentioned climate change but didn't go anywhere on that one. He still is not able to use the word "poverty." It's always the middle class, which is shrinking into poverty. But you've got 60, 70, 80 million people living in poverty in the United States, and child poverty.
And the most amazing gap was his promise in 2008 to press for the raising of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.50 by 2011. So, he went for equal pay for equal work for women, but millions of people in this country, one out of every three full-time workers, are earning Wal-Mart wages, many of them not far over the $7.25 rate. Now, the $9.50 minimum wage would still be less in inflation-adjusted terms than it was in 1968, when worker productivity was half of what it is today.
So, a lot of his suggestions, like the attitude toward foreign trade--well, he said that in 2008 he wanted to revise NAFTA. He didn't lift a finger. So how credible are his words vis-?is China, for example, in the trade area and importing hazardous products into this country? How credible are his words? How credible are his words when he says he wants to start a financial crimes unit in the Justice Department? I mean, what does that mean, unless he demands a much larger budget for prosecutors and law enforcement officials against the corporate crime wave? Maybe he needs a subscription to the Corporate Crime Reporter to tell him that we've been through these kinds of rhetorics before by prior presidents. They're going to establish an enforcement unit here and there, but without a major budget, it's going to go nowhere.
How Siri is ruining your cellphone service (26 January 2012)
But not in every way. Siri's dirty little secret is that she's a bandwidth guzzler, the digital equivalent of a 10-miles-per-gallon Hummer H1.
To make your wish her command, Siri floods your cell network with a stream of data; her responses require a similarly large flow in return. A study published this month by Arieso, an Atlanta firm that specializes in mobile networks, found that the Siri-equipped iPhone 4S uses twice as much data as does the plain old iPhone 4 and nearly three times as much as does the iPhone 3G. The new phone requires far more data than most other advanced smartphones, which are pretty data-intensive themselves, The Post has reported.
In all, Arieso says that the Siri-equipped iPhone 4S "appears to unleash data consumption behaviors that have no precedent."
Under most circumstances, this would seem to be someone else's problem. Cellphone contracts are "tiered" so that those who use a network more than others pay more for the privilege. You want to ask Siri silly questions? Go to town -- but you (or, in this case, I) will get the bill at the end of the month. By the same logic, a customer who wants better service on an airline can pay for it by buying a first-class ticket. The marketplace provides.
Except on the data skyway, it's not that simple. Cell and data networks are like any common resource; they have limits. And once they hit their limit, regardless of which group is using its share and then some, there's no more to go around.
PAM COMMENTARY: That's only a problem until people get sick of their cell phones talking to them.
Glock: As Giffords Exits, a Look at the Gun Used in Tucson Rampage and Other U.S. Mass Shootings (26 January 2012) [DN]
JUAN GONZALEZ: And this was only in the early 1980s, right?
PAUL BARRETT: 1980, right. In 1982, he--after gathering some of the best handgun experts together and asking them for what elements of a gun would be best suited for the military, he came up with this design. And his huge advantage was the disadvantage you just identified: he started with a blank piece of paper. Rather than telling his customer what they wanted, he listened to what they were looking for. And he came up with this very modern, very futuristic-looking, mostly plastic gun, that was inexpensive to produce, so he has--his profit margin was high; very easy to use--there are no complicated safety gizmos, and we could talk about that some more, because that has a downside, as well; has this large magazine capacity; and it's very durable, which is very appealing to a military or a police department, which is buying the guns en masse.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And it has very few parts, that have separate parts that have to be manufactured.
PAUL BARRETT: Absolutely, absolutely. It had half or a third of the parts of comparable guns. There's just less to break down. And the parts also come in modules, so you can pull them in and out. You can literally mix and match the parts. This was a very practical product, similar to the Japanese cars that showed up in the United States in the '70s and '80s and had so much success against Detroit's cars. Well, in the same way, the Glock came to the United States and pushed aside Smith & Wesson, the incumbent gun company that, until that time, was dominant.
AMY GOODMAN: So American police use Austrian guns.
PAUL BARRETT: That's absolutely correct.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And you tell the story of how that happened. How did all these police departments adopt this gun?
PAUL BARRETT: Well, in addition to his brilliant starting from scratch with a blank piece of paper, Glock had phenomenal timing, just good luck. He showed up in the United States saying, "I've got the pistol of the future," at precisely the moment that police departments in this country felt that they were, as they put it, out-gunned by the bad guys. This is the mid to late '80s. Crime levels are going up in big cities, fueled in many cases by crack cocaine violence, gangs shooting at each other. And the police just felt that the traditional six-round Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver was kind of yesterday's weapon. They wanted tomorrow's weapon. They wanted to jump ahead of the bad guys. And Glock had this product that seemed so appealing. And within a space of just a few years, you went from a completely--a Smith & Wesson gun culture to this semi-automatic pistol gun culture, and Glock was out there in front.
Whooping Cranes finally take flight after FAA exemption (26 January 2012)
Operation Migration reports that whooping cranes grounded in Alabama by an FAA investigation have finally left Franklin County, Alabama... if only making it nine miles south to neighboring Winston County.
On Tuesday, the birds were led into flight again, although the flock's handlers reported difficulty in keeping the birds together in the air after the long Alabama stopover. Poor flying weather has grounded the birds since.
In December, the endangered birds' ultra-light-guided migration south was paused due to an investigation by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). At issue was whether the FAA rule banning compensation of ultra-light aircraft pilots had been violated. On January 9th, the FAA granted a "one-time exemption" for the migration to continue until a long-term agreement for the program could be reached.
After the FAA delay, a lack of favorable flying conditions prevented the migration from continuing, and the birds remained penned up in Franklin County, Alabama until Tuesday. Now the birds are penned in Winston County until good flying conditions return.
Behind slick Apple products lurk gritty facts about human costs (26 January 2012)
In the last decade, Apple has become one of the mightiest, richest and most successful companies in the world, in part by mastering global manufacturing. Apple and its high-technology peers -- as well as dozens of other American industries -- have achieved a pace of innovation nearly unmatched in modern history.
However, the workers assembling iPhones, iPads and other devices often labor in harsh conditions, according to employees inside those plants, worker advocates and documents published by companies themselves. Problems are as varied as onerous work environments and serious -- sometimes deadly -- safety problems.
Employees work excessive overtime, in some cases seven days a week, and live in crowded dorms. Some say they stand so long that their legs swell until they can hardly walk. Under-age workers have helped build Apple's products, and the company's suppliers have improperly disposed of hazardous waste and falsified records, according to company reports and advocacy groups that, within China, are often considered reliable, independent monitors.
More troubling, the groups say, is some suppliers' disregard for workers' health. Two years ago, 137 workers at an Apple supplier in eastern China were injured after they were ordered to use a poisonous chemical to clean iPhone screens. Within seven months last year, two explosions at iPad factories, including in Chengdu, killed four people and injured 77. Before those blasts, Apple had been alerted to hazardous conditions inside the Chengdu plant, according to a Chinese group that published that warning.
"Nutty Newt" promises a moon base (26 January 2012)
There are two givens in any election campaign: 1) the candidates will make grand promises that they can never keep and 2) they will pander to their audience at every opportunity.
But on Wednesday, Newt "grandiose is my middle name" [it isn't] Gingrich took those truisms on to a whole new, extraplanetary level. Speaking to an audience on Florida's Space Coast ahead of the state's primary next week, the big-thinking Republican hopeful turned his science fiction fantasies into a hard and fast campaign promise.
"By the end of my second term we will have the first permanent base on the moon and it will be American," he said. According to Talking Points Memo Gingrich went on to say that the base would be used for "science, tourism, and manufacturing" and to create a "robust industry" modelled on the airline business in the 20th century.
And from there, how could a president ever top that? Well, that would be a mission to Mars obviously, said Gingrich - or Newt Lightyear as my colleague Richard Adams has now dubbed him.
PAM COMMENTARY: I'm sorry, Newt, you wanted some attention? And how would a big NAFTA, GATT, and WTO champion like Newt Gingrich build a base on the moon? I assume it'll be made in China, manned by Mexicans. And for the same man who was instrumental in the repeal of Glass-Steagall, financed by worthless derivatives that the government will be forced to bail out later...
Brewer, Obama exchange tense words over book, immigration at airport (25 January 2012)
President Barack Obama arrived at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and was greeted by Gov. Jan Brewer, among other dignitaries and local mayors. The two spoke intensely for a few minutes. At one point, she pointed her finger at him. At another, they were talking over each other.
Obama appeared to walk away from Brewer while they were still talking.
"He was a little disturbed about my book, 'Scorpions for Breakfast,' " Brewer told a pool reporter who is a member of the traveling White House press corps shortly after her encounter with Obama. "I said to him that I have all the respect in the world for the office of the president. The book is what the book is. I asked him if he read the book. He said he read the excerpt."
Asked what aspect of the book disturbed him, Brewer said: "That he didn't feel that I had treated him cordially. I said I was sorry he felt that way, but I didn't get my sentence finished. Anyway, we're glad he's here."
The demise of the dollar (26 January 2012)
The decline of American economic power linked to the current global recession was implicitly acknowledged by the World Bank president Robert Zoellick. "One of the legacies of this crisis may be a recognition of changed economic power relations," he said in Istanbul ahead of meetings this week of the IMF and World Bank. But it is China's extraordinary new financial power -- along with past anger among oil-producing and oil-consuming nations at America's power to interfere in the international financial system -- which has prompted the latest discussions involving the Gulf states.
Brazil has shown interest in collaborating in non-dollar oil payments, along with India. Indeed, China appears to be the most enthusiastic of all the financial powers involved, not least because of its enormous trade with the Middle East.
China imports 60 per cent of its oil, much of it from the Middle East and Russia. The Chinese have oil production concessions in Iraq -- blocked by the US until this year -- and since 2008 have held an $8bn agreement with Iran to develop refining capacity and gas resources. China has oil deals in Sudan (where it has substituted for US interests) and has been negotiating for oil concessions with Libya, where all such contracts are joint ventures.
Furthermore, Chinese exports to the region now account for no fewer than 10 per cent of the imports of every country in the Middle East, including a huge range of products from cars to weapon systems, food, clothes, even dolls. In a clear sign of China's growing financial muscle, the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, yesterday pleaded with Beijing to let the yuan appreciate against a sliding dollar and, by extension, loosen China's reliance on US monetary policy, to help rebalance the world economy and ease upward pressure on the euro.
Australian politicians flee with security when confronted by Aboriginal protest on Australia Day
(26 January 2012)
Activists from the tent embassy accused Mr Abbott of inciting racial riots with his earlier comments.
Michael Anderson said the comments were disrespectful.
"He said the aboriginal embassy had to go, we heard it on a radio broadcast," he told AAP.
"We thought no way, so we circled around the building."
Popular TV host and son of New York City police commissioner accused of 'raping young woman in her office' (26 January 2012)
A popular television host whose father is the New York City Police Commissioner is under investigation for alleged rape.
Greg Kelly, son of Ray Kelly, denies any wrongdoing and says he is co-operating with officials.
The alleged sexual assault took place in October, but the woman involved did not report her accusation until this week.
The woman, who is around 30, told police that she and Mr Kelly met on the street and went for drinks at the South Street Seaport on the evening of October 8, according to the New York Times.
Groups sue over Navy sonar use off Northwest (26 January 2012)
SEATTLE - A group of conservationists and American Indian tribes are suing over the Navy's expanded use of sonar in training exercises off the Washington, Oregon and California coasts, saying the noise can harass and kill whales and other marine life.
In a lawsuit being filed Thursday, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice and other groups claim the National Marine Fisheries Service was wrong to approve the Navy's expanded training plan.
They say regulators should have considered the effects repeated sonar use can have on those species.
The groups want restrictions on where and when the Navy can conduct sonar and other loud activities to protect orcas, humpbacks and other marine mammals.
Uranium mining ban shows feds listen (opinion) (26 January 2012)
In a properly functioning democracy, the leaders follow the community's direction. On Monday, when the Obama administration declared a 20-year moratorium on new mines near Grand Canyon National Park, our leaders chose to listen to the people, and we are hugely grateful. Over 300,000 members of the public wrote letters supporting protection of Grand Canyon from new mining. The Flagstaff City Council, Coconino County Board of Supervisors, and local tribal councils all supported the mining ban, and we thank them as well for providing a clear vision to which the federal government could respond.
This week, local residents got together to celebrate this action and its positive impact on both a national icon and the northern Arizona economy. Ninety citizens signed cards thanking President Obama, Interior Secretary Salazar, BLM Director Abbey, and Representative Grijalva (who has been a champion of Grand Canyon protection) for defending us from sickness and contamination associated with uranium mines. It is clear that northern Arizona supports this decision, and our leaders have represented us. Thank you to everyone who made it happen.
NASA shows off 'amazing' photo of Earth (26 January 2012)
A composite image released by NASA Wednesday is the "most amazing" perspective we've ever had of our planet, according to the space agency.
"This composite image uses a number of swaths of the Earth's surface taken on January 4, 2012," according to NASA. Take a look.
The curious case of the vanishing killer (26 January 2012)
It is one of medicine's mysteries: what has caused Britain's plummeting rate of heart disease over the last decade? Deaths from heart attacks have halved since 2002 and no one is quite sure why. Similar changes have occurred in countries around the world but the death rate in England, especially, has fallen further and faster than almost anywhere.
Researchers from the University of Oxford suggest part of the reason is that our hearts are getting stronger. We are suffering fewer heart attacks than we did and fewer of them are fatal. The two factors may be linked. By reducing risk factors for heart disease -- avoiding smoking, eating a healthy diet, cutting cholesterol and lowering blood pressure -- we not only reduce heart attacks but ensure that when they occur they are less life threatening.
The researchers looked at 840,000 men and women in England who had suffered a total of 861,000 heart attacks between 2002 and 2010. Overall, the death rates fell by 50 per cent in men and 53 per cent in women. The reasons for the decline, they say, are "beneficial changes in the health of the population" and "major improvements in NHS care" for those who end up in hospital. But the findings were not uniform across the country. In London heart attack rates rose between 2007 and 2009 -- probably as a result of the financial crisis.
Many puzzles remain. "The causes of the increase and decline in heart disease deaths are not entirely straightforward," said Professor Michael Goldacre, of the Department of Public Health, who led the study published in the British Medical Journal.
PAM COMMENTARY: So many Brits went vegetarian after the mad cow crisis of the 90s that their hearts are probably in slightly better shape, despite the return by many to a meat-based diet.
Gates injects $750M into troubled Global Fund (26 January 2012)
Gates said the promissory note was designed so the fund "can immediately use the money and save lives."
He downplayed the fund's reported losses of tens of millions of dollars to corruption, misuse and undocumented spending that were highlighted in stories by The Associated Press. He said he was lending his "credibility" to the fund so others would feel reassured.
"The internal checks and balances have worked in every case," Gates told reporters. It was "disappointing," he said, to see how people have focused on a "small misuse of funds."
"If you're going to do business in Africa, you're going to have some losses," he said.
PAM COMMENTARY: I doubt that any fund focusing so much on vaccinations would attract many new donors these days. Vaccines are controversial, especially in Africa, and the money goes to big drug companies already swimming in cash.
PIP breast implant boss arrested in south of France (26 January 2012)
The founder of the French firm that produced the faulty breast implants at the centre of a global health scare has been arrested in the south of France.
Jean-Claude Mas, 72, head of Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) was taken into police custody just before 7am on Thursday morning after police arrived at the home of his partner in Six-Fours in the Var.
The house was being searched by investigators. A deputy chief executive was also arrested at his home.
Mas has given several interviews to French media about the scandal, and was not the subject of a manhunt by police, contrary to some previous reports.
PIP closed down in March 2010 after regulators discovered it was using a non-medical grade silicone in its implants.
In December, the French government advised 30,000 women to have substandard PIP implants removed following health officials' warnings they were more likely to rupture than other implants. Mas was defiant, admitting on French radio he had used homemade silicone gel to cut costs.
Feds: Pharmacies gave 'used' drugs to W. Washington nursing homes (25 January 2012)
Federal investigators have raided pharmacies in Seattle and Bellingham looking for evidence that potentially dangerous returned drugs were being resold to elderly and disabled patients without their knowledge.
According to court papers filed in the Food and Drug Administration investigation, the pharmacies' owners were reselling medicine collected from patients living in long-term care facilities around Western Washington. Investigators contend the drugs -- some of which were collected from residents after they died -- were then repacked and sold as new.
Among the targets of the investigation were the Scrips LTC Pharmacy in Seattle and Custom Prescription Shoppe in Bellingham. The owners of those businesses also operate CPS Pharmacy in Pasco.
Investigators do not note which long-term care facilities were clients of the pharmacies, nor do they estimate how many patients may have been sold second-hand drugs.
Arizona Rep. Giffords appears on House floor to officially resign (25 January 2012)
WASHINGTON -- In a body occasionally known for untoward exits, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords stood among cheering, crying colleagues to say goodbye Wednesday, over a year after she was gravely wounded by a would-be assassin.
Giffords had come to the well of the House to resign, a formality since she'd signaled her intention earlier, as she recovers from a gunshot wound to the head during a shooting rampage in her home district in Arizona. It was one of the longer House goodbyes in recent times, as Democrats and Republicans lined up to see her off. A prolonged standing ovation followed a fusion of tributes and tears as colleagues praised her dignity and perseverance.
Surrounded by friends and colleagues and holding Rep. Jeff Flake's hand, Giffords heard her close friend, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, read her resignation letter to the chamber. In it, Giffords said she had "more work to do on my recovery before I can again serve in elected office."
Last January, a gunman opened fire at Giffords' "Congress on Your Corner" event in Tucson, killing six people and wounding 13, including Giffords who suffered the gunshot wound.
Walnuts slow growth of prostate cancer in mice, UC Davis research shows (25 January 2012)
New research in mice by UC Davis shows that walnuts slow the growth of prostate cancer.
Mice fed a diet with walnuts had smaller, slower growing tumors, the researchers reported in the current issue of the British Journal of Nutrition.
A low-fat diet is often recommended for reducing the risk for developing or slowing growth of prostate cancer. However, the UC Davis study suggests that not eating walnuts may be a mistake.
Walnuts are rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, antioxidants and other plant chemicals. Eschewing walnuts may mean foregoing the protective effects of walnuts on tumor growth.
Wife of alleged CIA leaker resigns from agency (25 January 2012)
A senior CIA analyst resigned Tuesday amid accounts that she had been pressured to step down after her husband -- a former agency employee -- was charged with leaking classified information to the press.
Heather Kiriakou had served as a top analyst on some of the most sensitive subjects that the agency tracks, including leadership developments in Iran. Her husband, John, faces a maximum of 30 years in prison after being accused of disclosing details about secret CIA operations as well as the identities of undercover officers.
Two sources in direct contact with the Kiriakous said that Heather had submitted her resignation under pressure from superiors at the CIA. She had been on maternity leave in recent months. Neither she nor John Kiriakou returned a phone message left at their home.
"They told her to come in and resign," said one person with direct knowledge of the Kiriakou case. Both sources spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity surrounding Heather Kiriakou's employment status and the pending prosecution of her husband.
Louisiana African-American cemeteries, once plowed over for spillway, now recognized as historic (24 January 2012)
The Kugler and Kenner cemeteries, named for the property owners and located about a mile apart in the Bonnet Carre Spillway on land purchased by the federal government, were rediscovered in 1986.
The Army Corps of Engineers created the spillway after the 1927 Mississippi River flood, which killed hundreds of people in New Orleans and surrounding communities. With two levees, the corps enclosed 7,600 acres and built a control structure to divert high river water away from the city.
Corps officials have estimated that 250 to 300 African-Americans, many of whom were enslaved on nearby plantations, were interred in grassy plots in the spillway from the late 19th century until about 1929.
Margie Richard of Destrehan, who grew up in Norco, said her paternal and maternal grandmothers and great-grandparents were buried in the cemeteries. She said the corps project is "long overdue."
Japan kept silent on worst nuclear crisis scenario (25 January 2012)
TOKYO - The Japanese government's worst-case scenario at the height of the nuclear crisis last year warned that tens of millions of people, including Tokyo residents, might need to leave their homes, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press. But fearing widespread panic, officials kept the report secret.
The recent emergence of the 15-page internal document may add to complaints in Japan that the government withheld too much information about the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.
It also casts doubt about whether the government was sufficiently prepared to cope with what could have been an evacuation of unprecedented scale.
The report was submitted to then-Prime Minister Naoto Kan and his top advisers on March 25, two weeks after the earthquake and tsunami devastated the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, causing three reactors to melt down and generating hydrogen explosions that blew away protective structures.
S.F. city worker, who retained Medi-Cal applicant records to build employment discrimination case, is "charged with stealing confidential information" (25 January 2012)
A former Medi-Cal eligibility worker for the city of San Francisco who allegedly collected private records from more than 3,000 applicants - but apparently never sold or used the data - has been charged with stealing confidential information, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Shawn Williams, who worked for the city Human Services Agency, faces four felony counts of withholding and concealing stolen property and two misdemeanor counts of possessing confidential information of people who applied for Medi-Cal benefits.
Williams allegedly gathered the names and Social Security numbers of more than 3,000 Medi-Cal applicants or recipients, the district attorney's office said, by forwarding e-mail from her work account to her personal account, and by printing out and taking application information.
Williams pleaded not guilty Tuesday and was released on her own recognizance.
Stephanie Ong Stillman, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, said Williams had been building a case that she was being discriminated against in the workplace and had stockpiled documents to demonstrate that she had been a productive employee who helped many people.
PAM COMMENTARY: Three thousand records does sound like a lot of work...
Google's Chromebooks making big school push (25 January 2012)
Apple made headlines last week with its push into the textbook market, but it's not the only Silicon Valley giant making greater inroads into education.
Google will announce this morning that hundreds of schools in 41 states across the United States are using its Chromebooks in one or more classrooms. In addition, three school districts, in Iowa, Illinois and South Carolina, are rolling out "one-to-one" programs that will hand laptops to each student.
The deals add up to nearly 27,000 machines, which are leased for $20 per month or sold for $449, with service and warranties.
The laptops, which include various models built by Acer and Samsung, are designed to work almost entirely online. They run a lightweight operating system based on the company's Chrome Internet browser and rely on online-based applications like Google's word-processing and spreadsheet tools.
PAM COMMENTARY: That sounds more expensive than textbooks, when you consider that a one-time book purchase lasts for years. Textbooks also don't experience outages from technical difficulties.
President Obama's 2012 State of the Union Address (25 January 2012)
I also hear from many business leaders who want to hire in the United States but can't find workers with the right skills. Growing industries in science and technology have twice as many openings as we have workers who can do the job. Think about that --- openings at a time when millions of Americans are looking for work. It's inexcusable. And we know how to fix it.
Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic. Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College. The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training. It paid Jackie's tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant.
I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did. Join me in a national commitment to train 2 million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. (Applause.)
My administration has already lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, and Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers --- places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.
PAM COMMENTARY: There are several problems with the complaint that US companies can't find "qualified" employees, and with the strategy of using community colleges to fix the "problem."
Most employers who make such claims expect to hire geniuses for ten bucks an hour. Not gonna happen. Qualified employees in fact CAN be found, if the company is willing to pay market rate wages. That means enough to meet modern living expenses, and enough to live COMFORTABLY for the small pool of "geniuses" who may be willing to work for such companies. It's what they call "employee retention." Companies used to strive for it when bosses were smart enough to realize that talent makes a difference.
Over my lengthy career, consulting with many large corporations and smaller companies, I've frequently seen companies go bust after they purge their best-qualified superstar staff for cheaper employees. Almost every time, there was no real need to cut payroll costs -- the companies were making hefty profits and could easily afford to pay their key employees competitive wages. But companies in this class are the "profit maximizers," and the results of moving profits upward don't take very long, as there's never much room for mistakes in company budgets. Certainly an entire company can't survive for years at a time after gutting its talent pool.
The companies I've observed often close their doors or sell to competitors within one to two years of "going cheap." I've seen it too many times to doubt this timeframe.
And using community colleges to train employees? Why? Companies haven't relied on external training for technical jobs in the past. They'd train their own staff, in-house. It made more sense that way. They had their own proprietary processes and even trade secrets -- why would they announce to the world in the form of a school's curriculum how to make their products? Did they want a hundred competing factories to spring up within the year?
Sometimes staff will need regular school classes or a college degree, and in the past, companies would choose some of their most capable employees and send them to school, maybe even offer them more pay and bonuses to keep them happy with their jobs so that they'd stay with the company.
Nobody's ever heard of this? It's what they call "employee retention." American companies -- the best ones -- knew all about it, and for decades in the 1900s were good at it.
Today's manufacturing problems have nothing to do with a failing of community colleges. It's the same old story of companies "going cheap." They won't pay for talent, and so they have to scrape up what they can from the few foreign workers or factories willing to work with them -- before all trade secrets are lost, and a thousand other companies can make their product for slightly less money. Then they're out of business, like so many other companies foolish enough to follow the path of "maximum cheapness."
Fired BP worker says he was asked to fake spill data (25 January 2012)
A man who supervised the BP cleaning efforts along the Mississippi shores claims he was fired after alerting federal officials that the company was falsifying data to make the shores look cleaner than they were, according to court records.
August Walter Jr. filed a whistleblower lawsuit against BP America in federal court in New Orleans last [w]eek. The Louisiana man claims the company refused to pick up oil debris from beaches and islands and then misrepresented data to mislead Coast Guard officials into thinking the cleanup was complete.
BP spokesman Tom Mueller told The New Orleans Times-Picayune that the company did not believe Walter's complaint had merit:
The company promised to "investigate the allegations contained in his complaint, consistent with our personnel policies and code of conduct. We believe we have demonstrated good faith in meeting our obligations in the Gulf and are committed to treating our employees fairly."
Walter worked as a state planning lead for BP's cleanup operations until he was fired on Dec. 9, 2011. While working for BP, Walter claims BP was taking shortcuts and not following the environmental standards required.
George Soros on the Coming U.S. Class War (23 January 2012)
Has the great short seller gone soft? Well, yes. Sitting in his 33rd-floor corner office high above Seventh Avenue in New York, preparing for his trip to Davos, he is more concerned with surviving than staying rich. "At times like these, survival is the most important thing," he says, peering through his owlish glasses and brushing wisps of gray hair off his forehead. He doesn't just mean it's time to protect your assets. He means it's time to stave off disaster. As he sees it, the world faces one of the most dangerous periods of modern history--a period of "evil." Europe is confronting a descent into chaos and conflict. In America he predicts riots on the streets that will lead to a brutal clampdown that will dramatically curtail civil liberties. The global economic system could even collapse altogether.
"I am not here to cheer you up. The situation is about as serious and difficult as I've experienced in my career," Soros tells Newsweek. "We are facing an extremely difficult time, comparable in many ways to the 1930s, the Great Depression. We are facing now a general retrenchment in the developed world, which threatens to put us in a decade of more stagnation, or worse. The best-case scenario is a deflationary environment. The worst-case scenario is a collapse of the financial system."
Soros's warning is based as much on his own extraordinary personal history as on his gut instinct for market booms and busts. "I did survive a personally much more threatening situation, so it is emotional, as well as rational," he acknowledges. Soros was just 13 when Nazi soldiers invaded and occupied his native Hungary in March 1944. In only eight weeks, almost half a million Hungarian Jews were deported, many to Auschwitz. He saw bodies of Jews, and the Christians who helped them, swinging from lampposts, their skulls crushed. He survived, thanks to his father, Tivadar, who managed to secure false identities for his family. Later, he watched as Russian forces ousted the Nazis and a new totalitarian ideology, communism, replaced fascism. As life got tougher during the postwar Soviet occupation, Soros managed to emigrate, first to London, then to New York.
Soros draws on his past to argue that the global economic crisis is as significant, and unpredictable, as the end of communism. "The collapse of the Soviet system was a pretty extraordinary event, and we are currently experiencing something similar in the developed world, without fully realizing what's happening." To Soros, the spectacular debunking of the credo of efficient markets--the notion that markets are rational and can regulate themselves to avert disaster--"is comparable to the collapse of Marxism as a political system. The prevailing interpretation has turned out to be very misleading. It assumes perfect knowledge, which is very far removed from reality. We need to move from the Age of Reason to the Age of Fallibility in order to have a proper understanding of the problems."
Female driver who defied Saudi motoring ban dies in fatal road accident (25 January 2012)
'One woman was immediately killed and her companion who was driving the car was hospitalised after she suffered several injuries' police spokesman Abdulaziz al-Zunaidi told AFP.
Their deaths come after they joined a growing number of women who have defied the ban since a high-profile campaign by a 32-year-old computer security consultant.
Manal al-Sherif was arrested and detained for 10 days in May after posting a video of herself on YouTube as she drover around Khobar, a city to the east of the country.
al-Sherif and a group of other women started a Facebook page called 'Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,' which urged authorities to lift the driving ban.
Apple's record sales driven by iPhone frenzy (25 January 2012)
Technology giant Apple posted record quarterly results after it sold a greater-than-expected 37 million iPhones worldwide in the last three months of 2011.
Sales of the smartphone more than doubled in the 14 weeks to 31 December, which included the launch of the latest model, the iPhone 4S, and helped Apple's net profit more than double to $13.1 billion (?8.4bn).
The company -- which was founded by Steve Jobs, who died at the start of the quarter at the age of 56 -- also delivered huge sales of its tablet computer, the iPad, selling 15.43 million in the three-month period, compared with 7.3 million a year earlier.
The stellar results, which also revealed a 26 per cent increase in sales of its Mac computer to 5.2 million, beat analyst expectations and cheered investors in Asia, where markets posted solid gains overnight.
Google user data to be merged across all sites under contentious plan (25 January 2012)
Google is under fire for plans to collect data on individual users across all of its websites and merge the information into a single profile that can be used to alter the person's search results and target them with advertising and services.
"If you're signed in, we may combine information you've provided from one service with information from other services," Google's director of privacy, product and engineering, Alma Whitten, wrote in a blogpost.
After the new policy comes into effect, user information from most Google products -- such as YouTube, Gmail, Google Maps, Google+ and Android mobile -- will be treated as a single trove of data, which the company could use for targeted advertising or other revenue-raising purposes.
Tibetans 'shot dead' in clashes with Chinese forces (25 January 2012)
The group Free Tibet said two Tibetans were killed and several more were wounded today when security forces opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Seda county in politically sensitive Ganzi prefecture in Sichuan province. It quoted local sources as saying the area was under a curfew.
According to the Chinese government's version of events, a "mob" of people charged a police station in Seda and injured 14 officers, forcing police to open fire on them.
The official Xinhua News Agency said police killed one rioter, injured another and arrested 13. The violence comes as some 30 Tibetans who were wounded Monday when Chinese police fired into a crowd of protesters were sheltering in a monastery in neighboring Luhuo county, a Tibetan monk said. Military forces have surrounded the building, said the monk, who would not give his name out of fear of government retaliation.
The Draggo monastery could no longer be reached by phone Wednesday.
Davos 2012: Unilever chief Polman warns of higher food prices and urges curbs on commodity speculation (25 January 2012)
Mr Polman is leading efforts to improve world food security, including more sustainable growth and agricultural methods.
He is using the World Economic Forum in Davos, where he is a co-chair of the event, to bring rival food companies into closure partnerships with each other, national governments and the United Nations.
"World population is growing and living standards rising. People are consuming more dairy products and meat. The pressure on the earth is increasing. These are shifts and these shifts we can manage. There's no Malthusian panic."
But these shifts were becoming more apparent, said Mr Polman, which was having a disproportionate impact on prices.
"The time of cheap food is over," said Mr Polman. "If you look at the entire basket prices are not coming down. Some people jump on one or two commodities such as grain which have fallen recently but overall the trend is up."
Mr Polman predicted a rise of 2-3pc a year for the foreseable future.
Mental health evaluation sought for suspected East Coast Rapist (23 January 2012)
The lawyer for the suspected "East Coast Rapist" has asked a Prince William County court to order a mental health evaluation for the man allegedly linked to sexual assaults dating back to the 1990s.
Aaron Thomas, 40, has been held at Prince William's Adult Detention Center awaiting trial since he arrived in November. He is suspected in a series of attacks that began in Maryland in the late 1990s and continued in Virginia, Connecticut and Rhode Island over more than a decade.
Thomas's court-appointed lawyer, Ronald W. Fahy, has asked the court to require the evaluation for Thomas' "competency to stand trial" because he has "engaged in self-destructive behavior and refuses to communicate with defense counsel," according to the motion.
Commonwealth's Attorney Paul Ebert said in an interview that a scheduled preliminary hearing for this week would be moved back to March. Ebert said a mental health professional would be appointed and evaluate whether Thomas' mental health is adequate to stand trial.
Military study aims to aid troops with mild TBI (20 January 2012)
SAN ANTONIO -- A team of experts at San Antonio Military Medical Center has launched a military study aimed at improving outcomes for service members suffering from a signature wound of today's wars: traumatic brain injury.
The Study of Cognitive Rehabilitation Effectiveness, dubbed the SCORE trial, is examining cognitive rehabilitation therapy's value as a treatment for service members with mild TBI.
The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments teamed up on this study to determine the best treatment for combat troops who are experiencing mild TBI symptoms -- such as difficulties with attention, concentration, memory and judgment -- three to 24 months post-injury, explained Douglas B. Cooper, the study's lead and a clinical neuropsychologist for the center's Traumatic Brain Injury Service.
"We have a lot of great interventions to help ... in the first few days after concussion," he said in an interview with American Forces Press Service. "We can pull them out, get them rest and get them better."
However, "we don't have as many good interventions later on --six months, 12 months or two years post-injury," acknowledged Cooper, who also serves as the director of the Military Brain Injury Rehabilitation Research Consortium.
Haditha Marine suspect to serve no time (24 January 2012)
CAMP PENDLETON -- Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich will serve no time for his role in the 2005 killing of 24 unarmed Iraqis, including women and children, according to terms of a plea agreement revealed Tuesday.
The 31-year-old Marine pleaded guilty Monday to a single charge of negligent dereliction of duty, as part of a plea agreement that dismissed earlier voluntary manslaughter and assault counts.
On Tuesday, a military judge handed down the maximum possible sentence of three months in the brig, but the jail time was eliminated under terms of the plea agreement. Wuterich's only penalty will be a reduction in rank to private.
The announcement in a Camp Pendleton courtroom brings to a close the longest-running criminal case against U.S. troops stemming from the Iraq War.
Military prosecutors had argued that Wuterich spurred his squad of infantry Marines on a vengeful rampage on Nov. 19, 2005, by telling them to "shoot first and ask questions later," which made the Marines believe they could ignore usual rules of engagement that minimize civilian casualties. Wuterich countered that he was only telling them not to hesitate in the face of the enemy.
Democratic lawmakers sue controller over his withholding of their pay (25 January 2012)
Reporting from Sacramento -- Democratic lawmakers sued state Controller John Chiang on Tuesday, arguing that he misused his power last summer when he docked their pay for passing a budget he said was not balanced.
The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, does not seek reimbursement of the $583,200 in withheld pay. Lawmakers want the court to bar the controller from doing it again if they approve a budget that they deem balanced.
Chiang, a Democrat, said he was exercising authority given to him by voters when they approved Proposition 25, a constitutional amendment, in 2010. That law punishes lawmakers who fail to pass a budget by the constitutional deadline of June 15.
The dispute pivots on whether the controller can declare the Legislature's budget unsound. Democrats passed a majority budget by the deadline last year, but Chiang said it was not fiscally sound and refused to issue lawmakers' paychecks. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown later vetoed the budget, siding with Chiang.
Watch the State of the Union address on YouTube, Tuesday at 9 p.m. Eastern (24 January 2012)
PAM COMMENTARY: Click this link around the time that it starts, and hope that YouTube doesn't go down from all of the traffic...
Serial arson suspect faces 100 counts related to 49 fires (24 January 2012)
Los Angeles police said they have physical evidence tying Burkhart to the arson spree, including fire-starting materials found inside his minivan when he was arrested.
The vast majority of the fires were started by what authorities described as a common wood-like fire-starting device found in stores. The devices are normally used to start fires in a fireplace or grill, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the case was ongoing.
Prosecutors and investigators say they have connected him to the crimes by physical evidence including DNA. They also have a photo of a device that he dumped when he entered the German consulate in the middle of the spree.
Also, several witnesses have identified Burkhart as being near the scene of several fires, said the sources.
Jobs on jobs: They ain't coming back (24 January 2012)
The most disturbing story I've read in a good while came with Sunday's New York Times, on why America has lost its high-tech manufacturing jobs. It focuses on Apple, which employs 43,000 in the United States, a fraction of the 400,000 Americans who worked for General Motors at its zenith. As the Times reports, "Many more people work for Apple's contractors: an additional 700,000 people engineer, build and assemble iPads, iPhones and Apple's other products. But almost none of them work in the United States." Most are in Asia, including at China's notorious Foxconn.
At a gathering of Silicon Valley executives last February, President Obama asked what it would take to make iPhones in the United States. The late Steve Jobs said, "Those jobs aren't coming back." Why? Executives such as Mr. Jobs want the "flexibility" of Chinese workers when he demanded a last-minute glass screen on the phone:
"A foreman immediately roused 8,000 workers inside the company's dormitories, according to the executive. Each employee was given a biscuit and a cup of tea, guided to a workstation and within half an hour started a 12-hour shift fitting glass screens into beveled frames. Within 96 hours, the plant was producing over 10,000 iPhones a day. 'The speed and flexibility is breathtaking,' the (Apple) executive said. 'There's no American plant that can match that.'"
Yes, slave labor does have that advantage. Apple brings in some $400,000 per employee but little of that goes to those working in the suicide-ridden Foxconn factories, whose CEO compares workers to animals. Another choice quote from an Apple exec: "We don't have an obligation to solve America's problems. Our only obligation is making the best product possible." This is the very definition of the sociopath corporation.
Swayed by a psychologist, jury frees 'monster' who attacks again (23 January 2012)
McDonald, 29, struggled but the intruder overpowered her. He tied McDonald down and raped her.
Just 10 months earlier in a King County courtroom, a defense expert told jurors that the same man, Curtis Thompson, a repeat rapist facing civil commitment, most likely wouldn't attack another woman. The jury had to decide if Thompson, 44, set to be released from prison, was so dangerous that he needed to be confined to the state's lockup facility on McNeil Island for sex predators.
Persuaded by the words of forensic psychologist Theodore Donaldson, the jurors decided Thompson did not meet the criteria for civil commitment, which would have allowed the state to detain him indefinitely. Instead the jury set him free.
Donaldson would be horrifically wrong with his predictions.
And McDonald wouldn't be the only victim: During his 2004 rampage, Thompson killed a 45-year-old woman and attacked two other women.
Raj Patel: In Attacks on Obama, Food Stamps, Newt Gingrich is "Racially Coding Poverty" (23 January 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: It's nice to see you here. Talk about Newt Gingrich calling President Obama "the food stamp president." What does this mean?
RAJ PATEL: Well, what he's referring to, or what he's alleging, is that many more people have come onto the food stamp program under the Obama administration than any previous administration. Now, if you look at the numbers, what you see is that under the Bush administration, about 14.7 million people joined the ranks of people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what we now call the food stamp program. Under the Obama administration, about 14.2 million people joined that program. So, the numbers are about 444,000 fewer under the Obama administration than under the Bush administration.
AMY GOODMAN: So it's a lie?
RAJ PATEL: Well, what--the way to spin that is to say--in Gingrich's favor, is to say much more money has been spent on food assistance under the Obama administration. And that's true. And that's important, because if you look at the numbers of hungry people in the United States, people who are food insecure in the United States, it rose from around 35 million people towards the tail end of the Bush administration, to the final year of the Bush administration, where it was nearer 49 million, and then it carried on going up. The trajectory was going up and up and up. And then, as a result of the stimulus package, many more people became entitled to join the food stamp program, and the amount of money that was available for food stamps went up to whopping $130, more or less, per month, so, you know, just over a dollar or so per meal.
So, it's true to say that more has been spent on food stamps under the Obama administration, but that's--I mean, we need to be having the conversation about, well, why are so many people on food stamps? And obviously, it's a result of the recession. It's a result of poverty in the United States. And I think that we need to have--you know, we need to refocus on that bigger issue, the issue, as you mentioned, of one in four children in the United States being food insecure, the fact that, as Finding North tells us, one in two children in the United States will, at some point in their childhood, be on an assistance program because they are hungry and because they are poor.
AMY GOODMAN: Half of children in the United States?
RAJ PATEL: At some point in their lives.
PAM COMMENTARY: It's more than that -- a lot of jobs pay so little that working class people are eligible for government benefits...
When Work Doesn't Pay; The Hidden Cost of Low-Wage Jobs in Wisconsin (FLASHBACK) (1 December 2006)
Jobs taking care of others generate high public costs.
The health care sector has the highest number of workers receiving public benefits. Of the $837 million spent annually on public benefits for year-round working Wisconsin families, $187 million, or 22 percent, is directed to workers in the health care industry. Health care is one of the largest industries in the state, accounting for 11 percent of all workers. Its very size helps to explain the high costs it generates.
Within health care, workers in the nursing homes and residential care sub-sectorh are clearly most reliant on public programs. These workers are three times more likely to receive public assistance than those in doctors' offices and clinics, and account for half of all public benefits spending of the health care industry. One in four residential care workers are enrolled in public support programs; more than half of all residential care workers do not receive health insurance through their jobs.
The social service sector (including child care services, services to the homeless, etc.) generates costs that are most out of scale with the size of the industry. While the sector accounts for only 2.1 percent of Wisconsin jobs, it accounts for 4.5 percent of working families that rely on public benefits.
The irony is as obvious as it is bitter: the very industries committed to taking care of others--hands on health care and social services--offer wages and benefits so low that their workers must often rely on public help to make ends meet.
The retail industry generates high public costs.
Given its large size and low wages, retail comes in as the industry generating the second highest public cost in the state. Benefits standards are eroding in the sector leaving more workers to rely on Medicaid or to simply do without any health insurance.
Medical Whistleblower Dr. Steven Nissen on "Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare" (23 January 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: And Merck. What are the calculations they make, in terms of what would it cost to reveal the information, what would it cost not to reveal and just pay out lawsuits when people die and some family members sue?
DR. STEVEN NISSEN: Yeah. Again, I want to say, make sure that everybody understands, that these are our outliers. I mean, there are very good and very ethical companies in the pharmaceutical industry and companies I work with every day. But there are also forces at play, powerful economic forces, that can cause companies, if they don't have good supervision, to do the wrong thing. And what they did in both these cases is they looked at the information, and they literally did a calculus. What would it cost if we revealed the hazard and lost the sales of the drug? What would it cost if we took our chances that somebody will find out? And they decided that it was less expensive to conceal the information than to reveal it.
AMY GOODMAN: This was, in the case of--in the case of Avandia, an actual memo that you saw.
DR. STEVEN NISSEN: There is. There is a document that surfaced in court cases that literally makes a calculation of how much it would cost if this came to light and how much it would cost if it didn't. And the ultimate calculation was it was better to keep this under wraps.
The Evidence for a Vegan Diet (18 January 2012)
For me, the most persuasive evidence supporting a healthy vegan diet is anecdotal. The vegans who frequent Casa de Luz, my breakfast (and often lunch) destination, are paragons of good health. Many of them are significantly older than I am -- in their 50s, 60s, and 70s -- but they rock on with glowing intensity, looking much younger (in some cases by 20 years) than they are. Every now and then a local vegan hero will drop in -- John Mackey (founder of Whole Foods), Rip Esselstyn (pioneer of the Engine 2 diet), a noted musician who will remain unnamed -- and we'll gawk in admiration. The everyday reality, though, is that a dozen or so ordinary people with whom I eat have done extraordinary things as a direct result of intelligent veganism. They've conquered obesity, chronic disease, depression, and a host of food-related disorders by exclusively eating an exciting diversity of plants. If there's one lesson I've learned by eating with seasoned vegans it is this: the diet empowers.
Beyond anecdotes, of course, there's considerable scientific evidence showing that veganism is a smart way to eat. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that a well-planned vegan (and vegetarian) diet is "healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases." This is a much more cautious assessment, however, than many studies suggest.
According to one study, "vegetarian and vegan diets are effective in treating and preventing several chronic diseases." The adaptation of a low-fat vegan diet can substantially mitigate the impacts of type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and Parkinson's disease. Veganism reduces the risk of colon cancer. Vegans have a better "antioxidant status" than non-vegans. Veganism is more effective at combating obesity than other prescribed diets, such as that promoted by the National Cholesterol Education Program. Veganism has been shown to lower risk factors associated with cardiac disease. As Dr. Michael Greger, director of public health for the Humane Society of the United States, explains, "A plant-based diet is like a one-stop shop against chronic diseases."
I could continue in this scientific vein, but again, it's the stories of personal transformation that make the biggest impression. Writing in the current issue of VegNews, Jasmin Singer, director of Our Hen House, profiles a one-time morbidly obese diabetic who went vegan, lost over a hundred pounds, cured his diabetes, and now preaches the virtues on his website. Singer goes on to relate the experience of Dr. Greger's grandmother, who by her 60s had endured two bypass surgeries and was confined to a wheelchair because of debilitating chest pain. Doctors had effectively given her a death sentence. After adopting a strict plant-based diet, she lost the wheelchair, dramatically improved her health, and lived an active life well into her 90s. Especially poignant is Singer's own story. At 31, her doctor declared her well on the way to early heart disease -- an all too familiar situation for people in their 30s who have never before worried about high cholesterol or spiking triglycerides. Following Dr. Joel Furman's Eat to Live program, she lost 80 pounds and is now a supremely healthy vegan activist helping others avoid the road she once stumbled down.
PAM COMMENTARY: Watch out for this link -- it's slow or even freezes for me at times.
Some of the symptoms she discusses that another author blamed on vegetarianism -- the hair loss, fatigue, etc. -- are symptoms of dieters in general. One doctor told a dieting meat-eating friend of mine that her hair loss was from borderline scurvy. Sure enough, a vitamin supplement fixed the problem. And remember the Atkin's diet? Everyone I know who tried that diet felt terrible while they were on it (at least the ones who didn't die from it, like my Aunt's husband), with the exception of one coworker who told me that her secret was eating more lettuce and vegetables than meat while on it.
I never experienced any bad health symptoms when switching to vegetarian or vegan diets, in fact it was the opposite -- I felt better with each step. But obviously I eat a good variety of natural foods. I'd need to see a food log and maybe even medical tests to understand why some people feel ill while eating that way.
Warrants reveal suspect stalked last homeless victim (24 January 2012)
SANTA ANA -- The Yorba Linda man arrested in the serial murders of four homeless men told detectives after his arrest earlier this month that he went hunting specifically for his fourth victim, according to court documents.
Itzcoatl Ocampo, 23, told Anaheim police detective Daron Wyatt after he was captured as he ran from an Anaheim parking lot Jan. 13 where John Berry, a 64-year-old homeless man, was stabbed to death that he "had been stalking" Berry over a period of three days, according to a search warrant affidavit.
Ocampo, who is being held without bail on four counts of murder, told Wyatt that he had gone to the Embassy Suites hotel near the fourth and final slaying "after walking on the Santa Ana River Trail for several hours attempting to locate Berry," according to the affidavit by Anaheim detective Mark Lillemoen.
Lillemoen's affidavit was in support of a search warrant that sought surveillance videos from Embassy Suites. "It is my opinion that the video surveillance will show Ocampo was in the area while stalking one of his victims," the detective wrote.
Mrs. DSK picked to lead Le Huffington Post (23 January 2012)
The glamorous Sinclair has borne the past eight months as the woman behind the womanizer in stoic silence, saying only that she does not believe her husband sexually assaulted a housekeeper in a Sofitel hotel in New York in May. The criminal case was dropped in August but a civil case is ongoing.
A litany of other accusations surfaced over the following months -- including French writer Tristane Banon claiming Strauss-Kahn approached her like a "rutting chimpanzee," and later Banon's mother claiming she, too, had an affair with the politician.
Sinclair, 63, had already shrugged off Strauss-Kahn's brief dalliance with an IMF employee, which was investigated in 2008. And two years earlier, she told French magazine L'Express: "It's important to seduce, for a politician. As long as he is still attracted to me, and I to him, it is sufficient."
By choosing to stick by her man, Sinclair has polarized women across world. Even as she was castigated by feminists, she was voted French woman of the year by online magazine Terrafemina, beating the first female head of the IMF, Strauss-Kahn's successor Christine Lagarde.
In Sinclair's first interview since the Sofitel affair, published in the most recent French edition of Elle magazine, she spoke about the criticism she has received.
PAM COMMENTARY: ". . . the Sofitel AFFAIR"? Sounds like a case of denial. The victim's injuries were from a violent encounter called "rape," despite New York's characteristic decision to leave yet another dangerous predator on the streets.
Mitt Romney's Canadian (and polygamous) ancestry (24 January 2012)
How Hannah and Miles got together is a saga in itself. The Ontario of Hannah's birth was in foment, still riven by the jealousies and anti-Tory sentiments of the 1837 Upper Canada Rebellion.
In the midst of this Hannah's parents, Archibald and Isabella, Scottish immigrants to Upper Canada, fell under the sway of a Mormon church then in its infancy. They joined -- and with Hannah still in diapers, pulled up stakes and made their way to Nauvoo, Ill., the ill-fated colony founded by the faith's messianic founder, Joseph Smith. Smith was murdered in Nauvoo. But the Romney and Hill families followed his successor, "Mormon Moses" Brigham Young, in the great migration to Utah.
It was there that Young asked to meet young Miles Romney, then 18, and instructed him to "marry as soon as possible."
Miles, it turns out, was already in love with 19-year-old Hannah. They wed in May 1862 at Salt Lake City's Endowment House, where Mormon rituals were conducted.
Hannah bore Miles 10 children, including candidate Romney's grandfather Gaskell. And in her own autobiographical account, she "walked the floor and shed tears of sorrow" when Miles embarked on plural marriage, taking four additional wives.
Hannah's sense of religious duty outweighed her anguish over sharing her husband. In 1886, with U.S. antipolygamy laws bearing down, she followed Miles into exile in Mexico. She recalled the warnings of a close friend, Brother Pace, as follows: "'Sister Romney, aren't you crazy starting out on this journey with your small children? Did you know that Geronimo, the renegade Apache chief, is on the warpath?' "I told him I guessed I wasn't afraid of crazy people so I would have to start on this journey and trust in our Heavenly Father to see us to the end."
U.S. Supreme Court lets California city worker protections stand (24 January 2012)
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by supermarket owners on Monday challenging the authority of California cities, including several in the Bay Area, to protect workers from being fired immediately when their company changes owners.
The case before the court involved a Los Angeles ordinance requiring supermarkets to keep their workforce for 90 days after a new owner takes over, unless the owner has good cause to fire a particular employee.
Similar labor-backed measures are in effect for hotels in Oakland and Emeryville, marina businesses in Berkeley and airport businesses in San Jose.
A separate federal law requires a new employer to recognize an existing union if business operations are essentially unchanged.
Julian Assange plans TV chat show (24 January 2012)
The 10-part series will begin in mid-March, according to a press release on the Wikileaks website, and its theme will be "the world tomorrow".
Wikileaks said that "initial licensing commitments cover over 600 million viewers across cable, satellite and terrestrial broadcast networks" but it did not specify which networks would screen the programme.
In the press release, Assange said: "This is an exciting opportunity to discuss the vision of my guests in a new style of show that examines their philosophies and struggles in a deeper and clearer way than has been done before."
The release adds: "WikiLeaks, as the world's boldest publisher, has been at the front line of this global movement for understanding and change. Its founder, Julian Assange, as the subject of an ongoing Grand Jury investigation in the United States for over 500 days now, is one of the world's most recognizable revolutionary figures."
Stem cell experiment may show promise for the blind (24 January 2012)
Although both patients have exceptionally poor vision and are legally registered as blind, their sight in the treated eye seems to have improved slightly following the transplants, even though their disease is at an advanced stage and was not expected to recover.
The Stargardt's patient went from only being able to see hand movements to being able to see the movements of fingers, while the age-related patient went from being able to see 21 letters on a reading chart to seeing 28 letters.
"Despite the progressive nature of these conditions, the vision of both patients appears to have improved after transplantation of the cells, even at the lowest dosage," said Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer of Advanced Cell Technology, the Massachusetts company that supplied the cells.
"This is particularly important, since the ultimate goal of this therapy will be to treat patients earlier in the course of the disease where more significant results might potentially be expected," Dr Lanza said.
'Super PAC' for Gingrich to Get $5 Million Infusion (23 January 2012)
A wealthy backer of Newt Gingrich will inject $5 million into a "super PAC" supporting his presidential bid, two people with knowledge of the contribution said on Monday, providing a major boost to Mr. Gingrich as he seeks to fend off aggressive attacks from Mitt Romney, his main Republican rival.
The supporter, Dr. Miriam Adelson, is the wife of Sheldon Adelson, a longtime Gingrich friend and a patron who this month contributed $5 million to the super PAC, Winning Our Future. Dr. Adelson's check will bring the couple's total contributions to Winning Our Future to $10 million, a figure that could substantially neutralize the millions of dollars already being spent in Florida by Mr. Romney and Restore Our Future, a super PAC supporting him.
Mr. Adelson's initial check financed a barrage of negative ads against Mr. Romney in South Carolina, helping Mr. Gingrich to an upset victory in Saturday's Republican primary there. But those attacks, which focused on Mr. Romney's wealth and private equity career, also drew condemnation from many conservatives, who said Mr. Gingrich's allies were undercutting free-market capitalism and amplifying class-warfare arguments being made by Democrats and Occupy Wall Street demonstrators.
In making the couple's second $5 million contribution, Dr. Adelson expressed a wish to Winning Our Future officials that the money be used "to continue the pro-Newt message," one of the people familiar with the contribution said, rather than attack Mr. Romney.
Burial problems found at VA cemeteries (23 January 2012)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has found scores of misplaced headstones and at least eight cases of people buried in the wrong places at several military cemeteries across the country.
The review by the VA's National Cemetery Administration follows the revelation of widespread burial problems at Arlington National Cemetery, which touched off congressional inquiries and a criminal investigation.
After the scandal at Arlington, which included mismarked and unmarked graves and people buried in the wrong spots, some veterans groups and members of Congress had called for the cemetery, which is run by the Army, to be transferred to the VA.
Although many of the errors at Arlington were caused by an antiquated paper-record system, VA officials said the problems at seven of its national cemeteries were largely the result of sloppy work during renovations. Headstones and markers were temporarily removed from the ground and reinserted in the wrong places.
Jon Carroll on Paula Deen (24 January 2012)
She made her money on this kind of "comfort food" - and how comfortable can you be, really, if you can't tie your shoelaces? - and she was going to keep making it. It was a kind of denial, I think. If she kept on being upbeat about her recipes, then her audience would remain happy. If she said, "Uh-oh, diabetes," her audience would be dissatisfied and perhaps a little frightened.
"Perhaps a little frightened" is not a bad place to be with diabetes, by the way.
So what did she do? She or her representatives made a deal with Novo Nordisk, the Danish super-pharma that makes a new proprietary drug, Victoza, which can be your very own medication of choice if you have $500 a month to spare. Took three years to get that deal done, and now Deen and her two sons will be shilling for the new drug on TV ads and in personal appearances.
Then she told the world she had diabetes. Three years of publicly cooking food she knew was bad for her - and her audience - while singing the merry gospel of lard, and the deal is done, so now she's going make some spokeswoman money.
California OKs $6.5 million to plan Ballona Wetlands restoration (21 January 2012)
The vast coastal wetlands once spanned 2,000 acres at the mouth of Ballona Creek, covering much of what is now Marina del Rey, Playa del Rey and Venice. Only a quarter remains today, much of it a dry, fenced-off expanse of brush that is littered with garbage in places, surrounded by high-rises and subdivisions and criss-crossed by congested boulevards.
Developers and environmental activists wrangled over the site for decades before the state agreed in 2003 to spend $139 million to acquire it as an ecological reserve. Still, state officials and a number of environmental groups say it is far from a healthy, functioning ecosystem.
The soil was raised high above sea level with the sediment scooped out decades ago when Marina del Rey was built. Though the open space supports wildlife, much of the habitat is degraded and ocean waters must again reach deep into the marshlands if plants and animals are to thrive again, restoration proponents say.
Critics say the reserve is not as degraded as portrayed by restoration proponents. Some local environmentalists oppose the project, which they say would disrupt rare birds and flowers that already live there.
Newt Gingrich saved by commercial as Mitt Romney wages relentless debate assault (24 January 2012)
Moderator Brian Williams opened by asking Gingrich, Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul to make their respective cases for their electability against President Obama. It offered Romney the first of several openings for the night to take on the rival who had supplanted him as the nomination frontrunner.
"I think it's about leadership, and the speaker was given an opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994. And at the end of four years, he had to resign in disgrace," Romney said of Gingrich, a former Georgia congressman who served as speaker of the House from 1994 until 1998.
"I had the opportunity to go off and run the Olympic Winter Games." Romney continued. "In the 15 years after he left the speakership, the speaker has been working as an influence peddler in Washington."
After Gingrich said the criticisms were inaccurate, Williams asked Romney another question about his electability in the South. Again, like a laser-guided missile, Romney homed in on Gingrich.
"The truth is that the members of his own team, his congressional team, after his four years of leadership, they moved to replace him," he said. "They also took a vote, and 88 percent of Republicans voted to reprimand the speaker, and he did resign in disgrace after that."
Gingrich Admits Deregulation Of Wall Street In The '90s Was 'Probably A Mistake' (FLASHBACK) (8 November 2011)
Several of the GOP's 2012 presidential hopefuls have called -- loudly and often -- for the repeal of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, which is aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis. But with the possible exception of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), no one has been more adamantly in favor of ditching Dodd-Frank than Newt Gingrich.
Gingrich claims that Dodd-Frank is "killing the banking industry," and says that job creation will be sparked by simply repealing the bill and letting Wall Street go right back to the same shenanigans that led the nation into the Great Recession. But during an interview today with ABC News' Jake Tapper, Gingrich admitted that the 1990s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act -- the firewall between commercial and investment banks -- was "probably a mistake":
TAPPER: "One question I want to ask has to do with your call to repeal the Wall Street reforms, Dodd-Frank. I don't think a lot of Americans would understand why anyone would want to repeal regulations that happened after this calamity on Wall Street. If you disagree with those regulations that were imposed, do you agree at least that there should be some new reforms or regulations?"
GINGRICH: "Sure, there should be very decisive reforms. I think, in retrospect, repealing the Glass-Steagall Act was probably a mistake. We should probably reestablish dividing up the big banks into a banking function and an investment function and separating them out again."
The repeal of Glass-Steagall led to the creation of mega-banks like Citigroup and JP Morgan Chase that combine traditional lending with risky investment banking. Many economists believe that the repeal led to the financial crisis of 2008. "As a result [of the repeal], the culture of investment banks was conveyed to commercial banks and everyone got involved in the high-risk gambling mentality. That mentality was core to the problem that we're facing now," said Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
PAM COMMENTARY: Good ol' Newt. Working for NAFTA, GATT, and the repeal of Glass-Steagall in the 90s, and then complaining about the fruits of his labor -- the loss of American jobs and burst housing bubbles -- in the 2010's. But it's not his fault that people don't have jobs today, nooooo... He can't be held accountable for his past actions. It's all OBAMA's fault that Newt worked so hard to destroy the American economy in the 90s.
Newt "World Order" Gingrich supported GATT, NAFTA and WTO while in Congress.(FLASHBACK) (7 July 2010)
3. NAFTA, GATT, WTO - In 1993, Gingrich proved himself invaluable to Clinton and the Democrats in Congress when he garnered enough Republican support to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the precursor for development of an eventual North American Union, following the same trajectory that has occurred in Europe with the emergence of the EU. (See the October 15, 2007 "North American Union" issue of The New American, especially "NAFTA: It's Not Just About Trade" by Gary Benoit.) The next year he followed suit by supporting the creation of the World Trade Organization (WTO). As Minority Whip, he could have postponed the lame-duck vote on GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) that subjected Americans to the WTO. Gingrich's Benedict Arnold act helped to hand over the power to regulate foreign commerce, a power reserved in the Constitution to Congress alone, to an internationally controlled body, making America's economic interests entirely at the mercy of the WTO.
Gingrich knew GATT sounded the death knell for American sovereignty. In testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee prior to the lame-duck session, he said, "We need to be honest about the fact that we are transferring from the United States at a practical level significant authority to a new organization.... This is not just another trade agreement. This is adopting something which twice, once in the 1940s and once in the 1950s, the U.S. Congress rejected.... It is a very big transfer of power."
4. Contract With America - Another con-game Gingrich played was the much-acclaimed "Contract With America," the Republican Party's supposed answer to big government. It turned out to be a public relations smokescreen to cover various unconstitutional measures that Congress planned to pass under Gingrich's leadership. The Contract included a "balanced budget amendment," which amounted to a Republican excuse to continue spending while claiming to fight for fiscal conservatism. If the government only spent money on constitutional programs, the deficit would take care of itself.
Other areas of the Contract With America dealt with measures to reduce welfare programs and relieve tax burdens on families and businesses. That sounds good until one considers that the Constitution prohibits welfare programs and taxes that the Contract proposed only to reduce. If Gingrich had been loyal to his oath of office, he would have worked not to trim but to purge them. Ironically, but hardly surprisingly, federal spending in all the areas addressed by the 1994 Contract rose in subsequent years. Edward H. Crane, president of the Cato Institute, observed that "the combined budgets of the 95 major programs that the Contract With America promised to eliminate have increased by 13%." Crane also pointed out, "Over the past three years the Republican-controlled Congress has approved discretionary spending that exceeded Bill Clinton's requests by more than $30 billion."
Another of the problems with the Contract was that it called for stronger federal crime-fighting measures, despite the Constitution's prohibition on federal involvement in police matters outside of piracy and treason. Countries that do not have such strict constitutional safeguards on federal police end up with Gestapos, KGBs, and Departments of Homeland Security.
PAM COMMENTARY: A critique of Newt from the far right.
Facebook, Myspace and Twitter chide Google with 'Don't be evil' add-on (24 January 2012)
Facebook, Twitter and Myspace engineers have devised a software add-on for browsers which negates the effect of Google's alteration of its search results to favour its own Google+ social network -- with a piece of code they call "Don't be evil".
The move intensifies the increasingly bitter war of words between Google, which is trying to push the "social" element of searches, and the major social networks, which assert that the search engine is polluting its own search results and diverging from its core purpose of giving the user the best possible search by downgrading them in results.
Google is also being accused by external commentators of betraying its original aims, which were to give the broadest view of the most popular links on the web, in order to boost Google+ artificially.
The "Don't be evil" bookmarklet, which can be put into browser menus, will allow the user to see how a search result page would look using Google's pure organic search results. It is available from a site called "Focus on the User" -- and created by a team from the three big social networks.
California slaughterhouse law struck down (23 January 2012)
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down California's ban on the slaughter of downed swine, saying the state strayed too far into federal territory.
In a case closely watched by other states as well as the multi-billion dollar livestock industry, the court's liberal and conservative justices unanimously ruled that long-standing federal law preempted California's 2008 measure.
"The California law rums smack into the (federal) regulations," Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court.
Kagan's 14-page decision emphasized that the Federal Meat Inspection Act covers a "broad range of activities at slaughterhouses" and that it "expressly" preempts the state law.
The California law in question prohibits the slaughter of non-ambulatory pigs, sheep, goats or cattle. These are animals that can't walk, because of disease, injury or other causes. The state law further requires that the downed animals be euthanized. Federal law bans the slaughter of downed cattle, and the challenge was to the state provision that covers swine.
Sen. Rand Paul stopped by Tenn. airport security (23 January 2012)
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the son of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and a frequent critic of the Transportation Security Administration, was stopped by security at the Nashville airport Monday when a scanner set off an alarm and Paul declined to allow a security officer to subsequently pat him down. The White House said airport security acted appropriately.
Police escorted Paul away, but he was allowed to board a later flight. The security scanner identified an issue with the senator's knee, although Paul said he has no screws or medical hardware around the joint.
Paul, who frequently uses the airport about an hour from his home in Bowling Green, Ky., told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he asked for another scan but refused to submit to a pat down by airport security.
Paul said he was "detained" at a small cubicle and couldn't make his flight to Washington for a Senate vote scheduled later in the day.
Gunman at Occupy Houston site incompetent for trial (23 January 2012)
"It's going to take a while to get him to where he understands the nature of the proceedings against him and be of assistance to his defense," said his attorney, George Parnham. "Paranoid delusions take a considerable amount of time to treat. Sometimes they're so fixed, they never give up the belief that something exists that in reality doesn't."
Parnham said a psychologist with the county's mental health services ruled Twohig incompetent and prosecutors did not disagree.
The attorney said Twohig tried to commit "suicide by cop" about 5:00 p.m. on Nov. 21. He went to Tranquility park where Occupy Houston protesters and police officers were gathered and began shooting in to the air. Twohig was not associated with the Occupy Houston movement.
He survived being shot twice by police. Witnesses said Twohig shouted, "Shoot me, shoot me!" at the scene. A video captured by a witness shows Twohig holding the rifle to his head.
EU adopts tough oil embargo on Iran (23 January 2012)
The Obama administration has imposed sanctions on Iran's third largest bank, adding to sanctions imposed on Tehran by the EU earlier in the day.
Iran's Bank Tejarat, and an affiliate Trade Capital Bank, were blacklisted for providing financial services to other entities already sanctioned for their involvement with the country's nuclear weapons program, the US said on Monday.
Earlier on Monday the European Union governments adopted an embargo against Iran as part of sanctions over its disputed nuclear programme.
Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary and Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State said in joint statement that Europe's ban on imports of Iranian crude oil and moves to freeze the assets of Iran's central bank are "another strong step in the international effort to dramatically increase the pressure on Iran".
Saved snowy owl to be released (23 January 2012)
The snowy owl that will be released in a forest preserve Monday has made two dramatic journeys -- one from the Arctic Circle, the other from the grill of an SUV in Hampshire.
As rare as it is that the bird made her way this far south, more remarkable perhaps is that she survived being struck Nov. 30 by a white Ford Escape traveling about 55 mph on a rural road.
"I just checked on her," said Sandy Fejt, site manager of the Willowbrook Wildlife Center on Friday. "She's her sassy self."
It's a happy conclusion achieved through luck with assists from a knowledgeable, animal-loving police officer and one of the most comprehensive raptor rehab centers in the Midwest.
Supreme Court: Warrants needed in GPS tracking (23 January 2012)
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the justices left for another day larger questions about how technology has altered a person's expectation of privacy.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the government needed a valid warrant before attaching a GPS device to the Jeep used by D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones, who was convicted in part because police tracked his movements on public roads for 28 days.
"We hold that the government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a 'search' " under the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.
All justices agreed with the outcome of the case, which affirmed a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that said evidence of Jones' s frequent trips to a stash house where drugs and nearly $1 million in cash were found must be thrown out.
John Kiriakou, ex-CIA officer, charged for media leaks (23 January 2012)
The Justice Department charged that John Kiriakou, 47, who worked as a CIA officer from 1990 to 2004, revealed the information to journalists and that one reporter passed some of the secrets onto attorneys representing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Kiriakou's case is the sixth leak-related criminal prosecution brought since President Barack Obama took office, a figure that exceeds the number of such cases in all previous administrations combined.
The former CIA officer was expected to make an initial appearance in federal court in Alexandria, Va., Monday afternoon.
No journalists were identified by name in the criminal complaint filed Monday, but the complaint indicates that Kiriakou gave New York Times reporter Scott Shane the name of CIA officer Deuce Martinez, and idenitifed him as a participant in the interrogation of Al Qaeda logistics chief Abu Zubaydah following his arrest in Pakistan in 2002.
After his retirement, Kiriakou became one of the few former intelligence officials willing to discuss the practice of waterboarding. In an interview with ABC News in 2007, he discussed Zubaydah's waterboarding and indicated it had been successful after one application in winning greater cooperation from the terror suspect. The account was later disputed by official reports and other sources
In 2010, Kiriakou and writer Michael Ruby published a book, the Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror. The complaint alleges that in order to win clearance for publication of certain details in the book, Kiriakou lied to CIA officials by indicating that a cell phone tracking technology known as the "magic box" was not in fact real.
PAM COMMENTARY: By "interrogation" they mean "torture," of course. And by "disclosing national security information" they mean letting Americans know about the war crimes their tax dollars were financing.
Risks to cranes in Texas raise profile of Wisconsin program (21 January 2012)
Battered by the worst drought on record in Texas, the world's only self-sustaining flock of migratory whooping cranes is showing vulnerabilities that raise the stakes for crane work in Wisconsin.
Texas' dry conditions and booming development have heightened worries about the health of the cranes and have sparked a legal battle over whether the endangered birds are getting their fair share of fresh water.
The specter of drought, hurricanes or other calamity is the reason why Wisconsin and a few other states - away from Texas - were identified as candidates for crane reintroduction.
The 5-foot tall cranes that migrate today in the eastern United States, largely between Wisconsin and Florida, are a separate flock from those migrating between Texas and northern Alberta, Canada.
PAM COMMENTARY: Remember the group of whooping cranes grounded in Alabama because the FAA doesn't allow the use of ultra-lights by paid pilots? Those cranes are still in Alabama, despite the FAA's exception for the one trip. Weather hasn't been suitable to fly for the past two weeks, and so the cranes are stuck there for now, according to the Operation Migration web site.
U.S., Canada extend multibillion-dollar softwood lumber agreement (23 January 2012)
The politically divisive dispute was based on American industry complaints that provincial governments, which regulate the logging by private firms on Crown land, were charging bargain-basement fees and, in effect, unfairly subsidizing Canadian exporters.
Canada had won a series of major decisions before panels established under the North American Free Trade Agreement, although the U.S. also scored partial victories before the World Trade Organization.
The 2006 agreement removed U.S. duties and returned the billions of dollars paid by Canadian firms since the dispute began in 2001.
However, cross-border disagreements still linger on the lumber file.
Waiting on predator island: Chronic delays drive up cost (23 January 2012)
Convicted rapist Eddie Williams admits he's a "thug." But he insists he can control his urges and shouldn't be locked up in the Special Commitment Center.
Even so, Williams and his taxpayer-funded lawyers delayed his civil-commitment trial for 11 years -- racking up legal bills as he continued to be held inside the SCC, a place he loathes and calls a "madhouse."
In fact, sex offenders like Williams routinely postpone their trials for years, driving up costs and wasting money.
Their defense lawyers seek multiple continuances and file challenges to Washington's civil-commitment law, which allows the state to lock up the most dangerous sex offenders after they complete their prison sentences. Scheduling conflicts among lawyers, far-flung forensic experts and judges also contribute to delays.
Arctic Ocean freshwater bulge detected (23 January 2012)
"When you have clockwise rotation - the freshwater is stored. If the wind goes the other way - and that has happened in the past - then the freshwater can be pushed to the margins of the Arctic Ocean.
"If the spin-up starts to spin down, the freshwater could be released. It could go to the rest of the Arctic Ocean or even leave the Arctic Ocean."
If the freshwater were to enter the North Atlantic in large volumes, the concern would be that it might disturb the currents that have such a great influence on European weather patterns. These currents draw warm waters up from the tropics, maintaining milder temperatures in winter than would ordinarily be expected at northern European latitudes.
The creation of the Beaufort Gyre bulge is not a continuous development throughout the 15-year data-set, and only becomes a dominant feature in the latter half of the study period.
This may indicate a change in the relationship between the wind and the ocean in the Arctic brought about by the recent rapid decline in sea-ice cover, the CPOM team argues in its Nature Geoscience paper.
It is possible that the wind is now imparting momentum to the water in ways that were not possible when the sea-ice was thicker and more extensive.
Interpol faces legal threat for helping oppressive regimes hunt dissidents (23 January 2012)
LONDON -- A landmark lawsuit alleging that dictatorships and other oppressive regimes are using Interpol's alert system to harass or detain political dissidents is being planned by rights activists and lawyers.
Campaigners allege that rogue states have fabricated criminal charges against opposition activists who have been given refuge in other countries and then sought their arrest by obtaining "red notices" from the global police body.
There are currently about 26,000 outstanding red notices. While they are only designed to alert other nations' police forces that an Interpol member state has issued an arrest warrant, some countries will take suspects into custody based on the red notice alone.
In one case, Rasoul Mazrae, an Iranian political activist recognized by the United Nations as a refugee, was arrested in Syria in 2006 as he tried to flee to Norway after a red notice was issued.
Hearing to resume on John Hinckley's freedom (22 January 2012)
A hearing is to resume Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington to help determine whether the man who shot President Reagan in 1981 eventually could be released from the mental hospital where he has lived since 1982.
The proposal by St. Elizabeths Hospital would grant John Hinckley Jr. two 17-day visits, followed by six 24-day visits to his mother's home in Kingsmill, Va. After he completes the extended, unsupervised releases, Hinckley would get a convalescence leave.
Hinckley's lawyers and treatment team envision his completing all eight releases within eight to 10 months, with the convalescence leave immediately afterward.
But U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman, who is presiding over the hearing, has said he's not likely to agree to any convalescence leave without another full hearing.
PAM COMMENTARY: I don't know if visits only to his family are a good idea. Even if his mother wasn't among those involved, his family was suspected in that shooting due to their close ties to the Bush family. If he's released, he should be able to live independently where he can develop normal ties with other people.
Fifth death investigated in saline drip poison probe at U.K. hospital (23 January 2012)
Police are investigating a fifth death in a hospital at the centre of a poisoning probe.
Linda McDonagh, 60, died at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport, Greater Manchester, more than a week ago.
She is one of 21 patients thought to have been deliberately contaminated with insulin.
They all suffered "hypoglycaemic episodes" after saline drips were sabotaged.
Chinese new year celebrations -- in pictures (23 January 2012)
Asian populations have begun 15 days of celebrations for the Chinese lunar new year, which ushers in the year of the dragon. Chinese tradition holds that those born in dragon years tend to be brave, innovative and highly driven, often making it to the top of their profession.
Giffords stepping down from Congress (22 January 2012)
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the three-term Arizona Democrat who was shot in the head during a 2011 assassination attempt, announced Sunday that she will resign from Congress this week in order to focus on her continuing recovery.
Giffords, whose ability to speak was damaged by the gunman's attack, made the announcement herself in a YouTube video posted to her account. She plans to attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Tuesday and will resign sometime after that.
"I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona, I will step down this week," Giffords said in slow speech. "I'm getting better every day. My spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country."
Giffords' resignation will force a special election to fill her seat in the 8th Congressional District.
Human trafficking is growing almost as fast as drug trade, officials say (22 January 2012)
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, human trafficking has become the second-fastest-growing criminal industry -- just behind drug trafficking -- with children accounting for roughly half of all victims. Of the 2,515 cases under investigation in the U.S. in 2010, more than 1,000 involved children.
The United Nations estimates it's a $32-billion industry, with half of the money coming from industrialized countries.
Over the last decade, numerous human trafficking cases have been prosecuted in Michigan. The court dockets detail the horror stories: Children being sold for sex at truck stops; servants held in captivity and forced to clean for free, and women forced into the sex industry, forfeiting their earnings.
But authorities say many human trafficking victims are afraid to speak out and stay in hiding.
"The victims usually fear that they have nowhere to turn to, so it's a largely underreported crime," said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, who says she believes awareness is the key to tackling the crime.
Payday lenders can expect regulation soon (22 January 2012)
Payday lending is one of the few growth areas in financial services, but it's likely to come under pressure now that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has set its sights on the industry.
In one of his first public appearances, the bureau's recently appointed director, Richard Cordray, chaired a hearing on payday lending in a packed ballroom in Birmingham, Ala., Thursday. Birmingham has so many payday lenders - 93 by one count - that the City Council last month imposed a six-month moratorium on new ones opening.
Also on Thursday, the bureau published guidelines it will use to examine whether payday lenders, both banks and nonbanks, are complying with consumer financial laws.
"Fundamentally, I believe regulation is coming," says FBR Capital Markets analyst Edward Mills, who attended the hearing. "The CFPB has clearly demonstrated that they mean business. They want to show they are doing things that are meaningful to the average consumer. I think they consider reforms to payday loans low-hanging fruit."
Documentary examines how toxic water at the nation's largest Marine base damaged lives (21 January 2012)
Mike Partain didn't believe the rumors about a place called Baby Heaven until he visited a Jacksonville, N.C., graveyard and wandered into a section where newborns were laid to rest.
Surrounded by hundreds of tiny marble headstones, he started to cry. A documentary film crew that followed him for a story about water contamination at Camp Lejeune heard his whimpers through a microphone clipped to his clothes. The crew dashed from another part of the graveyard and found him asking, "Why them and not me?"
The scene at Jacksonville City Cemetery is among the more poignant moments in the documentary "Semper Fi: Always Faithful," about the men, women and children affected over three decades by contaminated water at the nation's largest Marine base. The film made the short list of 15 documentary features being considered for an Oscar; the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will cut the list to five Tuesday.
"Semper Fi" follows Partain and Jerome "Jerry" Ensminger, the men credited with uncovering records showing that the amount of leaked fuel that led to water contamination was many times greater than the Marine Corps acknowledged.
Scottish botanists to restore Garden of Eden (22 January 2012)
WOULD you Adam and Eve it? A team of Scottish botanists are heading to Iraq to help restore an area thought to be the biblical Garden of Eden.
The Centre for Middle Eastern Plants (CMEP), based at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, has joined forces with conservation charity Nature Iraq to rebuild the delicate eco-system of the Iraqi marshlands, which were drained by Saddam Hussein in the 1990s. The area south of the city of Basra, is regarded by scholars as being the location of the Old Testament Garden of Eden.
In the Book of Genesis, it is described as at a place of four rivers. Since the early days of Christianity this has often been interpreted as being the Mesopotamian Marshes, where the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates and two other rivers once met before climate change transformed the once highly-fertile region into marshes.
During the trip in March, the Scottish team will record and register plants in the area as part of an ambitious project to restore the marshlands. They will also help to train Iraqi botanists to take the work forward.
Honduras named murder capital of the world (22 January 2012)
The soft-spoken, bespectacled former deputy drug czar had been fired, sued for libel and saw his last boss murdered. "I have asked myself: 'Why am I still alive?'"
Two weeks after that November interview with The Miami Herald, the 71-year-old security expert was dead. Hit men on motor bikes approached him at a traffic light Dec. 7 and peppered the driver's side window of his Kia sedan with bullets.
Landaverde has become another tragic figure in the country's ongoing struggle with corruption that threatens nearly every major government institution in Honduras.
The son of a university president was gunned down by cops. Prisoners are forced to leave the jail to run drugs and are then shot down. The Peace Corps pulled out, saying it's too dangerous to carry out its mission in a nation of 7.6 million people that now has the highest homicide rate in the world -- 82.1 murders per 100,000 residents, compared to 5.5 per 100,000 in Florida.
Republican Mitt Romney 'to release tax returns' (22 January 2012)
Mr Romney, the early favourite in primary elections, appeared embarrassed during the South Carolina campaign by the issue of how much tax he paid. Last week he said he in effect paid 15%, less than most working Americans.
Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary on Saturday by an unexpectedly wide margin, beating the former Massachusetts governor by 40% to 28%. The candidate winning South Carolina has gone on to win the Republican nomination in each election since 1980.
Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Mr Romney said the question of tax had become a distraction for his campaign, and he wanted to re-focus on the main issues.
"I will release my tax returns for 2010, which is the last returns which were completed, on Tuesday of this week," he said.
Exclusive: Office Depot tests PayPal's new point-of-sale system (22 January 2012)
Office Depot Inc, the second-largest U.S. office supply retailer, is testing PayPal's new point-of-sale system in a few stores, a top executive told Reuters.
The news comes just days after eBay Inc's PayPal unit said it had started testing in-store payments in 51 Home Depot stores, as the online payments provider moves to expand into the physical world of brick and mortar.
PayPal has talked about its plans to offer the service at 20 major retailers by the end of the year, but not named other chains participating in the initiative.
"It's at this point in a small number of stores ... because there are still some rough spots in that experience. There are some limitations on who can use it, service carriers that support that," said Kevin Peters, president of Office Depot's North American unit. PayPal declined comment on Saturday.
Germany has the economic strengths America once boasted (21 January 2012)
Germany, with its manufacturing base and export prowess, is the America of yesteryear, an economic power unlike any of its European neighbors. As the world's fourth-largest economy, it has thrived on principles that the United States seems to have gradually lost.
It has tightly managed its budget and adopted reforms -- such as raising the retirement age -- that some other Eurozone nations are just now being forced to undertake. And few countries can match Germany's capabilities for producing and exporting machinery and other equipment, or its infrastructure for research, apprenticeships and financing that support manufacturing.
"German industry is strong," said Volkmar, speaking in halting English as he occasionally looks up translations on a laptop. "People work good. That's why the German economy is best in Europe."
Indeed, Germany was the only major Eurozone nation to escape the credit downgrades that have hit its neighbors. And the country continues to anchor the continent's economy.
'Extinct' monkey still lives in Borneo (20 January 2012)
A Canadian-led team of international scientists has rediscovered a rare species of monkey that was thought to be extinct in a region of Borneo where it was not known to previously live.
The finding was published Friday in the American Journal of Primatology.
Miller's Grizzled Langur (Presbytis hosei canicrus) belongs to the small primate genus Presbytis found in Borneo, Sumatra, Java and the Thai-Malay Peninsula.
In Borneo, the langur was thought to have lived in a small corner of the country's northeast, where its habitat has been ravaged by fires, human encroachment and conversion of land for agriculture and mining.
However, the research team found the langur in Wehea Forest in East Kalimantan, Borneo. The 38,000- hectare pristine rainforest is home to at least nine known species of non-human primates, including the Bornean orangutan and gibbon. East Kalimantan is a challenging place to do research given its remote location, said Stephanie Spehar of the University of Wisconsin, adding that the discovery was possible due to the help of local partners.
Final totals show 23 arrested in Occupy San Francisco protest (21 January 2012)
San Francisco police arrested a total of 23 protesters during Occupy San Francisco's "Day of Action" Friday, including 19 during the bank protests in the day and four people involved the evening's occupation of an abandoned hotel.
Of the 19 arrested during the day, police arrested 17 on suspicion of trespassing at Wells Fargo, one at Bank of the West and another for attempting to remove a baton from a police officer, San Francisco Police Department spokesman Carlos Manfredi said Saturday.
Police arrested four people in connection with the evening's occupation of the empty Cathedral Hill Hotel at Van Ness Avenue and Geary Street. "Once they got inside, some of the protesters made it to the roof top and were throwing Bibles at the officers," Manfredi said.
Manfredi said one protester was arrested outside the hotel during an early attempt to gain access to the property and three people were later arrested inside the hotel for trespassing. He said police used pepper spray and batons.
Two officers were injured during the hotel incident - one was hit with a brick in the chest and the other suffered a hand injury - but Manfredi did not believe police made any arrests in connection with those assaults.
Thousands of women could be at risk from 'silent Thalidomide' (22 January 2012)
Tens of thousands of British families are to be asked if they are victims of a drug given to pregnant women which can cause fatal illness in the second, and possibly even third, generations. Some women given the drug in this country have already obtained compensation in America.
Diethylstilboestrol (DES), a drug given to women for 30 years up to 1973, has been found to cause a rare form of vaginal and cervical cancer in some of the daughters of the women who took it, as well as fertility problems. Compensation of an estimated $1.5bn has been paid out in the US. There is even a suspicion that DES -- known as the "silent Thalidomide" -- can affect the grandchildren of those who took it.
Legal action against the 14 different drug companies that sold and promoted DES from the early 1940s to 1970s is being brought by at least 80 women in the US, who all believe that the synthetic form of oestrogen, given to their mothers in an effort to reduce miscarriages, caused them to develop breast cancer years later. Their lawyer, Aaron Levine, will travel to the UK in two weeks' time to co-ordinate a hunt for the "DES daughters" in this country who have been unable to get compensation in British courts.
The saga surrounding DES, developed in England in 1938, began when it was prescribed to millions of women in the US, Australia and Europe, despite the fact that research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology in 1953 revealed that women receiving it suffered a higher rate of miscarriage. In 1971, the US Food and Drug Administration told doctors to stop prescribing DES when it was discovered that one in 1,000 daughters of women who had taken it developed a rare form of vaginal and cervical cancer, known as clear cell adenocarcinoma (CCAC).
Missoula police conduct internal review of 50 rape cases (22 January 2012)
Missoula City Council members requested a report from the chief after two rape victims publicly complained about the way police handled their cases. The chief and Mayor John Engen said they believe those cases are exceptions, though.
But some members of the community, including nonprofit leaders advocating on behalf of women, say they want assurance that the police department is a safe place for people to report violent crimes.
WORD - Women's Opportunity and Resource Development - director Stacy Rye said she wants to know that city officials are taking even two concerns seriously and not considering them "just a public relations problem."
"There should be no reason that someone who's been a victim of one kind of crime should feel like they are not safe going into the police department versus any other kind of crime," said Rye, who previously served on the City Council.
She also said the police department is just one agency that victims of rape encounter, and YWCA of Missoula director Cindy Weese said she believes an annual review of the myriad organizations involved would lead to positive outcomes for all victims of violence, especially sexual assault.
Even in Washington County's Silicon Forest, boys vastly outnumber girls in science, technology and engineering classes (21 January 2012)
Savannah Loberger was the lone girl in a robotics class at Hillsboro High School. Caitlyn Diamond is one of three girls in an electronics class at Aloha High School.
Even national Google Science Fair winner Naomi Shah found herself and other girls outnumbered five to 34 in an advanced computer science class at Sunset High School in Beaverton.
In the heart of Oregon's Silicon Forest where parents are engineers and technicians for Intel, Tekronix and a dozen other technology companies, the shortage of girls in high school physics, engineering and technology courses is staggering.
Washington County school districts, which are about 50/50 boys and girls, do not keep tabs on the gender breakdowns in their science, technology, engineering and math classes, collectively called STEM, but they pulled together some statistics from science and math classes at the request of The Oregonian.
Newt's private life is his business, but hypocrisy is everyone's affair (21 January 2012)
Newt is right. His swinging ways shouldn't be any of our business.
Now if only he -- and his party -- felt that way toward the rest of us.
The coverage last week of Newt Gingrich's adultery -- the notion he sought an open marriage in which he would be shared, alternately, by two women -- sure casts the marriage debate in a whole new light.
New slogan: Marriage is between one man, and one woman ... at a time.
Oregon flooding may give native fish a break, Oregon State University professor says (21 January 2012)
Giannico and others wondered how fish adapted to the change. Floods have happened for thousands of years, he said, and fish traditionally escaped high water in the main river stems by moving to off-channel habitat.
Turns out they still do. In flooding season, researchers began looking in ditches, low-lying farmland and other spots that are dry most the year. To their surprise, they found 14 fish species -- 11 of them native.
"That's high diversity for this area, more than I would have bet we were going to get," Giannico said.
Giannico notes a couple implications from the findings. Native fish, he said, are keenly tuned to changes in light and water temperature, and move to sheltering habitat -- even if it turns out to be a flooded grass seed field. Invasive fish, often warm-water species, don't get it. They're unable to respond to the clues. As a result, native fish get a temporary break from predation and competition for food.
Sacramento attorney Howard Dickstein has made tribes rich, comes under fire (22 January 2012)
He started out in a tent at the reservation at Wounded Knee, S.D., an idealistic young lawyer defending Indians' rights. He evolved into a champion for Indian casinos -- a towering political figure who cut deals with California governors and helped give birth to a $7 billion-a-year industry.
Sacramento attorney Howard Dickstein has made his tribal clients rich. He's largely responsible for creating three of the region's top casinos: Jackson Rancheria, Cache Creek and the stunningly successful Thunder Valley resort near Lincoln.
After nearly 40 years representing tribes, however, Dickstein is a polarizing figure. His negotiating tactics have angered some tribes, and he is often depicted as a controlling presence who meddles in tribal affairs.
For the second time in four years, he is facing bitter accusations of gaining vast personal wealth at the expense of unsophisticated clients.
Dozens return to Toronto and Ottawa ill after Cuban vacation (21 January 2012)
Dozens of travellers were ill when they returned from Cuban holidays on flights to Toronto and Ottawa this week, sending two to hospital.
Health officials say sick passengers had vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and fever. The passengers were not quarantined, but were assessed by Public Health Agency of Canada inspectors, who concluded the illness "did not pose a significant public health risk," said agency spokesperson Sylwia Gomes.
On Tuesday, seven passengers on a Sunwing flight from Cuba to Ottawa fell ill with the described symptoms.
On Thursday, another 11 passengers on an Air Transat flight from Cuba to Toronto's Pearson International Airport were also sick.
Stephen Colbert shows Republicans how to draw a crowd (21 January 2012)
Reporting from Charleston, S.C. -- Under the looming live oaks at the College of Charleston on Friday, Stephen Colbert delivered a clinic on how to produce a whiz-bang political rally. Significantly, not one of the Republican candidates this year has exhibited the star power to bring off such an extravaganza themselves.
Thousands of students packed into the old college's walled central yard. Many had waited for hours to see Colbert and they cheered wildly when the comedy genius from Comedy Central marched in. Cheerleaders and a marching band led the way. A gospel choir was poised to sing with Colbert onstage.
An ex-presidential candidate had also been convinced to join the parade -- Herman Cain, the Herminator, the Pizza Man, he of the 9-9-9 plan. Colbert's latest stunt was to urge his South Carolina fans to cast a vote for Cain, who is still on the ballot, as an expression of support for Colbert's own candidacy for "president of the United States of South Carolina."
Colbert's farcical campaign follows from his establishment of a personal "super PAC." All of this is an elaborate satire of the Supreme Court's 2-year-old Citizens United ruling that declared corporations are entities akin to people and, therefore, have the same rights to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political speech. The results of this decision have been abundantly evident in the 2012 campaign. Super PACs working in support of, but independent from, several candidates have spent mountains of money on attack ads trying, often successfully, to do damage to opposing campaigns.
Cultural Populism Catapults Gingrich to South Carolina Victory (21 January 2012)
Religion. Gingrich won 42 percent of born again and evangelical Christians. The reason? His overt appeals to religiosity. A typical Gingrich stump speech in South Carolina was blatantly more religious than in New Hampshire a week earlier. Until South Carolina, Gingrich employed a brief line about the Declaration of the Independence saying the people "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," with a slight verbal emphasis on "Creator." Here, he drew it out into an explicitly theological and arguably anti-atheist digression. "Every one of us is sovereign because God has given us our rights," said Gingrich on Friday night. "Barack Obama believes in Saul Alinsky and European socialism where the state is sovereign and you're merely the subject."
Later he went on a digression about Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address and the prominent role God plays in it. "I would ask our secular friends how you can you teach Lincoln's second inaugural without God?" He demanded, attacking a straw man.
Gingrich also used religion as a shield against the late-breaking story that his second wife, Marianne, said he asked for an open marriage. Gingrich's daughters defended him by saying he had since grown closer to God. Evangelicals love nothing so much as a story of a redeemed sinner. Just ask George W. Bush. Poor Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have stayed faithful to their wives and have no such tale to tell.
Race. Have you ever heard of "the War between the States"? That's the Civil War, but under a different title, more popular in the South, where it emphasizes states' rights. And that's also the name Gingrich used to refer to the Civil War Monday night. Do you think that's what he'll call it when he is back up North?
Costa Concordia captain claims company ordered 'salute' to island (22 January 2012)
Francesco Schettino, the cruise ship captain accused of steering the Costa Concordia into rocks on the island of Giglio in a reckless bid to "salute" the island, has reportedly said he was ordered to carry out the manoeuvre by ship owner Costa Crociere.
"The salute at Giglio on 13 January was planned and wanted by Costa before the departure from Civitavecchia," Schettino told a judge investigating the collision, according to transcripts leaked to Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
At least 12 people died trying to escape from the vessel as it listed on rocks following the collision. Schettino is being held under house arrest accused of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.
Schettino said the "salute" should have been carried out a week earlier, but was put off due to bad weather.
He reportedly told the investigating judge that there was "insistence" by the firm on carrying out such manoeuvres, because it was a good way to promote its cruises.
New year firework frenzy to send Beijing pollution readings rocketing (22 January 2012)
Steven Andrews, an environmental consultant who has studied Beijing's pollution data since 2006, told Associated Press he was "already a bit suspicious" of Beijing's PM2.5 data. Within the 24-hour period to noon on Saturday, Beijing reported seven hourly figures "at the very low level" of 0.003 milligrams per cubic metre.
"In all of 2010 and 2011, the US embassy reported values at or below that level only 18 times out of over 15,000 hourly values or about 0.1% of the time," said Andrews. "PM2.5 concentrations vary by area so a direct comparison between sites isn't possible, but the numbers being reported during some hours seem surprisingly low."
Readings everywhere will almost certainly surge for a few hours on Sunday night, when millions of Beijingers will unleash a celebratory firestorm despite environmentalists' calls for people to use rockets, sparklers and firecrackers more sparingly.
Wang Qiuxia, of the Darwin Nature Knowledge Society NGO, said the air quality in many Chinese cities deteriorated sharply every New Year's Eve.
Court favors families in Bulger case (22 January 2012)
A federal appeals court yesterday upheld million-dollar judgments in favor of families of James "Whitey'' Bulger's alleged murder victims, finding that the government was liable for the deaths because of the FBI's corrupt relationship with the gangster.
The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld awards totaling more than $1.3 million for the family of Debra Davis, $350,000 for the family of Deborah Hussey, and $1.1 million for the family of Louis Litif.
Davis was the girlfriend of Stephen "The Rifleman'' Flemmi, Bulger's longtime associate and fellow FBI informant. Flemmi also had a long-term relationship with Hussey's mother, and he raised Deborah as a daughter.
He previously testified that he watched as Bulger strangled the women, who were both 26 when they were killed at different times in the 1980s.
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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