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Click to visit VeggieCooking.com NEWS LINK ARCHIVE 2012

News from the Week of 12th to 18th of February 2012

When did the war in Iraq stop being a war? Oregon veteran sues over the question (18 February 2012)
An Oregon veteran asserts a novel argument in his lawsuit against his former employer's health plan provider over its denial of disability benefits: He argues that the United States was not at war with Iraq after that country formed a government.

In a complaint filed this week in federal court in Portland, Jerico McCoy says Aetna Inc., was wrong to deny him short-term disability benefits under its "acts of war" exclusion. In fact, he argues through his lawyer, Forrest Millikin of Beaverton, he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his deployment to Iraq in October 2008, after Iraq was a sovereign country allied with the United States.

In other words, according to the lawsuit, the Iraq war had ended by the time McCoy deployed for the second time.
[Read more...]

Large Fire Breaks Out at BP Refinery in Washington State (17 February 2012)
CHERRY POINT, Whatcom County -- A large fire broke out Friday at the BP refinery at Cherry Point, creating a plume of black smoke visible for miles.

A BP spokesman said there were no serious injuries and that all employees and contractors were accounted for. One contractor did go to the hospital with a minor injury.

There was no information immediately available on the cause of the fire, said BP spokesman Scott Dean. The fire started at about 2:30 p.m. and took about 90 minutes to extinguish. It slowed production at the refinery but did not shut it down, he said.

The refinery, which processes about 230,000 barrels of crude oil a day, is a critical part of the region's energy infrastructure.
[Read more...]

Surge in calls to mop up toxic spills (18 February 2012)
Oil and hazardous chemicals are spilling into the Greater Victoria environment with alarming regularity, according to a major mop-up company.

"I would much rather not do emergency response. I would much rather teach people how not to spill," said David Rogers, founder of B.C. Hazmat Management, one of the privatesector spill responders in Greater Victoria.

"This last year we have had one major spill a month and five years ago we had one or two a year," Rogers said.

Some of the increase is probably due to increasing awareness, he said.
[Read more...]

Mississippi River reopens after collission tears open oil barge (18 February 2012)
The U.S. Coast Guard is allowing one-way traffic on a section of the Mississippi River after shut-ting a 5-mile stretch earlier today following a collision between two barges.

The collision was reported at 1: 58 a.m. local time and the waterway was temporarily closed between mile markers 135 and 140, Coast Guard Petty Officer Bill Colclough said in a telephone interview earlier today. The collision was between a construction barge and a barge transporting Louisiana Sweet oil, he said. The barge carrying oil suffered a three-metre by two-metre gash above the water line.

Refineries, including Marathon Petroleu's 1.28 million barrels a day operation and Exxon Mobil Corp.'s 503,500-barrel-a-day plant, are located along the Mississippi near or upriver from the spill site and receive waterborne tankers of crude.
[Read more...]

Barges collide in St. John the Baptist Parish, spilling crude oil in Mississippi River (17 February 2012)
A construction barge and a tank barge, towed by separate vessels, collided in the Mississippi River early Friday in St. John the Baptist Parish near Edgard, closing a portion of the river to traffic for most of the day and spilling about 10,000 gallons of Louisiana sweet crude oil into the water, the Coast Guard said. No injuries were reported, said Coast Guard sector commander and federal on-scene coordinator Capt. Pete Gautier. The cause of the collision remained under investigation.

Officials in St. Charles and St. John parishes closed drinking-water intake valves in the Mississippi River for much of the day but reopened them Friday afternoon.

Gautier said officials were notified Friday at 1:58 a.m. that a construction barge being towed by the tug boat Alydar and an oil tanker barge being towed by the vessel Clarence W. Settoon had collided near mile marker 139, about 50 miles upriver from New Orleans.

The tank barge suffered a gash in its portside hull about 18 feet by 5 feet wide and began dumping Louisiana sweet crude oil into the Mississippi River.
[Read more...]

Peruvians take to the streets in Lima to protest mine developments (18 February 2012)
The National March for Water and Life, as their journey became known, was the latest salvo in a series of fierce protests against the proposed Conga mine, a $5 billion gold and copper project in the heart of Cajamarca.

The joint project between Denver-based Newmont Mining Corp. and Peru's Buenaventura, if allowed to go ahead, would be the biggest-ever investment in a Peruvian mining operation. An expansion of the companies' Yanacocha gold mine, also in Cajamarca, the project aims to help Newmont meet its goal of producing 7 million ounces of gold and 400 million pounds of copper by 2017.

The thousands of protesters who packed Lima's downtown core called on the government of President Ollanta Humala to cancel the project over fears the mine's tailing ponds and reservoirs would pollute local water supplies.

"We're here because we don't want foreigners taking our water," Huaman said as he marched down a boulevard in central Lima, the trademark straw hat of a Cajamarca farmer perched atop his head. "It belongs to Peru."
[Read more...]

Transplants offer hope for decaying reefs (17 February 2012)
After 18 months of careful nurturing in 400-gallon tanks at the National Coral Reef Institute at Nova Southeastern University, these threatened staghorn corals have sprouted prodigiously, from two-inch twigs into what look like bonsai trees from Mars. Their foot-high bumpy brown stalks have grown twice as fast as typical ocean corals.

But will they fare as well when masters and doctoral students aren't bathing them in sea water that is filtered for contaminants, free of diseases and kept at consistently comfy temperatures? Will they thrive, or even survive, on a shallow reef just off Fort Lauderdale where a coral killer called white pox wiped out the previous colony only a few years ago?

A research team led by Abby Renegar, a marine biologist at NSU's Oceanographic Center in Dania Beach, began an experiment to find out Friday. The team dove into an unseasonably warm, tranquil Atlantic Ocean to transplant 28 lab-raised specimens onto the rubble of the decaying natural reef line and, over the next year, will watch what happens.

It's the first time a lab-bred staghorn has been transplanted off Broward County, which lies at the northern end of the range for staghorn, an important large branching coral. Along with related elkhorn coral, it once formed the foundation of barrier reefs from Florida to the Caribbean until massive and mysterious die-offs over the last 30 years.
[Read more...]

Scientists find no radiation in Alaska's sick ringed seals (17 February 2012)
Radiation was considered because of the timing and size of the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident that followed a tsunami in March 11 in Japan. According to the NOAA announcement, marine animals and fish near the accident site in Japan were affected by radiation but there is no evidence to support any effects on animals in Alaska.

Sick and dead ringed seals started showing up in July on the Beaufort Sea coast near Barrow, the country's northernmost community. Strandings were reported as far west as Point Lay and Wainwright on the Chukchi Sea.

The affected animals had lesions on hind flippers and inside their mouths. Some showed patchy hair loss and skin irritation around the nose and eyes.

Stricken live seals were lethargic, allowing people to approach. Necropsies on the dead ringed seals found fluid in lungs, white spots on livers and abnormal growth in brains. Symptoms, but no deaths, were also observed in Pacific walrus.
[Read more...]

Your cat is making you crazy, says scientist (18 February 2012)
The crazy cat lady (or man) syndrome is real, says Czech scientist Jaroslav Flegr.

The biology professor at Charles University in Prague believes a protozoan parasite found in cat feces can manipulate a person's brain -- leading to mood disorders, such as schizophrenia, traffic accidents and even suicides.

For the last 20 years, Flegr, an evolutionary biologist and parasitologist, has studied the effects of Toxoplasma gondii in humans. After noticing some strange patterns in his own behaviour -- not perceiving danger in dangerous situations, which can be a hallmark of the manipulation -- Flegr was tested to see if he was infected. He was.

Scientists have long-known that Toxoplasma gondii causes toxoplasmosis -- a disease 60 million people unknowingly carry, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S.
[Read more...]

'Abyss Box' to keep deep animals (18 February 2012)
The public are going to get the chance to see live creatures pulled up from the deep ocean in a permanent display.

Normally when organisms are raised from kilometres below the sea surface, they quickly die because of the huge change in pressure.

But scientists have now developed the Abyss Box, which can maintain animals in the extreme environment they need.

The vessel, containing deep-sea crab and shrimp, will go on show at the Oceanopolis aquarium in Brest, France.
[Read more...]

Google cookies 'bypassed Safari privacy protection' (17 February 2012)
Google has been accused of bypassing the privacy settings of users of the Safari web-browser.

The Wall Street Journal said Google and other companies had worked around privacy settings designed to restrict cookies.

Cookies are small text files stored by browsers which can record information about online activity, and help some online services work.

However Google says the story "mischaracterises" what happened.
[Read more...]

US, Israel Invoke Terror To Ratchet Up War Threats Against Iran (17 February 2012) [R]
Both Washington and Israel have seized upon a string of abortive bomb plots in India, Georgia and Thailand to escalate war threats against Iran.

In India, an unknown individual on a motorcycle attached a bomb to a car in which the wife of an Israeli diplomat was riding in Delhi on February 13. The woman and the car's driver were lightly injured. On the same day in Tbilisi, Georgia, a bomb was discovered attached to an Israeli embassy vehicle and defused.

And in Bangkok, Thailand, three individuals identified as Iranians were arrested after a bizarre incident Tuesday in which explosives detonated inside their apartment and one of them blew off his own legs with a homemade grenade.

The three incidents, in which there were no fatalities, were immediately labeled by the Israeli government as terrorist attacks organized by Tehran that, in the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, demonstrated why all nations must draw "red lines against Iranian aggression."
[Read more...]

Chamish - Exclusive Photos Of Huge New US Base In Israel, part 1 (FLASHBACK) (6 July 2005) [R]
The article prompted a reporter from a large American radio network to call me. He wanted to see the base and photograph it. I met him an hour later and off we went.

First stop, the base gate. The reporter is amazed to see the American flag waving and to read on a sign that the contractor for the base is an Arab named Mustafa. He notes what a huge security fiasco hiring an Arab contractor to build an IDF base would be. Then we see busloads of Arab workers leaving the base by bus.

We continue down the road and photograph the massive buildings and underground digging.

Then we reach the checkpoint at the border of the Green Line. The base stops precisely there, the border the Americans have planned for us. We turn into the dirt road to the left and start following the circumference of the base.

The base is enormous, far huger than any other base in the country. We estimate that several tens of billions of dollars are going into the base itself but the new road surrounding the complex currently being blasted out of the rock has to add another billion dollars to the pricetag. As for the value of 50 square miles of prime Israeli real estate: more billions.
[Read more...]

Chamish - Exclusive Photos Of Huge New US Base In Israel, part 2 (FLASHBACK) (12 July 2005) [R]
I spoke to a person some time ago, who has worked on the site you spoke of last night. This person said that you are right in your findings and that the base is 25 sq. miles ON THE SURFACE! The so-- called water tower and the underground door seen in the picture, is one of the openings into the underground. This goes down at a 45 degree angle towards the hill in the background. There are missile silos hidden in the ground all over. Each missile has 9 war heads attached that can be sent in 9 different directions.

I read while ago that the IDF had agreed to let the US stockpile Military Supplies in Israel. That is actually a good thing for Israel on a number of levels. Second, In the event of an emergency, Israel could take these materials immediately after receiving the OK from the US. This is far better than having to wait for material to be shipped from US bases Germany or Turkey. For what that's worth.

* Wondered where all this spare land is coming from in the middle of the country? The government is working on a land swap with the JNF. They are giving the government land in the center in exchange for land in the Negev. The deal is basically acre for acre, plus some millions of sheqels to the JNF!! The information is from a trustworthy friend who has been working at the JNF for a number of years. Apart from the fact that it is not their land, where is all the money going?

*A base is being built by a foreign power. A. read the Wye Accords and find out Wye: http://www.mideastweb.org/mewye.htm then see

Military Base - Nachshonim Project
Project Scope: 125,000,000$
Client: Corp of Engineers of the American Army and the user is the Israeli Army.
Schedule: Start:2002 Finish:2005
Project Description: Setting up, the most advanced dry storage base in the world for the armed division of the army.
A bid that three different Consortiums competed for.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Notice how old these articles are -- from 2005. The Bush-Cheney administration was trying to build support for a THIRD oil war against Iran right around that time.

Jeremy Scahill: U.S. Has Ignited Islamist Uprising in Impoverished, Divided Yemen (16 February 2012) [DN]
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, look, the arrogance of the U.S. was always thinking that U.S.--that whatever U.S. official was sent to Yemen was smarter than Ali Abdullah Saleh. He was a master chess player, and he milked counterterrorism as his cash cow. And he did it beginning in November of 2001, when he came to Washington and pitched President Bush on the idea that "I'm going to be your ally in the war on terror." I mean, Ali Abdullah Saleh has sent jihadists to Afghanistan. There were--I remember, when I was in Baghdad in 2002, all of these Yemeni Baathists showed up in Baghdad to fight. There's no way they would have gone there without the consent of the Saleh government. And so, Juan, to answer your question, yeah, the Saleh regime was very clever, and it used the U.S. paranoia, you know, about Islamic terrorism to get hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from the U.S., when in reality, the strongest forces in Yemen opposing his government had almost nothing to do with al-Qaeda whatsoever.

In fact, you could argue that Ali Abdullah Saleh had a closer relationship to these Islamist militants than his domestic opponents. You have a southern secessionist movement. Yemen used to be two countries, remember. There was the socialist south, and then--which had all of the natural resources, and then there was the north. And Ali Abdullah Saleh was able to consolidate his grip on power when he unified the countries by bringing in all of these tribes that had been expelled by the socialists and saying, "Hey, I'm going to give you your power back." So he had this patronage network that he set up of the tribes. But there is a very, very strong secessionist movement in the south. In fact, when we were in Aden, which is the port city in the south where the USS Cole was bombed in 2000, October of 2000, the southern flag was flying. There was graffiti on the walls: "North, get out of the south." And I spoke with several powerful tribal sheikhs that said, "Now that Ali Abdullah Saleh is gone, we want southern Yemen to take over the south again." In the north, you have a rebellion of a minority of Shiite Muslims. They're called the Houthis. In fact, Ali Abdullah Saleh is not a Sunni; he's a Zaidi Shiite from North Yemen. But he sided with all of these Sunni forces inside of Yemen. And the Houthis have been engaged in a rebellion against Saleh's government for years. And the Saleh government has mercilessly pummeled the Houthis. And it's drawn in a proxy war involving the Saudis attacking, on the one hand, and then you have the Houthis seeking out support, you know, from other Shiite allies in the region.

So Saleh has manipulated, masterfully, the threat of al-Qaeda to get weapons and to build up his forces, that could be used then only for the defense of the regime, only to take out his political opponents. When Ali Abdullah Saleh felt that the U.S. was ignoring him, all of a sudden 20 al-Qaeda suspects would escape from a prison. And so, you know, we went to this city, Zinjibar, which is in Abyan province in the south of Yemen. Almost no journalists have ever made it into that city. We went to the front lines to investigate, because a group calling itself Ansar al-Sharia had taken over a number of towns, including Zinjibar. And when I started interviewing people who were very well connected to the security apparatus in Yemen, they said Ali Abdullah Saleh let them to take it over, as a sort of last message to the United States, that if you let me go, I am going to show you what will happen, and what will happen is that al-Qaeda is going to take over. And so, all of a sudden you see Ansar al-Sharia, you know, the supporters or partisans of Sharia law, taking over these cities and creating their own Sharia councils, doing very brutal acts against suspected criminals, chopping off limbs.

Just a few days ago, there were three public executions of people that were convicted in the Ansar al-Sharia's court system of providing intelligence to the Americans to be used in drone attacks, including one person who was executed in the very place where Anwar al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son, who was a U.S. citizen, was killed in a U.S. drone strike. And they executed this man, alleging that he had provided intelligence to the Americans that had contributed to the death of Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, the 16-year-old son of Anwar al-Awlaki. You know, President Obama authorized strikes that resulted in three U.S. citizens being killed within less than a month in Yemen: Anwar al-Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico; Anwar al-Awlaki's 16-year-old son; and then Samir Khan, who was another U.S. citizen from North Carolina and was the editor of Inspire magazine, the English-language publication of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. All three of those U.S. citizens were killed within one month.

And so, you know, in short, what you have is suspicion that maybe Saleh allowed this to happen, on the one hand. But then, on the other hand, all of these powerful tribes, that are infinitely more powerful than al-Qaeda, that al-Qaeda wants no war with at all, because they would lose, are now starting to say, "If there's no government here, if there's no services, if the Americans are bombing us and killing Bedouins and our civilians and leaving cluster bombs in our countryside and doing nothing to clean them up, and not providing any civilian infrastructure support but just supporting Saleh's family military and just bombing us, what motive do we have to fight al-Qaeda? They're our--they're people from our tribes. They don't bother us. So, what's our motivation?" One tribal leader, who said, very clearly, "Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization. Yes, these guys want to destroy America," said to me, "You consider them terrorists; we consider the drones terrorism," because they don't bother--they don't bother them. They're a threat, on a tiny magnitude, to the United States and its allies, that has been given a prominence in the U.S. counterterrorism paranoia machine that is almost laughable, if it's not so serious.
[Read more...]

FBI provides would-be bomber with fake "suicide vest" and then arrests him for trying to detonate it (18 February 2012)
A 29-year-old Moroccan man was arrested on Friday in an FBI sting operation near the U.S. Capitol while planning to detonate what police said he thought were live explosives.

Amine El Khalifi of Alexandria, Virginia, was taken into custody with the fake gun and explosives given to him by undercover FBI agents he believed were al-Qaeda members.

Authorities said the suspect was closely monitored by law enforcement, and the would-be explosives had been deactivated, so the public was never in danger.

Officials say he has recently arrived at a federal court in Alexandria, where he is scheduled to appear later this evening.

Two people briefed on the matter told The Associated Press he was not arrested on the Capitol grounds, and the FBI has had El Khalifi under surveillance around the clock for several weeks.
[Read more...]

Washington DC: FBI Foils Own Terror Plot (Again) (17 February 2012)
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has once again proven that the only thing Americans need fear, is their own government, with the latest "terror attack" foiled being one entirely of their own design.

USA Today reports that a suspect had been arrested by the FBI who was "en route to the U.S. Capitol allegedly to detonate a suicide bomb." While initial reports portrayed the incident as a narrowly averted terrorist attack, CBS would report that a "high ranking source told CBS News the man was "never a real threat."" The explosives the would-be bomber carried were provided to him by the FBI during what they described as a "lengthy and extensive operation." The only contact the suspect had with "Al Qaeda" was with FBI officials posing as associates of the elusive, omnipresent, bearded terror conglomerate. The FBI, much like their MI5 counterparts in England, have a propensity for recruiting likely candidates from mosques they covertly run.

This is but the latest in a string of national terror plots carried out from start to finish by the FBI, who has made a business of approaching likely candidates and grooming them to carry out terror attacks. In September 2011, another FBI terror operation targeting the Capitol was "foiled," involving a patsy who believed he was to take part in an assault that would involve multiple gunmen and even a drone bomber provided to him by the FBI.

And perhaps the most dubious of all, was the December 2010 Portland "Christmas Tree Bomber," who was also approached by the FBI, provided demolition training, including a demonstration with live explosives performed in a Lincoln County park, and a van within which the patsy believed his handlers had provided him a bomb. The van with the inert device was parked next to a crowded Christmas tree lighting ceremony where the patsy attempted to detonate it remotely before being arrested by FBI agents.
[Read more...]

Sit-in at Chicago School slated for staff shakeup, as protesters demand to meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel (18 February 2012)
A group of 15 people remained inside Brian Piccolo Specialty School in Humboldt Park, according to police, a Chicago Board of Education spokeswoman said this morning.

The protesters were among an estimated 60 and 100 people who staged a sit-in overnight at the school, with most outside, according to police. This morning, 15 people, one of them believed to be a parent, remained inside the school, after one person left, said Chicago Public Schools spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler.

Piccolo, 1040 N. Keeler Ave., is one of 16 schools thatCPS wants to "turnaround" because of poor academic performance. About a dozen people, including some camped around the school, remained outside Piccolo this morning.

Protesters said they intended to stay inside Piccolo until they are gratned a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. As of late this morning, police were not allowing anyone in or out of the school, and no food was being allowed to be brought into the school.
[Read more...]

Canadian-owned firms are funding U.S. election campaigns (18 February 2012)
Political action committees affiliated with companies owned by Canadian corporations but based in the United States are pouring money into this year's U.S. House and Senate races.

Fundraising data provided by the website OpenSecrets.org show American subsidiaries of Canadian companies have formed political action committees that so far have given $163,500 (U.S.) to candidates running in the Congressional elections.

Donations to Republicans were $89,250 (U.S.), compared with $74,250 (U.S.) for Democrats.

Political donations from foreigners are banned in the United States. But there is nothing to stop businesses based in the States but owned by foreign companies from forming entities called political action committees, or PACs, which are then funded by donations from their American employees.
[Read more...]

Judge denies Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's extension request (18 February 2012)
MADISON -- A judge has denied Gov. Scott Walker's request for a two-week extension to review recall petition signatures, saying the election is likely to proceed.

Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess' ruling Friday was a victory for recall organizers who had said there was no good reason for another extension and that Walker's request was an attempt to delay the inevitable.

Walker's campaign argued it had only reviewed 330,000 of the roughly 1 million signatures and couldn't get through all of them by the Feb. 27 deadline.

But Niess' said in a verbal order -- which followed an hour-long hearing -- that Walker had not shown good cause for being given another delay. Niess had already tripled the time Walker has to review the signatures to raise challenges from 10 to 30 days.

The ruling means Walker has to submit any challenges by Feb. 27. The Government Accountability Board has until March 19 to rule on whether to set recall elections against Walker, his lieutenant governor and four Republican state senators.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Wisconsinites have wanted him gone for over a year. It's about time that someone confronted his state of denial.

Study questions antidepressant-suicide link (18 February 2012)
The new analysis, based in part on previously unpublished data, also concludes that treatment with antidepressants decreases the risk of suicide among adults of all ages.

"These results have to instill some additional confidence that prescribing these medications is not necessarily going to lead to suicidal thoughts or behavior," said Robert Gibbons, a professor at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study, published in Archives of General Psychiatry.

The findings -- based on data for kids and adults using fluoxetine (Prozac) and for adults on venlafaxine (Effexor) -- are not enough to change everyone's view of the risks of antidepressants, especially to kids.

"The authors in this study examined the risk of suicidal thinking or behavior associated with one drug, fluoxetine," said Jeff Bridge, a researcher at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. "My view is that the weight of evidence shows a small but significant increased risk of suicidal ideation/suicidal behavior in pediatric patients treated with antidepressants."

Bridge's position is in line with the FDA's current stance on suicide risk for children taking antidepressants.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: I'd like to see the funding source on this study, to see if it was financed by someone who derives financial benefit from the drug industry. The abstract of the original study, here, does mention "Pharmacy Benefit Management Services" under the "Author Affiliations" section, whatever that means.

The evidence cited by other drug studies shows an increased risk of both suicide and HOMICIDE from antidepressants and anti-psychotics, but I've stated my take on it here and I'll say it again -- it's possible that the drugs aren't to blame.

I know that seems odd for someone like me to say, because I consider all drugs to be more dangerous than their herbal equivalents. I even use white willow tincture or cayenne instead of aspirin, because a relatively small number of people die from aspirin (or go blind from it) every year. Low risk isn't the same as no risk, or even lower risk, after all.

But with antidepressants, consider this... Why are these kids depressed in the first place? True, our modern life does promote isolation and loneliness, but at the same time, the modern diet is severely nutritionally deficient. White sugar, white flour, food coloring, preservatives, an overabundance of cholesterol and trans fats... and most importantly, a pervasive Omega-3 deficiency. So, if you take a kid whose diet is deficient in Omega-3, and he's already depressed because of that (or somewhat schizophrenic because of a Vitamin B-3 deficiency, most likely in addition to the Omega-3 deficiency), and you just let him keep eating that deficient diet, what happens? The deficiency will become worse. Then what? Suicide? Homicide? The next school shooting?

That's the trouble with using drugs to mask the symptoms of a disorder, instead of addressing the root causes and fixing them. That's my hypothesis. I'd like to see a study where both the control group and the drugged group receive an abundance of Omega-3 and B-Vitamin supplements. Then we'll see whether suicide and homicide increase... and also whether the drugs are useful at all. That's why I think such a study is unlikely to be published -- because the results could upstage a multibillion dollar drug industry.

Congress passes extension of payroll tax cut (17 February 2012)
Congress passed a $150 billion economic package Friday, extending for the rest of the year a payroll tax holiday for 160 million workers and unemployment benefits for millions of others.

On a 293-132 vote, a bipartisan House coalition supported the compromise plan to keep giving workers a small amount of extra cash with each paycheck while also providing a continued cushion for the unemployed.

Shortly afterward, the Senate voted 60 to 36 to approve the plan. It now goes to President Obama to be signed into law, giving him a victory on a portion of the massive jobs bill he presented to Congress last fall.

The votes ended a debate that bitterly divided Republicans in December, with many asserting that the tax-cut extension should have been offset by spending cuts to make up for the Social Security withholding tax funds that instead went to workers.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: While this bill helps somewhat, more is needed for the overwhelming majority of unemployed, who have exhausted their benefits long ago and are no longer counted in the "official" unemployed statistic. The Republican House needs to get serious about creating jobs, instead of wasting its time away on manufacturing debt ceiling controversies and birth control showdowns.

Republicans have been claiming lately that they're businessmen and therefore know how to create jobs... So prove it to us! Years later, we're still waiting!

"Where Are the Women?": Lawmakers Walk Out on Contraception Rule Hearing After Female Witness Barred (17 February 2012) [DN]
AMY GOODMAN: What would contraception have to--how would contraception have helped her, prevented that?

SANDRA FLUKE: Well, for many of these types of medical conditions, like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, many other conditions, doctors regularly prescribe contraception to prevent growth of things like cysts or fibroids, and that's widely medically accepted and is the most appropriate and effective form of treatment.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the decision of the majority, the Republican majority, not to--not to hear from the witnesses that the minority had put forth, how frequently does this happen? And what was the buildup before the hearing? Were you surprised completely by the decision at the last moment?

REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON: We were very surprised. I've been in Congress more than 20 years. And the context of this, of course, is that Republicans had lost this controversy to a compromise that the administration worked out between religious institutions, on the one hand, and insurers and women, on the other hand. So the committee simply reframed the issue in order to exploit the religious side of the issue. Well, this was an issue that had two sides: it had a religious liberty side, and it had the side of the women who needed contraceptives.

And in really a quite unprecedented move, the committee vetoed our witness, the young woman you just heard from, stacked their side with extra witnesses. And we were supposed to sit there and act like good little members of Congress. I have never seen a minority witness excluded. The majority doesn't have the right to, quote, "qualify" who your minority witness is. We only are entitled to one. Remember, they could have had their 10 anyway, and we have had only one. As it was, we had none. So women were the silent majority who weren't heard at the table, and the table really was about the discussion of women's reproductive health.
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Facebook asked to change policies after man posts pictures of a woman's rape (17 February 2012)
Julia Helene didn't know that she had been the victim of a crime... until pictures of it were posted on Facebook under a fake profile created in her name. Helene told police in September 2010 that another friend showed her the pictures, and they eventually arrested Reid Jones, a chef from Marblehead, Massachusetts. But it wasn't until almost a year after his arrest that he was charged with raping Helene, charges that police and prosecutors say were spurred by further evidence they uncovered in the course of investigating the identity theft and photographing an unsuspecting person. He is still free on bail -- and still on Facebook, where he reportedly posted joking references to fleeing to France to avoid prosecution last fall.

Helene says she believes that Jones drugged her in order to photograph and rape her, posting the pictures in order to embarrass and humiliate her after she told him they could no longer be friends because of his rude and jealous behavior. It took Facebook more than a month to remove the offending profile and pictures, she says, and she would like to see them institute a filtering policy for photographs posted to the site and to change their policies about removing fake profiles.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: The original article on it appears to be here.

Twighlight Zone: Lobbyists Now Suing White House Over Access to Fed Committees (17 February 2012) [AJ]
Half a dozen lobbyists are suing the Obama administration claiming they are being denied their free speech rights by not serving on federal advisory committees.

The six lobbyists were either serving on or were seeking to be on the Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITAC), which are jointly managed by the Department of Commerce and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, when President Barack Obama banned lobbyists from serving in his administration.

In their lawsuit filed in federal court, the plaintiffs claim the rule violates the U.S. Constitution because it infringes on their First Amendment rights.

The six lobbyists are Erik Autor of the National Retail Federation; Nate Herman, who represented the Travel Goods Association on an advisory board; Cass Johnson of the National Council of Textile Organizations; Stephen Lamar of the American Apparel & Footwear Association; Bill Reinsch of the National Foreign Trade Council, and Andrew Zamoyski, who represented the Society of Chemical Manufacturers and Affiliates on an advisory board.
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Many processed foods are made with a coal tar derivative chemical that causes hyperactivity in children (17 February 2012)
(NaturalNews) Would you knowingly feed your children an ingredient derived from coal tar? That's exactly what you may be doing, if you let them eat any orange or yellow artificially-colored products including sodas, cheese-flavored products, flavored chips, pickles or a myriad of other foods and beverages. The industrial waste-derived coloring chemical tartrazine is a common ingredient in all these foods, underscoring the need to read food labels religiously. (Why would anyone put artificial colors into pickles? Read the labels, and you'll see!)

Tartrazine, also known as E102 or Yellow #5, was one of the colorings linked to childhood hyperactivity in a landmark 2007 study conducted by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency. As a consequence, products containing it must carry a warning label anywhere in the European Union.

Not surprisingly, the United States has no such law -- even though the coloring has been linked to asthma, migraines and cancer. But since when the FDA ever bother warning the public about dangerous chemicals in their food anyway? After all, aspartame, MSG and sodium nitrite are all legal -- so why not add a little food coloring poison to the cocktail and call it "nutrition?"
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After a decade, whooping cranes return to Jeffrey Island (15 February 2012)
Three endangered whooping cranes landed on Jeffrey Island in the Platte River earlier this month.

An insignificant event for most of us but not for the Central Nebraska Public Power and Irrigation District, which so far has spent nearly $9 million to lease the 4,000-acre, 7 mile-long island and transform it into a place that could attract whooping cranes.

The Feb. 2 landing was the first confirmed sighting of whooping cranes on Jeffrey Island since the Holdrege-based district began managing the area for wildlife habitat purposes more than a decade ago.

"We're certainly not excited to have spent nearly $9 million, but it is a milestone that those expenditures have resulted in the use of the island by the cranes as intended," said Mike Drain, the district's natural resources manager.
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Borrowed cadaver dogs to scan serial killers' mass grave wells (17 February 2012)
The latest development in the investigation was Thursday's announcement that cadaver-sniffing dogs would arrive at the scene shortly. The dogs, which will be borrowed from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, will double-check the more than 50 piles of dirt already taken from the well by an excavator and sifted by investigators.

They will also be used to help authorities locate a second well on the property that could yield more victims of convicted killers Loren Herzog and Wesley Shermantine.

The childhood friends from Linden went on a drug-fueled killing spree in the 1980s and '90s before being arrested in 1999.

Shermantine was convicted of four murders. Herzog's conviction in three murders was overturned on appeal, and he pleaded guilty to manslaughter in one.

But the actual number of the duo's victims is unclear. Shermantine himself has recently said there could be roughly 20, but he had earlier denied his involvement in the killings.

Herzog and Shermantine each said the other did the killings, and they only helped their friend discard the bodies.
[Read more...]

Obama May Ditch Most US Nukes (17 February 2012)
If the White House has its way, the United States could soon reduce its nuclear arsenal dramatically, possibly even to the point where it would possess fewer atomic bombs than congressmen. And though Republicans on the Hill are already complaining that the plans are "reckless lunacy," the administration appears to have plenty of military thinkers on its side.

According to a report this week from the Associated Press, President Obama is considering three proposals by the Pentagon to cut the number of deployed nukes. The biggest proposal would reduce America's active stockpile to just 300 to 400 warheads--fewer than the country has had since the earliest days of the Cold War. Since the dawn of the nuclear age, the US has reportedly built close to 70,000 atomic bombs. The recent New START treaty with Russia requires both countries to cut their deployed warheads to 1,550, so these new reduction plans would be dramatic, indeed.

Any real movement on this front may not come until 2013; follow-up reporting by the Washington Post suggested that the White House won't make a change until it resumes negotiations with the Russians, which is likely only to come after presidential elections take place in both countries this year. But the fact that plans are brewing for a major arsenal reduction is itself significant, and it signals where Obama may really be headed on nuclear strategy if elected to a second term.

The Department of Defense's top dogs spent much of their time in Congress on Wednesday stressing that all options are still on the table, including maintaining the current number of nukes. Even so, Republicans pounced on the proposed reductions. "I just want to go on record as saying that there are many of us that are going to do everything we possibly can to make sure that this preposterous notion does not gain any real traction," Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) declared in a House Armed Services Committee Hearing. (He was the one who deemed the plan "reckless lunacy.") Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a powerful advocate for nuclear forces, ridiculed the plan as a cynical reelection ploy by Obama. (Catering to public opinion on spending reductions--imagine that.)
[Read more...]

Oil spills after barge collision on river near New Orleans (17 February 2012)
An undetermined amount of oil spilled into the Mississippi River early Friday morning near New Orleans after an oil barge collided with another vessel, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Many of the details of the accident were not available early Friday morning. Coast Guard Petty Officer Elizabeth Bordelon said that a five-mile stretch of the Mississippi about 50 miles upriver from New Orleans had been closed to river traffic as pollution investigators and other officials responded.

Bordelon told The Times that the accident occurred sometime before 2 a.m. CST. She said that the oil barge was being moved along the river by the towing vessel Clarence W. Settoon when the collision with another towing vessel occurred. That vessel, the Alygar, was pushing a crane barge.

The oil barge suffered a 10-by-5-foot gash at its waterline. As of 7:30 a.m. CST, it had been pushed up on a riverbank and was no longer leaking, Bordelon said.

The barge was carrying sweet crude oil, of which Louisiana is the nation's No. 1 producer, according to an economic study produced last year for the Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Assn.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: I tried to find a local report on this, but the local paper seems to be focused on the Mardi Gras celebrations starting in New Orleans.

Response team works to cap North Slope oil well blowout (17 February 2012)
The Repsol exploration well that blew out Wednesday from pressure from a shallow gas pocket remained out of control Thursday but was leaking only small amounts of gas and water, state and company officials said.
An emergency crew from Wild Well Control Inc., based in Houston, arrived about 5 a.m. Thursday at the Qugruk No. 2 wellsite on the Colville River delta, about 18 miles from the village of Nuiqsut. Repsol-North America spokeswoman Jan Sieving said the Wild Well team believed it could kill the well Thursday evening or today, rendering it safe.

Ty Keltner, spokesman for Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, said cleanup crews were standing by, awaiting an all-clear sign from Wild Well.

About 42,000 gallons of drilling mud shot out of a diverter outlet Wednesday, some of it landing on tundra. No oil came out of the well, officials said.

Commissioner Cathy Foerster of the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission revised an earlier report that the Nabors Alaska drilling crew was withdrawing the drill string from the well bore at the time. The Nabors crew was actually drilling through the 2,525-foot level of a projected 7,000-foot hole when they hit the unexpected high-pressure gas pocket, Foerster said.

The threat of explosion from the uncontrolled gas leak forced evacuation of the drilling rig. No fire occurred and no one was hurt.
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PG&E expects San Bruno fines to hit $200 million (17 February 2012)
PG&E Corp. expects to pay at least $200 million in fines tied to the deadly 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion, company executives said Thursday.

The figure is PG&E's first public estimate of the amount that state regulators could fine the company and its utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., in response to the blast, which killed eight people and destroyed 38 homes.

And PG&E executives warned that the estimate represents a bare minimum - not the likely total.

The California Public Utilities Commission is pursuing three separate investigations triggered by the natural-gas pipeline explosion, and each investigation could lead to fines. In January, the commission also fined PG&E $16.8 million for failing to conduct required leak surveys on part of the company's gas- distribution network in Contra Costa County.
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Shell spill response plan wins federal OK (17 February 2012)
Shell Oil cleared one of the last remaining hurdles to Arctic offshore drilling Friday as the federal government said it has approved the company's spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea.
Environmentalists and Alaska Natives living along the Arctic coast have bitterly opposed drilling. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a prepared statement that the federal government was taking a cautious approach.

"In the Arctic frontier, cautious exploration -- under the strongest oversight, safety requirements, and emergency response plans ever established -- can help us expand our understanding of the area and its resources, and support our goal of continuing to increase safe and responsible domestic oil and gas production," Salazar said.

Shell Oil Co., the U.S. arm of Royal Dutch Shell PLC, hopes to drill up to three wells in the Chukchi Sea, off Alaska's northwest coast, during the short open-water season this summer and two wells in the Beaufort Sea, off the state's north coast.
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MOEX Offshore agrees to $90 million partial settlement in Deepwater Horizon spill case (17 February 2012)
MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC has agreed to settle its liability in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in a settlement with the federal government valued at $90 million, the Justice Department, U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency announced today. The rest of the sprawling case is set to go to trial Feb. 27.

About $45 million of the money will be focused on the Gulf of Mexico area, through penalty payments or expedited environmental projects, including at least $6.5 million that will be used to acquire and protect sensitive coastal property in Louisiana.

The proposed settlement, which is subject to a 30-day public comment period, calls for MOEX to pay $70 million in civil penalties to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act resulting from the spill, and to spend $20 million for land acquisition projects in several Gulf Coast states that will preserve and protect habitat.

MOEX Offshore, the U.S. subsidiary of Japan's Mitsui Oil Exploration Co., owned 10 percent of BP's Macondo well. MOEX and Anadarko, which owned 25 percent of the well, were investors in the BP-run project and had input on financial questions, but had little daily control over rig operations.
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Pat Buchanan out at MSNBC (16 February 2012)
NEW YORK--MSNBC dropped conservative commentator Pat Buchanan on Thursday, four months after suspending him following the publication of his latest book.

The book "Suicide of a Superpower" contained chapters titled "The End of White America" and "The Death of Christian America." Critics called the book racist, anti-Semitic and homophobic, charges Buchanan denied.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin said last month that he didn't think Buchanan's book "should be part of the national dialogue, much less part of the dialogue on MSNBC."

The network said on Thursday that "after 10 years, we have decided to part ways with Pat Buchanan. We wish him well."

Buchanan, in a column posted on Thursday, called the decision "an undeniable victory for the blacklisters."
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Even your toothbrush can hurt you, says the FDA (17 February 2012)
Confirming many children's suspicions, brushing your teeth could be harmful.

However, it's not how you might think.

The FDA has issued a warning that the Arm & Hammer battery-powered toothbrush, formerly known as the Crest Spinbrush, can come apart during use, causing chipped teeth or other injuries.

"We've had reports in which parts of the toothbrush broke off during use and were released into the mouth with great speed, causing broken teeth and presenting a choking hazard," said Shumaya Ali, a consumer safety officer art the Food and Drug Administration.
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Body clock 'alters' immune system (16 February 2012)
Plants, animals and even bacteria go through a daily 24-hour routine, known as a circadian rhythm. Jet lag is what happens when the body gets out of sync with its surroundings after crossing time zones.

It has been known that there are variations in the immune system throughout the day. Researchers are now drilling down into the details.

The immune system needs to detect an infection before it can begin to fight it off. Researchers at Yale University School of Medicine were investigating one of the proteins involved in the detection process - Toll-like receptor nine (TLR9), which can spot DNA from bacteria and viruses.

In experiments on mice, the scientists showed that the amount of TLR9 produced and the way it functioned was controlled by the body clock and varied through the day.
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Genetics Variation Helps Guard Against Alcohol-Induced Brain Shrinkage (17 February 2012)
The study, which explored how alcohol consumption affects brain volume in mice, showed that the brain's dopamine receptors, responsible for registering signals from this "reward" chemical, provide protection. The mice missing those receptors were more damaged by drinking.

The study compared brain volumes overall and region-by-region in normal mice and a strain that lacked the gene for dopamine D2 receptors after six months of drinking a 20 percent ethanol solution. The results demonstrated the powerful defensive role of D2.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans revealed that mice without those dopamine receptors experienced brain atrophy overall and shrinkage of the cerebral cortex and thalamus. The mice with D2, however, drank the same amount of alcohol without the resulting brain damage. The corresponding regions of the human brain are critical to processing speech, sensory information, and forming long-term memories.

"This study clearly demonstrates the interplay of genetic and environmental factors in determining the damaging effects of alcohol on the brain," said study author Foteini Delis, a neuroanatomist with the Behavioral Neuropharmacology and Neuroimaging Lab at Brookhaven.
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Ecstatic Amanda Knox celebrates lucrative book deal (17 February 2012)
But it's not easy to sell books about controversial defendants. O.J. Simpson's 'If I Did It' - a fictionalised account of Nicole Brown Simpson's murder - was cancelled by HarperCollins in 2006.

Publishers have also shied away from Florida mother Casey Anthony, cleared of murdering her daughter last year. But Mr Burnham said he was deeply impressed by Knox when he met with her.

'This is a very mature, intelligent woman who has been through an extraordinary experience,' Mr Burnham said. 'She'll write a very thoughtful, reflective and serious book about what happened.'

Judge Claudio Pratillo Hellman, the Italian appeals court judge who freed Knox, broadly criticised the investigation and conviction of Knox in a 143-page document released last December.

Judge Hellman wrote that she had been pressed to make statements against her own interest and strongly questioned the reliability of a pair of key witnesses. But Knox's legal issues are not over.

Earlier this week, Italian prosecutors asked the country's highest criminal court to reinstate the murder convictions of Knox and her former boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Forensic evidence against her & her boyfriend seemed to be pretty convincing, enough to think that she would have been convicted in this country, too. And I'm still waiting for someone to mention the victim's name.

Family of Meredith Kercher accept court verdict on Knox ... but say agonising search for the truth goes on (FLASHBACK) (4 October 2011)
'What happened to my daughter, Meredith, is every parent's nightmare,' she told the press conference.

'Of something so terrible happening, when basically she was in the safest place, her bedroom.

'Nobody is untouched by this.'

And sister Stephanie said the family could not begin to forgive anyone until they found out what had happened. She said: 'Until the truth comes out we can't forgive anybody because no one has admitted anything.'
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Arsenic found in some infant formula, cereal bars (16 February 2012)
Worrisome levels of arsenic have been found in two infant formulas that contain organic brown rice syrup as a main ingredient, researchers reported Thursday. Arsenic was also found in some cereal bars that contain organic brown rice syrup.

The toxic element is a known contaminate found in rice because the crop absorbs arsenic from soil. According to the authors of the study, from Dartmouth College, the type found in the food products has been identified as a human carcinogen. Arsenic can also cause skin, lung and intestinal irritation as well as miscarriage and infertility.

The paper, published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found arsenic in two of 17 infant formulas tested. One sample had an arsenic concentration six times the federal limit for arsenic allowable in bottled water or drinking water. In infants, such a level could be toxic because they consume more per pound of body weight compared to adults.

Among 29 cereal bars tested, those containing syrup or other forms of rice had arsenic levels two to 12 times higher than the allowable limit.
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Love That New-Car Smell? Your Body Doesn't (16 February 2012)
An environmental group has released the findings of its annual study on automotive toxic materials, and the news isn't good for 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport owners.

Mitsubishi's compact SUV was rated the worst for toxic materials in the cabin, according to tests by the Ecology Center, a non-profit group based in Ann Arbor, Mich. The center found higher levels of contaminants such as bromine, chromium and lead in the Outlander Sport's seats, plastic parts and center console. Other offenders on the list include the 2011 Chrysler 200 and the 2011 Kia Soul.

The Ecology Center tested more than 200 model-year 2011 and 2012 vehicles and found that chemicals emitted from things like the steering wheel, dashboard and seats contribute to the "new-car smell," but long-term exposure to these chemicals has been linked to major health problems such as allergies, birth defects and cancer. The average American spends more than one-and-a-half hours in a car every day, the group says.

The Outlander Sport isn't alone. Most automakers use toxins like these because of their flame-retardant qualities, and the goal of the Ecology Center's research is to persuade automakers to explore safer materials.
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Japan whalers ask judge to freeze group's accounts (16 February 2012)
SEATTLE -- Japanese whalers on Thursday were to ask a U.S. judge to freeze the bank accounts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, arguing that the Washington state-based anti-whaling activist group finances terrorism.

The society has led attacks on whaling ships in Antarctic waters, and some of the clashes have been shown on the "Whale Wars" reality TV show on the Animal Planet channel.

In a federal lawsuit filed in Seattle on Dec. 8, Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research said Sea Shepherd activists show up at hunts in boats, ramming whaling ships, dragging ropes near rudders and propellers, and hurling smoke bombs and bottles of acid at crews.

"Plaintiffs are entitled to be free from attack by what are essentially self-proclaimed pirates with a base in the state of Washington," the institute said in court documents.
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PAM COMMENTARY: Yeah, we all saw the video -- the one where the Japanese whaling ship did the ramming, and sunk the anti-whaling group's boat.

Alaska North Slope oil well suffers a blowout (16 February 2012)
An exploratory well being drilled on the North Slope by the Spanish oil company Repsol suffered an apparent blowout Wednesday morning when drillers were unable to control pressure from a pocket of natural gas, state and company officials said.
Drilling mud and methane gas shot from the well through a diverter pipe, but none of the 76 workers on the rig were injured, no oil was spilled and the gas didn't ignite, the officials said.

The well spewed gas for hours Wednesday, but by about 5:45 p.m. the gas had stopped flowing on its own, indicating it was probably from a small pocket, said Dan Seamount, chairman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The well was still producing water and remained out of control, he said.

A well-control contractor mobilized from a field office in Anchorage and its headquarters in Texas and was expected to be on site by early today, Seamount said.
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Objections of conscience? Or of politics? (16 February 2012)
You might think that Sen. David Vitter would observe a lifetime moratorium on public moralizing after his phone number was found in the little black book of a prostitution ring's madam.

But there he was in the House TV studio on Wednesday afternoon, informing a bank of cameras about President Obama's inferior conscience, as evidenced by a new rule that requires employers to provide birth-control coverage.

"Never before in the history of the country have Americans been forced to buy a product .?.?. that is opposed to their core religious beliefs," the Louisiana Republican tut-tutted, sharing the stage with two dozen House members. The administration's subsequent effort to exempt religious organizations "may be good enough for President Obama's conscience," Vitter said, but "it's not good enough for the conscience of millions of Americans."

The continuing contretemps concerning contraception offers a reminder that in Washington, the usual laws of physics don't apply. For some actions, there is a completely disproportionate reaction.
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GOP seeks to tie Keystone XL to petroleum reserve (16 February 2012)
Three Republican senators introduced legislation this week that would bar the administration from releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve unless it approves the Keystone XL pipeline.

The legislation from Sens. David Vitter of Louisiana, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Richard Lugar of Indiana comes in response to White House spokesman Jay Carney's recent comment that opening the reserve wasn't off the table if oil prices continue rising.

Republicans have sought to pass legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline ever since the Obama administration denied a permit on Jan. 18, saying a Feb. 21 decision deadline included in the payroll-tax law at the insistence of Republicans didn't provide enough time for an environmental review.

"The Keystone XL pipeline is yet another example of the president putting a political agenda in front of common-sense energy policy," Vitter said in a statement. "It's as if this administration had never heard of the economics of supply and demand...unless it becomes politically expedient to release from our strategic reserves to influence gas prices when there is a looming election."
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Most BP plaintiffs may be ineligible for compensation (15 February 2012)
More than half of the 110,299 private claimants suing BP in the huge trial set to begin in federal court Feb. 27 have never filed with claims czar Kenneth Feinberg, calling into question whether they are eligible for compensation. That's according to numbers released by Feinberg to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on Wednesday.

The data suggest that Feinberg may not achieve his stated goal of settling 90 percent of all legitimate claims out of court. At the same time, the numbers -- a rough barometer of the size and strength of the plaintiffs' army -- could have a significant impact on tense settlement talks among an army of lawyers who have descended on New Orleans.

In addition to the revelation that 57,298 of the plaintiffs never sought compensation from Feinberg, there are also 14,186 plaintiffs named in court records who have already accepted a final settlement from BP through Feinberg. When they did that, they also signed releases expressly preventing them from seeking any more compensation in court, meaning they likely have no standing in the pending case.

Feinberg was appointed by BP and President Barack Obama shortly after the April 2010 Gulf oil spill to try to settle private damage claims out of court, and he said he hoped to handle 90 percent of all legitimate claims through his Gulf Coast Claims Facility.
[Read more...]

Enbridge shuts two pipelines after Michigan leak (16 February 2012)
Two Enbridge Inc. (ENB-T39.200.270.69%) pipelines were off-line Thursday after the major crude shipper said it discovered a small leak in Michigan.

The spill of less than three barrels was found during planned maintenance inspection and repair work to Line 5 on Wednesday, near the village of Sterling, Mich.

"The pipeline repair and cleanup began immediately," spokeswoman Lorraine Little said in an e-mailed statement.

It's expected the Line 5, which carries 491,000 barrels of per day between Superior, Wisc., and Sarnia, Ont., will be repaired and restarted later Thursday.

Line 1, a 237,000 barrel-per-day line from Edmonton to Superior, has also been shut down due to a backup of crude at Superior. It's expected to start up after Line 5 does.
[Read more...]

BP's Oil Slick Set To Spill Into Courtroom (16 February 2012)
A federal court in New Orleans is preparing for one of the largest and most complex environmental lawsuits ever to come to court. It stems from the worst oil disaster in U.S. history: the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig nearly two years ago and the resulting oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico.

Testimony is scheduled to begin at the end of the month. The case combines more than 500 lawsuits in one proceeding designed to determine who's responsible for what went wrong.

One area still struggling to come back from that disaster is Bon Secour, Ala., a sleepy fishing village on the Bon Secour River just off Mobile Bay. Here, pelicans and osprey camp out on docks that were once lined with shrimp and oyster boats.

"It's an old French fishing village. The rough translation is 'safe harbor' or 'good harbor,' " says Chris Nelson, vice president of Bon Secour Fisheries, a Gulf seafood processing company that has been in Nelson's family for four generations.

At the fisheries' processing plant, big burlap sacks of Louisiana oysters are dumped onto a conveyor belt, where workers sort out which ones will be boxed to be served on the half shell and which will go to the shucking room to be sold by the gallon. The plant is busy but not at full throttle.
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Oil spill in Venezuela spurs protest by citizens demanding return of water supply (16 February 2012)
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Hundreds of protesters blocked streets and burned tires in eastern Venezuela on Wednesday to demand clean water after a recent oil spill polluted rivers and streams that supply local storage tanks.

"We have not had water for a week," said Maria Rodriguez, an angry 26-year-old housewife who joined the protest in the city of Maturin. "We don't have water to cook and bathe, and we don't have the money needed to buy bottled water everyday."

Crude oil began spilling from a ruptured pipeline on Feb. 4 near Maturin.

Monagas state Gov. Jose Gregorio Briceno declared a "state of emergency" following the spill, halting water distribution and closing schools in the state's capital of Maturin, which is located approximately 255 miles (410 kilometers) northeast of Caracas.
[Read more...]

Spilling over; Venezuela's oil industry (16 February 2012)
ON FEBRUARY 4th Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's president, held festivities to celebrate the anniversary of a failed coup attempt he led in 1992. He had busloads of public workers brought into Caracas for the occasion. Among them were high-ranking employees of PDVSA, the state oil company.

That same day, a pipeline carrying pressurised oil fractured in the state of Monagas. The crude soared 25 metres (82 feet) into the air and flowed for a full day. Anywhere from 40,000-120,000 barrels poured into a river that supplies drinking and irrigation water. Some 550,000 people now lack water at home. Although city-dwellers can fetch it from drums that PDVSA is leaving in streets, people in remote areas are going without. It may take months to clean the supply.

Few details are available about the spill's cause, size or the damage it has inflicted. PDVSA's website quotes Alejandro Hitcher, the environment minister, ruling out an "environmental disaster". But there has been little further communication. PDVSA's spokesman neither answers his phone nor returns calls to his office. A representative of the Monagas government says no one can comment because "we're working short hours on account of the water situation", though it is providing updates on Twitter.

That has left the spill ripe for speculation in a heated political climate. It will surely provide ammunition for Henrique Capriles, a state governor who won the opposition's primary on February 12th and became the challenger to Mr Chávez in the October presidential election.

PDVSA has struggled under Mr Chávez. In 2002 its workers went on strike to try to force him from office. In response, he fired 18,000 PDVSA employees, including senior managers. He then stuffed the company with tens of thousands of loyalists from what would later become his United Socialist Party (PSUV).
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: This is dated the 18th, but it was really released today, the 16th.

Chavez Misses $10 Billion a Month Curbing Oil Spending: Energy (16 February 2012)
Feb. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's reliance on state oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA to finance government budgets and social spending is forcing the company to delay investments and lose billions of dollars of export revenue.

PDVSA, as the Caracas-based company is called, planned to produce 5.8 million barrels a day this year, according to a 2007 bond prospectus. Since then, output has remained little changed at around 2.5 million barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency. The 3.3 million barrel-a-day gap between the five-year business plan and actual result costs the company around $10 billion a month in unrealized revenue at current oil prices.

"There has been a choice here to maximize the short-run cash contribution to the central government and that has had long-run costs," said New York-based Bank of America Corp. economist Francisco Rodriguez. "If they had taken a longer run perspective to sacrifice immediate cash flow to increase production, right now they would have a much higher stream of revenue."

PDVSA, which reported that sales rose to a record $128 billion in 2011, supplies the Venezuelan government with 95 percent of export revenue. Even as the country's export oil basket price reached the highest yet, the company has had to turn to the central bank and state-run banks for short-term loans, ask the government to review shipments to China to recover losses and borrow in U.S. dollars at interest rates above 10 percent.
[Read more...]

UPDATE 2-Enbridge shuts two oil lines after finding leak (16 February 2012)
Enbridge said it expected to have the pipelines back in operation after repairing the leak later on Thursday, but pressure will be lowered as it investigates other possible trouble spots.

Line 5, a 491,000 barrel a day pipeline that runs to Sarnia, Ontario, from Superior Wisconsin, is down after crews discovered some spilled crude in soil in Arenac County, Michigan, spokeswoman Lorraine Little said in an email.

Enbridge also shut Line 1, a 237,000 bpd line that extends to Superior from Edmonton, Alberta, due to high inventories at the end of that segment, Little said. It is expected to restart once Line 5 is back in operation.

Another Enbridge pipeline was shut down for several weeks in 2010 after more than 20,000 barrels of heavy Alberta crude gushed into the Kalamazoo River system in Michigan following a rupture, prompting a $700 million cleanup effort.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: The same company is trying to get permission to build the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Grammys 2012: Chipotle debuts commercial that may turn you vegetarian (12 February 2012)
If the goal of the Chipotle commercial that debuted during Sunday's (Feb. 12) Grammy Awards was to make people go vegetarian, well then mission accomplished. But we're pretty sure that wasn't the case.

The stop-motion spot, which has been on YouTube since Aug. 2011, apparently is supposed to tell the story of a farmer who has a crisis of conscience after stuffing his pigs full of hormones and looks to return to his simple ways. The two-minute video features Willie Nelson singing the Coldplay song "The Scientist."

The problem is the real takeaway Chipotle's competition takes meat, runs it through a factory and serves it to you. Chipotle, on the hand, uses only the finest free-range beef and pigs before killing them and serving them to you. And those pigs and cows are so darn cute.

The whole video is rather unsettling, but perhaps we're overreacting. Here it is. Tell us what you think.
[Read more...]

Whooping Cough and TB make a comeback in Wisconsin (13 February 2012)
Appleton - More cases of pertussis -- known as whooping cough -- have been reported in Appleton.

It comes as city health officials also deal with a confirmed case of tuberculosis at North High School. That confirmed case of tuberculosis was reported last week.

The number of cases of pertussis in the school district was up to 69 Monday, with a number of suspected cases still being tested.

That's the largest outbreak to strike the city since 2004, when 91 cases were diagnosed.

"What we know is that we're seeing increases across the state of Wisconsin. We don't know where it will go, but if it plays out like in 2004, we're likely to see it plateau and the numbers will come down again," Appleton Health Director Kurt Eggebrecht said.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: The sad part is, most or all of those children were probably vaccinated against pertussis. It's widely known in the alternative health community that few vaccines really work. Most were introduced when the diseases were already in decline, thanks to hand-washing, flush toilets, and better hygiene in general. And so if the diseases actually come back someday, despite the vaccines, this is what will happen.

A few years ago, I found out that one of my old acquaintances had contracted polio, even though she'd been vaccinated against the disease. I may link to some polio information another time, however polio is a classic example of vaccines that don't work. The disease was already in decline thanks to better hygiene when the vaccine was introduced, and at the same time most milder cases of the disease were reclassified as something else. In addition, very few cases of polio lead to permanent blindness or paralysis, with most cases presenting as a mild flu. With polio's numbers already in decline thanks to better hygiene, and most cases reclassified as another disease, the vaccine seemed to work exceptionally well... aside from the people who caught the disease despite being vaccinated.

Crews reach bottom of serial killers' first well, with a second to be excavated (16 February 2012)
"We believe we are at the bottom of the well," Garcia said. "We pulled up five to seven piles (Wednesday), and there were little remains in those."

Human remains are far from the only contents of the well on Flood Road, which was filled and sealed by the property owner in the mid- to late 1980s.

A washing machine and car parts have been unearthed, while shoes, an engraved ring and a purse are among the objects investigators believe are related to the victims.

Although the excavator has struck a solid surface believed to be the well's base, the search is far from over. Along with the sifting, crews plan to send a camera down the well to give investigators another look.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: This web site doesn't appear to be very stable today -- the entire site is flickering as though it has a refresh problem, but it's a paper local to the area and offers original reporting on the story.

Obama promotes made-in-America message during Wisconsin visit (16 February 2012)
MILWAUKEE -- President Barack Obama is using the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing to make an economic case for his re-election, touring factory floors and promoting a made-in-America message that seemed to fit his political campaign like, as it turned out Wednesday, lock and key.

Most presidents like to surround themselves with proud workers at factories, but Obama has gone further by making the rebounding manufacturing a key plank of his election-year agenda, arguing that the increasingly service-oriented U.S. economy needs to make things in order to prosper in the long run. He opened a three-day political trip with a stop in Wisconsin, a state he won handily in 2008 but is expected to pose more difficulty for him this year.

Obama called for tax cuts for American manufacturers and higher taxes for companies that move overseas, pressing what he hopes will be a winning campaign issue. He also acknowledged that many factories have closed, their jobs have gone overseas and a lot of them "are not going to come back."

"In a global economy, some companies will always find it more profitable to pick up and do business in other part of the world. That's just a fact," Obama said at the Master Lock plant in Milwaukee. "But that doesn't mean we have to sit by and settle for a lesser future."
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Remember when the unions wouldn't endorse John Edwards in the 2008 Democratic Primary, because their members liked Kucinich's speech about canceling NAFTA so much?

President Obama, speaking at L.A. fundraiser, points to positive changes (15 February 2012)
Obama spoke later to a more intimate gathering inside the Bells' Spanish-style home, which about 80 supporters each paid $35,800 to attend. Among those present were George Clooney, Jim Belushi and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who on Wednesday was named chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Obama offered a version of his standard campaign speech, touting the end of the Iraq war, job creation and the end of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, but acknowledged some supporters' frustration with work left undone. "I understand that; I feel the same way sometimes," he said, citing the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the continued detention of suspected "enemy combatants" at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

The president's foray into Los Angeles came amid tension between him and some of his Hollywood supporters over anti-piracy legislation. The entertainment industry strongly backed the bills, but they were killed under pressure from Google and other Silicon Valley interests on Internet free-speech grounds. The White House angered some in Hollywood by publicly criticizing key aspects of the bills.

Previous visits by Obama have caused severe traffic jams across Los Angeles, prompting outrage from frustrated motorists. The Los Angeles Police Department urged drivers to avoid major Westside streets Wednesday night and Thursday morning, when Obama is scheduled to travel to a fundraiser at the Corona Del Mar home of real estate developer Jeff Stack and his wife, Nancy. He is then scheduled to travel to San Francisco and Seattle.
[Read more...]

New birth weight curves tailored to baby's ethnicity (15 February 2012)
A small weight difference -- equal to that of an average grapefruit -- can matter a great deal in determining if a newborn baby is on a healthy track.

For immigrant parents, it can also mean a newborn being misdiagnosed as underweight by physicians using an "outdated" one-size-fits-all Canadian weight curve that doesn't take into account the country's changing demographics, says a Toronto study released Wednesday. (See the accompanying chart of average birth weights for infants of various origins.)

"We have a major problem on our hands if we misclassify a whole bunch of South Asian newborns as small when they are not," said Dr. Joel Ray of St. Michael's Hospital, the lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada.

"That's unacceptable in my mind. There are all these parents who are very excited about having a baby, and now they might have concerns their baby is not big enough -- something that is not true."
[Read more...]

Quebec protesters could be removed from tree (16 February 2012)
A group of protesters in western Quebec have to leave Gatineau Park and remove their decorations by noon Thursday, according to Quebec's Ministry of Transportation.

The ministry said it is prepared to instruct police to forcibly remove protesters from the forest in Gatineau Park if they do not leave voluntarily.

The protesters, which include the Gatineau Park Protection Committee, first held a sit-in Jan. 5 to argue against a Highway 5 expansion that would cut through the park.

The group fears for 200-year-old trees that could be chopped down for the road's extension.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Oh, please! Giving truckers two lanes in each direction will make them less dangerous? All it does here is make them weave in and out of traffic more.

In my 1970s childhood, truckers were some of the safest drivers on the road, staying in the right lane and going the speed limit. These days, they drive like sports cars on a suicide mission.

Manitoba denies memorial for dead cows (16 February 2012)
WINNIPEG -- An animal-rights group has asked the provincial government for permission to post a roadside memorial eulogizing the death of 71 cows last month on a Manitoba highway.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, announced Wednesday it had made the bizarre request, citing the need to remember the cattle killed Jan. 31 when a semi-truck collided with a train near Carberry. The request was quickly denied by the NDP government.

"Roadside memorials are for families and communities mourning the loss of loved ones," said government spokeswoman Rachel Morgan. "We will not be granting PETA its request."

That decision will likely be appealed, said Emily Lavender, the Ottawa-based PETA campaigner who penned the letter to the Manitoba government. It's unlikely to be reconsidered, though, as regulations regarding roadside memorials mandate the requests must come from relatives.
[Read more...]

Army Whistleblower Lt. Col. Daniel Davis Says Pentagon Deceiving Public on Afghan War (16 February 2012) [DN]
NERMEEN SHAIKH: One of the things he says, Michael Hastings, he talks about the fact that military leaders have consistently said that the surge, Obama's surge, reduced the number of attacks on U.S. soldiers and significantly weakened the insurgency. Can you talk a little bit about some of the things that he mentions, some of the figures in the report that he mentions, that belie that claim?

MICHAEL HASTINGS: Right. I mean, one of the interesting things--one of the correlations we've seen in what happens in Afghanistan is that the more NATO and Western and American troops that get put in, the higher the violence rate is, right? And once we start taking troops out, the violence goes down. And you see this as a direct kind of correlation. So what does that tell you? On the one hand, it says that much of the fighting is not in fact related to this sort of global war on terror--that's the framework we're still sort of looking in--but it's related to the fact that there is a foreign army in another country and the people there are resisting it. So that's one of the sort of basic takeaways.

The other sort of strange, you know, Orwellian paradox of all of this is that the senior military leadership--General David Petraeus, General McChrystal, General John Allen--what they always say is, "Look, if the violence is going up, that means it's working, because we're getting in and fighting in places that we haven't been before," right? And when the violence goes down, they say, "Oh, that means we're working, too." So, no matter what the outcome is, all we've heard is the same message of "We're winning. We're winning. We're winning." You know, a couple months ago, I called it the Charlie Sheen strategy. You know, it's--of winning. You just keep saying it, and you hope someone believes it. But that's what Colonel Davis lays out. And he takes, in fact, quotes from commanders over a significant amount of time, and he compares that to what's actually happening. And what he demonstrates, very ably, is that the message that we're winning, they've been saying this now for six years, eight years, 10 years, when in fact things have gotten progressively worse.
[Read more...]

Serial killers' "Boneyard" scoured (15 February 2012)
An excavator dredging down to 45 feet so far has yet to reach the well's bottom or strike water. Monday's rain suspended digging, but it could resume today. Sifting small piles resumed Tuesday under sunny skies.

The search team also believes a second well about a quarter-mile east of this one may hold yet more remains, officials said.

"This is the most gruesome crime scene I've been involved with," said Deputy Les Garcia, a 30-year veteran of police work and a spokesman for the San Joaquin County Sheriff's Office.

In addition to the bones, the digging has pulled out clothes, shoes, a purse and a ring engraved with initials. About 20 searchers are at work from the Sheriff's Office and the state Department of Justice. They expect to be there for days or weeks.
[Read more...]

Tainted sprouts again linked to Jimmy John's (15 February 2012)
Though they are often touted as a health food, sprouts need warm and humid conditions to grow, encouraging bacterial growth. Many restaurants have stopped serving them after multiple outbreaks, and the government recommends that the very young, elderly, pregnant and others with compromised immune systems stay away from raw sprouts completely. Fully cooked sprouts are safe to eat.

According to the CDC, there have been at least 30 outbreaks associated with raw or lightly cooked sprouts in the United States in the last 15 years and even more around the world, including a 1996 outbreak in Japan that sickened thousands of people with E. coli. Fenugreek sprout seeds from Egypt are thought to have caused a major outbreak of E. coli poisoning in Europe last year that killed more than 50 people.

Illnesses in the current outbreak were reported in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Wisconsin. The illnesses occurred between Dec. 25 and Jan. 15 and two of the victims were hospitalized.

In most sprout outbreaks the restaurant is not to blame for the contamination itself. Contamination usually happens when the seeds are grown or harvested and is often impossible to wash off.
[Read more...]

Susan G Komen's 'pinkwashing' problem a black mark on charity (16 February 2012)
But the backlash against the charity for its move to defund Planned Parenthood has re-ignited the wider debate over "pinkwashing" -- the act of a company or organisation claiming to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, despite producing or selling products that are linked to the disease.

Although by no means the worst offender, Komen itself has been behind some of the most contentious products sold in the name of breast health:

• Last year Komen was forced to reformulate its "Promise Me" fragrance after another breast cancer charity found it contained toxic and hazardous chemicals.

• In 2010 Komen aligned its brand with fast-food chain KFC for a "Buckets for the Cure", triggering a PR disaster. Among the risk factors associated with breast cancer is a high-fat diet and obesity.

• A partnership with Yoplait yoghurt two years earlier was similarly criticised as the product contained Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, associated with cancer. The company has since removed the rBGH from yoghurts.
[Read more...]

Teachers will wear black to mourn education cuts (15 February 2012)
Teachers in Hampton Roads and across the state will wear black Friday to mourn funding cuts and what they see as a loss of respect from elected officials for public education.

The Virginia Education Association is organizing the "Black Friday" protest, according to a news release from the association.

Kitty Boitnott, president of the VEA, said in the release that legislators are trying to end teachers' continuing contracts and that state funding for schools under the Virginia Standards of Quality has been cut by $1.4 billion in recent years.

"We are in mourning because of the open disrespect and disdain being shown Virginia's public school teachers by members of this General Assembly and the governor," Boitnott said in the news release.
[Read more...]

Scrutiny mounts as NYPD 'stop-and-frisk' searches hit record high (14 February 2012)
Police in New York City stopped and questioned a record-breaking 684,330 people last year. The figure represents an increase of over 600% since the controversial practice of stop, question and search -- commonly known as stop-and-frisks -- began in 2002.

The vast majority people who were stopped in 2011 -- and in every year since the policy began -- were African American or Latino. Last year's total marks an increase of 14% from 2010. True to previous years, most of those stopped were not arrested. In 2011 just 12% of those stopped received summonses, down from 14% in 2010.

The figures were tallied by the New York Civil Liberties Union as part of the organization's ongoing effort to monitor NYPD stop-and-frisks. New York's city council began requiring the department to deliver quarterly stop-and-frisk totals in 2002. According to the NYCLU, the total number of stop-and-frisks have increased every year since 2004, with the exception 2007. In that time over four million people -- the overwhelming majority being people of color -- have been stopped by the police.

Of those stopped last year, 92% were male and 87% were African American or Latino.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: The quote later in the article that 8,263 "weapons" were recovered, with only 819 being guns, tells a story in itself. How does New York define "weapon"? For so many to be found, it sounds as though they're using the TSA's airport definition, where nail clippers and tweezers are "weapons."

'Stop and frisk' policy violates 4th Amendment (FLASHBACK) (1 November 2011)
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated ...

-Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States

Just in case you forgot. There has been, after all, an appalling amount of forgetting where that amendment is concerned. And New York City has become the epicenter of the amnesia. Yes, the "stop and frisk" policy of questioning and searching people a cop finds suspicious is used elsewhere as well. But it is in the big, bruised apple that the issue now comes to a head.

Federal agents recently arrested a New York City cop on charges of violating the civil rights of an African-American man. Officer Michael Daragjati allegedly stopped the man in April and threw him against a parked van to search him. No drugs or weapons were found, but Daragjati reportedly became angry when the man questioned his rough treatment and requested the officer's name and badge number. So Daragjati ran him in on a charge of resisting arrest. Later, talking on the phone to a friend, he bragged that he had "fried another nigger" and that it was "no big deal." This was overheard by the feds, who had him under surveillance in a separate investigation.

Let no one fix his or her mouth to pronounce themselves "surprised." Blacks and Hispanics have complained for years about the selective attention they get from police. Giving cops the power to randomly stop and search pedestrians they find suspicious could not help but exacerbate the problem.

Last year, about 600,000 people were stopped and frisked in New York. Though blacks and Hispanics account for just over half the city's population, they represent about 85 percent of those stopped. The Center for Constitutional Justice, a civil-rights group, says drugs or weapons are turned up in less than 2 percent of those stops.
[Read more...]

Glyphosate reliance recoils on US agriculture (10 February 2012)
"Several species have developed amazing biochemical ways to resist the effects of the herbicide," said J. Franklin Egan, doctoral student in ecology, Penn State. "If weed problems are addressed just with herbicides, evolution will win."

One way the weeds develop resistance is to make an enzyme that is insensitive to the herbicide, but still maintains cellular function, Egan said. Weeds have also developed ways for the plant to move the herbicide away from targeted enzymes.

"For instance, glyphosate-resistant strains of Conyza canadensis -- horseweed -- sequester glyphosate in leaf tissues that are exposed to an herbicide spray so that the glyphosate can be slowly translocated throughout the plant at nontoxic concentrations," Egan said. "To the horseweed, this controlled translocation process means the difference between taking many shots of whiskey on an empty stomach versus sipping wine with a meal."

In response to the increasing number of weeds resistant to current applications, companies are developing new generations of seeds genetically modified to resist multiple herbicides. This continual insertion of more genes into crops is not a sustainable solution to herbicide resistance, according to the researchers. They add that companies are creating a genetic modification treadmill similar to the pesticide treadmill experienced in the mid-20th century, when companies produced increasingly more toxic substances to manage pests resistant to pesticides.
[Read more...]

U.S., Europe agree to accept each other's organic produce (15 February 2012)
"Access to the European market has been complicated," Jake Lewin, chief certification officer with the California Certified Organic Farmers, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "The whole process of getting approved was a huge problem, and now it won't be."

Following some two years of negotiations, closely monitored by U.S. organic farming leaders, Merrigan and her European Union counterparts arranged to sign the new agreement at the BioFach World Organic Trade Fair in Germany. The BioFach fair in Nuremberg is the largest of its kind, and was chosen for its high profile.

The agreement that takes effect June 1, with some exceptions, declares that agricultural products conforming to U.S. organic standards meet the EU's standards, and vice versa. This means products labeled as organic within the United States can carry the same label, and potential price premium, within the 27-nation European Union.

The agreement follows a determination that the United States and European organic standards are, for the most part, substantially the same, and it allows exporters to avoid what amounted to a duplicate approval process.
[Read more...]

Hottest pepper on the planet -- Trinidad Moruga Scorpion (14 February 2012)
For the study, Bosland and his partners Danise Coon, a senior research specialist, and Gregory Reeves, a graduate student, looked at several chile breeds reputed to be among the hottest in the world, including Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, Trinidad Scorpion, 7-pot, Chocolate 7-pot and Bhut Jolokia - a previous world record holder identified by the Chile Pepper Institute and certified by Guinness World Records in 2007.

Each of the super-hot varieties was grown in an NMSU plant science research field, following standard agricultural practices for chile peppers grown in Southern New Mexico. Later, randomly selected, mature fruits from several plants within each variety were selected, harvested, dried and ground to powder. The capsaicinoids, or the compounds that produce heat sensation, were then extracted and examined.

The Trinidad Moruga Scorpion scored highest, overall, in mean heat with more than 1.2 million Scoville Heat Units. Chocolate 7-pot came in at almost 1.17 million SHU. 7-pot placed third with more than 1.06 million SHU. Trinidad Scorpion packed almost 1.03 million SHU and Bhut Jolokia had almost 1.02 million SHU.

Chile peppers of the same variety will often vary in heat, even when grown in the same field or picked from the same plant. This study saw similar results, with some individual plants scoring much higher than the mean heat levels. Two individual Trinidad Moruga Scorpion pepper plants registered more than 2 million SHU - almost twice as hot as an average Bhut Jolokia pepper.
[Read more...]

Hundreds of human bones found in well near Linden (15 February 2012)
The discovery of the remains, after so many years without a trace, came about through a bizarre sequence of events involving Stockton Record reporter Scott Smith and Sacramento bounty hunter Leonard Padilla.

Shermantine has been corresponding with Smith for several years and recently provided a map and information to the reporter that authorities have been using to trace burial sites, Garcia said.

At the same time, Padilla has been encouraging Shermantine to help grieving families by pinpointing the location of the bodies. Padilla, who has tried for years to persuade Shermantine to reveal the burial sites, said Sunday night that the convicted serial killer finally agreed to, for a price.

Shermantine asked Padilla to pay his $18,000 in court- ordered restitution and also to come up with $15,000 more to provide for his child and purchase headstones for his deceased parents.

"So, for a couple (of) years we'd go back and forth and he said, 'I need the money now,' " Padilla recounted. "And I said, 'Well, give me the bodies.' "
[Read more...]

Mother confirms remains found at Calaveras site are daughter, killed in 1985 (15 February 2012)
Earlier this week, Padilla told The Bee he thinks Shermantine's map actually was directing authorities to another well, east of the abandoned well currently being excavated. He said he believes authorities will find a dozen bodies there.

On Tuesday, Garcia said authorities are looking into digging at that well, too, but for now are focused on their current site.

Paula Wheeler reflected how Shermantine taunted her at his sentencing that her daughter would never be found.

"He looked at me straight dead in the eye after it was all over ... and he said, 'My parents will know where I'm at when I'm gone, but you'll never know where Chevy is," Wheeler said. "He is evil. And he wouldn't have admitted it if it hadn't been for the money."
[Read more...]

On First Anniversary of Wisconsin Uprising, Gov. Walker Fights Recall Effort by Energized Movement (15 February 2012) [DN]
JOHN NICHOLS: Very significantly, yeah. And, you know, in politics, we often like to have things be wrapped up in a neat box and to think that the Governor would be removed solely because he attacked labor unions and local democracy and things that we value so highly. But he also faces a real additional challenge in the fact that he came up politically via a route that's starting to look very scandalous. Five of his aides and major fundraisers have been charged with felonies and misdemeanor wrongdoings. Some have already pled guilty. And each day, this John Doe investigation, which has now been going on for 20 months, gets closer to the Governor. And I suspect it's going to be a very major part of the recall campaign. This guy is in a lot of political trouble.

But it is important to remember that every month, he's raising about $5 million from right-wing donors around the country. So, as much trouble as he gets in, he will have--

AMY GOODMAN: Five million.

JOHN NICHOLS: I'm not kidding you. He was the keynote speaker on Friday night at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. He pushed aside Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, everybody. He is the rock star of the hard corporate right in America. And they're not going to let him go down easy.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: They're underestimating how much people despise the man.

The middle-aged unemployed are being slowly crushed between Government cuts and Labour complacency (16 February 2012)
Powerful stuff. Especially if you're a woman, or part of Britain's "jilted generation". But what if you're an unemployed, middle aged man, like Michael Taylor? Who is out there speaking for you?

Certainly not the Government. Ministers long ago dropped the pretence that we're all in this together. And though none will be stupid enough to be caught saying it on camera, they regard the best part of three million unemployed as a price worth paying to pay down Britain's debt. When the credit agencies spoke, George Osborne was quickly on the airwaves, warning: "It's yet another reminder that Britain doesn't have some easy route out of the economic problems that have accumulated over the past decade. It's got to confront those problems head-on, and that's precisely what I intend to do." When the teacher from Salford spoke, George Osborne remained silent.

Labour is at least trying to focus on the human cost of the Government's austerity measures. But its responses smack of the very complacency it levels at the coalition. "Have we done young people? Yes. Tick." "Have we done the women. Yes. You sure? Don't want Harriet or Yvette on to me. Tick."

There is obviously a serious issue with youth unemployment. But there is an equally chronic problem with joblessness amongst the middle-aged. For one, the middle-aged are more likely to bear the burden of family responsibility. Youth will always have an attraction in a labour market increasingly being constructed around the holy grail of "flexibility", and a burgeoning "service" sector where skills and experience are at less of a premium than in the past. And, as we saw last night, there is a generational stigma to being unable to provide for yourself, and others. I have yet to see an unemployed teenager blaming themselves for their plight on national television.

It's equally correct that Labour should raise the probem of the increasing number of women being forced onto the dole queues. But although the gap is narrowing, unemployment amongst men remains higher than amongst women. And whilst David Cameron is perceived to have a "woman problem" Ed Miliband has a "man problem". The most recent YouGov poll found Miliband's negatives among men to be minus 52, compared to minus 34 amongst women.
[Read more...]

The imperial way: American decline in perspective, part 2 (15 February 2012)
In the years of conscious, self-inflicted decline at home, "losses" continued to mount elsewhere. In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all US military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the US and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as "the backyard".

Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries -- Middle East/North Africa -- which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history". Control of MENA energy reserves would yield "substantial control of the world", in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor AA Berle.

To be sure, if the projections of a century of US energy independence based on North American energy resources turn out to be realistic, the significance of controlling MENA would decline somewhat, though probably not by much: the main concern has always been control more than access. However, the likely consequences to the planet's equilibrium are so ominous that discussion may be largely an academic exercise.

The Arab Spring, another development of historic importance, might portend at least a partial "loss" of MENA. The US and its allies have tried hard to prevent that outcome -- so far, with considerable success. Their policy towards the popular uprisings has kept closely to the standard guidelines: support the forces most amenable to US influence and control.
[Read more...]

Diner suffers cardiac arrest while eating a Triple Bypass Burger at the Heart Attack Grill (15 February 2012)
It was always going to be unwise naming a restaurant that glorifies unhealthy food the Heart Attack Grill.

And on Saturday the inevitable happened when a customer suffered a cardiac arrest in the chain's Las Vegas branch.

An onlooker captured video of paramedics wheeling the unidentified man, thought to be in his 40s, out of the fast-food diner.

He was midway through eating a 6,000-calorie Triple Bypass Burger when he began experiencing chest pains.
[Read more...]

Texas executions threatened as stocks of death penalty drug run low (15 February 2012)
Texas, the powerhouse of the death penalty in America which last year executed more than twice the number of prisoners than any other state, is running out of supplies of lethal drugs and may be incapable of carrying out further death sentences beyond June.

The state prides itself on its robust approach to the death penalty, and last year administered the ultimate punishment to 13 death row inmates. The nearest competitor on the league table of judicial killings was Alabama, with six.

Yet Texas has only sufficient quantities in its stores of pentobarbital -- the middle drug of the triple lethal injection -- to serve in six more executions. That number of executions are scheduled to take place on the state's books over the next four months.

The dwindling supplies in the nation's most prolific death penalty state underline the crisis that is sweeping the 34 states that still have the death sentence on their books. Last summer, Lundbeck, the Danish company that makes pentobarbital under the trademark Nembutal, placed strict restrictions on its distribution to prevent it falling into the hands of US executioners.

Georgia, the state that caused outrage in September when it put to death Troy Davis despite considerable doubts about his guilt, is also running low on stocks of the drug it used to kill him. It has only enough pentobarbital to kill four more prisoners -- the same number of executions as it carried out in 2011.
[Read more...]

'Losing' the world: American decline in perspective, part 1 (14 February 2012)
Significant anniversaries are solemnly commemorated -- Japan's attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, for example. Others are ignored, and we can often learn valuable lessons from them about what is likely to lie ahead. Right now, in fact.

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F Kennedy's decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-second world war period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops.

The prime target was South Vietnam. The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during second world war, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this, Henry Kissinger's orders were being carried out -- "anything that flies on anything that moves" -- a call for genocide that is rare in the historical record. Little of this is remembered. Most was scarcely known beyond narrow circles of activists.

When the invasion was launched 50 years ago, concern was so slight that there were few efforts at justification, hardly more than the president's impassioned plea that "we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence", and if the conspiracy achieves its ends in Laos and Vietnam, "the gates will be opened wide."
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Obama to tout American manufacturing in Wisconsin visit Wednesday (15 February 2012)
WASHINGTON -- Pointing to a rebound in manufacturing, President Barack Obama on Wednesday is visiting a Milwaukee plant that has brought back jobs to the United States.

Before going on an extended West Coast fundraising spree, the president was visiting Master Lock, a Milwaukee maker of padlocks that was cited in his State of the Union address for bringing back 100 jobs to the U.S. from China in response to higher labor and logistical costs in Asia.

In his speech at Master Lock, Obama intends to call on companies to promote more investments -- and more jobs -- in the U.S.

"Right now we have an excellent opportunity to bring manufacturing back -- but we have to seize it," Obama said in remarks prepared for delivery. "My message to business leaders is simple: Ask yourselves what you can do to bring jobs back to your country, and your country will do everything we can to help you succeed."
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Wisconsin Gov. Walker changes plans, won't accompany Obama to Master Lock (15 February 2012)
In a change of plans, Gov. Scott Walker will not be accompanying President Barack Obama on a visit to Master Lock in Milwaukee.

Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said Wednesday that the Republican governor is recovering from a "nasty case of the flu" and is canceling his plans to be with the president at the padlock maker.

However, Walker does plan to follow through with plans to greet the president upon his arrival at the airport in Milwaukee.

Obama's visit to Milwaukee is his first to Wisconsin in more than a year. Walker has been attempting to tie his fate in a probable recall election with Obama's chances of winning Wisconsin in November.
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PAM COMMENTARY: "It's not that everyone in the state hates me, (cough cough) I just have a case of the flu! Thanks for the invite, though!" (Not exact quote, of course, although I'm sure it's almost exactly what was said.)

After a year's absence, Obama returns to a Wisconsin lagging in job growth and torn by politics (15 February 2012)
President Obama's trip to Milwaukee on Wednesday is his first to Wisconsin since the labor wars erupted a year ago, and comes at a time when the state has more wild cards in its political deck than perhaps any other presidential battleground.

Wild card number one: No other battleground state has lost private-sector jobs for six months in a row, a concern for both Democrat Obama and Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who's facing an all-but-certain recall election this summer.

Walker, who is expected to greet Obama at Mitchell International Airport on Wednesday, and Obama are two incumbents of different parties with a common interest in a brightening jobs picture. But compared to other top battlegrounds, Wisconsin was a lagging outlier when it comes to private sector employment over the second half of 2011:

Wild card number two: Thanks to the recall fight, Wisconsin is the only battleground state that has a fractious intervening election with the potential to both overshadow the presidential race and influence its outcome.
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More than 300 killed in Honduras prison fire (15 February 2012)
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras -- Trapped inmates screamed from their cells as a fire swept through a Honduran prison, killing at least 300 inmates, authorities said Wednesday.

Some 475 people escaped from the prison in the town of Comayagua and 356 are missing and presumed dead, said Hector Ivan Mejia, a spokesman for the Honduras Security Ministry. He said 21 people had been injured.
Dozens were trapped behind bars as prison authorities tried to find the keys, officials said.

Outraged relatives of dead inmates tried to storm the gates of the prison Wednesday morning to recover the remains of their loves ones, witnesses told The Associated Press. The crowds were driven back by police officers firing tear gas.

Channel 5 television showed dozens of inmates' relatives hurling rocks at officers.
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Critics attack Canadian online surveillance bill (15 February 2012)
Prime Minister Stephen Harper called on parliamentarians Tuesday to stand firm against child pornography and support a contentious bill that will require telecommunications companies to hand over customer information to police without a court order.

But opposition parties hit back hard by predicting the new bill will lead to an infringement on the privacy of Canadians, saying it will allow police to build a detailed profile of people, including law-abiding citizens, using their digital footprint - without any judicial oversight.

They also blasted one of Harper's senior ministers who told a critic of the bill he "can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

Even Ontario's privacy commissioner called the government's attempt to sell this bill as an effort to protect children from predators as "fearmongering."
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Interesting how we have a similar bill in the US at the same time, huh?

Las Vegas' image may discourage professional women from taking up residence (14 February 2012)
Las Vegas hosted the Lingerie Bowl during Super Bowl weekend, naturally. Following last year's Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Stiletto Dash, we have cemented our place as the premier city for athletic contests involving women who are scantily clad and/or in heels.

This fits nicely with our adult playground image. But I wonder if these less-than-progressive portrayals of women could prevent us from luring young professional women to move here, in the same way that the "What happens here" ad campaign is perfect for selling the Strip but not for marketing the rest of the city as a place for serious business or education.

This could be a big deal because our ability to recruit educated women is crucial to our ability to diversify our economy. Women now dominate the educational ranks, constituting three out of five college students nationwide and holding a similarly dominant position in graduate programs. The Grateful Dead were right: The women are smarter.

Jokey sporting events that treat women like circus acts aren't the only issue: There are also the billboards with nearly undressed women advertising nightclubs and strip clubs and the explicit advertising for prostitution.
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Sea urchin spine structure inspires idea for concrete (15 February 2012)
The precise structure of sea urchins' strong spines has been unravelled - and the find may contribute to stronger concrete in the future.

The tough spines are known to be made of calcium carbonate, which has a number of naturally occurring forms, some more brittle than others.

X-ray studies now show they are built from "bricks" of the crystal calcite, with a non-crystalline "mortar".

The results are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The spines serve as a defence against predators, hard and at the same time shock-absorbing. As a result of these properties, the spines are among the most-studied biomaterials.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: I'd often see brilliant white sea urchins under my old sailboat in California during the 1990s. It was amazing how much wildlife managed to survive just an hour north of Los Angeles County.

25-gram songbird makes miracle migration to Africa each year (15 February 2012)
The sharp-eyed northern wheatear is a songbird that weighs a mere 25 grams, about the same as two tablespoons of flour. With its spindly legs, its muted white, brown and black colour, who would think such a lightweight capable of heroic endurance?

For the first time, Ontario scientists have proven what they long suspected -- the wheatear is the only songbird that breeds in the Canadian Arctic and Alaska and spends the winter in Africa. The migration can take from one to three months.

They also showed that the wheatear completes the longest known flight over water of any songbird -- 3,500 kilometres across the Atlantic. That remarkable passage takes about four days of non-stop flying.

There are two separate populations of wheatears in the far north. One breeds in Alaska, flies west over Russia, Kazakhstan and the Arabian Desert some 14,500 km, ending up in Sudan and Uganda in East Africa. Another, which breeds in the Canadian Arctic near Iqaluit heads the opposite direction, east over the Atlantic, stopping for the winter in Mauritania in West Africa, a journey of 7,500 km.
[Read more...]

UK farmer investigated for pig cruelty found dead (15 February 2012)
A farmer who was being investigated over allegations of cruelty to pigs has been found dead at his home.

The body of Stephen Brown, 52, of Harling Farm, near Thetford, Norfolk, was discovered this morning. Police said his death is not believed to be suspicious.

The RSPCA began an investigation this week after animal rights group Animal Equality produced video footage of pigs being kicked, slapped and beaten with iron bars.

The group sent an undercover investigator to work at the farm for two months last summer and gathered more than 200 hours of footage and 300 photographs.
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Indian village in Rajasthan relocates to protect tigers (15 February 2012)
An entire village has been relocated in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan to protect tigers, officials say.

More than 350 people from 82 families in Umri village, in the Sariska tiger reserve, moved to a new location.

The number of tigers in Sariska had dwindled to zero before growing to five over the last three years.

Tiger numbers have shrunk alarmingly in India in recent decades. A 2011 census counted about 1,700 tigers in the wild.

A century ago there were estimated to be 100,000 tigers in India.
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Leaded lipstick: How much is too much? (13 February 2012)
The national Campaign for Safe Cosmetics recently highlighted an analysis of lead in lipsticks done for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The study found lead in all 400 lipsticks tested, with levels of up to 7.19 parts per billion.

Safe Cosmetics says this is more than twice the levels reported in a previous FDA study, and it has concerns.

A press release issued by Safe Cosmetics quoted Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH, policy advisor of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice and co-chair of the Environmental Health Task Force for the National Medical Association, who said, "Lead builds up in the body over time and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels."

In addition, "lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems. Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development," said Sean Palfrey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston's Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, as quoted in the press release.
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Opponents of Photo ID see threat to Minnesota's same-day registration (14 February 2012)
Opponents of the plan to require voters to submit a photo ID at the polls say they worry that it would eliminate election-day registration, which has helped drive up the state's voter turnout.

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and the League of Women Voters of Minnesota, which both oppose photo ID for voters, said combining a photo ID requirement with new eligibility verification rules could eliminate same-day registration. Minnesota is one of about a dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, that allow voters to register at the polls on Election Day.

"We think that puts EDR at risk,'' Sherri Knuth, said public policy coordinator for the League, using the abbreviation for Election Day Registration. Susie Brown of the Council of Nonprofits said same-day registration has contributed to the state's high voter participation rates. In 2008, 18.5 percent of all voters registered on Election Day, and the number has been higher than 20 percent several times. In fact, the groups said, more than 30 percent of current Minnesota legislators have used election day registration at some time.

The author of the proposed amendment, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, declined to comment on the issue on Tuesday. His aide said Newman believes that both same-day registration and absentee voting will be protected under the proposed amendment.
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Tax time can be costly nightmare for gay couples (14 February 2012)
Few taxpayers look forward to tax season, but the annual obligation is particularly laborious for tens of thousands of same-sex couples who live in states that recognize gay marriage or civil unions.

Some have to put together four tax returns. Others have to prepare five. Preparation fees can cost thousands of dollars, and refunds may be delayed for months.

The reason: Most states that recognize same-sex marriage or domestic partners allow couples to file a joint state tax return. State tax returns, though, are based on the taxpayer's federal tax return. And because the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage, these couples can't file jointly with the IRS.

To get around this conflict, same-sex couples who want to file joint state tax returns must each complete an individual tax return to file with the IRS. They use information from those returns to create a mock joint federal tax return, combining their income, adjustments and credits, and use that return to prepare their joint state tax return.
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Apple may face iPad export ban in China trademark dispute (14 February 2012)
(Reuters) - A Chinese tech firm that claims it still owns the iPad trademark will seek a ban on exports of Apple Inc's computer tablets from China, which could deal a blow to the U.S. technology giant's sales worldwide.

Proview Technology (Shenzhen) Co Ltd is petitioning Chinese customs to stop shipments of Apple's popular iPads in and out of China, but has not received a response, lawyer Xie Xianghui told Asian Legal Business, a Thomson Reuters publication.

Apple said it bought Proview's worldwide rights to the trademark in 10 different countries several years ago, including rights to the iPad name from a Taiwan subsidiary. However, Proview claims the sale did not cover the trademark's use in China.

"Proview refuses to honor their agreement with Apple in China and a Hong Kong court has sided with Apple in this matter," an Apple spokeswoman said.

Customs officials could not be reached for comment, and Proview declined to comment.

Apple could be in a very difficult situation if it had mistakenly bought rights from the wrong Proview subsidiary, said Thomas Chan, a Los Angeles-based attorney who has represented companies in trademark licensing negotiations with Apple.
[Read more...]

Josh Powell papers found at Wash. recycling site (14 February 2012)
A search at a recycling center recovered some papers, books and a map of Utah that Josh Powell dropped off the day before he killed his two young sons and himself in an explosive fire, the Pierce County sheriff's office said.

Volunteers who combed through more than 10 tons of paper over the weekend found what the sheriff's office called a "testament" with Powell's name on it, some paperback books with his wife's name on them and the Utah map. The office did not elaborate on what the testament contains.

"We'll take what we have and analyze it and determine if it has evidentiary value or if it leads us to another location," Sgt. Ed Troyer told KIRO-FM ( http://is.gd/nH4iw9) on Monday.

Investigators also are testing a bloodstained comforter that was found last week in a storage unit Powell had rented.

Authorities are still looking for the body of Susan Powell, who disappeared in December 2009 in Utah. Josh Powell was a person of interest, and Pierce County prosecutor in Washington state consider the killing of his children and himself an admission of guilt in her death.
[Read more...]

Don't expect gasoline prices to go down any time soon (14 February 2012)
Nationally, the average price for unleaded regular gasoline at the pump topped $3.51 a gallon, a cent higher than the record average price last year, according to AAA gas gauge. Houston drivers are paying on average $3.43, or or 4 cents more than last week.

Gasoline prices have been slowly climbing to the $4 mark in 2012 as three northeast refineries close, high oil prices and tensions in the Middle East drive up the price at the pump. So far, gasoline prices have risen more than 20 cents in the past month, and those prices are likely to climb even higher.

Tom Kloza, chief analyst for Oil Price Information Service, said drivers should expect to see higher prices in the near future after the average national prices topped $3.50 this weekend.

"Recent history suggests that when fuel prices surpass $3.50, they stay there for some time," he wrote.
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5 states may intervene in Honda hybrid settlement (14 February 2012)
SAN DIEGO -- A judge on Tuesday granted California and four other states more time to consider objecting to a class-action settlement between Honda Motor Co. and car owners over inflated fuel-efficiency claims about the automaker's hybrid vehicles.

The states' sudden interest in the proposed settlement came shortly after Honda owner Heather Peters won $9,867 in small claims court - much more than the couple hundred dollars cash that the settlement is offering.

Attorneys general in California, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas and Washington asked last week - only two days before Saturday's deadline - for more time to consider the settlement with about 200,000 Honda Civic hybrid owners.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Timothy Taylor granted the states an extension until Feb. 29, but only after questioning why they missed the deadline when dozens of opponents didn't. The states were notified of the settlement in October.
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San Onofre takes reactor tubes out of service (14 February 2012)
An undisclosed number of steam generator tubes will be taken out of service at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station after an inspection uncovered accelerated wear on the components, plant operator Southern California Edison announced on Monday.

Edison spokesman Gil Alexander declined to say exactly how many tubes will be taken out of service at the northernmost of two seaside reactors, where generators were replaced over the past two years.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Victor Dricks said he did not have the final number of tubes being decommissioned but indicated it was far too few to affect the reactor's efficiency.

"We are a long, long, long way away from there," said Dricks, noting that up to 7 percent of generator tubes can be taken out of service before performance is affected appreciably.
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Legalize pot, say former B.C., Canadian attorneys general (14 February 2012)
Four former B.C. attorneys general are joining a coalition of health and justice experts calling for the legalization of marijuana.

Colin Gabelmann, Ujjal Dosanjh, Graeme Bowbrick and Geoff Plant have all signed a letter to B.C. Premier Christy Clark and B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix, calling on the politicians to endorse legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana.

The former attorneys general say the move would help reduce gang violence associated with the illegal marijuana trade, raise tax revenues and ease the burden on the province's court system.

"As former B.C. attorneys general, we are fully aware that British Columbia lost its war against the marijuana industry many years ago," the letter reads.
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In-Your-Face Fitness: Dumbbells can make you brainy (13 February 2012)
Voss and her team examined more than 100 studies on the topic and discovered some interesting things. Here's one: The brain benefits of resistance training (such as lifting weights) seem to differ from those you get from aerobic exercise. "Aerobic exercise improves ability to coordinate multiple things, long-term planning and your ability to stay on task for extended periods," she said. Resistance training, which is much less studied than the aerobic side of things, "improves your ability to focus amid distracters."

This makes sense to me: Aerobic exercise such as running involves staying on task for a long time, and if you're training to get better, you need to stick to a plan. Weightlifting requires ignoring the spandex and lousy gym music and focusing enough to prevent the barbell from crushing your trachea during bench press. Perhaps honing the discipline for aerobic exercise and/or learning to tune out gym distractions reaps benefits for the other, non-athletic parts of your life.

The details of what's going on inside the skull are fascinating. Voss explained that MRIs of people in their 60s showed increases in gray and white matter after just six months of exercise. This happens in the prefrontal and temporal lobes, sites that usually diminish with age. With exercise, Voss says, they grow.

Voss also explained that the hippocampus area of the brain, key for memory formation, shrinks 1% to 2% per year in those older than 60, but when people in this age group begin fitness regimens, it grows by 1% to 2% instead.
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Senate votes to expel Occupy Boise from state land (14 February 2012)
BOISE, Idaho -- The Idaho Senate voted to ban camping from state-managed land, a move that would expel a tent encampment erected by Occupy Boise protesters in early November on the old Ada County Courthouse grounds.

Tuesday's 26-9 vote sends the measure back to the House.

Representatives must vote again because of changes added by the Senate to give protesters 90 days to reclaim property they left behind before it's thrown away.

If the House agrees, however, the measure would be sent to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter for signature.
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Chomsky: The American decline is 'increasingly self-inflicted' (14 February 2012)
The MIT professor points out that elites believe American power began to wane when China declared independence in 1949, something that is commonly referred to as "the loss of China" in the U.S.

"The terminology is revealing," he explains. "It is only possible to lose something that one owns. The tacit assumption was that the U.S. owned China, by right, along with most of the rest of the world, much as postwar planners assumed."

As the U.S. share of world wealth dropped to 25 percent in 1970, the country entered a phase of "conscious self-inflicted decline," according to Chomsky.

"From the 1970s, there has been a significant change in the U.S. economy, as planners, private and state, shifted it toward financialization and the offshoring of production, driven in part by the declining rate of profit in domestic manufacturing," he remarks. "These decisions initiated a vicious cycle in which wealth became highly concentrated (dramatically so in the top 0.1% of the population), yielding concentration of political power, hence legislation to carry the cycle further: taxation and other fiscal policies, deregulation, changes in the rules of corporate governance allowing huge gains for executives, and so on."
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Something we can all agree about (9 February 2012)
The right to recall an elected official is one of the rights of the people sanctified in our state Constitution. In fact, it is a right deemed so important that our Constitution specifically prohibits the Legislature or governor from passing any law "to hamper, restrict or impair the right of recall."

That is not to say that a recall is to be undertaken lightly. The bar for a recall election in Wisconsin is set purposely very high so that the right is exercised in only the most extreme situations. At least 25 percent of the voters must sign a recall petition and that must be accomplished in the relatively short span of 60 days. Compare that to California, the only state to recall a governor in the last 90 years. In California, only 12 percent of the electorate must sign a recall petition and signature gatherers have 160 days.

Once that strenuous requirement for a recall is reached, it is imperative that the right not be impaired by unnecessary delay. Recently, Walker said that he wants the recall election to happen soon. Unfortunately, his actions seem to indicate the opposite.

It is unpleasant to have to say this about a former legislative colleague, but it often seems that when Walker plans to do one thing, he publicly tries to obfuscate his intentions by saying just the opposite. For example, he claimed recall supporters were fueled by out-of-state money while he was raising a record-breaking 61 percent of his contributions from Texas and other states.
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Virginia's Republican House passes 'personhood,' ultrasound bills (14 February 2012)
On a 66-32 vote, the state's House of Delegates has passed legislation to define life as beginning at conception.

After a passionate debate, the House also voted 63-36 to pass legislation to require women to undergo ultrasounds before abortion.

House Bill 1, sponsored by conservative Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, would impart the rights of "personhood" to a human embryo at the moment of conception.

Democrats railed on the legislation for the second day in a row, claiming it could be used to make it illegal to terminate a pregnancy or even allow women to use contraception that prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg.
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Did "The Woz" Slag Steve Jobs In FBI Interview? (9 February 2012)
The interview subject, who said he did not consider Jobs a personal friend, did not request confidentiality from the bureau, according to an FBI 302 report included in the Jobs file. The March 11, 1991 interview was conducted at the man's office in Los Gatos, California.

The 61-year-old Wozniak, a longtime Los Gatos resident, worked at Apple until early-1987, nearly a dozen years after he and Jobs founded Apple.

At press time, TSG was waiting for the always forthright Wozniak to reply to messages sent to his e-mail account and Facebook page. According to Wozniak's Twitter feed, he is currently traveling on a United Airlines flight from Mexico City to San Francisco, where he is due to arrive at 12:40 PM (Eastern).

Another FBI report memorializes a March 1991 interview with a former Apple colleague who declared that Jobs's "moral character is suspect." The man, however, noted that Jobs was "basically an honest and trustworthy person."

While the interview subject's name is redacted, other details in the report make it appear that he is engineer Daniel Kottke, a Reed College buddy of Jobs's who became Apple's 12th employee. Kottke, pictured at left, was famously passed over by Jobs when it came to awarding lucrative stock options prior to Apple going public in December 1980.
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Woman says she almost became victim of 'Speed Freak Killers' (14 February 2012)
The speed freak killer from the video who looks like the crazy driver I sawLast week, Shermantine's maps led authorities to San Andreas, where they found remains believed to be those of Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler of Stockton, who disappeared at age 16 in 1985, and of Cindi Vanderheiden, 25, of Clements, who disappeared 14 years ago on a night people had seen her shooting pool with Shermantine and Herzog in neighboring Linden.

Meanwhile, at least one woman has come forward to recall her disturbing encounter with the pair.

Heidi Adams, a San Joaquin County resident, said she recently recognized Herzog as a man she crossed paths with many years ago.

She told Fox 40 Sacramento that one dark night in the country, a blue van chased her, then two men got out at a stop sign.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: It's hard for me to believe, but... Seeing the old photos in this article's embedded video reminds me of an old incident in California. This was probably sometime during 1993-97, although it could have been as early as '92. Only it wasn't in northern California, it was on Highway 1 near Point Mugu, between Santa Barbara and Malibu.

Back then, highway 1 was a freeway-like road with exits as you came into Ventura County, with two lanes in each direction, wide shoulders and no traffic lights. One night I was returning to my apartment north of there, and a white van managed to get in front of me and drove very slowly, but wouldn't allow me to pass. He'd zig-zag across lanes every time that I tried to pull alongside him. It was clear that he was trying to bottle me up behind him, and that he was probably some kind of psycho, but I interpreted his zig-zagging as him being drunk. And I wasn't going to cut him a break if he was drunk because he was being such a jerk. Back then, cell phones were expensive and not everyone had one, but I was one of the few who'd invested in one because I traveled alone frequently. I called 911 right away and reported the man for drunk driving.

Now that I see the old photos, the one with the shorter hair looked like the van's driver, or at least his reflection in the large rear-view mirror on the driver's side. He was driving a boxy white van and I couldn't see if he had anyone else in the vehicle with him -- the van didn't have many windows. It looked newer and may have even been a rental.

Of course, this was far south of what the police think was the killers' area, and I seem to recall that his hair and mustache were black, or at least they looked black in the dark, and so I thought he was Hispanic. But the facial structure and hair were very similar -- he could have been the shorter-haired man in the video. I guess I'll never know for sure, and California had so many "crazies" that it could have been anybody, not that he's important enough to contemplate for more than a couple of seconds...

I seem to remember getting away from him by dropping back and exiting behind him. That may show that he didn't know the area very well, trying to trap a woman behind him when there were so many places for her to escape.

Whoever it was, I left it up to the cops to pull him over and figure out why he was driving that way. And even if they did that, it's possible that he was able to talk his way out of it if he hadn't been drinking, but in fact had been driving erratically in order to abduct women. I never saw the flashing blues that night and don't know if the cops ever followed-up at all, but if they did pull him over, maybe that's why I never saw him again. Oxnard had some nasty and dishonest policemen back then, and they may have scared him away forever.

UPDATE 2/15: I should have made this clearer -- this sighting didn't happen at just anytime between '92 and '97. There were specific intervals when I lived in Malibu and wouldn't have been on that road, vs. times when I lived in Channel Islands Harbor and was on that road nearly every night to return home. It was almost a 50-50 divide, with probably slightly more time spent in Channel Islands. (Channel Islands Harbor had nothing to do with California's Channel Islands or Catalina -- it was a part of Ventura County, on the edge of Oxnard/Port Hueneme with mixed jurisdiction -- Oxnard cops if something happened on land, someone else like the county or state if something happened at the marina or on a boat, technically over water). If someone really needs to know the exact date of this sighting, then maybe the old 9/11 call was stored somewhere. It's even possible that I read the van's license tag to the dispatcher over the phone, which could help to identify the driver if records that old exist anymore.

Italian prosecutors launch appeal against Amanda Knox acquittal (14 February 2012)
Prosecutors in Perugia filed the 111-page appeal to Italy's highest criminal court, the Court of Cassation in Rome, more than four months after Miss Knox had her guilty verdict and 26-year prison sentence overturned on appeal.

Raffaele Sollecito, her ex-boyfriend, also had his guilty verdict and 25-year jail sentence quashed.

Miss Kercher, 21, of Coulsdon, Surrey, was found stabbed to death in the house she shared with Miss Knox and two other women in the Umbrian hill town in Nov 2007. Her body bore more than 40 injuries and lay in a pool of blood on the floor.

Prosecutors claimed that she had been killed during a drug-fuelled, frenzied sex attack by Miss Knox, Mr Sollecito and a third attacker, a local drifter named Rudy Guede.

Guede, originally from Ivory Coast, is serving a 16-year sentence -- reduced on appeal from 30 years -- and is the only person in jail for the crime.
[Read more...]

Apple admits it has a human rights problem (14 February 2012)
Thousands of Chinese factory workers will be given the chance to detail the punishing conditions on assembly lines producing Apple iPads and iPhones, after the US company bowed to criticism and agreed to allow independent inspections of its supply chain.

Facing a growing scandal over the working conditions of those making its best-selling gadgets, Apple has called in assessors from the same organisation that was set up to stamp out sweatshops in the clothing industry more than a decade ago. The move is an admission that Apple's own system of monitoring suppliers has failed to stamp out abuses, and that the negative publicity surrounding its Chinese operations threatens to cause a consumer backlash against its products.

But campaigners for Chinese workers immediately criticised the company for conducting a public relations exercise instead of actually alleviating the long hours, harsh management and safety problems which have driven some workers to suicide and led to fatal accidents at a number of plants.

Inspectors from the Fair Labour Association started work yesterday at the Foxconn factory near the booming southern city of Shenzhen, where iPads are made. In 2010, a spate of 13 suicides or attempted suicides at that factory, known as Foxconn City, first turned a spotlight on the companies Apple uses to build its devices. Another Foxconn factory in Chengdu will also be inspected, Apple said, with the first findings to be published by the FLA next month. Apple said all of its suppliers had agreed to co-operate with the FLA and to let their workers speak freely.
[Read more...]

Occupy romance: 'I remember watching her march up to Goldman Sachs ...' (14 February 2012)
Tim: I quit my job in Connecticut to be at Occupy. The movement was a platform for people to innocently engage with one another. Everybody was friendly and like-minded and I wanted to make as many friends as possible. I wasn't looking to hook up with anyone.

Lily: Yet every single time I saw Tim before we actually got together, he had a gaggle of women around him! I wasn't down at Occupy to meet anyone either. I was preparing to return home to the UK. I was ready to leave New York. I heard that this thing was happening. I wasn't that compelled to go and check it out at first, but basically the first time I went to Zucotti Park I realised that that was something significant. I'd forgotten that I'd always been an activist. There'd been nothing to inspire that side of me.

Tim: We completely disagree on the first time we met. I remember it very vividly: we were right underneath the red structure in Zucotti Park. The second time we met we went out for Indian food with one other woman. Basically I was in trouble from then on ...

Lily: Getting away from everyone was hard. We had to escape to Brooklyn. We met for breakfast really early the next day and ended up spending the entire day together. It was really nice.
[Read more...]

Valentine's Day card to readers

Latest insights on love from science (6 February 2012)
Conservative Republican singles were also more likely to report that they must have someone of the same political affiliation, religion, ethnic group, values, attitudes about money, and views of marriage. Their partner must also have close family ties.

Liberal singles, on the other hand, look for someone with a sense of humor, a sense of independence, a similar level of education, mutual respect, and someone who is comfortable communicating their wants and needs. They are also more open to dating someone with a different background.

Don't go into a relationship thinking you can convert your conservative partner into a Democrat, or convince someone with liberal values to vote Republican, Fisher said. "They're not going to change - liberal Democrats not any more than Republicans.''
[Read more...]

Fuel economy of vehicles sold last month ties a record high, University of Michigan study finds (13 February 2012)
n advance of the seasonal spring hike in gasoline prices, fuel economy of new vehicles sold in the United States last month tied a record high, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute

Average fuel economy of cars, light trucks, minivans and SUVs purchased in January was 23.0 miles per gallon, which ties the all-time monthly record set in March 2011

That represents a 4% improvement or 0.8 mpg better than the average in December, the highest monthly increase since the Institute's researchers started tracking fuel economy in late 2007

Compared with a year ago, average fuel economy of new vehicles bought in January was 0.5 mpg better and a full 2.5 mpg better mileage than four years ago, according to Michael Sivak, the research professor who heads the Human Factors Group behind the results.
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UM President Shalala's role on two boards prompts questions of conflict (13 February 2012)
University of Miami President Donna Shalala may be in charge of her own university, but at the end of the day she still has to answer to a boss -- the university's board of trustees.

The exception to that rule: the days Shalala shows up to meetings as a corporate board member for two local powerhouse companies, companies with UM trustees as CEOs. All of a sudden, those trustees -- Mednax's Roger Medel and Lennar's Stuart Miller -- answer to her.

It's a blurry line that some corporate governance experts call highly problematic, though Shalala insists the situation is "very carefully managed" to prevent conflicts of interest from arising.

"The board of trustees are very careful about ethics," Shalala said. Referring to Medel and Miller, she explained, "I can't sit on their compensation committee, and they can't sit on my compensation committee."
Still, the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges advises college presidents to avoid serving on company boards with a connection to trustees. The group doesn't necessarily discourage serving on corporate boards altogether, though it does say such service should always be handled cautiously.
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Shark's journey a first for science (13 February 2012)
Agencies in Canada, Mexico and the United States are trying to safeguard basking sharks, which once gathered near the coastline by the hundreds or thousands. In recent years, however, sightings have dwindled and biologists have speculated that as few as 300 swim along the West Coast.

While basking sharks have gaping mouths and can grow up to 40 feet, they aren't a threat to people. They are filter feeders that consume large volumes of zooplankton. As their name implies, basking sharks spend a lot of time at the surface -- at least when they are near the coast -- and are notably docile when researchers approach.

Still, they once were targeted for eradication off Canada because they got snagged in fishing nets. The population may also suffer because the sharks don't appear to be frightened by oncoming boats enough to get out of the way.

At the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, executive director Sean Van Sommeran said he started receiving data from a basking shark tagged near Pacific Grove in August. The tag -- part of a project with NOAA, Stanford University and the foundation -- released from the shark hundreds of miles off Baja California, providing researchers with a treasure trove of travel information.
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Occupy Houston protesters told to leave Tranquillity Park (13 February 2012)
The small Occupy Houston encampment in Tranquillity Park near City Hall is coming to an end. City officials have asked the remaining protesters to leave by dark today in anticipation of upcoming downtown festivals that will use the park space.

Mayor Annise Parker thanked the protesters for maintaining a non-violent posture that avoided the type of confrontations with police that have been seen in other American cities, but said the time has come for them to move on.

She expressed sympathy for the subject of their protest and said they are free to keep at it during daylight hours.

In anticipation of upcoming spring festivals downtown that will use the space, Tranquillity Park will need to be cleaned and new sod put down.

The city estimates the cost of that to run about $13,000. The protest has cost Houston Police Department more than $350,000 in salaries and overtime, city officials said.
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Study finds grapes can prevent blindness from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (13 February 2012)
(NaturalNews) Age-related macular degeneration is a progressive eye condition, leading to the deterioration of the center of the retina, called the macula. It is the leading cause of blindness in the elderly. The result of a study published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine finds that eating grapes over a lifetime may slow or help prevent age-related macular degeneration as we age.

The antioxidant actions of grapes are believed to be responsible for these protective effects, as they are shown to specifically target the eye to provide a protective shield against repeated assaults perpetrated by exposure to the sun and high-intensity light sources. Silvia Finnemann, principal researcher from Fordham University in New York commented, "A lifelong diet enriched in natural antioxidants, such as those in grapes, appears to be directly beneficial for retinal pigment epithelium cells and retinal health and function."

The study compared the impact of a diet rich in antioxidants on vision in mice prone to developing retinal damage in old age in much the same way as humans do. Mice either received a grape-enriched diet, a diet with added lutein, or a normal diet. Researchers found that the diet enriched with grapes offered dramatic protection, as it was shown to protect against oxidative damage of the retina and prevent blindness. While a diet supplemented with lutein was also effective, grapes were found to offer significantly more protection.

Dr. Finnemann noted "The protective effect of the grapes in this study was remarkable, offering a benefit for vision at old age even if grapes were consumed only at young age." The result of this study determined that age-related vision loss is a result of cumulative, oxidative damage over time. A diet rich in antioxidants, especially those provided by lifelong consumption of red grapes are directly beneficial to retinal health and function.
[Read more...]

PAM COMMENTARY: Zinc is important in eye health, too, as is proper hydration.

Northern Gateway pipeline proposal draws B.C. into a quagmire of conflict (13 February 2012)
In 2010, a major pipeline burst in Michigan, spilling millions of litres of oil into the Kalamazoo River. That was followed by international antioi-lsands campaign that pressured U.S. President Barack Obama to indefinitely stall the construction of the Keystone XL pipe to Cushing, Okla. Now, crude pipelines are the polarizing cause du jour.

The sudden interest has created a sticky political situation for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the subject of ongoing hearings across B.C. and Alberta. The $5.5-billion, 1,170-kilometre project would push oilsands bitumen from northern Alberta to the city of Kitimat, B.C. From there, crude would be shipped on massive oil tankers to Pacific markets.

Environmentalists are railing against the project and the federal government is railing against the environmentalists; One side argues Gateway presents an unacceptable risk to land and wildlife, while the company behind the plan, Calgary's Enbridge Inc., insists the possibility of failure is nominal. Add to the mix documented claims the pipeline's most enthusiastic detractors are receiving funding from U.S. sources. Natural Resource Minister Joe Oliver labelled the lot "radical groups." Between them are First Nations, on whose lands the pipeline would cross, by turns concerned with economic development and environmental preservation.

Although the project would pump billions into the Canadian economy, lost in the mire of such rhetoric are many genuine environmental concerns. A massive project, the pipeline would be the first to stretch across that section of remote British Columbia, a swath of land known for mountains, valleys, fish-bearing streams and virtually untouched temperate rainforests.
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Wisconsin's GAB Reveals Secret Recall Petition Inspection Locations (13 February 2012)
MADISON, Wis. -- The previously secret location where recall petitions are being checked out was revealed Monday.

The state-owned building is in Madison at 202 S. Thornton -- two miles east of the state capitol.

But now, the top secret recall petition screening center in Madison is a secret no more.

It's run by Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board. Kevin Kennedy is the director.
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Google confirms Iran choked off Internet access ahead of elections (13 February 2012)
The blackout and a year-long house arrest of opposition leaders has drawn calls for another round of mass protests starting Tuesday, Feb. 14, and government security forces are reportedly already gearing up to meet the demonstrators head-on.

The parliamentary elections are also coming up on March 2. The last national election in 2009 resulted in mass chaos after Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, the leading reformers, said the vote had been rigged. Reformers have said they are boycotting the 2012 vote. Saturday also marked the 33rd anniversary of Iran's revolution that overthrew a U.S.-sponsored dictator and installed a brutal theocracy in its place -- a politically sensitive time for Iran's conservative hardliners who've been in power ever since.

The last time a nation's government cut its whole population off from the Internet, revolution was afoot: In Libya, once the Internet vanished, the insurgency picked up pace with an urgency. So too was the case when Egyptian ISPs stopped working and mobile phones were cut off in late January, 2011, marking the start of the real protests after weeks of simmering public anger.

Once the Internet turned off in Egypt, people flooded into the streets and toppled the regime within days. It took a bit longer for Gaddafi's Libya, but the result was nearly the same.
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AT&T customers surprised by 'unlimited data' limit (13 February 2012)
Mike Trang likes to use his iPhone 4 as a GPS device, helping him get around in his job. Now and then, his younger cousins get ahold of it, and play some YouTube videos and games.

But in the past few weeks, there has been none of that, because AT&T Inc. put a virtual wheel clamp on his phone. Web pages wouldn't load and maps wouldn't render. Forget about YouTube videos - Trang's data speeds were reduced to dial-up levels.

"It basically makes my phone useless," said Trang, an Orange County, Calif. property manager.

The reason: AT&T considers Trang to be among the top 5 percent of the heaviest cellular data users in his area. Under a new policy, AT&T has started cutting their data speeds as part of an attempt to manage data usage on its network.
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Rain halts search in California serial killings (13 February 2012)
LINDEN, Calif. -- The search for more human remains in what appears to be a mass grave used by two men known as the "Speed Freak Killers" was suspended because of rain Monday, a day after authorities unearthed hundreds of bone fragments.

The grisly discoveries were made at an old well near the rural Northern California town of Linden. Death row inmate Wesley Shermantine had claimed the well could hold 10 or more victims from a killing spree during the 1980s and 90s.

Along with bones, searchers dug out clothes, a purse and jewelry, on Sunday. The items were found 45 feet deep in the well on an abandoned cattle ranch, San Joaquin County Sheriff's Department spokesman Les Garcia said in a statement.

Investigators, public works employees and volunteers have found more than 300 human bones and had planned to resume the search Monday, Garcia said.
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Mexico's meth haul (12 February 2012)
Last week's record seizure of methamphetamine -- some 15 tons of pure powder, equal to about 13 million doses -- was a proud moment for the Mexican armed forces.

But the historic bust at a ranch near Guadalajara also revealed a deeply discouraging truth: Meth makers are cooking up a storm at superlabs south of the border because Mexico and other Latin American countries have been unable to stop the illegal importation of meth-making chemicals.

It was eight years ago that The Oregonian's Steve Suo produced a series of ground-breaking stories titled "Unnecessary Epidemic" that revealed how the main precursor chemicals for methamphetamine, primarily pseudoephedrine, were produced and exported from only a few Asian chemical plants. The essential point of the series was that unlike other illegal drugs, meth could be stopped if the world's nations came together to adopt strict controls on the precursor chemicals.

That hasn't happened, although Oregon, other states and many nations have moved to restrict access to precursor chemicals. Oregon prohibited the over-the-counter sale of cold medicines made from pseudoephedrine, a single step that did more than anything else to stop the spread of meth labs across the state. Now that meth cooks can no longer wander into an Oregon store and purchase or snatch bagfuls of pseudoephedrine, meth labs are few and far between.
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Republicans plan to force Keystone pipeline through Congress today; opponents plan 500,000 signature petition drive in response (13 February 2012)
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are due on Monday to introduce a new measure that would force work to begin on the pipeline, essentially overturning the White House decision.

Now opponents of the pipeline are fighting back, with author Bill McKibben's 350.org group announcing a new drive by some three dozen green and business groups to recruit 500,000 signatories in a single day to an anti-pipeline petition. The petition drive, which formally gets underway at 12pm eastern time, seems timed to stop the latest push from Republicans in Congress to overturn Obama's decision.

Republican Senators plan to file a measure on Monday that would link the pipeline project to a bill that would authorise more than $100bn in long-term transportation spending.

Under the Republicans' measure, work would begin on the pipeline immediately -- except for a stretch through the ecologically sensitive areas of Nebraska.

The Republican measure puts Obama and the Democratic majority in the Senate in an awkard position. The White House and Congress have been trying to reach a deal to finance new roads and bridges since 2009 -- and the current version has broad support.

However, the last few months have also demonstrated strong opposition to the pipeline from the Democrats' core supporters, liberal and environmental voters who oppose deeper investment in carbon-heavy tar sands.
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PAM COMMENTARY: They'd actually be putting that construction right along the migration route used by whooping cranes, who are critically endangered. The cranes' numbers already seem to be a little low this year, which is troubling because only a few hundred remain in the wild.

I don't know why Republicans feel that making America's largest aquifer zone into a highway for Canadian tarsands oil is in the national interest A spill in that area could become an environmental disaster and negatively impact farming in America's breadbasket, and even without an environmental disaster the pipeline is designed to sell the oil on the international market by getting it to a warm water port. That could make less of the oil available in the US and Canada, thus driving up prices.

Whitney Houston family told she died from Rx, NOT drowning (13 February 2012)
Whitney Houston's family was told by L.A. County Coroner officials ... the singer did not die from drowning, but rather from what appears to be a combination of Xanax and other prescription drugs mixed with alcohol ... this according to family sources.

We're told Coroner's officials informed the family there was not enough water in Whitney's lungs to lead to the conclusion that she drowned.

Our sources say the family was told Whitney may well have died before her head became submerged.

And family sources tell us ... it was actually Whitney's aunt, Mary Jones, who discovered Whitney's body in the bathtub. Mary had laid out Whitney's dress for the evening on the bed and then left for about a half hour. When Whitney didn't come out of the bathroom, Mary entered, pulled Whitney out of the tub and began administering CPR.
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PAM COMMENTARY: Different advocates have come up with different calculations on the ranking of deaths by prescription drugs or drug interactions. Some claim it's the leading cause of death in the US, others that it's third, originally thought to be somewhere near the bottom of the top ten. It depends on how many categories are added together, basically.

Legal drugs cause a lot of deaths without any interactions, all by themselves -- it's a listed "side effect" on many, no added circumstances required for a percentage of the deaths. Then there are drugs that interact with each other, with common substances like alcohol as in this case, etc. It's a situation that needs more attention, obviously.

Letters raise fears for last Briton in Guantanamo (13 February 2012)
On the day he marks 10 years locked inside the world's most notorious prison without having been charged with an offence, the last UK resident in Guantanamo Bay pleads with his captors: "Please torture me in the old way ... Here they destroy people mentally and physically without leaving marks."

Speaking from his cell through letters and comments published for the first time in The Independent today, Shaker Aamer, who has never stood trial, reveals the torment of his captivity and removal from his family. Yesterday a senior British source close to the talks admitted that Mr Aamer's detention was "unconscionable". His plight was raised most recently with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week.

Fears are growing for the welfare of Mr Aamer, from south London, who is now 45 and has a wife and four children. He has never met his youngest son. His lawyers are particularly concerned by the deterioration of his mental and physical state, which Mr Aamer describes vividly in his letters. He has lost 40 per cent of his body weight and is suffering from health problems, aggravated by long periods in solitary confinement.

The Independent has seen dozens of handwritten letters from Mr Aamer to his wife and family and today publishes a selection of extracts. Heavily censored and containing scrawled drawings to entertain his children, they paint a portrait of his time in Guantanamo. On 19 August 2002, he writes: "You won't believe me, my hand is killing me from writing and also my back. I am getting old. I just became 41... but physically I'm 50. I got arthritis, kidney problems, hearing problems, eye problems, my hair has fallen, my heart is aching."
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Iran draws veil over secure internet access (13 February 2012)
The Tor Project is reporting Iran has blocked access to nearly all SSL/TLS traffic within its borders and is calling for help to break the embargo.

In a site posting Jacob Appelbaum said that the problems had begun around 48 hours ago, with secure traffic slowing before being completely blocked on Iranian ISPs. Tor has prepared a special kind of traffic bridge, which it dubbed "obfuscated bridge," to deal with the problem but needs help to host it and polish off the rough edges.

"We've long had an ace up our sleeves for this exact moment in the arms race but it's perhaps come while the User Interface edges are a bit rough still," Appelbaum said. "It's not easy to set up just yet because we were not ready to deploy this for everyone yet; it lacks a lot of analysis and it might even only last for a few days at the rate the arms race is progressing, if you could call it progress."

The move will shut down access to almost all HTTPS sites, including Google, Facebook, and Yahoo services, as well as crippling online banking and transaction services. The Washington Post Tehran office reported connection problems on Thursday and speculated that this may be a precursor to the planned Iranian National Internet, thought to be similar to China's Great Firewall, which the government has said it is developing.
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Athens buildings burn as lawmakers weigh austerity (12 February 2012)
(Reuters) - Historic cinemas, cafes and shops went up in flames in central Athens on Sunday as black-masked protesters fought Greek police outside parliament, while inside lawmakers looked set to defy the public rage by endorsing a new EU/IMF austerity deal.

As parliament prepared to vote on a new 130 billion euro bailout to save Greece from a messy bankruptcy, a Reuters photographer saw the buildings engulfed in flames and huge plumes of smoke rose in the night sky.

The air over Syntagma Square outside parliament was thick with tear gas as riot police fought running battles with youths who smashed marble balustrades and hurled stones and petrol bombs.

Government officials warned that Greeks faced "unimaginably harsher" sacrifices if parliament rejected the package, which demands deep pay, pension and job cuts, when it votes later in the evening.

But on the streets many businesses were ablaze, including the neo-classical home to the Attikon cinema dating from 1870 and a building housing the Asty, an underground cinema used by the Gestapo during World War Two as a torture chamber.
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Protesters and riot police clash outside Greece Parliament (12 February 2012)
They gathered outside Parliament as MPs debated whether to pass an extremely unpopular austerity bill in return for a £110billion EU/IMF bailout to avoid national bankruptcy.

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos warned on Saturday that failure to pass the package would "set the country on a disastrous adventure".

Thousands of peaceful protesters fled the square facing Parliament as anarchists threw bottles, rocks, pieces of marble and firebombs at police, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades.

Police say an officer was injured by a flare shot at him from a gun. He was taken to hospital. An ambulance also picked up two injured people from the square.

Among those affected by the tear gas were composer Mikis Theodorakis, 86, and veteran leftist politician Manolis Glezos, 89.

The two have been actively campaigning against Greece accepting the EU bailout.
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About 500 turn out to mark beginning of fight against Wisconsin's unpopular governor (12 February 2012)
Saturday marked a year since Gov. Scott Walker "dropped the bomb," as he privately described it, announcing his proposal to all but end collective bargaining for most public workers.

And to mark the anniversary of Walker unveiling his plans -- and the beginning of his opponents' fight against them -- protesters again descended on the state Capitol despite toe-numbing temperatures with drums, vuvuzelas and signs.

Saturday's crowd at the State Street entrance to the Capitol numbered about 500, according to state Department of Administration estimates, far smaller than the peak of the spring's historic protests when tens of thousands flooded the Capitol for days on end in February and March.

The protests had a ripple effect throughout Wisconsin and the nation, making the state a battleground for a national political fight. They sparked efforts to throw out politicians from both parties and changed the everyday climate at the Capitol. But they did not prevent Walker's collective bargaining proposal from becoming law.
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Occupy protesters find a connection to people struggling to survive on Missoula's streets (11 February 2012)
It's safe to say news of the death of Jimmy Lee Ferguson a couple of weeks ago was received with different degrees of grief.

To those who'd been hassled, embarrassed, threatened, chastised or frightened by the enigmatic man in a wheelchair and his "posse," it was something of a relief. To those who knew Jimmy Lee and shared his life on the streets of Missoula, it was devastating.

Ferguson, 59, was found unresponsive on the sidewalk at Missoula's Mountain Line transfer center near the Missoula County Courthouse sometime after midnight on Jan. 26. Authorities say it wasn't a violent death. Given his adversarial past, that possibility was on the table.

A toxicology report is still weeks away. But word on the street is that a "kid" availed Ferguson of three orange pills. Jimmy Lee swallowed all three at once. Not even his friends understand why, and Missoula County sheriff's deputy coroner John Lamb said it's not known if that's what did him in.
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Why Amazon, eBay and Google are building bricks-and-mortar stores (12 February 2012)
Open ... and Shut Even as offline retailers and other traditional "brick-and-mortar" businesses struggle to build their businesses online, some of technology's biggest online denizens are looking for ways to go offline. Google is the latest, reportedly opening a store in Dublin, Ireland, to sell branded merchandise, but it's just the latest in a group that includes eBay and even Amazon.

Each of these companies appears to be trying to replicate the success that Apple has had, but they may be missing the point: Apple's success is all about overall demand for Apple products, coupled with a retail push to educate and impress more than push product.

It's also the case that Apple's success derives in part from the very tangible nature of its products. Microsoft has this with its XBox and Kinect products, but it's hard to see how a retail presence makes Windows any more interesting, or how a retail storefront for Amazon or eBay moves the needle on their respective businesses, which sell other people's products (Amazon's Kindle being the exception).

For most of these companies, going offline is all about increasing sales. So while Wal-Mart and others move online to capture buyers sat at they're their computers at home or in the work place, and lower prices by eliminating sales tax in the bargain, the tech world seems desperate to go offline.
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PAM COMMENTARY: I think they're going to find the same problems that drove Borders out of business -- keeping huge stores open takes a lot of money, especially when the economy is slow. Online businesses don't have all of that overhead.

Drillers cut natural gas production as prices drop (12 February 2012)
PITTSBURGH -- As natural gas prices continue to drop, the recent nationwide boom in drilling is slowing. Drillers don't make money if prices go too low - and drilling wells isn't cheap.

"It is safe to say that there will be fewer natural gas wells drilled in 2012," said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group based in Pennsylvania.

In recent weeks, several companies have announced plans to cut gas production around the nation, but experts say the low prices are also opening up new markets.

When the shale drilling boom was starting in 2008 the average price for a unit of gas was about $8. Two years ago it was down to $5.50, and now it's dropped to about $2.50. Part of the reason is that the shale gas formations became productive more rapidly than expected, as thousands of new wells have been drilled nationwide.
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Insight: Poland's shale gas play takes on Russian power (9 February 2012)
(Reuters) - When Wieslaw Radzieciak took office as the mayor of Lesniowice in the gently-rolling farmland of southeastern Poland 26 years ago, the Soviet garrisons that dotted the county were a stark reminder of which superpower was in control.

The signs of Russian occupation have vanished but over the past year a new superpower has moved in, its presence spelled out on the distinctive logos plastered on the trucks used by U.S.-based oil services company Halliburton.

It's all part of Poland's ambitious goal to exploit Europe's biggest estimated deposits of shale gas. Beginning in 2014, Warsaw wants to tap an estimated 5.3 trillion cubic meters of recoverable reserves of gas - enough, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, to supply Poland with more than 300 years of its domestic energy needs.

But the shale gas push is about more than energy. Poland wants to break its reliance on Russian energy and reduce Moscow's power over Europe. That is one reason why Warsaw has welcomed U.S. oil majors such as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Conoco and Marathon, even though it risks igniting tensions with Russia.
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North Dakota university awarded hundreds of unearned degrees (12 February 2012)
BISMARCK, N.D.--No immediate discipline is planned for any Dickinson State University employees in the wake of an audit determining that the school awarded hundreds of degrees to foreign students who didn't earn them, the chancellor of North Dakota's university system said Saturday.

The audit determined that only 10 of 410 foreign students who earned joint degrees from Dickinson State and the students' home universities since 2003 had completed all their requirements. Most were Chinese, it said. The rest were Russian.

The academic vice-president in charge of overseeing the program in which the students studied resigned Friday after the audit was released. Jon Brudvig will continue to work at the university in a yet-to-be determined role while he looks for another job, Chancellor William Goetz told The Associated Press.

The audit did not mention Brudvig by name, and Goetz said his resignation wasn't requested. "It was a decision (Brudvig) made not to continue with those responsibilities," he said.
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Eight arrests as Murdoch 'throws staff to the wolves' (12 February 2012)
Rupert Murdoch was last night preparing to fly to Britain to join frantic efforts to secure the future of The Sun after the arrests of five senior journalists by police investigating allegations of bribery and phone hacking.

Police swooped on eight individuals between 6am and 8am yesterday, arresting the five Sun journalists, two Ministry of Defence staff and a police officer. The arrests came hard on the heels of five related arrests two weeks ago when four senior Sun journalists and a police officer were questioned in connection with bribery allegations. All eight were released on bail last night.

The latest astonishing development, which came two days after the Leveson inquiry into press standards finished its first session, prompted fury among the newspaper's staff, amid allegations that those arrested had been "thrown to the wolves" in an effort to bolster the embattled News Corp empire, and, particularly, to rekindle its hopes of taking over BSkyB. The police were acting on information provided by News International, owner of The Sun and Times newspapers, through its Management and Standards Committee (MSC).

Amid fury among the paper's editorial staff, Mr Murdoch was forced to issue a pledge last night that he was not preparing to sell the newspaper, via his chief executive, Tom Mockridge. Senior staff were told that Mr Murdoch planned to fly to London to calm the situation. Journalists including the paper's deputy editor were bailed after being questioned in connection with allegations of making illegal payments to police officers and other officials.
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Alzheimer's brain plaques 'rapidly cleared' in mice (12 February 2012)
Destructive plaques found in the brains of Alzheimer's patients have been rapidly cleared by researchers testing a cancer drug on mice.

The US study, published in the journal Science, reported the plaques were broken down at "unprecedented" speed.

Tests also showed an improvement in some brain function.

Specialists said the results were promising, but warned that successful drugs in mice often failed to work in people.
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Apple, Accustomed to Profits and Praise, Faces Outcry for Labor Practices at Chinese Factories (10 February 2012) [DN]
JUAN GONZALEZ: The reason why so many American factories left the United States--as the industrial workers became unionized, they were able to increase the pay and better their working conditions. What--when you started talking to the Chinese workers there, what about the labor unions? What about the ability of the workers to organize in these huge plants? Why has that not occurred at a more rapid and a more developed pace?

MIKE DAISEY: Well, I mean, there's a really simple explanation. Labor organization in China is illegal. If you organize a union in China that is separate from the Communist Party, and those are largely fronts, in terms of working conditions, you go to prison if you're caught by the government. So, that largely shuts down any sort of serious effort at labor organization. I think that's part and parcel of the landscape. I mean, there's a reason why this environment works so well for the needs of creating a hyperinflated, hyper-growing industrial revolution, and that's that you have a base of workers who live under an authoritarian government and can be controlled. The circumstances are very controlled. And so, I think that's part of the equation that we don't like to look at.

AMY GOODMAN: How the company deals with the suicides, and what actually is happening? What are Chinese workers doing?

MIKE DAISEY: Well, there was a series of suicides at Foxconn where, month after month, workers would go up to the roofs of the buildings and throw themselves off the buildings, in a very public manner. The thing about this is that the number of suicides is not the issue so much as the cluster. The fact that people were choosing to kill themselves in an incredibly public manner is really relevant and has to do, I think, with pressures of the production line. It's a very intense environment. And the people who come into those jobs are often in a very blessed position. They've come from the rural areas, and they're making a new life for themselves. But they have to send money back to many, many dependents back where they come from. So they're in a perfect position to be exploited, like they don't feel, in some cases, like they can leave. And it can be very tough.
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Maldives president agrees to 'coup' probe (12 February 2012)
Mohamed Waheed, the president of the Maldives, has told a visiting top United States diplomat that he would be willing to co-operate with a probe into the circumstances of the transition of power, following the former president's resignation on Tuesday.

Mohamed Nasheed, the former president, says he was forced to resign at gunpoint, and that Waheed, then his vice-president, helped the military carry out a "coup" against the government.

The former president has demanded new elections and called for mass street protests if the new government does not relent, raising the prospect of a protracted political crisis on the Indian Ocean islands.

In an effort to get a fresh assessment of the political situation on Saturday, Robert Blake, the US assistant secretary of state, met with Waheed, Nasheed and civil society representatives to gather facts about recent political developments.
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U.S. bishops blast Obama's contraception compromise (12 February 2012)
After initially telegraphing optimism about President Obama's decision Friday to amend the religious exemption for mandatory birth-control and sterilization coverage, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared total opposition to any compromise on the issue.

The organization wrote that it will continue pushing for a complete end to the birth-control mandate "with no less vigor, no less sense of urgency" than before the Obama administration decided to let nonprofit church-affiliated employers such as hospitals and universities, and not just churches, technically opt out of the requirement.

"The only complete solution to this religious liberty problem is for [the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services] to rescind the mandate of these objectionable services," the conference said in a statement released late Friday.

Just hours before, Cardinal-designate Timothy Michael Dolan of New York, who heads the conference, said he saw "initial opportunities in preserving the principle of religious freedom" in Obama's action. He also called it "a first step in the right direction."
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Whitney Houston, pop titan, dies at 48 (12 February 2012)
Whitney Houston, a willowy church singer with a towering voice who became a titan of the pop charts in the 1980s and 1990s but then saw much of her success crumble away amid the fumes of addiction and reckless ego, has died. She was 48.

Kristen Foster, a publicist, announced Saturday that the singer had died, and police sources later confirmed that she was found unresponsive in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel about 3:30 p.m. Paramedics performed CPR on her, but she was pronounced dead about 4 p.m., Beverly Hills Police Lt. Mark Rosen told KTLA News. An investigation into the cause of death is pending.

On Thursday afternoon at the hotel, Houston drew the attention of reporters and security staff with her erratic behavior, dripping sweat and disheveled clothes. The singer was disruptive at that day's rehearsals for music mogul Clive Davis' annual Grammy industry party and showcase; that party at the Hilton on Saturday night was supposed to include a performance by Houston.

Late Saturday, Davis told those assembled at the party that he had a "heavy heart" and was "personally devastated" by Houston's death, but "simply put, Whitney would have wanted the music to go on, and her family has asked for us to carry on."
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PAM COMMENTARY: I don't normally cover much celebrity news, but she was a talented lady and this is quite the tragedy. I don't like the way that this particular article is cutting on her a bit (notice that the more detailed report below says that all drugs found were prescription, not illicit), but it does mention what may have been an illness prior to her death.

TMZ reports Whitney Houston may have died from Xanax drowning, no illegal drugs found in room (12 February 2012)
Whitney Houston was taking Xanax ... evidence she may have fallen asleep in the bathtub where she died ... TMZ has learned.

Family members of Whitney tell us the singer had a prescription for the drug, which is commonly used to treat anxiety and depression.

We told you yesterday ... the night before Whitney died, she had been drinking a lot. Xanax mixed with alcohol can cause severe sedation, which could cause someone to fall asleep in a bathtub.

As TMZ first reported, Whitney was found in the bathtub and removed before EMTs arrived. The L.A. County Coroner will perform an autopsy -- possibly today -- to determine if Whitney died from drowning, and OD or other causes.

As we previously reported, Beverly Hills cops obtained a search warrant and found various prescription bottles -- but, as far as we know, no illicit drugs.
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PAM COMMENTARY: If this is true, Whitney Houston becomes yet another casualty of prescription drugs -- one of the top ten causes of death in America.

Mortgage settlement is great -- for politicians and banks (11 February 2012)
If you don't listen too closely, it sounds as if they're putting up the $25 billion. Not so. The only cold cash the banks are paying is a combined $5 billion, including $1.5 billion to compensate borrowers whose homes were foreclosed on from 2008 through the end of last year, with the rest going to the federal and state governments to pay for regulatory programs.

Most of the balance is in mortgage relief for stressed or underwater mortgage holders, including principal reductions, refinancings and other modifications.

How much of this will translate into an outlay of cash by the five banks? Not much, if any.

For one thing, even the government acknowledges that a lender typically benefits when ways are found to keep a home out of foreclosure -- a lender loses an average $60,000 on every foreclosure, according to figures the federal government disclosed in connection with the settlement announcement. It's been institutional resistance and legal entanglements, not economics, that have kept more modifications from going forward.
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Bounty hunter pays serial killer to reveal locations of bodies (12 February 2012)
The remains found Friday have not been identified, but Chevelle "Chevy" Wheeler's parents believe they are those of their 16-year-old daughter. Wheeler's parents said they were notified that the remains were found in a spot where Shermantine said their daughter was buried after she disappeared in 1985.

"They said they found her wrapped in a blanket," Paula Wheeler, the girl's mother, told The Associated Press by phone from the family's home in Crossville, Tenn. "This is a happy day. We can finally have some closure."

Shermantine recently agreed to disclose the locations of bodies in return for a bounty hunter's offer of $33,000.

He is giving hand-drawn maps to authorities, who are focusing on the spot where Saturday's remains were found, though layers of backfill were making excavation difficult.
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Sources (if found on major news boards):
[AJ] - InfoWars.com, PrisonPlanet.com, or other Alex Jones-affiliated sites
[BF] - BuzzFlash.com
[DN] - DemocracyNow.org
[R] - Rense.com
[WRH] - WhatReallyHappened.com


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All original content including photographs © 2012 by Pam Rotella. (News excerpts copyright by their corresponding authors, news organizations, or other copyright holders, and quoted here typically as "fair use" or "teaser" paragraphs to generate interest in the full articles.)